The FCC has approved $7.17 billion in funding to help students, school staff, and library patrons access hotspots and connected devices to use at home. The Emergency Connectivity Fund Program will allow schools and libraries to purchase equipment to be used off-site — and to get reimbursement for equipment already purchased to address remote learning needs during the pandemic.
The new fund will use processes already in use by the E-Rate program, which currently helps schools and libraries pay for broadband internet. Qualifying schools and libraries will be able to purchase hotspots, routers, tablets, and computers, among other devices necessary for remote learning (though smartphones don’t qualify). Students and patrons can take them home and use them, rather than huddle outside of a Taco Bell in order to finish their homework.
This well-known “homework gap” that has seen millions of kids struggle to participate in remote learning is an issue that FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel is keen to address. Since the very beginning of the pandemic, she has called on the FCC to help schools and libraries get hold of equipment sorely needed in many homes across the country — the FCC quotes a study from last spring that found about nine million public school students live in homes lacking both adequate internet access and a suitable device for remote learning. With this new funding and the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program already underway, there may be a bit of relief in sight for these households.