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FCC: Home 'Classrooms' Ineligible for Broadband Subsidy

FCC Building
(Image credit: FCC)

The FCC has released its final list of services eligible for E-rate broadband subsidy money meant to help boost school and library connectivity, but in-home service and equipment for pandemic-driven remote learning did not make the cut.

In releasing the final eligible services for funding Monday (Nov. 30), the Wireline Competition Bureau said requests that the funds also go to home "classrooms"--given the shutdowns and remote learning mandates--were beyond the scope of the proceeding. The bureau said the eligible services list is about what services are OK under current rules, and was not "a vehicle for changing" the rules.

Currently, FCC rules, as interpreted by FCC chairman Ajit Pai, confine E-rate funding to physical schools and libraries. But Democrats on the Hill, and the Democratic members on the FCC, have argued that the FCC doesn't have to change the rules, just expand the definition of classroom to home classrooms.

Pai has said he recognizes that schools have had to change the way they teach due to the pandemic and that "it is critical that parents and students stay connected so that they can participate in online learning from home during this crisis." But he has remained adamant that the language of the statute is clear.

"[W]e face a major barrier: The Communications Act, which the FCC is duty-bound to administer," he said in a letter to Congress. Pai said the Act "expressly limits the FCC's use of E-Rate program funding to broadband and other services delivered to school 'classrooms' and libraries. Connectivity and devices supplied to students at home unfortunately do not qualify for E-Rate support under the law."

"We decline to address comments requesting that we add new services to the eligible services list," said the Bureau Tuesday in releasing the list.

The Wireline Bureau back in September freed up more E-rate funds via a second filing window to help schools boost their broadband as they rely more on remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. But it reminded filers it would not extend to home broadband. "Consistent with section 254 of the Telecommunications Act directive that E-Rate may only be used to “enhance… access to advanced telecommunications and information services for… school classrooms."