US regulator the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted final rules to implement a $7.2 billion funding scheme covering purchases of connectivity equipment by schools and libraries to boost access during Covid-19 (coronavirus) restrictions.
The Emergency Connectivity Fund Programme will go towards laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems and routers, with the FCC specifying initial funding will be geared around the next school year (2021 to 2022) with any surplus then considered to cover purchases made earlier in the pandemic.
Together with a broadband benefit scheme, the emergency connectivity funding means the US government is “investing more than $10 billion in American students and households”, acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel explained.
Schools and libraries also be able to receive funding for purchasing commercially available broadband services providing fixed or mobile connection off campus.
The Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) will administer the Emergency Connectivity Fund, with FCC oversight. Procedures used in the E-Rate programme, a long-standing scheme covering Wi-Fi equipment purchases, will be used to provide access to the funding, potentially accelerating the process.
Rosenworcel said the new rules allow for “self-provisioning” by some school districts if no commercial service is available.
The pandemic has resulted in some districts working with systems integrators and equipment providers on makeshift internet access, often using fixed wireless access.
US mobile and fibre operators are actively involved in working to close a so-called homework gap by extending connectivity to schools in need, with programmes including Verizon’s Innovative Learning scheme providing more than $535 million towards closing the digital divide among poorer communities.Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back