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Democrats call on FCC to expand remote learning connectivity

Democrats call on FCC to expand remote learning connectivity


The FCC took its first step to expand E-Rate this week

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Image: Alex Castro / The Verge

In an open letter on Thursday, dozens of Democrats called on Federal Communications Commission Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to expand the use of broadband funds for students struggling to stay connected and participate in remote learning.

In a letter to Rosenworcel, signed by over 30 Senate Democrats, including Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA), they requested that the FCC use E-Rate program funds to connect students with devices and home internet access who are currently unable to participate in online learning as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The E-Rate program provides universal service funding to connect schools and libraries to the internet.

“Your prompt action would provide an essential down payment”

“We urge you to now use your new leadership of the FCC to depart from the prior Commission’s erroneous position,” the senators wrote. “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.”

Previous FCC Chair Ajit Pai denied these calls for E-Rate expansion throughout his tenure at the agency during the pandemic. A minority commissioner at the time called on the FCC to use the E-Rate program to ensure students have the devices and connectivity needed to participate in remote learning in an op-ed for The Verge last March.

There are already indications that the FCC will take action on the issue. Earlier this week, Rosenworcel announced that the FCC would seek comment on petitions to open up E-Rate program funds for use in supporting remote learning during the pandemic, a first step in more substantial changes to the program.

“We need to get to work to update E-Rate funding so all our students can be connected to virtual classrooms, no matter who they are or where they live,” Rosenworcel said in a statement Monday. “Kids shouldn’t have to do homework in parking lots because that’s the only place they can get online. We can do better.”