FCC to Allocate More Than $1.2B in First Emergency Connectivity Funding Wave

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.