In December 2020, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act which distributed $7 billion to increase broadband access in the United States. $3.2 billion was apportioned to create the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program through the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Additionally, the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) detailed provisions of an Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) which included over $7.1 billion to support remote learning in schools and libraries. The ECF program focuses on schools and libraries, helping fund costs of laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and other connectivity equipment. These funds are available to a wide range of libraries, including public, school, tribal, academic, research, and private libraries, in addition to library consortiums. ALA firmly supports the expansion of broadband and seeks to help libraries in bridging the digital divide in their communities. As internet access is essential for life tasks, ALA supports broadband as a human right and “a fundamental element of an inclusive and sustainable world.”
During the first ECF application window, which ended August 13, the FCC received applications from all 50 states, as well as from American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington D.C. A map detailing the amount of funds requested in each state and territory can be found at: https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/maps/ecf-state-demand/. Researchers can also access complete data via the ECF website. For schools and libraries that missed the initial deadline, the FCC is opening a second application window September 28-October 13. The FCC decided to open a second window to request funding from the ~$2 billion left, due to increased demand and the recent spike in COVID-19 cases. ALA has also put together guides and other information to help libraries apply for this program.
How might a school or library receiving ECF allotments impact the communities they serve? A recent report from the Pew Research Center details the importance of internet access during the COVID-19 pandemic. Approximately 90% of U.S. adults feel the internet is essential during the pandemic. Pew’s research also found that 26% of U.S. home broadband users worried about paying for their high-speed internet at home. Through the ECF, schools and libraries should be able to support those in the community and fill a vital connectivity need.
While the ECF helps schools and libraries, the EBB program helps users directly. Pew reported that broadband users with lower income are more likely to have internet connection issues, and 46% worry about being able to afford their internet connection.
The EBB program launched on May 12, 2021, and provides eligible households up to $50 per month towards broadband service. Households can also receive up to $100 towards laptops, desktops, or a tablet from certain providers. Below are the eligibility criteria (from https://www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit):
A household is eligible if a member of the household meets one of the criteria below:
- Has an income that is at or below 135% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or participates in certain assistance programs, such as SNAP, Medicaid, or Lifeline;
- Approved to receive benefits under the free and reduced-price school lunch program or the school breakfast program, including through the USDA Community Eligibility Provision, in the 2019-2020, 2020-2021, or 2021-2022 school year;
- Received a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year;
- Experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020 and the household had a total income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or
- Meets the eligibility criteria for a participating provider’s existing low-income or COVID-19 program.
As library workers, it is important to learn what we can about such programs so we can pass this information on to our patrons, who may greatly benefit from such initiatives. You can direct any of those interested to the EBB program website, which contains instructions and an online application.
For ALA updates on broadband and other advocacy topics, make sure to follow the ALA Public Policy & Advocacy group on Twitter!
David Sye is a Research and Instruction Librarian at Murray State University in southwestern Kentucky. He is liaison for the History, Political Science & Sociology, and Psychology departments, as well as teaching instruction sessions and credit-bearing courses on information literacy. He holds a BA in History from the University of Illinois at Springfield, in addition to an MA in History and MLIS from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Prior to working at Murray State University, he has worked in public libraries and briefly taught middle school social studies.