Other Than E-Rate Essentials

The FCC has announced two new programs to help students gain broadband access at their homes in order to support remote learning. The IL State E-Rate Coordinator, Mindy Fiscus will share updates on these and other state and federal funding opportunities that work along with E-Rate to support broadband access for student learning. Information specific to the EBB (Emergency Broadband Benefit) and ECF (Emergency Connectivity Fund) will be shared in detail. Join us to hear what new opportunities exist, other than E-Rate.

Other Than E-Rate Essentials

The FCC has announced two new programs to help students gain broadband access at their homes in order to support remote learning. The IL State E-Rate Coordinator, Mindy Fiscus will share updates on these and other state and federal funding opportunities that work along with E-Rate to support broadband access for student learning. Information specific to the EBB (Emergency Broadband Benefit) and ECF (Emergency Connectivity Fund) will be shared in detail. Join us to hear what new opportunities exist, other than E-Rate.

Other Than E-Rate Essentials

The FCC has announced two new programs to help students gain broadband access at their homes in order to support remote learning. The IL State E-Rate Coordinator, Mindy Fiscus will share updates on these and other state and federal funding opportunities that work along with E-Rate to support broadband access for student learning. Information specific to the EBB (Emergency Broadband Benefit) and ECF (Emergency Connectivity Fund) will be shared in detail. Join us to hear what new opportunities exist, other than E-Rate.

E-Rate Emergency Connectivity Fund – What You Need to Know

In March 2021, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, which included a $7.1 billion appropriation geared toward closing the digital divide and helping school districts and libraries across the US upgrade their internet access capabilities. This initiative, termed the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), can be utilized by eligible institutions to obtain (among other options) laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, and broadband internet for students and staff that are unable to participate in remote learning.

In a May 11, 2021, press release, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced a finalized rule set for the administration of the ECF. Within the next few months an application process and timeline will be released from USAC, the managing partner for this program. As such, districts may now begin planning how they will apply for these funds during the upcoming application window.

If your school or district is interested in taking advantage of the ECF’s available funds, then read on to learn about which institutions are eligible as well as how ECF funds may be spent. With this information in mind, you’ll be better prepared to apply for ECF funding in the near-term.

Note: All information and interpretations disseminated in this article are current as of mid-May 2021. ECF rules and limitations are subject to change at the FCC’s discretion. For the latest, always refer to the FCC website.

What is the Emergency Connectivity Fund?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic starting in early 2020, the US federal government already identified a growing digital divide in schools and districts across the country. However, the pandemic greatly exasperated these issues, especially in districts with poor internet connectivity infrastructure and aging digital learning hardware.

In an effort to close that gap and help districts digitally prepare for the 21-22 school year and beyond, Congress appropriated $7.1 billion within the larger $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus package to the FCC for distribution to eligible schools and libraries across the US. The FCC, in turn, has decided to distribute these funds – termed the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) – through a process similar to their  E-Rate application system, and to place the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) in charge of administering this special round of funding.

Who is Eligible?

In general, entities that are eligible to apply for and receive E-Rate funding are also eligible to apply for and receive ECF funds. That being said, eligible schools and libraries do not need to be presently participating in the E-Rate program to apply for ECF funding.

Also, unique to this round of funding, ECF funds can be directed to some non-traditional institutions where education is being presently facilitated. This includes churches and community centers. Along the same lines, wireless services for school buses and “bookmobiles” may also be purchased through this program, particularly for communities that lack adequate access to wireless internet in homes and other community center institutions. These non-traditional entities and requests will need to work with school districts in order to request services.

Finally, students, staff, and library patrons who lack sufficient internet access or access to an internet-connected device are eligible under the ECF. In all cases, internet access obtained through this program must be used primarily for facilitating learning activities, such as through a school’s remote or hybrid learning plan.

How Do I Apply?

To lower the barrier for obtaining ECF funds, the FCC has opted to utilize a revised E-Rate application process for this special round of funding. As such, eligible institutions will be able to apply online using the E-Rate EPC Portal. These institutions will also utilize familiar E-Rate forms in the application process. 

The program will likely consist of at least two rounds of funding, with the first round covering forthcoming expenses covering July 1, 2021 through June 30, 2022. The second round of funding will cover reimbursement of expenses that districts made since the beginning of the pandemic, March 2020 through June of 2021.

A precise date for this application process will be announced by the FCC soon. The traditional E-Rate process requires a specific procurement process. However, no extra or supplemental competitive bidding requirements will be imposed on ECF applications, though state and local bidding requirements may still apply. Therefore districts can move forward with requesting bids through their own district process at this time.

