Senators Urge FCC to Use Existing Authorities to Help Close the “Homework Gap”
Denver – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) led 31 colleagues in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to immediately use the E-Rate program to help connect students at home to online learning. As the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic forces many classrooms online, up to 17 million children in the United States lack internet access at home – disproportionally from communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas.
For more than two decades, the E-Rate program has been an essential source of funding to connect K-12 schools and libraries to the internet. The FCC has clear authority and available funding under E-Rate to provide connections at students’ homes. However, the FCC has narrowly construed its ability to act during the current emergency, needlessly leaving millions of children at risk of falling behind in their studies. Bennet has called on the FCC to use its authorities to connect students since March.
“The FCC has the power to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on our most vulnerable families,” wrote Bennet and his colleagues in their letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We now urge you in the strongest possible terms to utilize this authority to provide internet connectivity and devices for children in need. School bells across the country have started to ring, but without immediate action, many students are at risk of never making it to class.”
Before and after the outbreak of COVID-19, Bennet has made it a priority to close the digital divide. In June, Bennet introduced the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy (BRIDGE) Act of 2020 to deploy affordable, high-speed broadband networks nationwide. In May, Bennet introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act to help students access mobile hotspots and Wi-Fi enabled devices during the pandemic. In March, he also wrote to the FCC to ensure Americans are not disconnected from the Lifeline program during the crisis and similarly called on the country’s top internet companies to keep families connected.
In addition to Bennet, Markey, Schumer, Cantwell, Van Hollen, Hassan, and Schatz, the letter was also signed by U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Booker (D.N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).The text of the letter is available HERE.