Is Your School or Test Center Eligible for Free or Discounted Internet Access?

 In response to the increased need for online learning since the pandemic, school districts, states, and the federal government are providing new benefits and resources for students who need help getting high-speed internet and technology. 

There are many resources that students, schools, and test centers can use to navigate these resources and determine what’s right for them. 

Resources for Schools and Test Centers

E-Rate (Schools)

The E-Rate program provides 20-90% discounts for schools for a variety of internet services, such as telecommunications and internet access. Schools will need to apply for these funds in the fall for the following summer, and the application has many steps and requirements.

The FCC provides a brief overview of the program and its benefits here, and schools can walk through detailed, step-by-step instructions here. There are also a variety of E-Rate consulting companies that can help school districts navigate the application process for a fee. Many of these sites have short explanations and helpful free resources that schools can take advantage of.

State and Local Opportunities (Schools and Test Centers) 

Many states, cities, and nonprofit organizations offer additional resources for schools and test centers. While each state has different offerings, many programs are geared toward areas that lack internet speeds of 25/3 Mbps or 100/20 Mbps. Schools and test centers can learn more about their state’s priorities and grant opportunities, as well as find state contact information on BroadbandUSA’s web page focused on state resources.  Visitors can use an interactive map to select their state and review each state’s offerings on one page. 

Anchor Institutions, which typically include schools and libraries, may have additional resources available to them. A variety of state grants and local city programs seek to use these locations as broadband hubs for the community, which means they may be eligible for specific grant funding and Wi-Fi infrastructure upgrades. They may also offer additional resources. For example, in Houston, people can check out hotspots from the city’s public libraries. 

Finally, there are a variety of nonprofits, such as Tech Exchange in the Bay Area, California, that provide support. Some organizations have compiled selections of resources, which makes it easier to determine what is available based off your organization and your needs. 

American Rescue Plan Funds

If your school or local educational agency received funds through the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) or Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER), it’s possible you still have funds available that can be used to purchase computers or other internet connected devices like Chromebooks for your students. Purchases using ECF must be made by June 30, 2024, and ESSER funds must be allocated for use by September 2024.

Other Federal Funds

In addition to the American Rescue Plan there are several recurring federal grants that can be used for device purchases, such as the USDA’s Distance Learning & Telemedicine Grants, for rural communities, and the Department of Education-Indian Education Title VI (A, Subpart I) Formula Grants, for Native American students. Schools can explore these and other grants on the National Telecommunication and Information Administration’s BroadbandUSA website.

Best Practices

There are many case studies and best practices that showcase how existing schools are developing broadband infrastructure or outline information schools will need as they plan. Two examples include the Department of Education’s Building Technology Infrastructure for Learning and Creative Solutions to Closing the Digital Divide from College Board’s The Elective blog.

Resources for Families

The Affordable Connectivity Program

The ACP is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that provides eligible families with a $30/month discount for a monthly broadband service, as well as a one-time discount toward a device.

Households can determine their eligibility for the program here and apply here.

Organizations like EducationSuperHighway provide additional FAQ, step-by-step instructions, and resources that school districts can use for their students.

Programs from Internet Service Providers

Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) also provide discounted internet for qualified applicants. The chart at this link compiles many of these programs into one list.

In some cases, there may be additional state and local resources that schools and families can pursue to secure broadband access. We encourage you to contact your state and local officials for information on available resources.