Senators urge FCC to ensure all students have access to internet during school closures

Senators urge FCC to ensure all students have access to internet during school closures
© Greg Nash

A group of Democratic senators on Thursday strongly urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to ensure students taking classes at home due to the coronavirus have access to the internet.

In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Sens. Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharDemocratic senators call on domestic airlines to issue cash refunds for travelers Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Hillicon Valley: FCC chief proposes 0M telehealth program | Twitter takes down posts promoting anti-malaria drugs for coronavirus| Whole Foods workers plan Tuesday strike MORE (D-Minn.), Gary PetersGary Charles PetersCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Poll: Biden has small lead over Trump in Michigan Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on MORE (D-Mich.) and Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterSome Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on Democrats fume over GOP coronavirus bill: 'Totally inadequate' Hillicon Valley: Twitter targets coronavirus misinformation | Facebook bans sanitizer, virus test ads to prevent price gouging | DHS defines critical jobs during outbreak | Remote working apps surge MORE (D-Mont.) emphasized the importance of K-12 students currently studying from home having access to the internet. 

“In an effort to limit the spread of coronavirus, 41 states across the country — including ours — have closed their schools, and additional closures are expected,” the senators wrote. “Meanwhile, nearly 12 million students still do not have access to the internet at home.”

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They emphasized that “as states temporarily close their schools and move to online instruction to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff, the FCC must take action to expand internet availability and keep Americans informed.”

The senators requested that the FCC create a “consumer-friendly web portal” to enable Americans to find Wi-Fi hot spots, contacts for telecommunications companies and information on federal assistance. They emphasized this was particularly important for students without stable access to the internet. 

“Without swift action from the FCC, students from households without access to high-speed internet face challenges in learning from home while their schools are closed,” the senators noted. 

The FCC took steps earlier this week to shore up the internet, launching the “Keep Americans Connected Pledge,” with groups including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile agreeing not to terminate service to customers unable to pay their internet bills during the coronavirus crisis. 

"As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected," Pai said in a statement when launching the initiative. 

The letter on Thursday to the FCC came on the heels of the Communications Workers of America and other consumer advocacy groups pleading with telecom groups including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon to also do their part to ensure Americans working and studying from home have access to the internet. 

A separate group of Democratic senators on Wednesday also sent a letter to the FCC advocating that the agency free up funds to allow schools to provide students with Wi-Fi hot spots or other internet accessibility.