Feb 1, 2021 - Technology

FCC to explore using subsidy fund to connect students at home

Illustration of a hand inserting a coin into a piggy bank slot in a computer

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Federal Communications Commission on Monday took a first step toward allowing schools to use a federal funding program to help students connect to the internet at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: Schoolwork has gone remote because of the pandemic, but the FCC funding that schools receive for internet connections doesn't extend beyond the physical classrooms.

Details: The commission on Monday said it would seek comment on several requests to use the $4 billion E-rate program to support remote learning during the pandemic.

  • Acting chair Jessica Rosenworcel, who began leading the agency in January, has called for the FCC to update the program in light of the pandemic.
  • The Biden administration issued an executive order encouraging the FCC to "increase connectivity options for students lacking reliable home broadband" as part of its COVID-19 response plan.
  • The Colorado attorney general and the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition are among the players that have pressed the agency to change the program during the pandemic.

What they're saying: "Kids shouldn’t have to do homework in parking lots because that’s the only place they can get online," Rosenworcel said in a statement.

  • "We can do better. We can close the homework gap. Today’s action is the first step in a process to hear about the emergency relief communities are seeking and to chart a path forward for the FCC to help solve this crisis.”

Between the lines: During the Trump administration, the Republican-run commission said the law requires the funding be used in classrooms and couldn't be expanded to students' homes.

  • The FCC is currently deadlocked at 2-2, but Rosenworcel could have some leeway to make program changes without a full commission vote.
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