Over $12 Million Invested in Digital Equity and Inclusion
This new funding provides free access to wireless broadband service and devices to help public housing seniors and residents get online, and will also provide Chromebooks to BPS students.
“All Boston residents should have high-speed internet to help access school, work, and stay connected with loved ones,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “I am incredibly grateful to Senator Ed Markey and FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel for funding the Emergency Connectivity Fund to address digital connectivity needs in Boston.”
As part of this investment, the Boston Public Library (BPL) will receive $2.2 million in Emergency Connectivity Funding (ECF) to acquire and distribute Chromebooks and home router Wi-Fi access for 3,000 BPL patrons in public housing.
In addition, the Boston Public Schools will receive nearly $10 million for Chromebooks and to support connectivity for 20,000 Boston Public Schools’ families. This deployment will address additional needs following BPS’ initial distribution of 55,000 chromebooks and 8,000 hotspots/home routers.
Senator Markey advocated for the inclusion of the ECF within the American Rescue Plan to enable schools and libraries to distribute Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-enabled devices, together with providing internet service, to students, staff, and patrons. Boston is an active participant in the Schools and Libraries E-rate Program, which provides subsidies and discounts to assist eligible schools and libraries in obtaining affordable internet access and services.
“I fought to create the Emergency Connectivity Fund for K-12 distance learning in the American Rescue Plan so that we could finally provide all children in Boston and across the Commonwealth with the technology and tools to set them up for success,” said Senator Ed Markey. “I’m incredibly proud that Massachusetts has now received $62.5 million from this program to date. We will ensure that every student can continue their studies during the pandemic and beyond by providing laptops and Wifi modems, and make sure the ‘homework gap’ does not grow into a damaging learning and opportunity gap for our children, particularly those who live in communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas.”
“Increasing equity and accessibility to essential educational resources remains a top priority for BPS,” said Boston Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Brenda Cassellius. “I am grateful to Mayor Wu for her continued commitment to our BPS students and educators, and for delivering on this $12 million investment to provide $400 per teacher and student. This funding will be used to integrate technology into the classroom and extend learning at home, moving us one step closer to closing the digital divide and providing greater opportunity and access to all of our students."
The BPL’s Long Term Device Lending Program will distribute Chromebooks and WiFi devices through the Boston Housing Authority’s communities. In order to target the unmet digital needs of vulnerable and eligible library patrons in public housing, these devices will be sent directly to eligible patrons under long-term loan agreements. The BPL and BHA are currently reaching out to key vulnerable constituencies, including seniors, disabled citizens, new immigrants, and veterans.
“Digital devices, connectivity and skills are essential to participating in civic life today,” said BPL President David Leonard. “Working with city colleagues, we at the library are thrilled to leverage this funding to reach our patrons in the BHA communities.”
This funding will build on existing efforts to support digital equity, funded with $2 million in Local Coronavirus Funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and allocated by Mayor Wu and the Boston City Council. With a $1 million grant, the Boston Housing Authority is expanding free public wifi in public housing and supporting digital literacy, internet connectivity and access to modern technology. In addition, the Department of Innovation and Technology received $1 million to increase digital access to City services by investing both in networking infrastructure and internet access in City-owned buildings.
“The internet is vital infrastructure that every resident needs to be able to access, especially now. We use it to pay bills. We use it to work. We increasingly use it to buy groceries and meet essential needs at home,” said BHA Administrator Kate Bennett. “I want to thank Mayor Wu for taking a bold step to achieve true digital equity in Boston, removing the remaining barriers between Boston’s most vulnerable residents and a service that is essential to life in the 21st century.”
“This new round of funding will connect even more students and library patrons with new tools for online learning and communicating,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We are providing resources for schools and libraries across the country, from tiny communities … to large school districts. Together with the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, (Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP)), the Commission is investing more than $10 billion to support America’s critical broadband needs.”
Funding for the programs is provided through the $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), which was signed into law by President Biden March 11, 2021 as part of the larger American Rescue Plan Act. The ECF is managed by the FCC’s Universal Service Administrative Co. (USAC) which administers the E-Rate program for libraries and schools and is designed to make sure students and library users have access to both broadband and devices to get online and to close the digital divide.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a unique, needs-based federal program funded by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 providing $14.2 billion to modify and extend the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB Program) as a longer-term broadband affordability program. Currently, over 17,000 Boston residents have signed up for broadband service and devices and more than 9 million, nationally. ACP now provides eligible households with a discount on broadband service ($30/month) and connected devices $100/device) as the successor to EBB and began accepting enrollments on December 31, 2021.
Boston residents can access the guide and application form here: www.boston.gov/news/affordable-connectivity-program-how-access-federal-funds-digital-needs.