Policy & Funding

Educators Implore FCC to Cover Home Internet in E-rate Expansion

Educators Implore FCC to Cover Home Internet in E-rate Expansion

It's time for E-rate to cover the cost of home internet access. That's the word from 7,664 teachers, education IT people, principals and superintendents who have signed a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging the Commission to make E-rate funds available to help schools and districts "equip" students with home internet access.

"At this unprecedented time in our nation's history, the FCC has the opportunity to make a dramatic impact on educational equity for millions of students," the letter noted.

The project was kicked off by a consortium of interested organizations, including Alliance for Excellent Education and its Future Ready Schools initiative, the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), the State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA), the National School Boards Association and the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).

The effort is intended to address the "homework gap," which leaves some students unable to participate in online education, particularly, those "living in rural areas, students of color and students from low-income families," the letter stated.

"School districts across the country are doing everything they can to continue educating students while school buildings are closed. However, the 'homework gap' is going to widen the achievement gap unless the FCC steps in to ensure historically underserved students can access online learning at home," said Deb Delisle, president and CEO of the Alliance for Excellent Education, in a statement.

"By extending the current E-rate program, which helps schools and libraries obtain affordable broadband, the FCC can help fund home internet access necessary for students' online learning during the school closures," the NSBA added.

Keith Krueger, CEO of CoSN, noted that the use of the FCC's E-rate program alongside other universal service programs, to expand connectivity for learning, "is not only practical, but essential, in this digital age."

"Families without connectivity are not only cut off from instructional activities and being able to complete homework, but risk isolation from essential support during this pandemic," SETDA Executive Director, Candice Dodson, pointed out.

National School Boards CEO, Thomas Gentzel, also recommended that Congress include $2 billion dollars in the "coronavirus rescue package" to fund home internet access for all students. "Millions of students currently don't have adequate internet access in their homes, but we can take significant steps to enable this valuable and necessary resource. Congress needs to deliver for these students by funding and expanding access to the FCC's E-rate program," he said.

The letter in its entirety stated:

The undersigned 7,664 education leaders and others from across the country urge you to make E-rate funds available for us to equip students with home internet access so they can continue learning as classes move online while schools are closed nationwide due to coronavirus.

We have long known that the Homework Gap unfairly hinders the ability of students living in rural areas, students of color, and students from low-income families to fully benefit from many of the educational opportunities made available by modern technology. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, 14 percent of children had no internet access at home in 2017, with major equity gaps—12 percent of White students had no internet access at home, compared to nearly 20 percent of Black and Latino students and 37 percent of Native students. While these figures have always been alarming, it has never been more important to address this inequity than it is right now.

The Telecommunications Act calls upon the Federal Communications Commission to enhance the ability of libraries and elementary and secondary school classrooms to access advanced telecommunications services. As you are aware, many of our classrooms across the country are now being placed online due to school closures, but many of our students are unable to benefit from online learning because they lack the needed home internet access. We urge you to take immediate and aggressive action so we can keep classrooms open online as long as school buildings must be closed.

At this unprecedented time in our nation's history, the FCC has the opportunity to make a dramatic impact on educational equity for millions of students. The coronavirus is impacting nearly every facet of American life. With your partnership, we can mitigate this disruption by continuing to provide the nation's students the education they need and deserve.

Although the project is no longer accepting signatories, the initiators are encouraging educators and others to sign up to receive updates on the effort.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.