Senators Urge FCC to Free Up Money for Schools for Broadband

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A group of 16 Democratic Senators sent a letter to the FCC Monday urging the agency to free up funds for schools to provide internet for students as more classes shift online because of coronavirus. The lawmakers asked the Commission to determine how much of the E-Rate program can be used for one-time discounts to schools attempting to loan out WiFi hotspots or enable internet access on other devices.

“The E-Rate program is, and has been for over two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet,” the lawmakers, led by Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Brian Schatz (D-Hi), wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. They were joined by: Sens. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jack Reed (D-RI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Patty Murray (D-WA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Angus S. King, Jr. (I-ME), and Margaret Wood Hassan (D-NH). 

“The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the ‘homework gap’ experienced by 12 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home and are unable to complete their homework – at a time when more than 70 percent of educators assign schoolwork that requires the internet,” they wrote.

The E-rate program is designed to connect schools and libraries to the internet, as well as ensure access for low-income students and families. It’s capped at $4 billion each year. The lawmakers say the agency has already allocated about $2 billion this year, leaving approximately half of the funding available for potential emergency action.

“We believe that the FCC can use its emergency powers to temporarily waive relevant E-rate program rules and allow its beneficiaries to utilize universal service funding to provide home wireless service to existing school devices and hotspots for students who lack internet access at home. This swift, immediate action would help ensure that all students can remotely continue their education during the current public health emergency,” stated the Senators.

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