The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced last Friday that thousands of schools, hundreds of libraries, and two dozen “consortia” of schools and libraries will benefit from the agency’s $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021’s $1.9 trillion relief package. The first round of funding comes after the agency received requests for upwards of $5.1 billion.
According to the FCC’s press release, the funds will go towards more than 3 million devices and nearly 775,000 broadband connections to aid over 3.6 million students who would otherwise lack devices, broadband access, or both. Specifically, “[t]he funding is available for the purchase of laptops and tablets, WiFi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connections for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons,” the agency says.
The news, the agency says, represents a step towards closing the “digital divide,” a term describing the chasm between Americans with and without modern connectivity, like broadband internet. The FCC explains that the resultant “homework gap,” a term for the difficulties students have completing homework when they lack internet access at home, has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying switch to and continuation of remote learning.
Closing both the digital divide and the homework gap have been a goal of the FCC and Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. In a statement, the chairwoman referred to the torrent of applications as an “enthusiastic response” to the program, underscoring its importance.
According to the FCC, a second application filing window will open on September 28 and close on October 13.