Senate Dems Seek FCC Emergency E-Rate Action

Capitol Building

The majority of Senate Democrats are calling on the FCC not to wait for input on changing its policy to allow educational (E-Rate) broadband subsidy money to be used for home broadband and equipment.

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FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel has already sought comment on changing the FCC's interpretation of the statute, under her predecessor Ajit Pai, that the use of the term "classroom" in statute meant the subsidies could not be used for home schooling, even during the pandemic.

Rosenworcel disagreed.

But Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) (Commerce Committee chair) Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and 31 others called on the FCC to use emergency authority to connect students online ASAP.

The cited an executive order by President Joe Biden calling on the FCC to “to increase connectivity options for students lacking reliable home broadband."

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“We appreciate that you have already recognized the FCC’s ability to act, including by asserting in congressional testimony that ‘the FCC could use E-Rate right now to provide every school library with Wi-Fi hotspots and other connectivity devices to loan out to students who lack reliable internet access at home,’" they wrote Rosenworcel (, though they were preaching to the choir since closing the homework gap has always been one of her key priorities. “We urge you to now use your new leadership of the FCC to depart from the prior Commission's erroneous position. Specifically, we request that you leverage the E-Rate program to begin providing connectivity and devices for remote learning.”

They said the urgency of action "cannot be overstated."

“We welcome this valuable input from these Senate leaders," said an FCC spokesperson asked whether the chairwoman would use emergency powers  "We share the same goal of closing the Homework Gap and getting every child the connectivity they need right now.”

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.