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December 13, 2021

Introduction

The E-Rate Central News for the Week is prepared by E-Rate Central. E-Rate Central specializes in providing consulting, compliance, and forms processing services to E-rate applicants. To learn more about our services, please contact us by phone (516-801-7804), fax (516-801-7814), or through our Contact Us web form. Additional E-rate information is located on the E-Rate Central website.

E-Rate:

Wave 35 for FY 2021 was released on Thursday, December 9th, for a total of $14.2 million. Cumulative commitments are now $2.47 billion.  Nationwide, USAC has now funded 98% of the FY 2021 applications representing 88% of the requested funding.

ECF:

Five ECF funding waves have been issued to date.  Cumulative commitments are currently $3.22 billion.  To date, all ECF funding has been for applications submitted in the first ECF window and represents decisions on 56% of the initial requests with an approval rate averaging almost 91%.  Total authorized disbursements as of last Friday were $57 million.

By the close of the initial comment period last Wednesday, the FCC had received well over one hundred responses to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPRM”) (DA 21-1453) on the new Affordable Connectivity Program (“ACP”).  ACP is the successor program (see our newsletter of November 22nd) to the Emergency Broadband Benefit (“EBB”) program providing discounted internet access and connected devices to low-income families.  ACP is a $14.2 billion program — more than four times the size of the earlier EBB program — authorized under the Infrastructure Act that the FCC is charged with implementing on an accelerated basis at the end of December.  Not surprisingly, many of the comments dealt with issues related to fostering a smooth EBB-to-ACP transition.

Of longer-term importance to schools and libraries, the following set of comments focused on the need, partially addressed in the NPRM, for bulk billing arrangements whereby discounts could be applied to: (a) multiple dwelling units such as low-income housing complexes or homeless centers; or (b), multi-family subscription plans that could extend — and expand — school and library plans currently being funded under the ECF program.  We direct your attention to the following comments:

California Emerging Technology Fund
City of Boston et al
City of Seattle
EducationSuperHighway
E-Rate Central and SHLB Coalition
Public Knowledge, Common Sense Media
Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future
T-Mobile USA

We encourage schools and libraries to support these positions in reply comments that are due by December 28th.  Assuming that the FCC can be convinced to provide school and library support, interested parties might also want to participate in USAC-hosted ACP training sessions scheduled for later this week.

For schools and libraries that had previously encouraged eligible student families and library patrons to take advantage of the EBB discounts, we suggest reaching out again to those families and patrons to alert them of the coming transition.  Although final ACP rules have not been finalized, the FCC did release an Order (DA 21-1524) last week waiving certain EBB rules and clarifying aspects of the EBB-to-ACP transition for participating EBB subscribers and suppliers.  Last Friday, USAC released a summary of the FCC’s actions.  For current or potential EBB participants, the key points are as follows.

  • December 31st is the effective starting date for the ACP program.
  • With a few exceptions (requiring reverification of eligibility), EBB subscribers will continue to receive internet discounts of up to $50 per month for an additional 60 days (through March 1, 2022) before being subject to the ACP program’s $30 per month cap.
  • Eligible households, not currently EBB participants, will still be able to enroll in the EBB program until 6:00 p.m. EST on December 30th (thus making them eligible for the higher 60-day discount cap).
  • EBB subscribers, currently limited to certain provider internet service packages, will henceforth be able to apply their EBB — and subsequently ACP — discounts to any of their service providers’ internet plans.

Upcoming Dates:

December 14     FCC open meeting to consider an NPRM on an E-rate competitive bidding portal (see our newsletter of November 29th).
December 14 USAC webinar: Affordable Connectivity Program Overview (register).  Note: Technically this webinar is designed for service providers but should provide a useful overview for other interested parties.
December 15 First of five Broadband Grant Program Public Virtual Listening Sessions hosted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) in connection with the five new grant programs, designed to expand broadband services nationwide, authorized and funded by the Infrastructure Act (register).
December 16 USAC webinar on the ECF reimbursement process (register).
December 17 Form 486 deadline for FY 2021 covering funding committed in Wave 19.  More generally, the Form 486 deadline is 120 days from the FCDL date or from the service start date (typically July 1st), whichever is later.  Upcoming Form 486 deadlines for 2021 are:
Wave 20            12/24/2021
Wave 21            12/30/2021
December 28 Reply comments due on the new Affordable Connectivity Program (DA 21‑1453) (see article above).

Senate Confirms New Term for Commissioner Rosenworcel:

Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the current FCC Chairperson, was confirmed by the Senate last week for another five-year term.  She has been a major advocate for solving the Homework Gap and we view her term extension to be distinct plus for E-rate and related school and library broadband programs.

The Senate did not move forward last week on the appointment of Gigi Sohn who has been nominated to fill the fifth — and currently vacant — FCC Commissioner slot.  A Senate vote on Ms. Sohn may not occur until next year.

USAC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund Program Newsletter of December 7, 2021, summarizes the recent FCC Order (DA 21-1499) standardizing the ECF invoice deadline for all 2021-2022 purchases of equipment and services as August 29, 2022 (see our newsletter of December 6th).  USAC also announced a webinar on the ECF reimbursement process for Thursday, December 16th (see registration link above).

The remainder of last week’s ECF Newsletter repeats information from earlier versions.