Feds Launch Broadband Connectivity Fund, Programs

The FCC has released its new “rule” to govern funding and operations of two new broadband connectivity programs, both authorized through recent COVID relief packages.

from coverage on the NACo website:

During the week of May 10, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted a final rule to implement $7.1 billion in funding for the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) Program and also launched the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program. The EBB and ECF were established under the two most recent federal COVID-19 relief packages and aim to provide new technology and broadband internet access to low-income households and libraries and schools in rural or low-income areas. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated the digital divide impacting counties across the nation, with rural and low-income students in particular facing barriers to remote learning. The FCC funds represent an important bridge for schools, libraries and low-income households as counties and our federal partners work to implement long-term solutions to the digital divide.

On May 10, the FCC adopted the final rule for the ECF, which was established by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This competitive grant program will allow schools and libraries to purchase laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots and broadband connectivity for students, school staff and library patrons in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, with priority given to currently unconnected students and educators. The application window will open in the next 30-60 days.

Additionally, on May 12, the FCC launched the EBB Program. The $3.2 billion program, established by the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021,  provides support for broadband services and certain devices to help low-income households stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will provide discounts of up to $50 for internet service for low-income households and discounts of up to $75 for service on tribal lands. Eligible residents will also have the opportunity to receive a discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet. For more information on eligibility and how to apply, visit the FCC’s EBB information page.

NACo will continue to monitor federal actions related to access to broadband connectivity.

For more information on programs in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, view NACo’s new funding breakdown interactive tool.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties