As part of the American Rescue Plan that President Joe Biden signed into law on Thursday, the federal government will be sending $7.1 billion to localities to assist with remote learning efforts.
The $7.1 billion is part of the broader $1.9 trillion stimulus bill that the House passed on Wednesday. The funds will be directed toward schools and community libraries.
The FCC says that the Emergency Connectivity Fund will help eligible schools and libraries purchase WiFi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices to provide students with the broadband connections needed to complete their schoolwork and participate in the digital classroom.
“The pandemic has made clear that reliable access to broadband is not a nice to have, but a need to have, especially for our students,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “The nation’s Homework Gap has never been more evident than in the last year with the move to remote learning. Today’s signing of the American Rescue Plan provides the FCC with new tools to support the millions of students locked out of the digital classroom. I look forward to implementing this program, so we can help ensure that no child is left offline.”
The funding will be aimed toward low-income communities, and communities of color.
“Recent estimates suggest the Homework Gap may affect as many as 17 million kids with recent data suggesting as many as one in three Black, Latinx, and American Indian/Alaska Native students lack high-speed internet access at home,” Rosenworcel said. The Emergency Connectivity Fund could make a major difference in our ability to help these families and students. The new funding can be used to pay for eligible equipment and services for schools and libraries to provide to students who need them.”
The fund comes as a number of schools are ending virtual learning and moving toward in-person learning. Biden has says he hopes most schools are able to resume in-person sessions by the end of April. Congressional Republicans have pushed for schools to open sooner.
CDC guidance has called on schools to reopen in areas where the spread of the virus is minimal.
The new program is in addition to one the FCC is forming that is working with internet service providers to offer broadband internet for low-income households.
The FCC says the program will provide eligible households with discounts of up to $50 a month for broadband service, and up to $75 a month if the household is on Tribal lands. It also will provide a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for eligible households, the FCC added.
The FCC says that the program is open to Lifeline subscribers, including those that are on Medicaid or accept SNAP benefits; households with children receiving free or reduced-price lunch or school breakfast; Pell grant recipients; and those who have lost jobs and seen their income reduced in the last year.
The program is expected to cost $3.2 billion, and it is being funded by the previously stimulus bill passed in December.