The Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) program rules have been published by the FCC. Beginning this summer, schools and libraries will have the opportunity to seek reimbursement of expenses for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a first-of-its-kind program that will provide targeted relief to schools and libraries for internet access and connected learning devices.
The ECF is a one-time, $7.171 billion program, authorized by the American Rescue Plan of 2021. It provides 100% reimbursements of eligible remote learning expenses for K-12 schools and public libraries. The ECF will be administered by the Universal Administrative Company (USAC), leveraging much of the same infrastructure currently used to manage the E-rate funding program for schools and libraries. The initial 45-day application period is expected to open in June and close in August of 2021.
The ECF rules were adopted by a unanimous vote of the FCC’s commissioners on May 10, 2021. Below is a summary of the ECF program guidelines. Additional information about the initial ECF filing window will be published in the coming weeks.
Final ECF Rules (Adopted May 10, 2021)
Broadband Equipment: Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, and routers, including cellular air-cards, will qualify for reimbursement. Wi-Fi hotspots will be capped at $250.
Broadband Services: There are no minimum standards for network connections. One Wi-Fi hot spot is allowed per user, and, for fixed internet connections, only one service connection is allowed per location. There are no price caps for broadband services but USAC will review costs for reasonableness.
Limited Support for Off-Campus Networks: Where applicants can prove there is no commercially available internet access available, applicants may seek funding for construction of such networks.
Connected Learning Devices
Laptops and Tablets up to $400: The Commission will approve reimbursement requests up to $400 for laptops and tablets. Smartphones will not be approved. One connected device per student is allowed. There is no allowance for breakage/spares. Applicants can purchase more expensive devices, but reimbursements will be capped at the $400 limit.
Initial Filing Window (“New Purchases”): There will be an initial 45-day filing window for schools and libraries to seek reimbursement for eligible purchases made between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022. This is the so-called “prospective” reimbursement filing window.
Subsequent Filing Windows: If signficant remain available, the Commission may decide to open another prospective filing window; alternatively the Commission may open a “retroactive” filing window for purchases eligible purchases made between March 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021.
|Competitive Bidding|| |
No Extra FCC Bidding. There will be no FCC-specific competitive bidding mandates (e.g., the FCC Form 470); however, applicants will certify compliance with applicable local, state, and Tribal procurement requirements.
EPC Portal. USAC will leverage the existing E-rate funding application (i.e., FCC Form 471) and processes as much as possible.
“Reimbursement” or “Pre-reimbursement” . Applicants will be allowed to submit reimbursement requests for invoices already paid. Applicants will also have the option to requirement reimbursement prior to paying for services, in which case the applicant must pay their vendors within 30-days of receiving their ECF reimbursement. The existing FCC Form 472 (BEAR) system will be used to submit payment requests, following a 60-day invoice submission timeframe. Detailed line-item vendor invoices will be required. Applicants must be registered in the Sam.gov system to receive ECF reimbursements.
E-rate Eligible Schools and Libraries. Entities do not need to be currently participating in E-rate to apply for ECF.
Filtering Required in Certain Cases. CIPA requirements only will be in effect for ECF-supported services that use ECF-supported devices.
Links to the full texts of the Order and comments of the FCC Commissioners are available below:
- The full text of the ECF Order is here.
- Comments of FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel
- Comments of Commissioner Brendan Carr
- Comments of Commissioner Nathan Simington
- Comments of Commissioner Geoffrey Starks