COVID-19 Update: USAC remains open for business—Washington, DC office closed. Learn more about USF program responses

COVID-19 Response

The FCC has taken a number of steps to provide relief to E-rate Program participants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and USAC is working with the FCC to implement this relief.  Support for schools and libraries includes:

  • Additional time and flexibility. The FCC has extended a number of E-rate deadlines giving applicants and service providers more time and flexibility to file their applications, submit appeals, deliver services, file invoices, and respond to information requests. The FCC will continue to monitor the situation and determine if any additional extension of these waivers is needed.
  • Facilitating connectivity. In order to facilitate connectivity, the FCC:
    • established the Keep Americans Connected initiative, which encouraged many service providers to take steps to support remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic;
    • temporarily waived the E-rate Program gift rules to enable service providers to give, and schools and libraries to solicit and accept, things like Wi-Fi hotspots, devices, and broadband connections to assist students, teachers, and library patrons affected by the COVID-19 pandemic;
    • reminded schools and libraries that are closed during the COVID-19 pandemic that they are permitted to allow the general public to use E-rate-supported Wi-Fi networks while on the school’s campus or library property, even if the school or library is closed; and
    • directed USAC to open a second Funding Year (FY) 2020 application filing window to allow schools to request additional E-rate funding to address increased on-campus bandwidth needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This window opened on September 21, 2020 and will close on October 16, 2020.

The U.S. Department of Education (DoED) and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) have also taken steps to provide support to schools and libraries affected by COVID-19.

Additional Time and Flexibility

On March 13, 2020, the FCC extended the Funding Year (FY) 2020 application filing window through April 29, 2020.  This notice also provided an automatic 14-day extension for responses to all Program Integrity Assurance (PIA) requests.

On April 1, 2020, the FCC extended several key E-rate Program deadlines, including the service implementation deadline for special construction to deploy fiber, to alleviate administrative and compliance burdens on schools and libraries and enable them to focus on transitioning to remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Waiver of the service delivery deadlines for non-recurring services and special construction

  • The September 30, 2020 service delivery deadline for non-recurring services for all FY2019 applicants, as well as for applicants from prior funding years that already received an extension of the deadline to September 30, 2020, is waived and extended to September 30, 2021.
  • The June 30, 2020 special construction service delivery deadline for all FY2019 applicants, as well as for applicants from prior funding years that already received a deadline extension that falls in 2020, is waived and extended to June 30, 2021.

Waiver of deadline for appeals and requests for waiver

  • The deadline to file appeals with USAC or the FCC, or waiver requests with the FCC, is now doubled to 120 days after the date of the USAC decision for program participants whose 60-day filing deadline would ordinarily fall between March 11, 2020 and September 30, 2020.  Therefore, program participants that have received or will receive an adverse decision dated from January 11, 2020 to August 1, 2020 now have an additional 60 days to file an appeal or waiver.

Waiver of the invoice filing deadline

  • For all applicants and service providers whose invoice deadline falls between March 11, 2020, and October 28, 2020 (October 28 is the invoice deadline for FY2019 recurring services and special construction), the invoice deadline is automatically extended for 120 days regardless of whether the applicant or service provider already requested an extension of the deadline prior to March 11, 2020.
  • USAC will provide an additional 30-day extension to applicants or service providers that file an invoice deadline extension request with an explanation of, and documentation supporting, their entities’ inability to file invoices at that time (e.g., dates of closure, difficulty securing the appropriate resources, etc.).

Extending the procedural deadline for filing the FCC Form 486

  • Program participants whose FCC Form 486 deadline falls between March 11, 2020 and September 30, 2020, will have an additional 120 days to submit these forms without penalty.  This includes FCC Forms 486 from FY2019 and previous funding years. (The earliest certification deadline for an FY2020 FCC Form 486 is October 29, 2020.)

Extending the time frame for responding to USAC information requests

  • USAC will provide all program participants with an automatic 30-day extension to respond to information requests related to:
    • pending USAC appeals;
    • invoices;
    • pending FCC Form 500 requests, including service substitutions, Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) changes, or funding request cancellation requests; and
    • audits, including the Beneficiary and Contributor Audit Program (BCAP) and Payment Quality Assurance (PQA).
  • USAC will also provide all program participants with an additional, automatic 30-day extension for Program Integrity Assurance (PIA) requests.
  • This relief will apply to all information requests issued between March 11, 2020 and May 22, 2020, regardless of the funding year for which those requests relate.

