For over a year now, the connectivity gap in American homes and schools has been jarring to see as many students all over the country have struggled to gain access to educational tech devices and strong internet connections.

In an effort to close the connectivity gap amongst U.S. students, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced the launch of a $7.17 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund to help schools and libraries purchase technology and resources like laptops and tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and broadband connections for schooling.

According to a press release, this marks the agency and country’s largest effort to close the homework gap and connect American students to the tools they need to support their education.

“Even before the coronavirus pandemic upended so much of day-to-day life, seven in ten teachers were assigning homework that required access to the internet,” FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel shared in a press statement. “But data from this agency demonstrates that one in three households do not subscribe to broadband. Where those numbers overlap is the Homework Gap.”

At the height of the pandemic when many schools switched from in-person to remote learning, reports came out about how students affected by the digital divide — especially those in low-income households — struggled to complete their assignments due to little to no access to internet or Wi-Fi at home.

In some cases students even had to resort to sitting in public areas to connect to free Wi-Fi, a reality that Rosenworcel said was “heart-wrenching to see” this past year.

“Kids elsewhere during this pandemic sat in cars outside of libraries to catch a signal to go online for class. Others cobbled together the connectivity they needed by doing everything from borrowing mobile phones to lingering outside of shuttered school and municipal buildings,” she continued in her statement. “We should salute the grit of each and every one of these young people who found ways to go online and keep up with school. But it shouldn’t be this hard—and going forward, thanks to the Emergency Connectivity Fund, it won’t.”

Previously, the FCC launched a $10 billion initiative to give Americans access to broadband Internet in May after months of deliberation. Now, the organization is upping the stakes to actively make a difference for students and schools.

A press release reports that the American Rescue Plan of 2021 established the Emergency Connectivity Fund, and in May, the FCC adopted the Report and Order to detail how the program would be administered throughout schools and libraries across the country. The FCC will be overseeing the fund while the Universal Service Administrative Company serves as the program’s administrator.

Eligible schools and libraries can submit requests for funding to purchase needed equipment and services for the 2021-22 school year now until Aug. 13.

For more information about the Emergency Connectivity Fund and how to apply, click here.