Washington (May 10, 2021) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) and Congresswoman Grace Meng (NY-06), today hailed the FCC’s unanimous and bipartisan implementation of their legislation, the Emergency Educational Connections Act, and the more than $7 billion in funding for the E-Rate (Education-Rate) program that was included in the American Rescue Plan that became law in March. The lawmakers’ legislation will help close the “homework gap” by funding elementary and secondary schools and libraries, including tribal schools and libraries, to provide Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-enabled devices, including internet service through such equipment, to students, staff, and patrons.
More than a year into the coronavirus pandemic, studies indicate that as many as 12 million children still lack internet access at home and are unable to participate in online learning or complete their homework after class. These students are disproportionately from communities of color, low-income households, Tribal lands, and rural areas.
“FCC implementation of the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program is an important step towards ensuring the ‘homework gap’ does not grow into a more damaging learning and opportunity gap for our children, particularly those who live in communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas,” said Senator Markey. “With today’s action by the FCC, schools and libraries can now deploy the more than $7 billion in E-Rate funding that was included in the American Rescue Plan for K-12 distance learning. Even as we continue to safely re-open schools in the months ahead, distance learning is not going away since many schools are using hybrid models, relying on part-time at-home learning, as well as the fact that students across the country are suffering from severe learning loss and may need to continue their home education through the summer months and during evenings. And even after the coronavirus pandemic finally ends, we cannot ignore the 21st century educational requirement that students need internet access to simply finish their homework. I thank the Commission, as well as my legislative partners, Senators Cantwell, Van Hollen, Bennet, Hassan, and Congresswoman Meng, for their leadership to connect kids to opportunity.”
“The last year has been a very stark reminder of how important broadband connectivity is to Americans. As we’ve faced a pandemic, the internet has become the place to go to work, to attend school, to see friends, to help visit the doctors, and do many of the day-to-day things that we’ve all had to do in our lives. In fact, 12 million students cannot fully participate in remote learning because of a lack of quality broadband in their homes. I am glad the FCC is now implementing the $7 billion in funding we passed in the American Rescue Plan to help schools and libraries provide broadband connectivity to help students learn at home,” said Senator Cantwell.
“Closing the digital divide is urgent to ensure equal opportunity for our children. That’s why we fought for funds within the American Rescue Plan to establish this emergency program to help get students and educators online. I’m glad to see the FCC’s quick work to implement this vital program, and I urge Marylanders and folks across the country to take advantage of this crucial financial support. I will continue working to bring reliable, affordable internet access to every household in our state and our nation,” said Senator Van Hollen.
“Over the past year Americans were shocked to see students doing homework in fast food parking lots across the country because they didn’t have internet access at home,” said Senator Bennet. “Those images laid bare the inexcusable cost of the digital divide on America’s children and their futures. We wouldn’t ask a student to learn without textbooks, and in the 21st century, we shouldn’t ask them to learn without internet access. Today’s action by the FCC will allow schools and libraries to deploy the more than $7 billion in E-Rate funding we fought to include in the American Rescue Plan. This funding is not only critical to support the mix of in-person and distance learning needed to safely transition back a normal school year; going forward, it will also provide more students the internet access needed to complete their schoolwork at home. I am grateful to Senator Markey and all of our partners in the Senate and House for their leadership to secure this much-needed funding.”
“In our digital age, the internet has become a necessary part of our education system, and students who don’t have access to the internet at home are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to keeping up with their studies,” said Senator Hassan. “This federal funding is an important step to help close the homework gap and provide students, particularly those in rural areas, with the internet connected devices and service that they need to succeed.”
“The homework gap was a problem before COVID-19 and the pandemic exacerbated this gap for millions of students. But today we are stopping this issue from worsening through the FCC’s implementation of the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program,” said Congresswoman Meng. “Students without internet access during the crisis faced impossible obstacles to learn from the safety of their homes. Proud to work with Senators Markey, Cantwell, Van Hollen, Bennet, and Hassan to help close the homework gap. I look forward to students having the internet access and tools needed to succeed in the days ahead.”
Since the E-Rate began more than two decades ago, more than $54 billion has been invested nationwide to provide internet access for schools and libraries. Senator Markey is the author of the original E-Rate program, which was created as a part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The original program was designed to connect schools and libraries to the Internet.