April 03, 2020
BRUNSWICK, ME – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) joined a group of colleagues in a letter to House and Senate leadership requesting robust funding for all K-12 students to have adequate home internet connectivity if their schools close due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The Senators expressed their disappointment with the lack of such funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that recently passed Congress, despite their repeated call for resources dedicated to distance learning. The lawmakers urged leadership in both chambers of Congress to support $2 billion in E-Rate funding in the next coronavirus relief package for students to learn at home.
“Children without connectivity are at risk of not only being unable to complete their homework during this pandemic, but being unable to continue their overall education,” write the lawmakers in their letter to Senate and House leadership. “Congress must address this issue by providing financial support specifically dedicated to expanding home internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education.”
In their letter, the lawmakers specifically request at least $2 billion in E-Rate funds for schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or other devices with Wi-Fi capability to students without adequate connectivity at their home. The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the “homework gap” experienced by the 12 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home and are unable to complete their homework — at a time when more than 70 percent of educators assign schoolwork that requires internet access. Research has shown that the homework gap affects students in both rural and urban areas and disproportionately affects lower-income students and students of color. Students without internet access at home consistently score lower in reading, math, and science. Without Congressional action, this existing inequity will only be exacerbated by the high 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.
As the coronavirus pandemic has caused cancellations of schools across the nation, Senator King has pushed to improve distance learning. Last month, Senator King joined a group of his colleagues in calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to temporarily allow schools to utilize E-Rate program funding to provide Wi-Fi hotspots or devices with Wi-Fi capability to students who lack internet access at home. Earlier in March, Senator King sent a letter to the CEOs of eight major internet service providers (ISPs), calling on the companies to take steps to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services; in response to Senator King’s letter, several major ISPs took action to better support these remote technologies.
As a co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Senator King has been a strong advocate for broadband infrastructure initiatives and bridge the homework gap. In the February edition of Senator King’s monthly podcast, he was joined by Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.) and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel to discuss ways to close the digital divide experienced by rural communities across the nation. In April 2019, King introduced the Digital Equity Act of 2019, which would strengthens federal support for efforts to help ensure students, families, and workers have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in society.
The full letter can be downloaded HERE.