Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel on April 30 released a draft of a proposed order for the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund, which would reimburse schools and libraries for their purchases of devices and broadband connections during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 80-page draft order comes after the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 gave the FCC 60 days to establish rules for the Emergency Connectivity Fund. Rosenworcel hopes the commission will adopt the order by the 60-day deadline of May 10.

“During the pandemic, our classrooms went virtual and what was already an unconscionable homework gap has become a learning chasm with even more devastating consequences,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “Even as the pandemic ebbs in some areas and surges in others, millions of students are still engaged in remote learning, and there is no time to lose. Congress has entrusted the Commission with the vital task of providing relief to our students, teachers, school staff, and library patrons – and has mandated that we do so quickly.”

“Developing rules on an expedited basis to administer an emergency $7.17 billion fund is a complex task and so I appreciate Commissioner Brendan Carr’s encouragement to share a draft with the public as the Commission finalizes the structure of the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program,” she added. “I look forward to working with all of my colleagues on this important program.”

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The proposed order would first allow eligible schools and libraries to apply for funding for “eligible equipment and advanced telecommunications and information services that they have already purchased during the pandemic to meet the needs of students, school staff, and library patrons who would otherwise have lacked access to basic educational opportunities and library services.”

If there are still funds available after the first application window, the FCC will then open a second application window for schools and libraries seeking funding for “future purchases of eligible equipment and services to address remaining unmet needs of students, school staff, and library patrons.”

Devices and services that will be reimbursed include Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, laptops, tablets, or similar devices, as well as “advanced telecommunications and information services.” However, desktop computers and mobile phones will be excluded from the list of devices.

The first application window will reimburse schools and libraries for purchases made between July 1, 2020 and April 30, 2021.

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