OnQ Blog

Dedicated Federal funding to provide every K-12 student with connectivity and a connected device

Feb 24, 2021

Qualcomm products mentioned within this post are offered by Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and/or its subsidiaries.

This week, the House of Representatives will consider the next round of COVID-19 relief legislation, the American Rescue Plan of 2021. In that 591-page bill is a provision that Qualcomm has been advocating for since 2007—$7.6 billion in funding to modernize the E-rate program to provide connectivity off-school grounds and connected devices for the nation’s K-12 low-income students. Let me explain why this provision is so important and the strong evidence that it will be highly successful if enacted.

Today, the federal E-rate program subsidizes internet connectivity only within and around school buildings, and there is no dedicated federal program to provide low-income students with connectivity away from school or with a connected device. Funding computer labs inside closed schools is not helping anyone. Also, every student needs a device for remote learning, but E-rate does not fund devices for anyone.

E-rate should cover connectivity off-school grounds so kids can do homework online — at home, on the school bus, wherever they happen to be — and E-rate should cover connected devices too because connectivity is useless without a device. Connectivity and a mobile learning device are 21st Century versions of textbooks and so much more. Schools should provide these tools to all students, regardless of income level, but schools need dedicated federal funding to do so. An estimated 12 million kids cannot participate in remote learning now because they lack a device, connectivity, or both.

We don’t have to speculate about the impact of enacting and funding this change to E-rate. In 2011, the FCC funded 20 pilot projects to test the educational impact of funding these same changes to E-rate. Here are what the 19 schools and one library across the country reported to the FCC ten years ago from those pilot projects. Their filings explained that test scores improved markedly; student engagement and motivation were significantly better; teachers spent less time on administrative duties and more time teaching; parents were positive and grateful. 

In Sioux City, Iowa, disciplinary incidents decreased by 19%.1 In Katy, Texas, the pilot produced “surging levels of engagement and achievement” and a 20% improvement in math test scores.2 In Piedmont, Alabama, teaching and learning were “completely transformed,” and there was “an impressive increase” in the number of students scoring at the advanced levels on reading and math tests.3 In San Diego, parent feedback was “overwhelmingly positive.”4 In New Rochelle, New York, the district stated that “we NEED this program and the E-rate funding that makes it possible.”5

This uniform praise for pilot projects, which tested the very same E-rate changes that the legislation funds, came ten years before COVID-19. It is time to pass this legislation to provide the funding to ensure that every K-12 student gets connectivity and a device now.


[1] Final Report of Sioux City Community School District, FCC Docket 10-222 (Oct. 18, 2012) at Pg. 5.

[2] Cisco White Paper, High-Speed Broadband in Every Classroom: The Promise of a Modernized E-Rate Program (Sept. 2013) at Pgs. 12-13

[3] Interim Report of Piedmont City School District, FCC Docket 10-222 (Oct. 18, 2012) at Pgs, 9, 10.

[4] Final Report of San Diego Unifed School District, FCC Docket 10-222 (Oct. 18, 2012) at Pg. 10.

[5] Final Report of City School District of New Rochelle, FCC Docket 10-222 (April 30, 2013) at Pg. 26.

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Dean Brenner

Senior Vice President, Spectrum Strategy and Technology Policy