WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker today joined a group of their colleagues in urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to utilize a special federal funding program that will allow them to connect the 16 million students across the country and 900,000 students in New Jersey without internet access with reliable service so students who need to participate in online learning can continue their education without disruption.
“The FCC has the power to help mitigate the impact of the coronavirus on our most vulnerable families,” the lawmakers wrote in a 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.”
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.
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 letter was also signed by Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Udall (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
A copy of the letter can be found here.