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3 Ways to Get Funding for Internet Hotspots — A Guide to Government Internet Assistance Programs

This article was published on:
December 4, 2023

It’s a familiar picture. Organizations that have some of the biggest impact on their communities often run tight-budget ships. The scope of work done by anchor institutions like libraries, schools, and nonprofits is wide and deep, yet their resources can often run low.

Funding for internet: Cheerful multiethnic students having high five with teacher in a libraryCredit: Kampus Production on Pexels

In this scenario, it’s crucial for them to seek out and receive support from various sectors so they can meet their operational expenses and program budgets. Technology grants and Internet assistance are examples of the types of assistance anchor institutions typically rely on.

In this in-depth guide to government Internet assistance programs, we will share a few ways for your school, library, or nonprofit to get Internet funding.

Internet Assistance for Schools — E-Rate Program

  • What is the E-Rate Program?
  • Who is Eligible for the E-Rate Program?
  • How to Best Navigate the E-Rate Program
  • What are Some Important Dates for E-Rate Program Applicants

Internet Assistance for States — The BEAD Program

  • What is the BEAD Program?
  • Who is Eligible for BEAD?
  • How Can Anchor Institutions Participate in the BEAD Program?
  • What are Some Important Dates for BEAD Subgrantees?

Internet Assistance for Individuals — The Affordable Connectivity Program

  • What is the ACP?
  • Who is Eligible for ACP?
  • How to Best Navigate the ACP Application Process?
  • What are Some Important Dates for ACP Applicants?

Advancing Digital Equity With Mobile Citizen

Internet Funding Assistance for Schools and Libraries — E-Rate Program

The “homework gap,” or the difficulty students face when completing homework assignments because of a lack of reliable Internet access at home, is a big challenge facing our country. Studies show that seven out of ten teachers assign homework that requires Internet access. Yet, FCC data shows that approximately one in three households don’t have broadband at home.

In this scenario, schools and libraries step in to provide Internet assistance for students who find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide. One of the programs that both these institutions can use to get Internet funding assistance is the E-Rate Program.

What is the E-Rate Program?

The E-Rate Program, also known as the Schools and Libraries Program, was established as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The main goal of this federal program is to provide funding to eligible schools and libraries. The program offers discounts on eligible services, including broadband Internet access, Wi-Fi networks, internal connections, and basic maintenance of network equipment.

Who is Eligible for the E-Rate Program?

Schools and libraries, particularly those in low-income areas, are eligible to participate in the E-Rate Program. The funding is allocated based on a needs-based formula. This formula takes into account the poverty level of the school or library and the urban or rural status of the community it serves.

In addition, schools must agree to follow non-discrimination practices and also have an FCC registration number. This registration number (FRN) serves as a unique identifier for the applicant. It’s necessary that the services and equipment your school or library requests are used for educational purposes, primarily supporting the instructional needs of students or enhancing the administration of the school. For instance, Internet hotspots for schools from Mobile Citizen fall into this category.

How to Best Navigate the E-Rate Program Application Process

The Federal Communications Commission website lists the steps you need to take throughout the application process for the E-Rate Program.

In addition, here are a few things that can help you stay organized:

  • Plan Ahead: It’s best to collaborate with your IT department to understand the technology needs of your school or library. Planning ahead will help you understand not only the amount of funding you need but also the type of equipment that will best serve your goals.
  • Research Service Providers: FCC Form 470 is the first form you’ll fill in the E-Rate application process. The information you provide on this form will be available to potential vendors who will eventually likely partner with your school or library to provide you with the technology solutions you need. Your organization should consider researching providers beforehand so you can speed up the process of selecting one.
  • Sign up for the E-Rate News Brief: Stay updated on the latest news about the E-Rate program by signing up for the E-Rate News Brief.

What are Some Important Dates for E-Rate Program Applicants?

While the exact date to start your application process may change annually, in general, the various steps you need to take happen during the same time every year. The below graphic from E-Rate Advantage is a helpful guide. You can also download a printable version of it from their website.

E-Rate Funding for Internet Hotspot Programs ChartSource: E-Rate Advantage

Internet Funding Assistance for States — The BEAD Program

The digital divide is a complex challenge. Like all complex problems, this challenge can only be solved through a multi-pronged strategy. While programs like E-Rate help us address certain aspects of the digital divide, there are others that don’t fall under its scope. This is why broader programs that can help on-the-ground organizations get the funding they need to advance digital equity are also needed.

The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program is one such initiative.

What is the BEAD Program?

Introduced in 2021, the BEAD Program is the largest-ever investment in broadband in the United States. Part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), BEAD provides more than $42 billion to states to advance digital equity. The program aims to do this by building Internet infrastructure, creating programs to provide devices and training to end users, and offset the cost of the Internet for lower-income households.

