Democratic senators urge FCC to let schools use funds for student internet access

Democratic senators urge FCC to let schools use funds for student internet access
© Stefani Reynolds

A group of 16 Democratic Senators sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Monday urging it to free up funds for schools to provide internet for students as more classes have to shift online because of coronavirus.

The lawmakers are asking for the FCC to determine how much of the E-Rate program, which has a $4 billion yearly cap, can be used for one-time discounts to schools attempting to loan out Wi-Fi 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 MarkeyEdward (Ed) John MarkeyOVERNIGHT ENERGY: New documents show EPA rolled back mileage standards despite staff, WH concerns | Land management bureau grants 75 royalty rate cuts for oil and gas | EPA employees allege leadership interference with science in watchdog survey EPA's Wheeler grilled by Democrats over environmental rollbacks amid COVID-19 Markey says EPA administrator should apologize to minorities for coronavirus response MORE (D-Mass.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetCongress headed toward unemployment showdown Fight emerges over unemployment benefits in next relief bill Job losses approach Depression territory as election looms MORE (D-Colo.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzThe Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats slam Trump for threatening to hold Michigan funds Senate votes to reauthorize intel programs with added legal protections Coronavirus drives record number of complaints to consumer bureau MORE (D-Hawaii), wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

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“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.”

The letter comes as schools across the country are shuttering in an attempt to quell the spread of the coronavirus.

That has moved many classes online, highlighting the millions of students in American who do not have internet access at home.

The so-called homework gap affects students every week but has gained added importance with the school closures.

"Without FCC action, this existing inequity is likely to be exacerbated by the increasing number of schools that are suspending in-person classes and have transitioned to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff," the lawmakers wrote.

"Temporarily changing E-rate rules to allow financial support for home internet access would be of immense help to schools, students, and families at this time."

The Hill has reached out to the FCC for comment on the lawmakers' request.