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Taking Advantage of the Emergency Connectivity Fund

The 45-day enrollment window for the new $7.17 billion connectivity program starts June 29.

At the start of the pandemic, almost 16 million students and 400,000 teachers were left offline because they didn't have high-speed internet or an adequate device at home. Thanks to programs like E-rate and the new Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB), we're closing the digital divide. But millions remain unconnected. Now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is launching the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) with $7.1 billion included in the American Rescue Plan to close the digital divide for the short term.

Common Sense played a key role in securing funding for the ECF, and we are working to ensure as many students as possible benefit from it.

The ECF will enable eligible schools and libraries to purchase laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, and commercially available broadband connectivity for students, school staff, and library patrons who need these tools during the coronavirus pandemic. Reliable access to the internet is essential to students' academic success. Although this has become much more apparent during the past year, it was true well before the pandemic and will continue to be a problem long after the last face mask is shed. By providing students with access to reliable broadband and connected devices, we can help students complete their homework, access distance learning, and receive individualized tutoring resources.

The $7.1 billion ECF will be distributed along the lines of the E-rate program. It will be similarly managed by the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) through the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) portal. Any school or library that has ever applied for funding through the E-rate program will already be familiar with the eligibility requirements and application procedure for the ECF.

Here are some key questions for any school or library about the new Emergency Connectivity Program:

  • How to apply for ECF funding: ECF funds initially will be dispersed for equipment and services purchased during the coming school year through a 45-day filing window set to open on June 29, 2021. Funding through this first window will apply only to eligible equipment purchased, ordered, and received, or eligible services purchased and delivered, between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. Applicants will apply for funding through the EPC portal using a version of E-rate's Form 471. After submitting all information, the majority of applicants should receive decisions within 100 days after the first filing window closes. If there is enough funding to meet the demand, there is a possibility for a second window that will reimburse purchases of eligible equipment and services from earlier in the pandemic. However, this additional window is not guaranteed, and schools and libraries that want to take advantage should plan applications for the first window accordingly.
  • Eligibility: Schools and libraries eligible for E-rate funding and Tribal libraries eligible for support under the Library Services and Technology Act are eligible for ECF funding.

    Eligible equipment and services: Eligible equipment includes Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, devices that combine modems and routers, and connected devices (such as laptop and tablet computers). Applicants can also receive funding for commercially available broadband service for off-campus use by students, school staff, or library patrons. In instances where there are no commercially available fixed or mobile broadband services sufficient for remote learning, applicants who demonstrate need can receive funding for the construction of new networks, including networks for wireless or datacasting services.

For more information and resources, check out the ECF's website or Funds for Learning's ECF Guide. Before the first filing window opens, here are some resources and tips to help the application process:

Attend the USAC's ECF webinars

The USAC will host a repeating series of virtual ECF overview sessions to detail the program's goals and eligibility requirements, and to help prepare potential applicants to participate in the program. There will be general sessions and targeted sessions for current E-rate applicants, new non-E-rate applicants, and Tribal applicants.

Perform a digital needs assessment

Potential applicants should start or improve their digital needs assessments to support and estimate the amount of funding they need to request. According to ECF guidelines, applicants must certify that they are only requesting funding for unmet distance learning needs. A digital needs assessment can help potential applicants identify which students need connectivity aid, what these students need, and where these students are located.

Check out our second report on closing the K–12 digital divide for more information on needs assessments and how to implement them effectively using survey-based methods.

Request an FCC registration number

Applicants will need an FCC Registration Number (FCC RN). Schools and libraries can apply for an FCC RN through the FCC Commission Registration System (CORES), but if your school or library already has an FCC RN, you do not need a new one.

Obtain a DUNS number

All applicants must include a nine-digit Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number in their application as well. On the Dun & Bradstreet website, you can look up your DUNS Number or request one if you do not already have one. Any entity required to register with the federal government can get a DUNS number for free.

Register with

All organizations that are beneficiaries or receive support from the U.S. government must register with the System for Award Management (, an official website of the federal government. Visit and follow the prompts.

Schedule purchases for July 1, 2021 or later

Potential applicants should schedule purchases of eligible equipment and services for July 1, 2021 or later. The first ECF filing window will not approve purchases made before July 1, 2021.

Although the ECF is a positive step toward closing the digital divide, our work is far from over. The ECF and EBB are both temporary measures to address the digital divide. ECF's institutional approach to supporting students and families in the digital divide offers policymakers and educators a glimpse of how a long-term program to close the Homework Gap could operate.

Programs like EBB and ECF, coupled with digital inclusion support and investments in future-proof broadband deployment, could help distribute equitable access to innovations in the delivery of educational and critical wraparound resources. If we want to close the digital divide for good, we need to take action and build broadband networks that will enable students and families to stay connected in our increasingly digital world.

Amina Fazlullah also contributed to this blog.

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Katie Tsang
Katie Tsang is a law and policy intern at Common Sense and a rising second-year law student at the George Washington University Law School.