HARRISBURG, PA — The Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) this week announced the availability of the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), a program that will help eligible schools and libraries close the digital divide and homework gap.
The ECF, which is administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is a $7.17 billion temporary program that will help cover costs associated with laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connectivity purchases for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons.
“Digital devices and reliable internet are critical resources for learners of all ages, however, the pandemic has increased inequities in access,” said Secretary of Education Noe Ortega. “The ECF program will help schools across the state connect classrooms and communities, close the digital divide, and create digital equity.”
Created through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund is considered the nation’s largest single effort to ensure students have access to the digital devices and resources they need for the new school year. The program will also help libraries offer their patrons new ways to connect as well as bring connectivity home.
“Creating and providing computer and high-speed internet access to communities is an important role of public libraries,” said Acting Deputy Secretary & State Librarian for the Office of Commonwealth Libraries Susan Banks. “Libraries who apply to the ECF Program will be able to loan laptops and mobile hot spots to their patrons who have a need for the connected devices beyond the library, extending the integral library services and getting the internet into the hands of patrons 24/7.”
Schools and libraries that are eligible for support under the FCC’s E-rate Program may request support through the ECF, however, they do not need to be current E-rate participants. Those who are not current members must demonstrate eligibility under the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC’s) application review. ECF will fund modems, routers, Wi-Fi hotspots, laptops, tablets, and Chromebooks up to $400 a device. Purchases must be made between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022. USAC is the program administrator.
Applications for this program open today and will end on August 13, 2021. During the application filing window, eligible schools, libraries, and consortia of eligible schools and libraries, can submit requests for funding to purchase eligible equipment and services between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. For more information, visit the ECF website. To apply, visit emergencyconnectivityfund.org.
The departments of Human Services, Labor & Industry, and Education also recently announced the availability of the federal Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), a program that will assist eligible households in paying for internet service and certain electronic devices. The EBB, which is also administered by the FCC, is a temporary program that provides a discount of up to $50 per month off a qualifying household’s internet bill and associated equipment rental. Additionally, eligible households can receive a one-time discount of up to $100 towards a tablet, laptop, or desktop computer, provided that the household contributes more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price. The EBB is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household, and the discount will be provided by the FCC directly to the service provider.
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