Washington–Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and a group of their colleagues to send a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to immediately utilize the E-Rate program to provide internet connectivity to students at home. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, students across the country are increasingly attending virtual classrooms. Yet, studies indicate that as many as 16 million children in the United States 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.
The E-Rate Program is, and has been for more than two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s K-12 schools and libraries to the internet. The FCC has clear authority and available funding under the E-Rate program to provide connections at students’ homes — which, because schools have had to close their doors, have become de facto classrooms. However, the FCC has narrowly construed its ability to act during the current emergency, needlessly leaving millions of children at risk of falling behind in their studies.
“The FCC has the power to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on our most vulnerable families,” write the lawmakers in their letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We now urge you in the strongest possible terms to utilize this authority to provide internet connectivity and devices for children in need. School bells across the country have started to ring, but without immediate action, many students are at risk of never making it to class.”
A copy of the letter can be found here.
The letter is also signed by Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Cory Booker (D.N.J.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Udall (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Casey, Jr, (D-Penn.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).