Dems Seek Distance Learning Dollars in Next COVID-19 Aid Bill

Democratic senators are on the same page as FCC chair Ajit Pai when it comes to wanting more funding for distance learning.

In a letter to House and Senate leadership Thursday, the majority of Senate Democrats called for "robust" funding of K-12 online education.

By "robust," they mean at least $2 billion in E-Rate funding in the next COVID-19 aid bill. E-Rate is the FCC subsidy for high-speed broadband to schools and libraries.

The senators had wanted E-rate funding in the $2 trillion CARES Act aid package, but that bill's broadband funding was only $300 million, targeted at telehealth.

“Children without connectivity are at risk of not only being unable to complete their homework during this pandemic, but being unable to continue their overall education,” the lawmakers wrote. “Congress must address this issue by providing financial support specifically dedicated to expanding home internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education.”

Related: FCC Will Seek Distance Learning Dollars from Hill

The FCC under Pai also pushed for distance learning funding in the CARES Act, and signaled it would do so again in any subsequent aid bill, FCC officials said this week, though they did not say how much money they thought was needed.

The FCC has already taken several steps to help distance learners, Pai has pointed out, including lifting gift rules in the E-rate program to allow donations of equipment and services, and allowing closed schools and libraries to keep getting funding so they can serve as community WiFi hot spots. On Wednesday (April 1), it also extended filing and implementation requirements for the program.

Leading the letter were Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). Other signatories were Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Bob Casey, Jr. (D-Penn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tom Udall (D-Utah), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.