The last of the Emergency Connectivity Funds (ECF) will soon be committed. This support was intended to keep students online whenever necessary, regardless of their physical location, and the $8.5 billion requested demonstrates how significant the need really is. As FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel stated: “far too many kids across the country need off-campus support to get online and keep up with their schoolwork.”
We expect that there will no more ECF dollars to commit after the last wave of applications are processed. But what then? We know that the lack of internet connectivity is a persistent challenge – internet access is not a once-and-done project. In the same way that the free and reduced-price lunch program provides ongoing support for those who would otherwise lack a meal, students need continuing assistance to stay connected. Our society needs to find a way to continue keeping learners online. The ECF was a significant and important stopgap that helped millions get online. But our students deserve better than stopgap solutions. They deserve consistent, reliable, and secure connectivity that is available when they need it for their education. Wherever they are.
Learning does not just take place in a classroom, and we should stop limiting technology to inside school walls. An improved E-rate program is needed. The FCC should remove the address-based limitations of the existing program and empower schools and libraries to seek discounts for internet connections anywhere that learning is taking place. The E-rate is extraordinarily successful, in large part because it is consistent and predictable. Our students deserve that same level of support off-campus as they do on-campus, and schools and libraries could provide that level of support through a borderless E-rate program.
What do you think? Could the E-rate program be used to help bridge the homework gap in your community? If you are a school or library official, please complete the annual survey of E-rate applicants and let the FCC know what you think. The survey deadline has been extended to June 24, 2022. Please take it today.