February 04, 2021

Senators Markey, Cantwell, Van Hollen, Bennet, Hassan, and Schatz Lead Colleagues in Urging New FCC to Use its Emergency Authority to Connect Students to Online Learning

A recent Biden executive order also called on the FCC “to increase connectivity options for students lacking reliable home broadband”

Washington (February 4, 2021) – Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) today led 31 of their colleagues in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 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.

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 Senate Democrats to address this homework gap, the Trump administration’s FCC refused to use its emergency authority and resources available through the E-Rate program to connect these vulnerable children. This mistake allowed far too many students to fall behind in their education.

“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.”

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.

The letter is also signed by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.H.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Angus King (D-Maine), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Jeffrey Merkley (D-Ore.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.).

Senate Democrats also previously introduced legislation that would appropriate billions more to be delivered through the E-Rate program to provide connectivity and devices to cover K-12 students during the pandemic.

Since the E-Rate began more than two decades ago, more than $52 billion has been committed 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 program is designed to connect schools and libraries to the Internet.

###