Tester Secures Additional $445,000 in Emergency Connectivity Funding to Close Homework Gap for Montana Students

Funding for students and staff lacking access to internet and digital devices

U.S. Senator Jon Tester today announced that he secured an additional $445,380 commitment from the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Emergency Connectivity Fund through the American Rescue Plan to close the homework gap and bridge the digital divide at ten Montana school districts.

“Students and teachers need reliable access to the internet to succeed,” said Tester. “Whether you live in Fairfield or Bozeman, no Montana student should be left behind because they lack access to devices or internet. I’m glad I was able to partner with these Montana schools to ensure they have additional resources to provide our future leaders with the tools they need.”

Tester secured this commitment through the American Rescue Plan, and was the only member of the Montana delegation to support the legislation. Funding will be distributed directly to schools through the FCC’s Emergency Connectivity Fund, and 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 7th wave of funding commitments from the FCC, bringing the total amount of Montana commitments to $3,859,428 since the program’s inception.

Recipients of this wave of funding include:

  • $162,980.00: Lockwood Public Schools
  • $146,949.04: Bozeman School District 7
  • $54,681.00: Thompson Falls School District 2
  • $54,632.77: Plains Public Schools
  • $10,437.39: Lone Rock Elementary
  • $8,619.90: Noxon Public Schools
  • $4,000.00: Fairfield Public Schools
  • $2,279.94: Choteau Public Schools
  • $800.00: Davey School District 12

More details about which schools and libraries have received funding commitments can be found HERE. Additional information about the Emergency Connectivity Fund can be found HERE.

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, and secured nearly $120 million to expand internet access and improve infrastructure in Montana through the American Rescue Plan.

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 January 2022, 15,518 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.