Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and 36 of their Senate colleagues in a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to immediately utilize the E-Rate program to provide internet connectivity to students at home. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, students across the country are increasingly attending virtual classrooms. Yet studies indicate that as many as 16 million children in the United States lack internet access at home and are unable to participate in online learning. These students are disproportionally from communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas.
The E-Rate Program is, and has been for more than two decades, an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s K-12 schools and libraries to the internet. The FCC has clear authority and available funding under the E-Rate program to provide connections at students’ homes — which, because schools have had to close their doors, have become de facto classrooms. However, the FCC has narrowly construed its ability to act during the current emergency, needlessly leaving millions of children at risk of falling behind in their studies.
“The FCC has the power to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on our most vulnerable families,” wrote the Senators in their letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We now urge you in the strongest possible terms to utilize this authority to provide internet connectivity and devices for children in need. School bells across the country have started to ring, but without immediate action, many students are at risk of never making it to class.”
A full copy of the letter is available here.
Senator Cortez Masto has pushed for expanded broadband for underserved rural and urban communities as part of her Innovation State Initiative by working on various bills, including introducing the bipartisan Connected Rural Schools and ACCESS BROADBAND Acts, as well as co-leading on legislation to make it easier for schools to put Wi-Fi technology on buses. These bills will help Nevada’s schools and libraries, local governments, and small businesses access federal programs while also mandating the transparency and oversight needed to ensure we’re spending federal funds wisely. Many of these provisions are included in the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which Senator Cortez Masto has co-led with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). More information about Senator Cortez Masto’s work regarding broadband access is available here.