WASHINGTON, D.C. –U.S. Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pension (HELP) and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, joined 36 of her Senate colleagues in a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel urging the agency to utilize the E-Rate program to help close the “homework gap” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Under your new leadership, the FCC must act quickly to address a wide range of pressing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these, we urge you to provide home internet connectivity and devices to students who are unable to participate in online learning during this ongoing emergency. We specifically call on the FCC to take long-overdue action and utilize the E-Rate program to start bridging the “homework gap” without delay,” wrote the Senators.

“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,” concluded the Senators.

BACKGROUND: Studies indicate that almost one year after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 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, and rural areas.

In May of 2020, Senator Rosen helped to introduce the Emergency Educational Connections Act, legislation aimed at ensuring K-12 students have greater home internet connectivity and devices during the coronavirus pandemic.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel:

Under your new leadership, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must act quickly to address a wide range of pressing issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among these, we urge you to provide home internet connectivity and devices to students who are unable to participate in online learning during this ongoing emergency. We specifically call on the FCC to take long-overdue action and utilize the E-Rate program to start bridging the “homework gap” without delay.

As we approach the one year-anniversary of this public health crisis, studies indicate that as many as 12 million children in the United States 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 our repeated call to address this homework gap, your predecessor at the FCC refused to use the emergency authority available to the Chair 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.

The E-Rate is, and has been for over two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet. Contrary to your predecessor's assertions, the FCC has always had clear emergency authority to utilize existing E-Rate funding to connect students learning online during the coronavirus pandemic. The statute authorizing this program does not preclude the FCC from freeing funds to connect students’ homes during the current crisis — which, because schools have had to close their doors, have become de facto classrooms for millions of children.

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.” In accordance with this statement, 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. 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. From there, Congress must provide the resources needed to finish the job by passing our Emergency Educational Connections Act, legislation that would appropriate billions more to be delivered through the E-Rate program to help close the homework gap during the pandemic.

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. We know you share our concerns and look forward to working with you to bridge the homework gap during this crisis, as well as design a permanent solution to the digital divide in the days ahead.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Due to the telework policies of many Senate offices during the coronavirus pandemic, physical signatures are unavailable. The listed senators have asked to be signatories to this letter.

Sincerely,    

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