OTI Urges FCC to Authorize $2.2 Billion in Available E-Rate Funds to Connect Students Left Behind During COVID-19 Pandemic

Press Release
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April 8, 2020

Today, New America’s Open Technology Institute called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to use its existing authority and universal service budget to extend connectivity to students without broadband access to help facilitate remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the emergency request filing, OTI urges the FCC to act to empower schools and libraries to close the homework gap using the Universal Service Fund (USF) and E-Rate and Lifeline programs.

As schools across the country have closed—some for the rest of the school year, others indefinitely—students cannot afford to lose large chunks of their education because of a lack of internet access.

In the filing, OTI explains why the FCC has the legal authority and $2.2 billion in E-Rate funds it needs to immediately extend broadband access to millions of K-12 students who lack broadband internet service. Last week the FCC added $100 million in universal service funding for a telehealth pilot that extends internet access to patients at home, demonstrating it has the authority to do the same for students.

The filing also urges the FCC to waive restrictions on the use of school or library broadband networks supported by E-Rate to extend connectivity to students off campus for educational purposes. Further, the FCC can leverage the Lifeline program to help not just students, but all low-income Americans who need connectivity while they are required to stay at home during this crisis.

The following quote can be attributed to Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“Millions of students required to stay at home cannot continue their education because their families lack adequate internet access. This has turned the broadband homework gap into a home-schooling chasm. This harms low-income students, particularly those in rural and inner city districts. But it impacts their classmates as well, as many schools decide they cannot rely on online instruction.

“The FCC has the legal authority to immediately designate $2.2 billion in available E-Rate funding to help local schools mitigate this crisis. The FCC can authorize schools to buy and lend out Wi-Fi hotspots to students lacking internet access. With over $2 billion in universal funds available for education, there is no reason to wait for Congress. The agency should also waive rules that deny school districts the flexibility to use their existing E-Rate funds and facilities to use wireless technologies to extend internet access to students in need.”

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