This year’s Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) has provided a much-needed infusion of laptop computers and Wi-Fi hotspots to keep K-12 students and library patrons connected to the Internet. But that is not the only public service the ECF has provided. Up until this point, we have all been estimating what was needed to help our communities stay connected. The time for guessing is over. Now, we have solid data to inform our decision making: $4.51 billion is needed annually to provide secure devices with internet connections to families who otherwise lack adequate connectivity. Armed with real-world information, the ground has been laid for better laws and regulations.
Device and Home Internet
In 2021, there was $6.32 billion needed to provide connected learning devices for students, school staff, and library patrons who otherwise lacked a sufficient connection. 12.9 million laptop and tablet computers were requested along with 5.5 million off-campus data connections.
These expenses are not one-time, “one and done” investments. The $1.77 billion in home internet costs are recurring expenses that will need on-going support. Similarly, devices, such as laptops, do not last forever. Three-to-five years is a general estimate of the lifespan of these equipment. Therefore, assuming one-quarter of these devices will need to be replaced each year, we can assume that $1.14 billion is needed annually for device replacement.
Cybersecurity is becoming one of the top issues, not just for technology professionals, but for organizations in general. Schools and libraries know that they need cybersecurity to keep their students safe and their networks accessible. 97% of them are asking for the FCC to provide support for cybersecurity. A recent study submitted to the FCC found that $1.606 billion was needed annually to provide network firewalls and endpoint security for K-12 schools.
It is a fallacy to think that devices can be provided to students without cybersecurity. Distributing a device without cybersecurity is worse than not providing a device. Congress should require that devices and networks be secured, and they should provide the necessary resources to secure them.
$4.51 Billion Needed Annually
There is an on-going need to provide secure and reliable connected learning devices to students, staff, and library patrons. Based on the actual ECF funding request data from 2021, combined with the detailed cybersecurity cost study, we can estimate what that need really is: $4,509,705,054 per year.
By providing support for securely connected devices, Congress can quickly and effectively impact homes in every zip code. Investing $4.51 billion per year into a program that will help connect our students, school staff and library patrons should be a simple decision for all members of Congress. This is particularly true because the FCC has proven that it can effectively launch and maintain such a program.
Keeping our communities securely connected is an on-going challenge. Fortunately, the ECF program has given us the data and now we know the answer to our question: $4.51 billion per year is needed.