March 17, 2020

Hassan, Shaheen Urge FCC to Ensure That All Students Can Remotely Continue Education During Coronavirus Emergency

Letter Sent as New Hampshire Schools Ordered to Close for Three Weeks, Increasing Urgency of Getting Students Support That They Need

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen today joined their colleagues in calling on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help provide Wi-Fi hotspots or devices with Wi-Fi capability to students who lack internet access at home. The letter requests that the FCC temporarily allow schools to utilize funding through the federal E-Rate program, which provides discounts to help eligible schools and libraries in the United States obtain affordable telecommunications and internet access. Temporarily expanding the funding to allow schools to support broadband access in students’ homes will give students in need the ability to access their classwork online. New Hampshire recently made the decision to close all public schools for three weeks to contain the spread of the coronavirus, increasing the urgency of ensuring that students have the support that they need.

 

“Students, regardless of whether they currently have internet access at home, must be able to continue their education while schools are shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Senator Hassan said. “I am urging the Federal Communications Commission to allow schools to temporarily use their E-Rate program funding to help provide Wi-Fi to students who otherwise would not have internet access at home so that more students can continue their studies uninterrupted.”

 

“Expanding access to high-speed internet has long been an urgent need in New Hampshire and the unprecedented global health crisis we are experiencing underscores that necessity. It shouldn’t take a global pandemic to raise awareness to the fact that unequal access to internet hurts communities’ ability to compete economically, and in this case, ensure students and educators have the ability to connect in emergency situations,” Senator Shaheen said. “That’s why today I joined my colleagues to send a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging the agency to utilize E-Rate program funding for devices with Wi-Fi capabilities to ensure students who lack internet access at home can have it. I’ll continue to push for more resources to meet the demand that Granite State students – and all Americans—are facing during this crisis.”

 

The E-Rate program is capped at $4 billion each year, with the FCC having already allocated about $2 billion this year, leaving approximately half of the funding available for potential emergency action. In their letter, the senators call on the FCC to determine how much of this funding can be spent on one-time discounts for schools seeking to loan Wi-Fi hotspots to students who do not have internet at home, as well as those trying to equip school-distributed devices with Wi-Fi capability that can be lent out while physical classes are on hold. The senators also request the FCC make clear to state and local institutions that undertaking any similar measures during this crisis will not affect their future E-Rate eligibility.

 

Senator Hassan has worked to expand broadband coverage to underserved areas in New Hampshire and across the country. Senator Hassan successfully called on the FCC to extend the deadline for communities to challenge the accuracy of broadband coverage maps, which help determine billions of dollars in federal funding to expand broadband in rural and underserved communities. Additionally, bipartisan legislation cosponsored by Senators Hassan and Shaheen to help improve the accuracy of these broadband maps is currently on its way to the President’s desk for a signature. In December, Senators Hassan and Shaheen joined their colleagues to urge the FCC to prioritize sustainable rural broadband networks as the FCC considers new rules in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund proceeding. Additionally, Senator Hassan introduced two bipartisan bills with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) to help states, cities, and towns spur investment in rural broadband projects.

 

A copy of the text of the letter can be found below.

 

March 16, 2020

 

Chairman Ajit Pai

Federal Communications Commission

445 12th Street, SW

Washington, DC 20054

 

Dear Chairman Pai:

 

We write to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take immediate action to ensure all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity if their schools close due to the coronavirus pandemic. We believe that the FCC can use its emergency powers to temporarily waive relevant E-rate program rules and allow its beneficiaries to utilize universal service funding to provide home wireless service to existing school devices and hotspots for students who lack internet access at home. This swift, immediate action would help ensure that all students can remotely continue their education during the current public health emergency.

 

The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the “homework gap” experienced by 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% of educators assign schoolwork that requires the internet. Without FCC action, this existing inequity is likely to be exacerbated by the increasing 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. Temporarily changing E-rate rules to allow financial support for home internet access would be of immense help to schools, students, and families at this time.

 

The E-rate program is capped at $4 billion each year. We understand that the FCC has already allocated about $2 billion this year, leaving approximately half of the funding available for potential emergency action. We strongly urge you to consider how much of this funding can be spent on one-time discounts for schools seeking to loan Wi-Fi hotspots to students who do not have internet at home, as well as those trying to equip school-distributed devices with Wi-Fi capability that can be lent out while physical classes are on hold. We also request that you make it clear to state and local institutions that undertaking any similar measures during this crisis will not affect their future E-rate eligibility.

 

The E-Rate program is, and has been for over two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet. These institutions are vital outlets to help connect all Americans, including millions of students and Americans in both rural and urban parts of the country. As the coronavirus pandemic develops, this program offers a solution that may help mitigate the impact on our most vulnerable families. We call on you to use the FCC’s emergency powers to narrow the homework gap during this crisis, and we look forward to finding a long-term solution when the coronavirus subsides.

 

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Due to the closure of many Senate offices during the coronavirus outbreak, physical signatures are unavailable. The listed senators have asked to be signatories to this letter.

 

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