Group Suggests Ways that the FCC’s New Emergency Connectivity Fund Can be Designed to Expedite the Delivery of Broadband to Eligible Households and More
PITTSBURGH, April 7, 2021 – In comments filed yesterday, ACA Connects explained that the Federal Communications Commission will best achieve the critical objectives of the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program to enable all students and library patrons to engage in remote learning immediately and throughout the duration of the COVID-19 Emergency by following key steps that should enjoy broad support.
These steps include: Relying on existing broadband providers, who can immediately connect students and patrons; enabling all local broadband providers to provide such connectivity; and ensuring the FCC sets aside sufficient funding, and properly budgets for the provision of connectivity and connected devices for in-need and rural students and patrons from the effective date of the statute through the end of the program.
“The Emergency Connectivity Fund provides a significant opportunity to ensure that students and library patrons can engage right away in remote learning – but only if the FCC establishes rules that allow and encourage existing broadband providers to participate,” ACA Connects President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said. “Moreover, the FCC needs to allocate sufficient funding for connectivity so that students and patrons will receive robust, reliable broadband service from now until the emergency ends”
ACA Connects comments were filed in response to the March 16 Public Notice issued by the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau to implement the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program, which was enacted as part of the American Rescue Plan Act.
ACA Connects filing provided recommendations on two key issues:
1.) To ensure that consumers can obtain immediate connectivity, the FCC should:
· Rely on existing providers to meet the connectivity and associated device needs for remote learning;
· Require that schools and libraries allow all existing providers to participate in the program; and
· Give existing providers that already connect to in-need households a right of first refusal to provide the qualifying service.
2.) To ensure funds remain available for the program’s duration, the FCC should:
· Allocate appropriate funding to meet the program’s immediate and estimated demands going forward;
· Within the amount appropriated, prioritize funding for connectivity and devices first for in-need and then for rural students and patrons on a going-forward basis;
· Allocate sufficient support both for connectivity and connected devices; and
· Not provide support where another government program already fills the need for connectivity and connected devices for remote learning.
The Emergency Connectivity Fund provides $7.2 billion to eligible schools (K-12) and libraries for the purchase of advanced telecommunications and information services and eligible equipment (e.g. Wi-Fi hotspots, modems/routers, laptops/tablets) for use by students, school staff, and library patrons for remote learning.
The program runs from January 27, 2020, when the COVID emergency was first declared, until the June 30 one year after the emergency ends. The FCC is required to adopt rules for the program – consistent with the E-Rate provision (section 254(h)(1)(B) and (2) of the Communications Act) — within 60 days of the date of enactment.
About ACA Connects: America’s Communications Association – Based in Pittsburgh, ACA Connects is a trade organization representing more than 600 smaller and medium-sized, independent companies that provide broadband, phone and video services to nearly 8 million customers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America. Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA Connects’ members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their businesses. For more information, visit: http://www.ACAConnects.org