FCC approves $7 billion internet fund to connect schools and libraries

Low-income households can also apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit starting May 12th.

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As part of the White House's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, the FCC has announced two significant developments that will help more people get connected during the COVID-19 pandemic. First off, the FCC will take applications for its $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit starting on May 12th. That fund allows low-income households to apply for a $50 per month discount for broadband service, or $75 per month on Tribal lands. It also offers a one-time discount of up to $100 for a PC or tablet under certain conditions.

To be eligible, one person in the household must demonstrate low income (at or below 135 percent of the federal poverty level), participate in SNAP, Medicaid or other assistance programs, or several other categories listed here. The FCC notes that over 825 broadband providers are taking part in the program, but that it is only temporary during the pandemic. Consumers will thus need to opt-in to continue receiving service once their providers inform them that the discount is ending.

The FCC also announced that it has launched the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. That will enable schools and libraries to purchase PCs and tablets, WiFi hotspots and broadband connectivity for students, staff and library users during the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will use structures already in place for the E-Rate program, and as part of the launch, the FCC has set out rules for eligible equipment, services, locations and other details.

"Between this Emergency Connectivity Fund Program and the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, we are investing more than $10 billion in American students and households," said acting FCC chairperson Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. "These investments will help more Americans access online education, healthcare and employment resources. They will help close the homework gap for students nationwide."

The FCC notes that up to 17 million children across the US don't have access to broadband required for remote learning, particularly during the pandemic. They are "disproportionately from communities of color, low-income households, Tribal lands and rural areas," wrote the legislators who backed the legislation.