A bipartisan COVID-19 aid Senate bill would help close the digital homework gap by allocating billions of dollars in new E-rate schools and libraries broadband subsidies that could be used to pay for home broadband devices and service for students.
The compromise legislation incorporates the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020, which would allocate $3 billion for distance learning, including for "certain elementary schools, secondary schools, or libraries to purchase telecommunications equipment or services (e.g., Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, and routers) for use by students, staff, or patrons at locations that include locations other than the schools or libraries."
The FCC presides over an E-rate educational broadband subsidy fund for school and library connectivity, but FCC chairman Ajit Pai has said that must be used for connections in physical schools and libraries, per statute, and not for home access and devices for students having to get their schooling at home. Democrats argue that the FCC can and should extend the definition of school to remote learning.
Senators Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) applauded the inclusion of their E-rate bill in the larger package.
“We are pleased to see our legislation that funds K-12 distance learning included in this bipartisan coronavirus relief package,” they said in a joint statement. “We cannot afford to wait another day to connect online our nation’s most vulnerable children to their educators and classmates and to ensure the ‘homework gap’ does not grow into a damaging learning gap as the pandemic continues. This $3 billion in E-rate funding is a strong down payment on ensuring all kids can continue to learn and develop throughout this health crisis.”
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