The reply comment deadline for the FCC’s Public Notice seeking input on the use of E-rate funds to close the homework gap closed on February 23, 2021. The Commission received more than 200 comments, replies, and ex parte submissions during the comment period, making the proceeding one of the most heavily commented E-rate topics since the 2013 E-rate reform NPRM.
Support for the use of E-rate funds to close the homework gap was nearly unanimous, with schools, libraries, states, consortia, consultants, industry groups, and lawmakers urging the FCC to support broadband connectivity to unserved and underserved students and library patrons as soon as possible. Frequently discussed topics included eligibility (what types of products and services should be funded), timing (whether or not discounts should be retroactively available back to Funding Year 2020) and procurement (to what extent the current E-rate competitive bidding rules should be relaxed in order to speed up the flow of funds.) Opinions on these details were mixed at times, but stakeholders sent a clear message to the FCC that the E-rate program can – and should – be used to ensure that remote learners and library patrons are connected for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As of February 26, 2021, the FCC has announced no official changes to the program, and the timeline for potential changes is unclear.