Who is Eligible for BEAD?

All 50 U.S. states and all U.S. territories are eligible to get funding under BEAD. States can then partner with Community Anchor Institutions such as schools, libraries, public housing organizations, social welfare agencies, healthcare nonprofits, and others to deploy funding for Internet access. You can see how the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) defines Community Anchor Institutions here.

It’s important to note that only Community Anchor Institutions with less than 1 Gigabit connection are eligible for BEAD funds.

How Can Anchor Institutions Participate in the BEAD Program?

While states will identify eligible subgrantees, your anchor institution can and should participate fully in the process. As an anchor institution, you have insights and experience that are valuable at the planning stage. A few ways that you can take an active role in the BEAD funding allocation are:

  • Understand BEAD’s Funding Guidelines: To ensure your application to be included as a subgrantee for BEAD funding is effective and efficient, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with BEAD’s funding guidelines. For instance, one of the eligible uses of general funds as shared by NTIA is, “deploying and/or upgrading broadband network facilities to provide or improve service to an eligible community anchor institution.” Knowing the precise ways BEAD funding can be used can go a long way in strengthening your application.
  • Learn How States Will Select BEAD Subgrantees: The NTIA requires states to follow a selection process for subgrantees, which is intended to ensure an open, fair, and competitive procedure. Take a look at this Subgrantee Selection Primer to get an overview of what this process will look like and what NTIA’s requirements are from states.
  • Connect With Your State’s Digital Equity Officials: The best time to make your voice heard is during the planning stage. As states get to work on deploying BEAD, your organization should share your observations with state officials on areas that can benefit from more funding. You can also get in touch with the State Broadband Leaders Network, a community of practitioners who work on state broadband initiatives, to share your knowledge of the digital divide in your community.

What are Some Important Dates for BEAD Subgrantees?

In a late June announcement, the White House shared the total funding amounts that will be allocated to each state and territory through the BEAD program. States now have six months, or till the end of 2023, to submit an initial proposal to NTIA. The proposals will share how states plan to use their grant allocations and the subgrantee selection process. After the states’ initial proposals are approved, they will each have twelve months to select subgrantees. You can view a detailed timeline prepared by NTIA here.

Internet Funding Assistance for Households — Affordable Connectivity Program

As service beneficiaries of anchor institutions like nonprofit organizations and libraries, individuals will benefit from the programs listed above. However, individuals cannot, on their own, apply for grants through those programs.

The Affordable Connectivity Program on the other hand is designed specifically for lower-income households to get Internet assistance for themselves.

What is the ACP?

As part of the Internet for All Initiative, the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) was launched in 2021. It replaced the Emergency Broadband Benefit program that was especially introduced to help families and households afford Internet access during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This long-term program provides a discount of up to $30 per month for Internet access for eligible households. For qualifying households on Tribal lands, the program gives a discount of up to $75.

Who is Eligible for ACP?

All households where the household income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines are eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program. In addition, if a member of a household meets one of eight other eligibility criteria listed by the FCC, they too qualify for ACP.

Some of these eligibility criteria include a member of a household receiving a Federal Pell Grant during the current award year, an individual who uses federal housing assistance, or someone who participates in other assistance programs such as SNAP and Medicaid.

The ACP is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount for each household.

How to Best Navigate the ACP Application Process?

At Mobile Citizen, we partner with several organizations that participate in the ACP and can assist individuals or families that want to get financial assistance for the Internet.

You can also directly go to to submit an application. You can then select a service provider, or a plan, and have the discount applied to your bill. It’s important to note that applying for ACP and selecting a service provider are both important for you to receive the discount.

What are Some Important Dates for ACP Applicants?

While the ACP is a long-term program, its future is unsure. Digital equity advocates and stakeholders have long made the case for ACP benefits to become permanent. However, as of now, ACP’s current funding is expected to run out sometime in 2024.

While more than 19 million eligible households are currently enrolled in the program, 63% of eligible households still remain unenrolled. One of the biggest challenges ACP has faced is that of awareness. If you are a nonprofit organization that helps individuals and households get online, it’s best to enroll your service beneficiaries in the ACP immediately.

Advancing Digital Equity With Mobile Citizen

Government assistance programs have the potential to make a big dent in digital inequity. As organizations plan the best ways to deploy Internet assistance funding, consider Mobile Citizen’s Internet hotspots for schools, nonprofits, libraries, and social welfare organizations as a part of your toolkit.

Several of our clients have partnered with us to not only install reliable, low-cost Mobile Citizen hotspots in their own physical locations but have also distributed them amongst their community members and teams so they can always stay connected.

To explore opportunities for your organization, please contact our experts in the Mobile Citizen Customer Service Center at 877-216-9603 or pick your organization type on our website for more information.