Schools Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition
The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Universal Service Fund (USF or Fund) has been one of the nation’s most important tools for connecting our nation, including rural communities, low-income families, schools, libraries, and rural health care facilities. However, the funding mechanism that supports the Fund is under significant duress. The “contribution base” – the revenues used to calculate USF contributions – has declined 63% in the last two decades, from $79.9 billion in 2001 to $29.6 billion in 2021.
The recently-approved American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) allocated $7.171 billion to a new Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), an historic expansion of the E-rate program to connect students, teachers, and library patrons who lack home broadband access.
Although President Biden has just signed the American Rescue Plan Act (including $7 billion in E-rate funding) into law, some believe that the March 2020 Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act already took care of the connectivity gap.
A coalition of education advocates petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to close the remote learning gap for the estimated 15 to 16 million students who lack home internet access. If granted, the petition would allow schools and libraries to connect these disconnected learners using funding from the E-rate program.
As we begin 2021, the United States still grapples with the inequities laid bare by the coronavirus pandemic – especially the ever-present digital divide. The SHLB Coalition promotes open, affordable, high-quality broadband for anchor institutions and their communities because these institutions are key to connecting the estimated 42 million Americans without internet access. Community anchor institutions deserve a prominent place in the nation’s broadband policy framework because of their critical role in providing education, healthcare, research, and access to information.
“We should construct broadband policy based on the ways people use broadband, and that has changed drastically,” writes Benton Senior Fellow Jonathan Sallet in “Broadband for America Now.” He’s absolutely right. Everything has changed since the coronavirus pandemic began – including the ways we use broadband. SHLB has long argued that community anchor institutions (CAIs) require high-quality broadband to serve their communities in the 21st century.