E-rate/Schools and Libraries Program
A recent discussion at the University of Virginia, Addressing Barriers to Equitable Distance Learning, focused on how lack of internet access affects education, but also highlighted impacts related to health care, the economy and more. In an introduction, School of Education and Human Development Dean Bob Pianta outlined a “profound digital divide” that affects communities across the US, particularly low-income areas – both rural and urban – and communities of color. “The pandemic has exposed the realities and inequities of the digital divide,” he said.
Senator Markey Leads Colleagues in Urging New FCC to Use Its Emergency Authority to Connect Students To Online Learning
Sen Ed Markey (D-MA), Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell (D-WA), and Sens Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Brian Schatz (D-HI) led 31 of their colleagues in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, 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 policymakers address the immediate needs of students and teachers, they should also use this as an opportunity to take a fresh look at the E-rate program, both from how it has been operationalized to date as well as its goals for the future. AT&T believes the following principles should guide any expansion of the program:
Pressure is rising on the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to rethink the $8 billion Universal Service Fund that subsidizes phone and broadband service, as it teeters on a shrinking budget base. Big phone companies like AT&T, entities that benefit from USF programs, and public interest groups see the Biden administration as a new opportunity to press their case for an overhaul of the funding mechanism.
The Federal Communications Commission seeks comment on several petitions requesting permission to use E-Rate program funds to support remote learning during the pandemic. The E-Rate program provides universal service fund discounts on broadband services for eligible schools and libraries. Multiple petitions filed with the agency have sought emergency relief so schools and libraries that were shut down because of the pandemic can assist students who need to learn remotely, but who lack internet access at home.
The Trump administration did little to address the digital divide. The Biden administration and the new Congress have an opportunity to do better. A study by the New Center suggests:
My top priority for the coming weeks is getting emergency broadband access to as many Americans as possible. If we’re successful, the Emergency Broadband Benefit will reach more disconnected low-income people and households of color than any previous Federal Communications Commission effort to close the digital divide. But Congress has—quite reasonably under the circumstances—given us just 60 days to set up the program.
President Joe Biden's recent pick to chair the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, is welcome news to those who have been fighting to help students access the internet during the coronavirus pandemic.
A coalition of education advocates petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to close the remote learning gap for the estimated 15 to 16 million students who lack home internet access. If granted, the petition would allow schools and libraries to connect these disconnected learners using funding from the E-rate program.
Today, there’s a glaring inequity in one crucial area that guarantees inequity in myriad others: Internet access.