A group of prominent Senate Democrats led by former tech exec Mark Warner (D-Va.) are calling on ISPs to take further steps to expand broadband coverage and insure that they are doing everything possible to close the digital educational divide as students return to increasingly virtual classrooms.
In a letter to the CEO's of AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, T-Mobile, and Verizon, they called on the companies to "limit the economic and social disruption" of COVID-19, specifically by suspending limits and fees on broadband usage, as well as to expand coverage areas, in the name of remote learning and education and healthcare, but with an emphasis on education as a new school year begins.
Related: ISPs Launch Bridge to Educational Connectivity
"We have heard from public schools who express appreciation for internet service options that enable remote learning, but are also concerned with ongoing data limitations and continued lack of service for many households," they wrote.
Earlier in the pandemic, the ISPs suspended overage charges and late payments and service cut-offs due to nonpayment at the behest of the FCC, but that Connect America pledge has expired. "[W]e ask again that you temporarily suspend data caps and associated fees or throttling for affected communities, and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost broadband options for students whose schools are closed due to COVID-19 and don’t have sufficient access at home," the senators wrote.
They cited what they said were "numerous" complaints from parents and teachers about usage caps and limited bandwidth as well as being ineligible for new service due to past missed payments.
The letter came only days after FCC chairman Ajit Pai praised cable and telecom ISPs for a new educational tech initiative, K-12 Bridge to Broadband, which provides discounted service to school systems so they can buy home access for unconnected low-income families. Pai pointed out that there are billions in COVID-19 aid that schools could tap.
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