The FCC under acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel is seeking comment on allowing E-Rate broadband subsidy funds to be used for remote learning as the nation faces a continued pandemic and many schools in online learning mode.
The commission's Wireline Competition Bureau wants input on three emergency petitions asking for that funding flexibility.
The E-Rate is the broadband subsidy for schools and libraries.
The FCC under former chairman Ajit Pai interpreted statute as prevented the FCC from being able to use that E-Rate money for home broadband or equipment for remote learning because it interpreted the term "classroom" as restricting it to schools, even in a pandemic when the classroom has become the dining room or den for many.
Rosenworcel, by contrast, has said that was too restrictive and the FCC should have already been using E-Rate funds for learning from home.
“We need to get to work to update E-Rate funding so all our students can be connected to virtual classrooms, no matter who they are or where they live,” she said in a statement. “Kids shouldn’t have to do homework in parking lots because that’s the only place they can get online. We can do better."
Closing the homework gap one of Rosenworcel's signature issues as a commissioner, so it is no surprise that addressing the remote learning gap would be one of her first actions as acting chair.
"Today’s action is the first step in a process to hear about the emergency relief communities are seeking and to chart a path forward for the FCC to help solve this crisis," she said.
The petitions were filed by Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition and the states of Colorado and Nevada.
Congress has already allocated billions of dollars in E-Rate funding in the latest COVID-19 aid bill, but granting the petition would allow all the E-Rate money to be available for home broadband and equipment, at least on an emergency basis and perhaps beyond if the FCC concluded that a new reading of the statute allowed for a more expansive definition of classroom in the digital age.
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