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.
Launched in June 2020, the Chicago Connected program provided a bridge to learning for more than 64,000 Chicago Public Schools students who didn’t have the connectivity or speed to access their remote lessons from home. An inspiring commitment on the part of Chicago’s philanthropy, business, government and nonprofit sectors, Chicago Connected has been replicated in cities across the country and is the national model for bridging the urban digital divide.
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.
Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel circulated and released to the public a draft Report and Order that, if adopted, would establish the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, pursuant to section 7402 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
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).
In the 2020s, public policy should recognize that bits are books, bits are blackboards, and bits are basic tools of medical practice. In other words, broadband networks that run to schools or libraries or health-care facilities are not built to carry only scholastic or literary or medical information.