Bennet, Colleagues Urge FCC to Use its Emergency Authority to Connect Students to Online Learning

An Estimated 12 Million Students Still Lack Internet Access at Home During Pandemic

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) led 31 of their colleagues in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging the agency’s new leadership to utilize the E-Rate program to help close the “homework gap” during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Almost one year after COVID-19 took hold in the U.S., studies indicate that as many as 12 million children still lack internet access at home and are unable to participate in online learning. These students are disproportionally from communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas. Despite repeated calls from Senate Democrats to address this homework gap, the Trump Administration’s FCC refused to use its emergency authority and resources available through the E-Rate program to connect these vulnerable children. This mistake allowed far too many students to fall behind in their education.

“We appreciate that you have already recognized the FCC’s ability to act, including by asserting in congressional testimony that ‘the FCC could use E-Rate right now to provide every school library with Wi-Fi hotspots and other connectivity devices to loan out to students who lack reliable internet access at home,’” wrote Bennet and the senators in their letter to Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We urge you to now use your new leadership of the FCC to depart from the prior Commission's erroneous position. Specifically, we request that you leverage the E-Rate program to begin providing connectivity and devices for remote learning.”

They continued: “The urgency of combined action by the FCC and Congress cannot be overstated. Together, we can provide the long-overdue support that our most vulnerable students require.”

Before and after the outbreak of COVID-19, Bennet has made it a priority to close the digital divide. Last March, Bennet called on the FCC to temporarily allow schools to utilize E-Rate program funding to provide Wi-Fi devices to students without internet access at home. Bennet and his colleagues also wrote to the FCC to ensure Americans are not disconnected from the Lifeline program during the pandemic, while also calling on the country’s top internet companies not to disconnect families and to waive data caps and overage fees for the duration of the pandemic. In May, Bennet also introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act to expand funding for the E-Rate program. 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 addition to Bennet, Markey, Cantwell, Van Hollen, Hassan, and Schatz, the letter was signed by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

The text of the letter is available HERE.