In the past year, we have seen more remote learning than ever before, with classrooms across the country and across the world adjusting to ensure students can still receive a quality education amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
And while the ability to shift toward virtual classrooms has helped keep many students from falling behind, it has also widened the homework gap and has increased the need for funding to support remote learning moving forward.
The FCC has recognized this need and has answered with a new law that will support the decades-old E-Rate Program for schools. Here is a look at the E-Rate Program’s history, the details of the new program, and some tips on how you can take advantage.
What is the E-Rate Program?
The E-Rate Program – also known as the Schools & Libraries Universal Service Support Program – launched more than 20 years ago to help the nation’s schools and libraries obtain affordable internet connectivity.
In the years since its foundation, the program has faced mounting criticism for its inability to help close the homework gap – that is, the difficulty students without internet access face in completing homework compared to those with internet access.
This is a nationwide issue affecting roughly 30% of all public K-12 students and is something we have only seen intensify during the COVID-19 pandemic as more and more students have been forced to learn from home.
Historically, the E-Rate Program has prohibited schools from using its funds for anything other than to supply phone and internet connectivity to the schools themselves. But now, the new program from the FCC is widening that scope to support remote learning efforts.
Emergency Connectivity Fund Program
The new program – known as the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program (or ECF Program) – provides a total of $7.17 billion in funding to specifically address remote connectivity issues for students and teachers.
In doing so, the program seeks to close the homework gap by providing funding for things like Chromebooks, laptops, tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, routers, and broadband connectivity equipment for off-campus use by students and staff.
While this new wave of funding can’t be used to pay for devices that will be used solely at schools, it can be used for items that will be used in both home and school settings. The new program also states that eligible equipment must be used primarily for educational purposes.
Who is eligible for ECF Program Funding?
All schools and libraries eligible for E-Rate funding are also eligible for funding under the ECF Program. In general, elementary schools, secondary schools, private schools, and religious schools are all eligible to receive E-Rate funding as long as they have an endowment of less than $50 million and are not-for-profit.
Unlike standard E-Rate funds, the ECF program is available to all qualifying schools independent of the number of students receiving free and reduced lunch or the school’s urban or rural status.
What's devices are covered?
Devices covered under the ECF Program include:
- Connected devices (such as Chromebooks, laptops, and tablets)
- Wi-Fi hotspots
- Devices that combine a modem and a router
What devices are NOT covered?
While the ECF Program is designed specifically to cover devices not previously covered by E-Rate funding, there are a number of devices not covered by the new law.
Devices not covered by the ECF Program include:
- Desktop computers
- Video-conferencing devices
How much funding is available?
For E-Rate services (such as in-school connectivity), there is no explicit funding cap as stated by the FCC, though it does say the price for services must be “reasonable” and will be reviewed and approved by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC).
USAC will also be responsible for reviewing and approving requests for ECF funding as outlined below:
- $250 for Wi-Fi hotspots
- $400 for all other eligible devices
How to apply for ECF Program funding
Update (September 1, 2021): A second application window will open on September 28, 2021 and remain open through October 13, 2021.
The first application window for ECF funding opened on Tuesday, June 29, 2021. The FCC and the USAC provided advance notice to help eligible schools prepare and take advantage of the program when the time comes.
Once open, the first funding application window will remain open for 45 days, during which applicants will be able to submit funding requests for purchases made between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022.
Take advantage of E-Rate and ECF funding with Trafera
At Trafera, we believe technology can only improve learning experiences when we make people our number one investment. We partner with the industry’s most trusted brands to provide students and educators with the tools and the technology they need to transform the learning experience in 2021 and beyond.
We are a leading national provider of Chromebooks, laptops, full-service warranties, interactive whiteboards, charging stations, and more. With Trafera on your team, we’ll work together to navigate the complexities of today’s learning environment in a supportive and empowering way.
Looking for more than just hardware? Our team can help you navigate other federal funding options (like CARES and ESSER) to help finance other technology initiatives like professional development, digital curriculum, software, and more.
Contact us today to learn more about improving the remote and in-person learning experience through E-Rate and ECF funding.