Funding to provide connected devices to Montana students and staff lacking broadband
(Big Sandy, Mont.)—U.S. Senator Jon Tester today announced that he secured a $441,539.38 commitment from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Connectivity Fund to close the homework gap and bridge the digital divide at ten Montana schools.
“Connectivity is key to the success of our students and teachers in the 21st century,” said Tester. “The pandemic has exposed huge disparities in the connectivity of rural America, and this funding will ensure that our children and educators will have access to the tools that they need to teach and learn effectively.”
Tester secured this commitment through the American Rescue Plan and it will be distributed directly to schools through the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund. The funding can be used to support off-campus learning, such as nightly homework and virtual learning, as schools and libraries continue to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Many Montana schools will use the funding to purchase connected devices and Wi-Fi hot-spots for students and staff to check out and take home. This is the 6th wave of funding commitments from the FCC.
Recipients of this wave of funding include:
- $143,140.00: Belgrade Public Schools
- $79,665.00: Browning Public Schools
- $48,400.00: Glendive Public Schools
- $38,062.50: Chester-Joplin-Inverness Public Schools
- $36,200.00: Canyon Creek Elementary
- $36,200.00: Joliet Public Schools
- $27,640.00: Saint Regis K-12 Schools
- $13,965.00: Fairview School District
- $9,468.08: Philipsburg K-12 Schools
- $8,798.80: Bonner Elementary
As a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Tester has been a champion for expanding high speed internet access in rural America. He secured nearly $120 million to expand internet access and improve infrastructure in Montana through the American Rescue Plan, and was the only member of the delegation to support the legislation.
Additionally, Tester crafted the recently passed bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and worked to included significant investment in broadband expansion for rural Montana. The legislation will provide $65 billion to expand broadband across the nation, and the policy will be carried out by the Department of Commerce in conjunction with the FCC.
Tester’s legislation includes:
- $42.45 billion grant program for broadband deployment to areas of the country lacking access to internet service. The program will be distributed in the following manner:
- $4.2 billion of which is set aside for high-cost, geographically-challenged areas that are especially difficult and expensive to deploy broadband infrastructure to.
- A minimum allocation of $100 million to each state. Up to $5 million in funding to support state broadband office activities, including planning, coordination, and grant administration.
- The remaining funding will be allocated to each state using a formula based on that state’s total unserved population.
- $2 billion for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which will help Tribal entities with broadband deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.
- $2 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs that provide loans and grants to fund broadband service deployment and maintenance in rural areas.
- $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Act, which will help states develop plans and fund projects to make the internet more accessible and provide Americans with the digital skills necessary to participate in a 21st century economy (for example, digital literacy programs for seniors).
- $1 billion for middle mile broadband infrastructure projects, which will connect the backbone of the internet to local community anchor institutions like schools, libraries, and public safety entities.
- $14.2 billion to make permanent the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB), which will be renamed the Affordable Connectivity Program. As of December 13, 2021, 14,568 households in Montana have enrolled in this program to get help with their internet bills.
- Senator Tester fought to make sure participating households can apply the benefit to any internet service plan of their choosing.
- Additional consumer protection provisions that safeguard against digital redlining and price-gouging.
- The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Development Act, which will help address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry to ramp up the human resources required in order to deploy broadband infrastructure efficiently and effectively.