More than a dozen US politicians urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide emergency funding for the distribution of Wi-Fi hotspots and other connected devices so students can continue their education from home during the Covid-19 (coronavirus) outbreak.
They asked the FCC to use its authority to reallocate $2 billion in funding from its E-Rate programme to provide backing for schools seeking to loan hotspots and other Wi-Fi-enabled devices to students lacking home broadband.
Established in 1996, the E-Rate programme provides discounted telecoms and internet access to schools and libraries in rural and low-income areas. Around $4 billion in funding is allocated for the programme each year.
In a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai, the politicians said the action is necessary to support nearly 12 million US students who lack home internet access, as schools around the country transition to online learning in light of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“We call on you to use the FCC’s emergency powers to narrow the homework gap during this crisis, and we look forward to finding a long-term solution when the coronavirus subsides.”
The letter comes after Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel warned at a recent Congressional hearing that a shift to home-based education spurred by the pandemic would expose “hard truths about the digital divide” in the US.
“With the coronavirus we have real duties to figure out how to help get those kids online because when their schools shutdown and classes migrate online they are at the greatest risk of being left behind.”
As part of their response to the outbreak, Verizon, T-Mobile US and Sprint all announced they would increase data allowances for schools participating in their respective educational connectivity programmes.
Sprint added it is working to accelerate delivery of 100,000 additional connected devices for students, which were originally scheduled to be distributed as part of its programme in 2021.