Close to 300 questions were submitted during the June 2, 2021, ECF webinar. Thank you to all who participated. Below is a list of the most frequently asked questions along with answers based on currently available information. All responses are subject to change as the FCC releases additional guidelines.
- How is “lack of access” defined and how do we document it?
The adequacy of a service or device to support remote learning is the key to determining eligibility. It is dependent upon the specific needs within your community. ECF funds are intended to support “students, school staff, and library patrons who would otherwise lack connected devices and/or broadband Internet access services sufficient to engage in remote learning.” That is the only specific definition provided by the FCC.
Rather than dictating a one-size-fits-all adequacy, the FCC has left it to individual applicants to define what is necessary. It is suggested that you prepare a memo or other document that outlines a reasonable threshold for internet connectivity and learning devices. These requirements could vary for different users. For example, the minimum requirements may vary by the grade level of a student, for school staff, etc. Having a written standard that is reasonable and easily explained will support an applicant’s ECF funding requests.
The ECF Order offers the following: “students, school staff, and library patrons who would otherwise lack access to a device sufficient to enable them to engage in remote learning ¶4…We will also require schools to certify, as part of their funding application, that they are only seeking support for eligible services provided to students and school staff who would otherwise lack broadband services sufficient to engage in remote learning. This should not be an onerous burden, as the record shows that many school districts have conducted needs assessments to determine the connectivity needs of their students and staff. We think that schools are in the best position to determine whether their students and staff have devices and broadband services sufficient to meet their remote learning needs, and we recognize that they are making such decisions in the midst of a pandemic. We, therefore, will not impose any specific metrics or process requirements on those determinations.” ¶81
- Do all districts equally qualify or what is the criteria for selection?
All entities that qualify for E-rate support will also qualify for ECF support. Funding will be prioritized and awarded first to rural entities and to those that serve the highest percentage of families who qualify for the National School Lunch Program. Should demand exceed available funds, applications will be prioritized and processed based on the Category 1 E-rate discount rate associated with a school or library. Rural applicants will receive a 5% “bump” to the discount rate used to calculate the priority of their applications. For example, rural schools and libraries who qualify for a 90% discount rate in the E-rate program will use a 95% discount and will receive top priority over their urban counterparts who also qualify for a 90% E-rate discount. If there are insufficient funds available to fund an entire discount band, priority will be given to applicants with the highest percentage of low-income students.
- If we are 100% in person, do we qualify?
Yes, you may still qualify for ECF support if your school is 100% in person. ECF funding supports remote learning activities that take place off-campus, no matter what time of day, or day of the week. If a student, school staff member, or library patron is participating in educational activities off-campus, then their internet access or connected learning device may qualify for support even if they participate in a certain amount of on-campus education. The three key criteria are (1) the user engages in remote educational activities and would otherwise lack sufficient resources to do so, (2) the service and/or device was purchased with the intent of providing off-campus remote learning opportunities, and (3) the service and/or device is not used solely on school or library grounds. These guidelines align with the ECF’s goal to close the homework gap.
- If we haven’t participated in E-rate before, what do we need to do in order to participate? Do we need to set up a BEN?
Entities do not need to be currently participating in E-rate to apply for ECF. But since the FCC has directed USAC to utilize the existing E-rate processes to facilitate the ECF program, all applicants will need to establish certain items. To start:
A. Request a Billed Entity Number (BEN) in EPC
B. Establish an account administrator and general contact in EPC
C. Register for an FCCFRN
5. Is there anything specific a service provider needs to do to participate?
Unlike the E-rate program, Service Providers do not have to have a Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) in order to participate in ECF. Local and state procurement laws must be followed.
All service providers must register in System for Award Management (SAM.gov). SAM is a web-based application that collects, validates, stores, and disseminates business information about the federal government’s partners in support of federal awards, grants, and electronic payment processes. It can take up to 20 days for a SAM registration to become active and an additional 24 hours before that registration information is available in other government systems.
- Is the $250 or $400 cap on just the device or the service too? Can the device cost more than those limits?
The reimbursement cap only limits the purchase price of equipment. More expensive items can be purchased, but reimbursements for each device will be limited to the level set by the FCC. In contrast, there is no specific pre-defined limit for the cost of monthly recurring services; however, USAC and the FCC will review costs and may deny requests for services expenses that are deemed unreasonable.
- $250 is the “maximum reasonable cost for a Wi-Fi hotspot provided by a school or library to a student, school staff member, or library patron”. An applicant can spend more but will only be reimbursed up to $250 per hotspot. This maximum allowable cost is for the equipment itself, not the service. The cost of the service is not subject to a pre-defined price cap.
- $400 is the maximum reimbursement amount for laptops, tablets, etc. An applicant can spend more but will only reimbursed up to $400 per device. An applicant may request a waiver of the $400 limit for users with disabilities, if necessary. Other federal funds could be used for the balance.
- Other items, such as modems and routers, are not subject to a specific price cap, but USAC will review requests and identify those that are substantially higher than normal.
- Monthly service is not subject to a price cap if the application is funded.
- Does the school or student own the device if purchased through ECF?
Devices funded through the ECF program are the property of the applicant (school or library) and must be retained for a minimum of three years. Documentation must be retained for ten years.
- Is the Google Chrome Management Licensing needed for Chromebooks eligible for ECF funding?
The FCC has not clearly defined an answer to this question. Preloaded software and/or licenses necessary to enable remote learning and that are included in the base price of a connected learning device are likely to be eligible. Afterall, without the necessary operating software, a laptop may not be a connected learning device. On the other hand, the FCC rules clearly state that software, user licenses, filtering and firewall services that are purchased separately and are not included in the base price for the equipment are ineligible. An applicant should be prepared to clearly articulate what software and licenses were included and why.
