Cantwell, Murray, Colleagues Urge New FCC Leadership to Use its Authority to Connect Students to Online Learning During Ongoing Pandemic

Letter to Acting FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel follows Cantwell and Murray’s repeated calls to previous FCC Chair Ajit Pai urging immediate action to close homework gap amid pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the new Chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Patty Murray (D-WA), the new Chair of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, joined Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and 34 of their colleagues in sending a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), urging the agency’s new leadership to utilize the E-Rate Program to help close the homework gap and connect millions of students to online learning opportunities.

Almost one year after schools across the country transitioned to online learning as a result of the 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. While more than 94% of students in Washington state started the 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 necessary internet connectivity for remote learning. This fall, state officials estimated that only about 83% of students had consistent access to a reliable internet connection. Yet despite repeated calls from Cantwell, Murray, and other Senate Democrats to address the homework gap, the Trump administration’s FCC refused to use its existing authority and resources available through the E-Rate program to provide internet access for these children during the crisis. 

“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,’” the senators wrote in their letter to Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “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.”

The senators continued: “The urgency of combined action by the FCC and Congress cannot be overstated. Together, we can provide the long-overdue support that our most vulnerable students require.”

Cantwell and Murray previously introduced legislation that would appropriate $4 billion to be delivered through the E-Rate program to ensure all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the pandemic. The E-Rate program is designed to connect schools and libraries to the internet. Since the program began more than two decades ago, more than $52 billion has been committed nationwide to provide internet access for schools and libraries. Senator Murray has led a bill, the Digital Equity Act, aimed at closing the growing digital divide in communities across the country, in addition to other efforts to promote digital inclusion for students and to ensure connectivity for families and individuals during the COVID-19 crisis.

 In addition to Senators Cantwell, Murray, and Markey, the letter is also signed by U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) Michael Bennet (D-CO), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jack Reed (D-RI), Robert Casey (D-PA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM), Angus King (I-ME), Tom Carper (D-DE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Tina Smith (D-MN), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and Raphael Warnock (D-GA).

A copy of the letter can be found HERE.