Additional rules and regulations relating to applying for ECF funds have also been set forth by the FCC. The full details of those rules can be found in the full ECF order documentation

What Can These Funds be Applied to?

Under the FCC’s newly-released rules, ECF funds can only be applied to several different categories of hardware and services. These items must support home or community partner access to support remote learning. For example, ECF funds may be used to pay for or reimburse purchases of:

  • Laptops
  • Tablets
  • Wi-Fi hotspots
  • Internet modems
  • Internet routers
  • Any additional equipment (including cords and chargers) needed to operate and maintain the above hardware

ECF funds may also be applied toward obtaining and maintaining any of the following services (in most cases):

  • DSL internet
  • Cable internet
  • Leased lit fiber internet
  • Wireless internet (including mobile, satellite, microwave, and fixed wireless)

Additionally, any fees associated with the installation, activation, or configuration of the above devices and services (as well as taxes, shipping costs, and other reasonable fees) may be reimbursed through the ECF. As such, participants are encouraged to keep documentation of all costs associated with their digital hardware and service purchases during the eligibility period and maximize their utilization of available funds wherever possible.

Also, as it applies to the above hardware and services, anything purchased or reimbursed through the ECF must be used primarily for educational purchases. Moreover, schools and libraries looking to purchase new devices or services through the ECF are required to restrict access to those new devices and services to only students, school staff, and library patrons with a demonstrated educational need.

Limitations on the number of devices per student and the number of new internet hook-ups per location have also been set forth by the FCC. More details on these limitations – including relevant price caps – can be found in the FCC order documentation.

Supporting your Ongoing E-Rate Needs

The Learning Technology Center (LTC) is ready and willing to help your school district take advantage of all new and annual federal funding geared toward supporting home connectivity, digital learning, and more. Our annual E-Rate application tour, for example, can help schools obtain funds for supporting their digital education infrastructure – including both hardware and internet services.

Also, over the next several weeks, I’ll be hosting several webinars focused on both the ECF and the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB). Tune into these live sessions on May 20, May 26, and June 3 to learn more about how these programs can serve your district’s emergent remote learning needs.

Miss these webinars? No problem! Full recordings of each session can be found over on our ECF & EBB hub (coming soon). 

As the LTC’s Digital Access Coordinator, I can also answer your questions about the Emergency Connectivity Fund and any other state or federal funding program. Contact me, Mindy Fiscus, at mfiscus@ltcillinois.org to learn more about what the LTC can do to support your institution’s short- and long-term funding acquisition goals. 

Stay Connected to the Latest Federal Funding and Connectivity Updates

As more details about the ECF are released, the LTC will endeavor to share updates with Illinois schools and districts. To keep up with the latest, check out the LTC’s Connectivity and E-Rate hub or follow the LTC on Facebook and Twitter. You can also find detailed federal and state funding updates from me on the LTC Community.

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – What You Need to Know

In an April 29, 2021 press release, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the start of a new program geared toward boosting at-home internet connectivity for thousands of households nationwide. This program – the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – will accomplish this by providing funds to offset the monthly cost of obtaining broadband access through any of several approved providers.

Although this program is not dedicated specifically to educational purposes, it could dramatically assist districts with their efforts to increase student home connectivity. District leaders should take note of this program’s opportunity and make plans to take advantage of its available funds once it opens on May 12, 2021.

Emergency Broadband Benefit Program – What is It?

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, the US already faced a significant divide when it came to at-home internet connectivity. This divide became even more apparent as workplaces and schools became fully reliant on at-home internet connections to facilitate learning and labor alike.

Now a full year on, the FCC is taking steps to close that divide by opening the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. This program will offer qualifying participants $50 off their monthly broadband internet bill. Participants will also have an opportunity to apply for other special benefits, including a one-time discount of up to $100 on a computer or tablet for household use.

As a general FCC program, these opportunities are not open exclusively to educational institutions or homes with students. However, educational institutions and their families may still choose to seek out support through this program in order to improve at-home remote and digital learning activities.

Who is Eligible?

Presently, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program is open to households that qualify for benefits under other low-income and pandemic relief programs offered by the FCC and the federal government at large. This includes households with:

  • Lifeline participants
  • Medicaid beneficiaries
  • SNAP beneficiaries
  • Kids receiving or who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch or school breakfast
  • Pell grant recipients
  • Individuals who have lost a job or experienced reduced income over the past year 

How do I Sign Up? When Can I Sign Up?

The FCC is opening registration for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program on May 12, 2021. At that time, those interested in participating in the program should contact an internet service provider in their state and ask if they can directly enroll through the provider. A list of qualifying broadband service providers in Illinois can be found here.

