Biden Signs Stimulus Package: FCC Set to Establish a $7 Billon Emergency Connectivity Fund to Assist with Virtual Learning

On March 10, 2021, President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act, the COVID-19 stimulus bill recently enacted by Congress. The Act allocates $1.9 trillion to provide relief to businesses and individuals that are struggling due to COVID-19. Importantly, it appropriates $7.17 billion for emergency support for remote learning and remote library services. This stimulus follows $3.2 billion appropriated for an Emergency Broadband Benefit for low-income consumers and caps over $13 billion in broadband funding provided in addition to the traditional Universal Service Fund programs.

The new Emergency Connectivity Fund (“ECF”) will reimburse schools and libraries for internet access and connected devices for students and teachers for remote learning and remote library services. The passage of this legislation has been welcomed by the FCC, with Chairwoman Rosenworcel stating, “the American Rescue Plan provides the FCC with new tools to support the millions of students locked out of the digital classroom.”

The legislation requires the FCC to issue rules within 60 days of enactment to provide funding to eligible schools and libraries. Here’s a look at what to expect in the new fund.

Emergency Connectivity Fund Overview

The ECF provides support for the purchase during the COVID-19 emergency of “eligible equipment or advanced telecommunications or information services (or both)” to provide:

  • For schools, for use by schools, students and staff outside the school building; and
  • For libraries, for use by patrons outside the library location.
Eligible equipment includes: Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, devices combining a modem and router, and connected devices. A connected device is defined as a “laptop computer, tablet computer or similar end-user device that is capable of connecting to advanced telecommunications and information services.”

The Act provides funding for 100% of costs associated with the eligible equipment, as well as telecommunications and information services. However, funding may not exceed an amount that the FCC determines to be reasonable. Notably, funding is in addition to, and separate from, funding under the FCC’s E-rate program. The Commission received comment in February on three proposals to permit use of E-rate funds to provide off-campus broadband services, but those proposals likely have been usurped by the ECF.

Funding is available during the COVID-19 emergency, and until the June 30th following the date on which the federal government lifts the COVID-19 emergency declaration.

The FCC is required to issue regulations within 60 days of enactment to provide funding to eligible schools and libraries. We expect a public notice to be issued in the coming days. We will, of course, continue to follow development in this important new program.