Democrats call on the FCC to expand internet access for students

The plan is to use the E-Rate program to bridge the "homework gap."

In an open letter, US Democrats have called on the FCC to expand internet access to students for online learning. Over 30 Senate democrats, including Ed Markey and Amy Klobuchar, asked acting FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel to use E-Rate funds to connect students who are unable to access online classes required because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Studies indicate that as many as 12 million children in the United States still lack internet access at home,” the letter reads. “We specifically call on the FCC to take long-overdue action and utilize the E-Rate program to start bridging the ‘homework gap’ without delay.” The Senators noted that gap disproportionately impacts “communities of color, low-income households, tribal lands and rural areas.”

The E-rate program is designed to help schools and libraries obtain affordable broadband. However, the previous FCC administration under chair Ajit Pai refused to expand it to include student and home access, despite the massive increase in online learning due to school coronavirus closures.

“We urge you to now use your new leadership of the FCC to depart from the prior Commission’s erroneous position,” the letter states. “Although the funds currently available through the E-Rate will not be enough to connect every student across the country, your prompt action would provide an essential down payment.”

Rosenworcel, who butted heads with Pai on the E-Rate issue, said earlier this week that the FCC would seek comment on using E-Rate funds to open up internet access for remote learning. “Kids shouldn’t have to do homework in parking lots because that’s the only place they can get online. We can do better,” she wrote.