FCC Establishes Rules for $7B Emergency Connectivity Fund to Help Bridge the Homework Gap

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) has adopted a Report and Order (Order)1 implementing rules for the $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) Program. The ECF provides funding for schools and libraries to purchase connected devices and broadband connections for off-campus use by students, school staff and, library patrons who lacked access to adequate Internet access during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Order designates the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) as the administrator of the ECF Program and directs USAC to open a 45-day application window for purchases in the upcoming year. A date for the opening of the window has not yet been set. Eligible schools and libraries may apply for funding for eligible equipment and services purchased between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022.

All schools, libraries, and consortia of schools and libraries that are eligible for support under the E- Rate Program are also eligible to request and receive support through the ECF Program. The Order defines the types of eligible equipment to be paid for under the program as: Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, devices that combine a modem and router, and connected devices. It also defines connected devices as laptop and tablet computers that are capable of connecting to advanced telecommunications and information services. This definition excludes desktop computers and mobile phones. Unlike the E-Rate program, there will be no competitive bidding requirement for eligible purchases.

Under the rules, new construction, construction of self-provisioned networks, and dark fiber are not eligible for funding, except in areas where there is no commercially Internet service available for purchase in order to reach the homes of students, school staff, and library patrons. The FCC will allow schools and libraries to seek ECF Program support to construct or self-provision networks to connect students, school staff, and library patrons during the COVID-19 emergency period who would otherwise not be connected.

USAC will start accepting reimbursement requests within fifteen (15) days of the first wave of the first application filing window. The FCC will allow applicants to submit reimbursement requests and invoices for prior and prospective purchases for 60 days from the date of the funding commitment decision letter or service delivery date, whichever is later.

If have questions regarding ECF, eligible equipment and services, or the application process please contact Dee Herman dee@hermanwhiteaker.com, Clare Andonov at candonov@hermanwhiteaker.com, or Hilary Rosenthal at hrosenthal@hermanwhiteaker.com.
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