K-12 schools and public libraries are urged to apply for ECF support this summer. The program will provide 100% reimbursement for Wi-Fi hotspots and laptop computers for students, staff, and library patrons who lack home Internet connectivity. There is $7.1 billion available, and the initial filing period will pay for goods and services delivered July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022.
A strange dichotomy exists related to internet connectivity. We all seem to struggle with it, but the nature of the struggle is very different for certain groups. Many of us (i.e., most anyone reading this article) struggle with the need to disconnect, or “unplug,” from the internet. We talk about getting away from our devices and how important it is to take a break from being online… But, for most of us, being online too much is not a problem in the traditional sense of the word. It is a problem like having too much ice cream is a problem. It is not healthy, but it is not really a problem in and of itself.
However, there is a real problem that plagues millions of Americans: a lack of sufficient internet access. Many people struggle to get online. They lack the basic connections and devices necessary to fully participate in our modern world. They cannot access online resources, and thus, miss out on the benefits enjoyed by all of us who do have access. This is sometimes referred to as “digital equity”. In the land of opportunity, does everyone have the same digital potential? Sadly, for millions of people, the answer is ‘no’.
Over the past year, we have all witnessed this phenomenon play out in our communities, particularly in our K-12 schools and libraries. Millions could stay connected and plugged in, but there were others who could not.
Recently, the Federal Communications Commission took steps to close this gap by establishing the rules for the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF). This is welcome relief to help millions of K-12 students, teachers, and library patrons get online when they are at home and not at school or the library.
The needs are great; the funds are available; and the application process is about to start. The success of this program now relies on schools and libraries planning and preparing their funding applications. With the filing window expected to open by July 1, 2021, applicants will not have much time. It is incumbent on school boards, superintendents, librarians, and other leaders to move swiftly. This is a one-time opportunity to bridge the Homework Gap for the next year, and it is critical for those who lack connectivity that the rest of us step up and do all that we can to help.
Now is the time to support our schools and libraries as they help connect our communities. More information about the Emergency Connectivity Fund is available here.