FCC Offers More Funding for Wi-Fi Hotspots to Schools and Libraries

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has taken a significant step in addressing the digital divide and supporting remote education by proposing an expansion of the E-Rate program.
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Under this proposal, schools and libraries would be eligible to apply for funding to provide Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless internet access services that can be used off-premises. This move comes in response to the growing reliance on online educational tools and remote learning, making it essential to update the E-Rate program to meet the evolving needs of students and educators.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel emphasized the importance of addressing the digital divide, which became even more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many schools and libraries had to find innovative ways to bridge the internet access gap, such as lending Wi-Fi hotspots. While the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) made significant progress in this regard, it was a one-time effort. The FCC now aims to create a permanent solution to ensure that communities can stay connected and learn without limits.

The FCC, under Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s leadership, has been actively working to address the “Homework Gap,” which affects numerous students and library patrons who lack sufficient access to digital resources. The Universal Service Fund-supported E-Rate program has been instrumental in improving school and library connectivity. Recent decisions to support Wi-Fi on school buses and enhance E-Rate support for libraries in Tribal communities demonstrate the agency’s commitment to modernize the program to meet the current needs of educational institutions.

These efforts coincide with the FCC’s ongoing implementation of the Emergency Connectivity Fund, a groundbreaking federal program designed to address the Homework Gap. Over the past two years, the FCC has allocated over $120 million for Wi-Fi hotspot devices and nearly $1.3 billion for associated services, ensuring that students, school staff, and library patrons have the broadband connectivity required for effective remote learning.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking released by the FCC today seeks to clarify that the off-premises use of Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless internet access services for remote learning and virtual library services serves an educational purpose. Eligible schools and libraries would be able to request E-Rate support for these off-premises uses, ultimately enhancing access to advanced telecommunications and information services. This proposal represents a significant step towards closing the digital divide and ensuring that all students and library patrons have equitable access to online education resources.