John Harrington

No More Guessing: $4.51 Billion is Needed Yearly for Homework Gap

The 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. Up until this point, we have all been estimating what was needed to help our communities stay connected. The time for guessing is over. Based on ECF funding request data from 2021, Funds for Learning found that $4.51 billion is needed annually to provide secure devices with internet connections to families who otherwise lack adequate connectivity.

Funds For Learning Releases 2021 E-Rate Trends Report

Funds For Learning met with the Federal Communications Commission to discuss the results of a national survey of E‐Rate applicants that was conducted in June 2021. Over 2,100, which is about 10 percent of all E‐Rate applicants, submitted their responses in the nationwide survey. Respondents showed broad agreement in the following areas:

Schools and libraries request 12.9 million devices via the Emergency Connectivity Fund

A review of applications for the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) demonstrates the urgent need for laptop computers and internet access for millions of K-12 students and library patrons. Schools and libraries have requested support for 12.9 million devices via the ECF. There were two ECF filing windows in 2021. 9.4 million laptop computers were requested along with another 1.7 million tablet computers. Connected learning devices represented two-thirds of the $6.3 billion in support that was requested, and 17 percent of the funds were requested for mobile broadband.

Off‐Campus Internet Connectivity Needs of K‐12 School Students and Public Library Patrons in the United States During COVID‐19 Pandemic

A report that summarizes the need to connect millions of K‐12 students to the Internet from their home because they lack adequate internet access. These students cannot attend school, submit homework, or take tests online. An estimated $7.5 billion is required to provide these students with a secure and reliable network connection and connected learning device. Funds For Learning estimates that a total of $5.25 billion in E-rate discounts would be required, and the remaining $2.29 billion would be paid by schools and libraries with funding from other sources.

Congress and FCC Can Keep Students Online

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission should act swiftly to ensure that all our school-aged children are online and continue learning during the coronavirus pandemic. Keeping students safe and connected during this challenging time is essential to our society’s well-being. Urgent and effective action is required, and the existing E-rate funding program is the most viable solution to meet the need. Congress should immediately:

Significant Decline in Form 470 Applicants for E-Rate

To meet the E-rate competitive bidding requirements and submit a timely FY2017 funding application, applicants were required to submit their E-rate Form 470 by April 13, 2017. The Form 470 notifies potential vendors that schools and libraries are in the market to purchase goods and service with E-rate discounts. For the third year in a row, the number of applicants posting Form 470s has declined.

The overall count was down 13% from 2016. The two groups that have seen the biggest change are individual schools and small libraries, although participation is down among all applicant types. The reduced number of applicants likely stems from (1) the phase down of support for telephone service (previously the most requested service) and (2) USAC’s difficult-to-use online portal (EPC). It remains to be seen whether the reduction in Form 470 applicants will translate to lower demand during the Form 471 filing window, but the initial indications are that the number of funding requests is likely to be lower in 2017.