Alternatively, those wishing to participate in this program can learn more about the application process at https://getemergencybroadband.org. There, you can find an online and paper application for submission without going through a service provider.

Ready to Support Your Funding Acquisition Goals 

The Learning Technology Center (LTC) is ready and willing to help your school district take advantage of any new federal funding geared toward supporting home connectivity, digital learning, and more. Our annual E-Rate application tour, for example, can help schools obtain funds for supporting their digital education infrastructure – including both hardware and internet services.

As the LTC’s Digital Access Coordinator, I can also answer your questions about the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and any other state or federal funding program. Contact me, Mindy Fiscus, at (618) 544-2719 or mfiscus@ltcillinois.org to learn more about what the LTC can do to support your institution’s short- and long-term funding acquisition goals. 

Stay Connected to the Latest Federal Funding and Connectivity Updates

In the coming weeks, the FCC is also expected to announce application procedures for acquiring a new round of E-Rate funding that was included in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (CARES 3). To keep up with the latest, check for regular updates on the LTC’s Connectivity and E-Rate hub or follow the LTC on Facebook and Twitter. You can also find detailed federal and state funding updates from me on the LTC Community.

3 Keys to Remember While Finalizing your E-Rate Application

The 21-22 E-Rate Form 471 filing deadline is just around the corner on March 25, 2021. As always, all schools and districts filing for E-Rate funds must complete and submit this form in order to take part in the associated bidding process.

Institutions that are still finalizing their Form 471 submission should not wait until the last moment to get the application support they need. At the same time, all schools and districts should keep these three changes and updates in mind as they put the finishing touches on their 21-22 Form 471 submission:

Updating Student Counts

Under regular circumstances, the FCC determines levels of E-Rate eligibility based upon the number of students in a district that qualify for free or reduced lunches through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP). However, due to the number of schools nationwide presently operating in a remote or hybrid format, all students over the current school year have been made eligible for free or reduced lunches.

As a result, some districts have faced challenges creating an accurate count of NSLP eligible students in their schools. With this in mind, the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) announced in a news brief dated November 13, 2020 that districts applying for E-Rate do not need to update their eligible student count for their 21-22 application. Instead, districts may use their eligible student count from last year’s application.

Checking your C2 Budget

Starting this year, the E-Rate program will enter a new Category 2 (C2) cycle for FY 21-25. C2 budgets are capped in value (unlike their Category 1 counterparts), so schools need to be fully aware of their allotted funds prior to finalizing their 21-22 Form 471 paperwork.

A new online tool from the USAC can make that budgeting process a lot easier. Using this tool, districts can input their district or school-specific information to view how much C2 funding their institution has been allotted for this new cycle.

To utilize this tool, start by navigating to the filter panel and inputting the relevant information into the drop-down menus (including state, application type, city, and more). Be sure to click “apply” after inputting your information in each menu so that your inputs are actively applied to the results.

Once you’ve input all of the requested info, this tool will provide you with an overview of key C2 data, including your district or schools’ total C2 budget amount and their per-student fund multiplier.

Home Internet Access Funding

In light of the ongoing need for remote and hybrid instruction in many districts, the FCC is currently working on plans to supply money for home internet access through the E-Rate program.

As of March 11, 2021, that funding has been approved and signed into law as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. This legislation has allotted $7.1 billion to the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which will be administered by the FCC. This fund will be used to help eligible schools and libraries purchase wi-fi hotspots, modems, routers, and other internet connectivity hardware needed to support remote and hybrid learning.

Currently, the FCC is finalizing an application process for obtaining these funds, which will be distributed through the E-Rate program. According to legislative requirements, the FCC has 60 days from the act’s passage to implement fund acquisition rules. As such, further updates about applying for these new funds are expected in the near-term.

As this special E-Rate opportunity continues to take shape, prospective applicants are encouraged to keep an eye on official FCC news sources for the latest updates on how and when these funds will be distributed.

The LTC is also keeping a close eye on new E-Rate developments, both at a state and federal level. To keep up with new E-Rate updates, consider joining the LTC Community, where you will find an entire group devoted to discussing E-Rate funds, applications, and insights.

Learn the Latest and Get the E-Rate Support You Need

Regardless of whether you’re an E-Rate veteran or a first-time submitter, the Learning Technology Center (LTC) is here to support your district’s efforts to obtain affordable networking services and hardware. We offer a variety of webinars and workshops each year to help schools and districts across Illinois keep their E-Rate submissions on track for success.

Also, if you missed out on this year’s E-Rate Form 470 or Form 471 Workshop Tours, you can now view recordings from several sessions on each tour. These videos are now available over on the LTC’s E-Rate Series homepage.

