E-rate/Schools and Libraries Program
When it comes to broadband, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is about more than money. For example, Congress also directed the Federal Communications Commission to consider the impact of the law's $65 billion broadband investment on the FCC's existing broadband support programs under the umbrella of the Universal Service Fund (known to wonks as the USF).
In November 2021, President Joe Biden signed into law the largest U.S. investment ever in broadband access, affordability, and adoption. With $65 billion flowing to broadband, Congress also asked the Federal Communications Commission to determine what impact the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will have in achieving universal service goals for broadband. This week, the FCC launched a proceeding seeking public comment on how to best make sure everyone in the U.S. can use broadband.
As the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act awaits a vote in the House of Representatives later this month, a debate over the future of the Federal Communications Commission's Universal Service Fund (USF) is already starting. Provisions in the infrastructure bill call for the FCC to quickly complete an evaluation of how the legislation will impact how the FCC's achieves the goal of deploying broadband to all Americans. Congress wants to know how the FCC can be more effective in achieving this goal. One brewing USF issue is how we pay for it.
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.
Schools and libraries have an enormous window of opportunity to help their students and patrons obtain affordable internet access. At the end of this month, the Federal Communications Commission will open a 45-day filing window for the Emergency Connectivity Fund program, which will make $7.17 billion available to fund broadband service and devices off-campus.
This week, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules for the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, providing $7.171 billion for schools and libraries for the purchase of connected devices and broadband connections for use by students, school staff, and library patrons at locations other than a school or library.
In the coming days, we will see major progress on a $10+ billion federal investment in digital inclusion. This moment is unprecedented. We've never seen such a large commitment to making broadband service affordable for all. And, as Congress starts to focus on long-term solutions for universal broadband, we're seeing the potential for more digital inclusion investment in the coming months.
A number of readers have reached out to us at Benton asking for help figuring out where to find all the pools of broadband support appropriated by Congress over the past year. So we've decided to create this placeholder for all the funding we've seen in the CARES Act, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, and the American Rescue Plan.
On March 11, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, the latest effort to address the continued impact of COVID-19 on the economy, public health, state and local governments, individuals, and businesses.
In October 2019, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society issued Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. The agenda was comprehensive, constructed upon achievements in communities and insights from experts across the nation. The report outlined the key building blocks of broadband policy—deployment, competition, community anchor institutions, and digital equity (including affordability and adoption).