Tips to Evaluating Unmet Needs to Secure Emergency Connectivity Funding

The American Rescue Plan’s Emergency Connectivity Fund application window is available June 29 August 13, 2021, and schools and libraries are preparing the information they need to successfully apply — starting with assessing unmet needs.

“The opening of the filing window will start the process of awarding $7.17 billion in funds to support the purchase of connected devices (laptop and tablet computers), Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and broadband connections for off-campus use to serve the unmet needs of students, school staff and library patrons,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a June 15 statement.

Evaluating Unmet Needs Before You Apply

When students and patrons were first sent home in March 2020, schools and libraries had to gauge what was needed to provide an internet connection and/or a connected device to those who would otherwise lack access to remote learning.

This process may have included:

  • Sending questionnaires (surveys) to families to determine what sort of internet connectivity and computers were available at home for students
  • Documenting calls, emails or contact through their websites to survey connectivity needs

The results are central to the ECF application process. Schools and libraries must provide a summary of their surveying process along with a copy of the survey, letter or questionnaire, and a compilation of results (both unmet and met needs) as of March 2020.

Applicants must next review those results to estimate what needs they expect to continue to be unmet and still unfilled for the July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022 purchasing period. This forecast might include connected devices and services (mobile wireless) still adequate for students, school staff and library patrons to engage in remote learning/access.

Questions to consider when creating an unmet needs estimate:

  • What off-campus internet services still are NOT provided for remote users?
  • What NEW needs have arisen due to new enrollments or enrollment changes as students matriculate to higher grades?
  • What equipment (laptops, tablets, hotspots, modems, routers, etc.) was NOT purchased for off-campus use but would have been provided had enough funding been available?
  • What existing off-campus equipment will need to be replaced for which currently there is no funding other than ECF? This includes lost or damaged items that resulted in some students, staff and library patrons now lacking access to engage in remote learning.

Tracking and Retaining ECF Data

Once ECF funds are approved for your school or library, the unmet needs surveys can serve as your “Device and Service Tracking Record,” required by the ECF. Unlike other E-Rate cycles, ECF mandates schools and libraries to track devices and/or internet services down to the individual person. These records must be retained for at least 10 years following the end of the ECF program.

For each connected device provided to an individual student or family, school staff member or library patron, documentation must include:

  • The connected device type (i.e. laptop, tablet, mobile hotspot, modem, router), make/model and equipment serial number
  • Internet service (mobile wireless) plan details, including upload and download speeds, and monthly data cap
  • The full name of the person given the connected device (i.e. laptop, tablet, mobile hotspot, modem, router) and, for library patrons, a signed statement that they would otherwise lack access to equipment and/or services sufficient to meet their educational needs if not for the use of the those loaned by the library
  • The dates the connected device was loaned out and returned, or lost or damaged

For internet service (mobile wireless) connectivity provided via a school bus, mobile library truck, community center, homeless shelter or other outreach location for use by multiple students or library patrons, documentation must include:

  • The name of the school or library employee responsible for that equipment or service
  • A description of the intended service area

Be specific. If the signal reaches only a few blocks, note the neighborhood or crossroad, not just the city.

Your UScellular™ ECF Partner

With the ECF window open only 45 days, preparation now will help schools and libraries to quickly get their ECF applications submitted. Now is a good time to contact UScellular to start purchasing needed devices and setting up mobile services to begin on July 1, 2021.

UScellular is here to support you. Our in-house E-Rate specialist will answer your questions and help guide you through the arduous ECF application process. And, with extensive experience working with schools and libraries, we look forward to assisting you to meet your unmet needs.

Get started today by reaching out to your local solutions expert at 866-616-5587 or by filling out this form.

Tips to Prepare for the ECF Filing Window

To prepare for the 45-day filing window, the FCC recommends that schools and libraries:

  • Review the ECF order and visit the FCC and org web pages
  • Sign up to receive information and updates about the program.
  • View webinars on how to complete an application.
  • Obtain or locate an FCC registration number (FRN) — needed to apply for ECF support
  • Verify you are not in red light status at the FCC or on the U.S. Treasury’s do not pay list
  • Register with System for Award Management at gov — required to receive funds; allow 10-20 days for registration to become active
  • Evaluate unmet needs