As policymakers work to help Americans cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these efforts are rightfully directed at broadband funding. Congress and the Agencies continue to build on the programs described in our blog post, “The Increasing Importance of Broadband and Federal Funding in Uniting the Country,” with a focus on distance learning. Below is a description of new programs, as well as updates on the programs we covered in our previous blog post.
Education Stabilization Fund
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) allotted $30.75 billion to the Education Stabilization Fund and created four grant programs to support education during the pandemic: Education Stabilization Fund Discretionary Grants; Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund; Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund; and Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Additionally, Congress set aside one-half of 1% of the $30.75 billion for the Outlying Areas of the United States.
The FCC issued a statement describing how the Commission is assisting the Department of Education with these programs to promote remote learning. Through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund and the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, more than $16 billion is available in grants for purposes that include remote learning. The ESSER Fund provides approximately $13.2 billion in grants, which can be used to purchase educational technology including hardware, software, and connectivity. The Notice Announcing Availability of Funds specifically mentions “addressing the digital divide, including securing access to home-based connectivity and remote-use devices.” The GEER Fund makes approximately $3 billion available to Governors for flexible emergency block grants.
The Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund (HEERF) provides aid to students and institutions to cover costs associated with COVID-19. Half of the funding will go directly to institutions and half will be used as financial aid grants to students. Guidance for the funds going directly to institutions states that “institutions may use the funds for Recipient’s Institutional Costs to purchase equipment or software, pay for online licensing fees, or pay for internet service to enable students to transition to distance learning as such costs are associated with a significant change in the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus.”
In addition to these specific programs, Congress set aside funds for discretionary grants, which will go to states with the highest coronavirus burden, and for grants to the Outlying Areas, specifically the US Virgin Islands (VI), Guam (GU), the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), and American Samoa (AS). The discretionary grants will make grants available through two programs. The Education Stabilization Fund-Rethink K12 Education Models Grants (ESF-REM Grants) will provide support to States with the highest coronavirus burden to address specific educational needs of students, their parents, and teachers. The Education Stabilization Fund-Reimagining Workforce Preparation Grants (ESF-RWP Grants) will “provide support to help States leverage the power of entrepreneurship to create new educational opportunities and pathways that help citizens return to work, small businesses recover, and new entrepreneurs thrive.” Regarding the grants to Outlying Areas, each area will receive a grant to the Governor’s office and a grant to the State Education Agency.
FCC Telehealth Funding Update
Since our last blog post, the FCC has funded 30 healthcare providers in 16 states through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. This program helps healthcare providers “providers purchase telecommunications services, information services, and devices necessary to provide critical connected care services, whether for treatment of coronavirus or other health conditions during the coronavirus pandemic.” As of April 29, 2020, the FCC had awarded a total of $13.7 million in funding.
NTIA Updates Broadband Funding Resources
On April 27, 2020, NTIA announced that they have updated their comprehensive guide to federal broadband funding. The database, BroadbandUSA, provides information on all federal broadband programs. The most recent update will include programs implemented due to the COVID-19 pandemic.