Lawmakers in both chambers of Congress have introduced a new bill that aims to continue a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that helps schools and libraries get devices that help Americans get online.
In June, schools and libraries across the country could begin applying to receive funding from the FCC’s “Emergency Connectivity Fund,” a $7 billion program that was created as part of a coronavirus relief plan. The goal of the plan is to narrow the nation’s “homework gap.” The fund allows for schools and libraries to use the money to purchase devices that allow people to get online like Wi-Fi hotspots, routers, and internet-enabled devices.
The “homework gap” is part of the country’s long-running digital divide. Both were starkly highlighted by the pandemic, with videos going viral of students using Wi-Fi in fast-food restaurant parking lots to complete their homework.
Now, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives are hoping to extend the Emergency Connectivity Fund for another five years.
Seventeen senators and 26 members of the House, led by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), introduced the “Securing Universal Communications Connectivity to Ensure Students Succeed (SUCCESS) Act” on Thursday.
The bill would “build on” the Emergency Connectivity Fund and would allocate $40 billion over five years to extend the Emergency Connectivity Fund, according to a press release from the members of Congress.
“Even after the coronavirus pandemic finally ends, we cannot ignore a key 21st century educational requirement—internet access. The homework gap is an educational inequity that long predates the current emergency, and we need to put the funding in place to ensure no student is forced to sit in a strip mall parking lot, hoping to connect to a local store’s internet in order to finish their homework,” Markey said in a statement. “This essential funding will build on the newly created Emergency Connectivity Fund and help ensure that the homework gap does not grow into a damaging learning and opportunity gap following the pandemic for our children, particularly those who live in communities of color, low-income households, and rural areas.”
The bill also seemingly got the backing of acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, who has long sounded the alarm about the homework gap.
“The homework gap is the cruelest part of the digital divide. The pandemic has made it crystal clear that too many students are unable to complete their school assignments because they do not have internet access at home. This means they fall behind in the classroom—and we all lose out when we have a generation ill-prepared to enter a 21st century economy. Thank you to Senators Markey and Van Hollen and Representative Meng for their leadership and continued commitment to closing the homework gap,” Rosenworcel said in a statement.