How Schools and Libraries Can Use the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program to Close the Homework Gap

In the wake of the pandemic, educational institutions have strived to bring remote learning to every student’s home, but as many as 17 million students still lack reliable internet connectivity. The FCC calls this the “Homework Gap”.1

But now, the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), adopted by the FCC on May 10, 2021, will reimburse schools and libraries for future purchase of devices and services that extend remote learning and community programs.

Separate from the E-Rate program, which provides similar but ongoing funding, the one-time ECF program makes available $7.1 billion as a part of the American Rescue Plan to address gaps in remote connectivity intensified by the pandemic.

“Far too often, students, teachers and library patrons lack the access they need to broadband and connected devices. This need has become even more apparent during these unprecedented times,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, Acting Chairwoman of the FCC. “These investments will help more Americans access online education, healthcare and employment resources. They will help close the Homework Gap for students nationwide and give so many more households the ability to connect, communicate and more fully participate in modern life.”2

Eligible Equipment and Services

Using ECF funding, schools and libraries may seek 100% reimbursement for eligible equipment and services intended for the 2021-2022 school year. Purchases made between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022 must be used to implement connections for locations outside the physical campus and may include3:

  • Broadband services providing connectivity for off-campus(kiosks, school buses, households, churches, etc.) use by students, school staff or library patrons
  • Broadband equipment including Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, cellular air-cards and devices that combine a modem and router
  • Connected learning devices including laptop and tablet computers or similar devices that can connect to qualifying broadband networks

There is a $400 cap on reimbursement per connected device and a $250 cap on Wi-Fi hotspots. The program is limited to one connected device or one Wi-Fi hotspot per student, school staff member or library patron, and does not allow for the purchase of extra devices in case of loss or breakage.

Filing Windows

The FCC and Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), the independent non-profit that administers the E-Rate program, have outlined an initial 45-day filing window for schools and libraries to seek reimbursement for “prospective” eligible purchase made between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022.

“What remote, connected learning devices will your school or library need in this time period? That forms the scope of your application,” said John Harrington, CEO of Funds for Learning, in a May 13 webinar.

If funds remain after the first filing window, schools and libraries can apply for “retroactive” reimbursement for eligible equipment and services purchased between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021 to provide access to the internet for successful remote learning.4

“This is not a once and done moment in time. We don’t just go out and solve the homework gap. It’s an ongoing need to continue to serve and support families that lack internet access,” Harrington said, adding that he hoped that the ECF program demonstrates to Congress and the FCC an ongoing need in communities for connectivity.

Application Process

USAC will use the same forms used for E-Rate because schools and libraries are already familiar with those forms:

  • Applicants will submit Form 471 (Description of Services Ordered and Certification Form)
  • Applicants and Service Providers will be allowed to submit reimbursement requests using the appropriate form:
    • Form 472 (Billed Entity Applicant Reimbursement (BEAR) Form)
    • Form 474 (Service Provider Invoice (SPI) Form)
  • All applicants that intend to participate and all service providers that elect to submit requests for reimbursement:
    • must register with the System for Award Management (SAM) to receive reimbursement
    • must include invoices which details the items purchased along with the reimbursement

Schools can choose to submit invoices for reimbursement (Form 472) or have vendor partners (like cellular providers) submit invoices for reimbursement directly (Form 474).

Your UScellular™ ECF Partner

All eligible ECF equipment and services are available as a part of UScellular’s product and services portfolio. We also have a specialized team to help schools and libraries navigate the funding and reimbursement process, helping ensure that your remote learning capabilities are well implemented, and your students and library patrons always stay connected.

For more information about the ECF or E-Rate programs and how we can help, please reach out to UScellular at 866-616-5587 or by filling out this form.

Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund

Congress has funded the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Connectivity Program to temporarily help consumers pay for broadband service, which may be included in your smartphone plan or a voice + data bundle.

The program is limited to one monthly service discount per eligible household and will provide up to $50 per month towards broadband service and up to $75 per month for households on tribal lands.

To assist you in claiming these funds, UScellular™ has created a portal where you can verify eligibility and opt in to the program.

Learn more