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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 MarkeyEd MarkeyFive centrist Democrats oppose Pelosi for Speaker in tight vote David Sirota: Democrats gave away leverage in forcing vote on ,000 checks Sanders to slow down NDAA veto override in bid to get vote on K checks proposal MORE (D-Mass.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetTop Democrat pushes for tying unemployment insurance to economic conditions 50-50 Senate opens the door to solutions outlasting Trump's moment of violence Build trust in vaccines by investing in community workers MORE (D-Colo.) and Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzSenate Democrats rebuke GOP colleagues who say they'll oppose Electoral College results 11 Senate Republicans say they will oppose Electoral College results Wednesday Fight over Federal Reserve powers holding up year-end deal 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.