Ed-Tech Policy

FCC, Congress Weigh Overhaul of E-Rate to Fund Remote Learning

By Brian Bradley — March 20, 2020 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The Federal Communications Commission is in talks with congressional leaders to change the E-rate program to allow it provide funding for in-home connectivity and device use away from school, an agency spokesperson told Education Week.

As school districts continue to close across the country, policymakers are discussing how best to quickly disperse federal money for remote learning through the E-rate, a major program overseen by the FCC that provides support for improved Internet access in schools and libraries.

The E-rate program is currently capped at $4.15 billion annually. The fund has about $1.5 billion that is unused for this funding year, which ends on June 30.

But language in the federal Communications Act prohibits the agency from using E-Rate for students’ home use of wireless devices and services, directing E-Rate funds to be provided for support of connectivity in classrooms only, according to the office of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

Based on this language, the FCC cannot subsidize home use of connectivity services and devices without authorization from Congress, said a spokesperson for Pai, a Republican.

A group of 18 senators and FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, are calling on Pai to use emergency powers to quickly change FCC rules to authorize E-Rate funding to foster students’ use of devices and connection services at home.

In a statement to Education Week, Rosenworcel said while she would welcome congressional guidance, the FCC should speed up the process by implementing an emergency rule change to loan mobile hotspots to students, particularly those who lack adequate Internet connection.

Internet Bottleneck

Many districts are scrambling to figure out ways to provide students with virtual learning, as well as print-based academic resources. They’re also trying to figure out how to do so equitably, particularly since students from poor families may lack devices and reliable connectivity at home.

A recent Education Week survey revealed the scope of the challenge facing districts. Forty-one percent districts said they are not currently capable of providing virtual lessons to all students during a coronavirus shutdown. Just 22 percent said they could provide remote learning for as long as is needed.

A Rosenworcel aide said that as classrooms migrate online, the FCC can interpret the Communications Act language to mean that students must be virtually connected wherever they are physically located, and issue E-Rate rulemaking accordingly.

The FCC is made up of five commissioners, and is controlled by Republicans. The commission currently comprises three Republicans and two Democrats.

Several pieces of draft legislation to address remote learning are currently under consideration by Congress, said Michael Flood, senior vice president of strategy for Kajeet, a company that sells mobile Wi-Fi hotspots and other devices allowing students to access the internet from home.

Flood, who has been in contact with policymakers and has seen several drafts of federal legislation, said lawmakers are working to determine the specific means to provide needed technology to students and teachers, and to distribute necessary funds.

“They’re all moving very, very quickly, and we’ve been talking about it all week,” Flood said.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions did not respond to Education Week requests for comment.

The FCC already took a step this week aimed at helping school districts serve students virtually during the coronavirus outbreak. The agency said it is temporarily waiving rules that limit private companies’ ability to provide schools receiving E-rate funds with free products and services.

Photo of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai during the 2017 debate on net neutrality. --Jacquelyn Martin/AP


See also:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Ed-Tech Policy Opinion Why Are We Turning Our Backs on Remote Learning?
Neither the detractors nor defenders of remote learning are fully in the right, argues one superintendent.
Theresa Rouse
5 min read
Illustration of girl working on computer at home.
Getty
Ed-Tech Policy Letter to the Editor Using E-Rate to Address the Homework Gap
The FCC's E-rate program can provide relief to many families, says this letter author from the Internet Society.
1 min read
Ed-Tech Policy Q&A Acting FCC Chair: The 'Homework Gap' Is an 'Especially Cruel' Reality During the Pandemic
Under the new leadership of Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC is exploring broadening the E-Rate to cover home-connectivity needs.
5 min read
Internet connectivity doesn't reach all the houses
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty
Ed-Tech Policy Millions of Students Got Free Home Internet for Remote Learning. How Long Will It Last?
Time and money are running out on temporary agreements between districts and ISPs. Broadband advocates want a federal solution.
10 min read
Cupped hands hold a precious wi-fi symbol
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and Digital Vision Vectors/Getty