The Federal Communications Commission, citing more than $5 billion in requests from states seeking support from the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, plans to reopen application filing from Sept. 28 to Oct. 13.
That comes as welcome news to Ronna Weber, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS).
“We are pleased to see the FCC offer a second round of funding for Wi-Fi on school buses,” Weber said. “With the continued challenges of COVID and the efforts of every community to ensure all school children are connected, this is very welcome assistance.”
Jessica Rosenworcel, acting chairwoman of the FCC, described the Emergency Connectivity Fund as “the single largest effort to bring connectivity and devices to students who lack them – and the robust response from applicants shows the tremendous need in our communities.”
The $7.17-billion program covers costs of laptop and tablet computers, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and broadband connectivity purchases for off-campus use by students, school staff, and library patrons. This fund, along with the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, represents an investment of more than $10 billion in American students and households, she said.
“The pandemic highlighted like never before the difference a reliable internet connection can make in a student’s education,” she said. “The need is there, and the opening of a second application window reflects that.”
Durham (N.C.) Public Schools submitted a request for FCC connectivity funds on Aug. 13, but so far hasn't received a decision on that request. The reopening of the application window also gives the FCC a chance to review previously submitted requests. Statewide, North Carolina requests thus far total $149,795,970.80, according to the FCC.
"Funding of this would allow us to continue serving our students with Wi-Fi connectivity and operational devices that allow for anytime/anywhere access to curriculum and instruction," said Joy Malone, executive director for information technology in the Durham schools.
Michael LaRocca, transportation director for the Indiana Department of Education, said that the pandemic serves as a perfect example of how Wi-Fi helps, with multiple districts using buses as hotspots parked in various neighborhoods to make sure students could stay connected to educational opportunities.
“School districts are financially challenged by the current strain on their budgets for normal day-to-day operations,” LaRocca said. “That assistance from the federal government allows the district to access additional resources that would normally not be a priority in their current operations.”
Digital tools, such as mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, are critical to the daily education process, he said, but “stretching that capability beyond the four walls of school is difficult for a local district to accomplish without the assistance at the state or federal level.”