As we approach the 1-year anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic reaching a global proportion, it’s important to note that while many of us in the United States were largely able to adapt to living, learning, working and, of course, streaming from home, there were an estimated 12 million children without reliable and affordable connectivity. Those are 12 million children who, for almost 12 months, were unable to rejoin classmates and teachers in virtual classrooms for remote learning. Those 12 million children once represented the “homework gap”, a phrase coined by the now acting FCC Chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel. But without connectivity during a pandemic, It’s no longer a homework gap, it’s a genuine education gap.
Originally passed in 1996 and adopted in 1997, The FCC’s E-rate program was set up to aid in connecting schools and libraries. As connectivity access continued to expand and lower in cost, attention shifted to making E-Rate a lifeline for connecting rural and tribal schools and libraries which often lacked adequate funding for new technology. Now, E-rate must once again evolve and realign its purpose to not just ensure kids are connected to online learning resources at school or in their library parking lot, but to ensure they can finally access them from their home, which has never been more critical than it is right now.
We support the grant of emergency authorization to use existing E-rate funds to provide connectivity and devices for remote learning with additional resources and funding provided by Congress. Time is of the essence for solving this issue. These students have been without the necessary resources to receive a modern education for too long. The unfortunate reality is that the millions of these kids who lack the basic level of access in their homes are disproportionately low-income, minority and rural students. In a time of reckoning for social justice and economic disparity, we must do everything possible to ensure every child has access to a quality education going forward, and that starts with making sure they can access it from home.
To learn more about the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit initiative, visit https://www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit