Through American Rescue Plan, Congress appropriated $7 billion for the Emergency Connectivity Fund for schools and libraries. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency tasked with developing rules for distributing the funds, sought public comment on its proposal to limit the funding for only educational purposes and exclude mobile phones from the list of eligible devices.
On April 5, 2021, Next Century Cities commented on this proposal, encouraging the FCC to adopt rules that accommodate the innovative methods that schools and libraries developed when faced with COVID-19 closures. A broad definition of eligible devices, service areas, and functions will ensure that communities have the flexibility to connect all residents with the devices and service they need throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since lockdowns began last March, schools and libraries across the country have taken the lead, ensuring that students and patrons who normally use public WiFi and devices remain connected with the essential tools and services they need, not only for distance learning, but also for remote work, telemedicine, and workforce development. Teachers and librarians remain uniquely positioned to understand their community’s needs, responding in real time as new challenges arise. With an expansive view for how schools and libraries may use the funding, the FCC can provide the financial support necessary to make those projects a reality.
NCC also signed-on to comments led by the Open Technology Institute (OTI) which urge the FCC to promulgate rules that support the varied needs of educational institutions and libraries based on local circumstances. Specifically, the comments ask the FCC to allow schools and libraries to adopt self-provisioned networks to reach students and patrons in their homes. The filing also explains why the FCC should not restrict where schools and libraries are able to offer the services created through new E-Rate funding.