Finally, if you have any questions about E-Rate – including any of the updates or changes outlined above – feel free to contact me, Mindy Fiscus, at mfiscus@ltcillinois.org. I serve as the Illinois State E-Rate Coordinator and can help you find the answers you need before the upcoming March 25th deadline.

Last Chance E-rate 471 Workshop – Peoria Area

As part of the E-Rate application process, all applicants must submit FCC Form 471 every year. Form 471 is a request for discounts on eligible products and services. Acceptable Form 471 submissions must include information on the recipients of services, discount calculations, costs of service, dates of service, and service provider(s). Applicants must have Form 470 filed at least 28 days before filing Form 471. After that 28 day window, contracts may be signed, and additional details needed for the application can be discussed with the chosen providers.

This workshop will offer participants an opportunity to learn more about the E-Rate program, especially when it comes to filling out and submitting Form 471. Virtual sessions will begin at 9AM. Hands-on demos of Form 471 will be provided, as well as virtual office hours for completing the forms and asking questions until 2PM.

Please be prepared to provide detailed descriptions of services and certify compliance with program rules. To properly participate, you will also need the following:

· An internet-ready device
· Your EPiC login and password
· A copy of this year’s 470
· A copy of last year’s 471
· Electronic copies/scans of any new contracts or signed/dated chosen bids
· Bidding matrix (if you haven’t evaluated bids already)
· If you are not ‘geeky’ and filing for Cat2 – a general understanding/description of the equipment you are asking for. (We have to put it into categories and types, so please have a quick conversation with your local ‘geek’ or chosen provider before you come.)

E-Rate 471 Tips and Tricks

Now’s the time to fill out and submit your E-Rate 471 form. But what if you still have questions about this annually-required submission?

Join the LTC’s Mindy Fiscus for an overview of Form 471 and its role in the larger E-Rate submission process. This webinar will include a walkthrough of Form 471, including minor changes and navigation tricks for expediting the completion process. Participants will also get an opportunity to see the level of detail required to meet the FCC and USAC submission requirements.

E-rate 471 Workshop – Fairfield Area

As part of the E-Rate application process, all applicants must submit FCC Form 471 every year. Form 471 is a request for discounts on eligible products and services. Acceptable Form 471 submissions must include information on the recipients of services, discount calculations, costs of service, dates of service, and service provider(s). Applicants must have Form 470 filed at least 28 days before filing Form 471. After that 28 day window, contracts may be signed, and additional details needed for the application can be discussed with the chosen providers.

This workshop will offer participants an opportunity to learn more about the E-Rate program, especially when it comes to filling out and submitting Form 471. Virtual sessions will begin at 9AM. Hands-on demos of Form 471 will be provided, as well as virtual office hours for completing the forms and asking questions until 2PM.

Please be prepared to provide detailed descriptions of services and certify compliance with program rules. To properly participate, you will also need the following:

· An internet-ready device
· Your EPiC login and password
· A copy of this year’s 470
· A copy of last year’s 471
· Electronic copies/scans of any new contracts or signed/dated chosen bids
· Bidding matrix (if you haven’t evaluated bids already)
· If you are not ‘geeky’ and filing for Cat2 – a general understanding/description of the equipment you are asking for. (We have to put it into categories and types, so please have a quick conversation with your local ‘geek’ or chosen provider before you come.)

E-rate 471 Workshop – Carterville Area

As part of the E-Rate application process, all applicants must submit FCC Form 471 every year. Form 471 is a request for discounts on eligible products and services. Acceptable Form 471 submissions must include information on the recipients of services, discount calculations, costs of service, dates of service, and service provider(s). Applicants must have Form 470 filed at least 28 days before filing Form 471. After that 28 day window, contracts may be signed, and additional details needed for the application can be discussed with the chosen providers.

This workshop will offer participants an opportunity to learn more about the E-Rate program, especially when it comes to filling out and submitting Form 471. Virtual sessions will begin at 9AM. Hands-on demos of Form 471 will be provided, as well as virtual office hours for completing the forms and asking questions until 2PM.

Please be prepared to provide detailed descriptions of services and certify compliance with program rules. To properly participate, you will also need the following:

· An internet-ready device
· Your EPiC login and password
· A copy of this year’s 470
· A copy of last year’s 471
· Electronic copies/scans of any new contracts or signed/dated chosen bids
· Bidding matrix (if you haven’t evaluated bids already)
· If you are not ‘geeky’ and filing for Cat2 – a general understanding/description of the equipment you are asking for. (We have to put it into categories and types, so please have a quick conversation with your local ‘geek’ or chosen provider before you come.)