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February 08, 2021

To Close Pandemic “Homework Gap”, Senator King Urges FCC to Use Emergency Authority to Better Connect Students

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) has sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with 34 of his Senate colleagues, urging the agency’s new leadership to take long overdue action and utilize the E-Rate Program to help close the “homework gap” during the coronavirus pandemic.  With increased reliance on digital services during the pandemic, many school-aged children who lack reliable internet access are falling through the cracks. Since the E-Rate Program began more than two decades ago, more than $52 billion has been committed nationwide to provide internet access for schools and libraries.

“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,’” write 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.”

The Senators continue: “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.”

The original E-rate program was created as a part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act and was designed to connect schools and libraries to the internet. As the United States approaches the one year-anniversary of this public health crisis, 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, Tribal lands, and rural areas. Despite repeated calls from Senator King and his colleagues to address this homework gap, the Trump administration refused to use its emergency authority and resources available through the E-Rate program to connect these vulnerable children.

As the coronavirus pandemic has caused cancellations of schools across the nation, Senator King has pushed to improve distance learning. In April, Senator King requested robust funding for all K-12 students to have adequate home internet connectivity if their schools close due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. In the letter, he expressed disappointment with the lack of such funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that passed Congress, despite Senator King’s repeated call for resources dedicated to distance learning. At the very beginning of the pandemic, 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 2020 edition of Senator King’s monthly podcast, he was joined by Senator John Boozman (R-Ark.) and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (the recipient of today’s letter) 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.

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.

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