Advocates have been working hard in DC since COVID-19 hit the United States back in March to provide more funding for broadband and connectivity. The writing on the wall was clear: every student needed reliable at-home connection in order to participate and keep on a successful trajectory for learning and outcomes.
Connecting students at home is the number one priority for states and districts, as the state set-asides from the Elementary and Secondary School Relief Fund (ESSER) and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) allowable uses for every state all reference and allocate funds specifically for providing connectivity opportunities for students to access all needed instructional and educational materials.
On September 16, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission announced, “the opening of a second funding year 2020 filing window to allow schools to request additional E-Rate funding specifically to address increased on-campus bandwidth needs,” stating that, “schools across the United States continue to face unprecedented disruptions and challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As the school year begins, many school districts are relying on remote learning, either in whole or in part, to educate students. This heightened reliance on remote learning, as well as social distancing in schools providing in-person instruction, has dramatically increased demand on school networks, creating an urgent need for additional on-campus bandwidth this school year.”
This additional window will allow schools to purchase additional bandwidth for the school year to, “address needs resulting from the increasing shift to 1:1 student-to-device ratios in classrooms, live streaming of classroom instruction to students at home, and expanding use of cloud-based educational tools and platforms—all of which can significantly increase on-campus bandwidth requirements. The second filing window will open upon publication of the Order in the Federal Register and close on October 16, 2020.”
According to the announcement from FCC, “Earlier this year, the FCC quickly announced extensions of key E-Rate service implementation and filing deadlines to provide relief to program participants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. It also waived the program’s gift rules to enable service providers to offer, and E- Rate program participants to solicit and accept, improved connections or additional equipment for remote learning during the coronavirus outbreak. And the Commission has partnered with the Department of Education to promote the use of $16 billion in available funding for remote learning from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act’s Education Stabilization Fund, which several jurisdictions have already taken advantage of.”
Advocates are still working hard to expand funding and restrictions on categorical funding for E-rate. This second window is a good first step in ensuring that every student is connected and working toward bridging the digital divide and working toward digital equity. The close date is fast approaching, so districts must ensure they get their application in as soon as possible.