- Are devices provided to Pre-K students eligible?
Yes, is the Pre-K students are also eligible for E-rate support in your state or territory. The Order states that “We decline to extend eligibility for support from the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program to other entities that are not eligible for E-Rate support” (¶26) In the E-rate program, Pre-K eligibility is determined on a state level. Applicants can use this link to determine if Pre-K students are considered eligible for ECF funding.
- Can hotspots that are handed out at a library be handed to library patrons that aren’t students?
The Order states that “The support provided through this Program will first allow eligible schools and libraries to seek funding for upcoming purchases of eligible equipment, including Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and connected devices, as well as advanced telecommunications and information services, to meet the remote learning needs of students, school staff, and library patrons who would otherwise lack access to connected devices and broadband connections sufficient to engage in remote learning during the upcoming school year.” (¶4)
- Who is considered the “customer” for Internet service subscriptions?
The ECF applicant is the “customer” for the Internet service subscription, not the student, school staff, or library patron.
- Can you clarify what is eligible for buses?
The ECF order does not clearly define what is eligible for a bus, but it does clearly state that buses are eligible, along with homes, community centers, bookmobiles, and other off-campus locations. One commonsense interpretation is that the FCC intended to support a Wi-Fi enabled bus, not just a hotspot to a bus. It is suggested that the service costs and equipment to outfit a school bus (or bookmobile) with Wi-Fi be submitted on a separate funding request.
- How many times can you apply for ECF funding?
Applicants can submit multiple applications for different eligible services/devices, however duplicate applications are not eligible. It is important to note that the FCC will not begin to review and fund applications until after the window closes, and this ECF filing window is only for services/devices purchased between July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022.
- Does an applicant have to wait until a funding decision is made to move forward with a purchase?
No. The only requirement that the FCC has made is that the purchases have to be made between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2022 to be considered for reimbursement. It should be noted that applications for ECF funding are not guaranteed to be funded.
- How soon after a funding decision is made, when could we expect reimbursement to occur?
The FCC has tasked USAC to begin accepting requests for reimbursement within 15 days of the first wave of funding commitments issued. USAC will not begin reviewing or funding applications until after the filing window closes. The earliest that funds are likely to be disbursed is September or October of 2021.
- What will an applicant need to do to build and support their application?
Here is a partial list of information applicants will need to complete their application:
- Thorough knowledge of state, local, and tribal procurement rules
- Documentation of how the applicant determined “unmet needs”
- Quote from service provider clearly outlining the services/devices being applied for and their prices
- Decision about reimbursement method (BEAR, Pre-reimbursement, or SPI)
- SAM registration (information link)
- What is eligible?
Eligible connected devices include laptops and tablet computers, with the FCC setting an expectation that the devices will be “Wi-Fi enabled and able to support video conferencing platforms.” While the FCC did not impose a specific screen size requirement for eligible devices, they did exclude both desktop computers and smartphones from the ECF’s eligible services list.
Ineligible equipment and services include cybersecurity solutions, mobile phones/smart phones, standalone costs for peripherals like cameras or microphones, curriculum and/or learning management systems, videoconference service subscriptions (e.g. Zoom or Teams), and voice services.
Internet access services include “fixed” services like cable modem, DSL, or residential fiber service, as well as wireless services like 5G/LTE service to hotspot devices. Equipment necessary to make Internet connections functional, such as modems, routers, and hotspots, cellular air cards, MiFi’s are eligible as well.
Self-provisioned networks and “datacasting” solutions are presumed to be ineligible, except in cases where “no commercially available [Internet] services exist.” In limited cases where there is no commercially available service that can reach students, school staff, or library patrons, the FCC can fund the construction of networks “and/or purchase customer premises equipment to receive datacasting services.” CBRS and private LTE solutions were specifically excluded from the definition of a “router” or “modem,” but could potentially be funded in situations where there is no commercially available service that can reach a given user population.
- How does the “60 days from FCDL reimbursement request” deadline work with recurring services?
The Order states “We permit applicants and service providers to submit reimbursement requests and invoices for prior and prospective purchases for 60 days from the date of the funding commitment decision letter” (¶98) One solution to this may be that if an applicant is seeking a month-to-month agreement, they may consider verifying that the service provider they choose is willing to use the SPI reimbursement method.
- What are the CIPA requirements if utilizing ECF?
ECF recipients will be required to comply with CIPA requirements in a similar way to E-rate funding recipients.
The ECF CIPA requirements will apply for the use of computers (laptops, tablets, etc.) that are owned by the applicant (school or library), if the applicant receives funding for Internet service through ECF or E-rate.
CIPA compliance is not required for ECF if (1) connected learning devices are owned by the school or library applicant, but the applicant is not receiving Internet service funding from either the ECF or the E-rate; or (2) the applicant is receiving Internet service funding from either the ECF or the E-rate, but the connected learning devices are owned by a third-party (the student or library patron).
The CIPA certifications for the ECF program will be included on the FCC Form 471 that applicants submit for ECF funding requests (no additional Form 486 CIPA certification will be required).
- How does the funding model work for libraries if the 400 dollars per device is “per student”?
The $400 cap is per device not per student, school staff, or library patron. However, only one device is eligible for support per student, school staff, or library patron with unmet connection/device needs.
- Is this a grant program?
No, the ECF program is a Federal Reimbursement Program.