On September 3, 2020, the FCC issued an Order directing USAC to provide a 30-day extension to program participants that file an extension request with an explanation of the entities’ inability to respond to information requests issued between September 1, 2020 and December 31, 2020 and related to the following: pending USAC appeals; invoices; pending FCC Form 500 requests, including service substitutions, Service Provider Identification Number (SPIN) changes, or funding request cancellation requests; audits, including BCAP and PQA audits; and PIA requests.

Facilitating Connectivity

On March 13, 2020, FCC Chairman Pai announced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge to help ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  More than 750 broadband and telephone service providers and trade associations have taken the Pledge, which includes the commitment that providers open their Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them. While the pledge expired on June 30, 2020, Chairman Pai has encouraged all providers not to disconnect customers as they transition out of the pledge.

On March 18, 2020, the FCC issued an Order waiving the FCC’s E-rate gift rules through September 30, 2020.  This waiver enables service providers to offer, and E-rate Program participants to solicit and accept, improved broadband connections or equipment for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic without running afoul of FCC rules. On September 3, 2020, the FCC extended the waiver through December 31, 2020.

On March 23, 2020, the FCC released a public notice reminding schools and libraries that are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic that they are permitted to allow the general public to use E-rate–supported Wi-Fi networks while on the school’s campus or library property, even if the school or library is closed.

On September 16, 2020, the FCC issued an Order directing USAC to open a second FY2020 application filing window to allow schools to request additional E-rate funding to address increased on-campus bandwidth needs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The window opened on Monday, September 21, 2020 at noon EDT and will close on Friday, October 16, 2020, at 11:59 p.m EDT. 

During the window, schools may submit an FCC Form 471 requesting E-rate discounts without initiating a new competitive bidding process for eligible Category One internet access and/or data transmission services if the applicant:

  1. already sought bids for the services by posting an FCC Form 470;
  2. received a Funding Commitment Decision Letter from USAC approving an FY2020 funding request for eligible Category One internet access and/or data transmission services that relied on that FCC Form 470, or has such a funding request pending; and
  3. requests additional E-rate discounts during the second application window to purchase additional bandwidth through the existing service provider or a new one.

For the purposes of this second window only, USAC shall grant funding requests from applicants seeking funding where the price per megabit is the same or less than the original contract. Alternatively, if the price per megabit is higher than the original contract, USAC will limit the funding commitment to the price per megabit in the original contract.

Other Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act Resources for Schools and Libraries

U.S. Department of Education (DoED)

On April 14, 2020 DoED announced that nearly $3 billion will quickly be made available to governors to ensure education continues for students of all ages impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Governors may use these funds to support remote learning.

On April 23, 2020, DoED announced that more than $13.2 billion in emergency relief funds, allocated through the CARES Act, are now available. DoED will award grants to state educational agencies (SEAs) for the purpose of providing funding to local education agencies (LEAs) support continued learning for K-12 students whose educations have been disrupted by COVID-19. Education leaders will have the flexibility to use funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Education Relief Fund (ESSER Fund) for immediate needs, including purchasing education technology (hardware, software, and connectivity).

For more information about these funding opportunities, COVID-19 response, and related resources, visit their COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) Information and Resources for Schools and School Personnel page.

Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)

On April 13, 2020 IMLS announced that $30 million appropriated to IMLS in the CARES Act will be distributed to state libraries to expand digital network access, purchase internet accessible devices, and provide technical support services to citizens to address digital inclusion efforts and related technical support.

On May 8, 2020, IMLS announced an additional $15 million in funding opportunities to support museums, libraries, federally recognized tribes, and organizations that primarily serve Native Hawaiians. The funding will help these institutions respond to community needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as connectivity, digital inclusion, and engagement, among other community concerns.

More information about these funding opportunities, as well as flexibilities available to grantees with open awards, is available on the Grants Program page of the IMLS website.  Visit the IMLS Coronavirus (COVID-19) Updates page for more information about their COVID-19 response and related resources.

In additional to these funding opportunities, Towards Gigabit Libraries, an IMLS-funded project, created the Broadband Toolkit and Broadband Improvement Plan to support public and Tribal librarians in developing the knowledge, and skills required to improve broadband access and infrastructure in their communities. The Broadband Toolkit and Improvement Plan are available on Internet2’s Toward Gigabit Libraries page.