On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the release of a draft Report and Order establishing the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program (ECFP), pursuant to the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. According to FCC’s press release, the ECFP would, among other things, reimburse schools and libraries for the purchase of broadband connections and devices during the COVID-19 pandemic for students, school staff, and library patrons.
The FCC explained that prior to the pandemic, millions of students without home internet and computer access were caught in the “Homework Gap.” The pandemic reportedly inflamed the inequity, driving the FCC to act in order to help students, educators, and library patrons “engage in online learning and in so many other vital aspects of our increasingly digital lives.”
The Wireline Competition Bureau (WCB), a subdivision of the FCC, reportedly authored the Report and Order. The document and its accompanying fact sheet explained that, if it is adopted, the agency would be allowed to use the Universal Service Administrative Company’s (USAC) services to administer the ECFP in order to make use of processes and structures currently operated by USAC for the E-Rate Program for schools and libraries.
The timing of the public draft’s release was reportedly spurred by the approaching statutory deadline, the urgency surrounding pandemic relief, and the FCC’s desire to receive comment from a broad cross-section of the impacted public.
To create a record that would allow the FCC to promulgate rules by the May 10 deadline, the WCB established a “permit-but-disclose” proceeding with comments due Apr. 5, and reply comments due Apr. 23.
Speaking about the announcement, Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel remarked that “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.”