E-rate/Schools and Libraries Program
The coronavirus pandemic has forced a lockdown of millions of people around the world, and New York, where schools have been shut down since March 16, and teachers and students have resorted to distance learning with online classes. But Larissa Rosa, an English-as-a-second-language teacher at Public School 7 Samuel Stern in the East Harlem neighborhood of New York, said at least 45 of the roughly 400 students at her school haven't logged on once.
The principles we need to connect us were enshrined by a Republican-led Congress in the Telecommunications Act of 1996. In the legislation, overwhelmingly approved by both Republicans and Democrats, the law mandates that the Federal Communications Commission to base policies for the preservation and advancement of universal service on principles including:
The debate on whether broadband is a luxury or an essential connection to society is over. More than twice as many people are now using residential broadband during business hours as before the COVID-19 crisis. Over 55 million students have been impacted by school closures. The use of telehealth has skyrocketed. This, I believe, is our broadband moment: a hinge of history that will determine whether today’s residential broadband is fit for the changed world in which we inhabit or whether its limits work to disadvantage those that are not equipped to use it.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s monthly drip drip drip of process deregulation has become a flood, at least temporarily, as rules for how broadband subsidy money is spent, how spectrum can be used -- and who can use it -- are being modified and waived right and left. The avowed goal is to keep America connected at a time when broadband is a literal lifeline for a homebound populace.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought into sharp focus the digital divide affecting millions of American families, especially those in low-income households and rural areas. One of the most pernicious challenges is the “homework gap”—the divide between those students who have reliable access to computers and high-speed Internet access in their homes and those who do not.
Internet access is, of course, fundamental to sound educational policy. Even before the pandemic, an estimated 12 million schoolchildren had trouble completing schoolwork because they lacked internet access at home. Nevertheless, there is significantly more to online education than streaming a lesson designed for the classroom. Effective virtual education requires new styles of teaching as well as curriculum materials designed specifically for online use.
I have called for the FCC to enact a “connectivity stimulus” to see Americans through the coronavirus crisis and power our economy. While a lot of data are still coming in, early results have delivered a clear message: COVID-19 is disproportionately hitting densely populated urban areas and having a devastating impact on African Americans and other communities of color. On a personal note, I read a report this week that Black residents of Kansas City make up 50% of those testing positive for the coronavirus, while they are only 30% of the population.
As of April 13, 2020, school closures in the U. S. have impacted at least 124,000 public and private schools and affected at least 55.1 million students. Yet, millions of U.S. households either do not have access to broadband networks or can't afford service. Students in these homes are cut off from educational opportunities that schools are now offering online only. The question is: How can we continue to educate these students in the coming weeks and months? In an April 10 presentation to the Federal Communications Commission, an organization called Funds For Learning offered a plan.
As Congress starts planning its next coronavirus relief package, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) has a wide-ranging, four-part plan that takes into account everything from support for rural hospital and medical professionals to relief for farmers, increased rural broadband, and support for local governments. One issue Democrats have long wanted to address as part of a larger infrastructure package is the lack of high-speed broadband internet in many rural areas. Sen Klobuchar argues that’s especially important now, as families must shelter in place and do work and school from home.