Cantwell Applauds Senate Passage of More Than $7 Billion for Remote Learning Connectivity in COVID Relief Package

American Rescue Plan includes legislation introduced by Cantwell to address the homework gap with emergency E-Rate funding

WASHINGTON D.C. –  Today U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA) applauded inclusion of their legislation, the Emergency Educational Connections Act, and more than $7 billion in funding for the E-Rate program in the COVID-19 relief package that passed the Senate Saturday afternoon. The lawmakers’ legislation funds elementary and secondary schools and libraries, including Tribal schools and libraries, to provide Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and internet-enabled devices, including internet service through such equipment, to students, staff, and patrons.

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, studies indicate that as many as 12 million children nationwide still lack internet access at home and are unable to participate in online learning. These students are disproportionally from communities of color, low-income households, Tribal lands, and rural areas—a point Cantwell highlighted at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing in May.

And while more than 94% of students in Washington state started this school year online, the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction estimates that between 12 and 21% of Washington K-12 students still do not have the technology or internet connectivity required for remote learning. This fall, state officials estimated that only about 83% of students had consistent access to a reliable internet connection.

“12 million school kids still don’t have access to adequate broadband for remote learning. This bill provides $7 billion to the FCC for schools and libraries to provide broadband connectivity for helping students learn at home,” said Senator Cantwell. “I want to thank Senator Markey for his tireless efforts to close the homework gap.”

“Throughout this pandemic, we have asked our students to shoulder an enormous burden and continue their education from home,” said Senator Markey. “The funding included in this relief package for K-12 distance learning will finally provide all our children with the technology and tools to set them up for success and ensure they can continue their studies from home. This funding will help ensure that the ‘homework gap’ does not grow into a damaging learning and opportunity gap for our children, particularly those who live in communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas.”

The lawmakers’ E-Rate funding was also included in the COVID-19 relief package passed by the House of Representatives last week, which is expected to pass again. Senator Cantwell has been a leading Senate champion of efforts to expand broadband access, including for remote learning. In March, in September, and again in February, Cantwell urged the FCC to use its existing authority and programs to facilitate at-home connectivity for students to keep up with remote schoolwork.

The E-Rate program was designed to connect schools and libraries to the Internet. Since the program began nearly two decades ago, more than $54 billion has been invested nationwide to provide internet access for schools and libraries.