The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced it has launched what it is describing as the “country’s largest effort to close the homework gap,” and has opened the application window for $7.17 billion of funding through the agency’s Emergency Connectivity Fund.

Schools and libraries can now begin to file applications for the funding to purchase laptops and tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connections to serve unmet needs for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons. Schools and libraries have until Aug. 13 to apply for the funding for the 2021-2022 school year.

“Even before the coronavirus pandemic upended so much of day-to-day life, seven in ten teachers were assigning homework that required access to the internet. But data from this agency demonstrates that one in three households do not subscribe to broadband. Where those numbers overlap is the Homework Gap,” said Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

In a statement, Rosenworcel highlighted a story of two young girls sitting outside a Taco Bell in order to get Internet access to complete school work during the 2020-2021 school year.

“It was heart-wrenching to see,” she remarked. “But they were not alone. Kids elsewhere during this pandemic sat in cars outside of libraries to catch a signal to go online for class. Others cobbled together the connectivity they needed by doing everything from borrowing mobile phones to lingering outside of shuttered school and municipal buildings.”

Rosenworcel continued, “We should salute the grit of each and every one of these young people who found ways to go online and keep up with school. But it shouldn’t be this hard – and going forward, thanks to the Emergency Connectivity Fund, it won’t.”

The Emergency Connectivity Fund, established as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, will be administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company, with oversight from the FCC. The commission said the fund leverages the processes and structures used in the E-Rate program for the benefit of schools and libraries already familiar with the E-Rate program.

In May, the FCC adopted the final rules to implement the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. The rules define eligible equipment and services, service locations, eligible uses, and reasonable support amounts for funding provided. The FCC also adopted procedures intended to protect the limited funding from waste, fraud, and abuse.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs