Recognition of This Approach Would Make Emergency Connectivity Fund Opportunity a Success
PITTSBURGH, April 27, 2021 — The $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) program, enacted as part of American Rescue Plan Act, provides a tremendous opportunity to address the remote learning needs of students and library patrons during the COVID emergency, according to ACA Connects.
In comments filed on April 23, ACA Connects urged the Federal Communications Commission to seize that opportunity by relying on existing broadband providers’ performance capabilities and coverage to supply the immediate connectivity required to fulfill the ECF’s mission.
The FCC is scheduled to adopt rules for the ECF on May 10, 2021.
“What is clear from the COVID lockdown is that our nation’s broadband providers have developed world-leading infrastructure, which has more than met the performance and reliability needs of Americans to interact, shop, and work from home. Moreover, over the past year, many of these providers have worked with schools, libraries, and community institutions to ensure students and others can engage in remote learning,” ACA Connects President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.
In implementing the Emergency Connectivity Fund, ACA Connects urged the FCC to build on these efforts by turning to ACA Connects Members who are broadband providers to provide the immediate connectivity required to make the program successful.
“ACA Connects members are more than up to the task and they are eager to participate in the program,” Polka said.
ACA Connects recommended in the April 23 comments that the FCC first establish an amount for reimbursing providers for connectivity to each location, which would be set at a rate that both attracts providers to participate in the program and maximizes use of the program’s limited budget, and then require schools and libraries to use all qualifying existing providers for connectivity.
ACA Connects explained that by adopting this approach, students and library patrons would have a choice of plans with different capabilities from providers who can offer immediate connectivity, and it will permit a provider that may already serve a location with students or patrons eligible for ECF support to continue to do so, thus avoiding unnecessary disruption by forcing them to switch to another provider.
ACA Connects also explained that such an approach would be less complex for and burdensome on schools, libraries, and broadband providers to implement the program, allowing students and patrons to benefit more quickly from the money Congress allocated.
In addition to these comments, ACA Connects joined with EducationSuperHighway, the Benton Institute, and NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association in a filing to the FCC on April 23 that recommended that the ECF:
- Prioritize funding for students and patrons who are not subscribing to a broadband connection available today, those that do not have access to a connected device, and those that are subscribing today to broadband with support from a school or library and may need assistance in continuing to do so;
- Prioritize prospective purchases of connectivity and connected devices made after the date of enactment of the American Rescue Plan Act through the duration of the emergency period;
- Limit the total amount of funding that could be used to procure connected devices and the amount to be spent on any device; and
- Follow the existing E-Rate rules and practices and make all procurement data related to the emergency connectivity fund transparent and publicly available.
In the latest episode of ACA Connects’ “Just Filed” video podcast, Evan Marwell of EducationSuperHighway and Tom Cohen, outside counsel to ACA Connects at the Kelley Drye law firm, join Ross Lieberman, ACA Connects Sr. Vice President of Government Affairs, to discuss the groups’ joint letter.
Here’s a link to the episode.
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