Urges Agency to Use Existing Authority to Provide Home Broadband to In-Need Students Unable to Attend School in Person
PITTSBURGH, February 17, 2021 – ACA Connects called on the Federal Communications Commission to use E-Rate funds promptly to adopt a targeted remote learning program for in-need students during the COVID emergency.
ACA Connects — in its Feb.16 comments filed in response to the FCC’s Feb. 1 Public Notice — explained that such a program is critical because so many schools throughout the country have closed their doors and are engaging in virtual learning, yet far too many students cannot afford the robust broadband connectivity required for online learning. As a result, these in-need students are in real jeopardy of missing out on critical months, if not years, of schooling.
“In-need students often face challenges that well-off students do not, and we owe it to them to ensure they do not fall behind during the COVID emergency because they cannot engage in online learning due to a lack of broadband connectivity. This is especially the case because the FCC’s E-Rate program provides a ready avenue to address this concern. The FCC should act promptly to adopt rules and requirements to establish this new emergency program,” ACA Connects President and CEO Matthew M. Polka said.
In its comments, ACA Connects proposed that the FCC recognize that the home is often the new “classroom” for many in-need students during the pandemic and take action to:
1. Address the problem at hand by using the FCC’s existing authority to permit targeted use of E-Rate funding to support the provision of broadband service for in-need students at their homes when schools are not open;
2. Rely upon, to the maximum extent possible, existing providers and networks to facilitate expedited delivery of home broadband connectivity to in-need students;
3. Direct emergency funding amounts to each school based on students that are in-need and engaged in remote learning;
4. Provide schools with discretion to allocate emergency funding, with guardrails to ensure efficient and equitable use of support;
5. Target the funds toward prospective use for as long as the currently expected duration of the COVID-19 emergency;
6. Adopt accountability mechanisms for the disbursement and use of emergency funding; and
7. Make additional E-Rate funding available through existing “reserves” and provide additional funding within the program’s existing fiscal cap.
“ACA Connects members stepped up at the beginning of the pandemic to provide critical broadband connectivity to their communities and local schools, and more recently many of them have joined with ACA Connects to work with EducationSuperHighway and its K-12 Bridge to Broadband Initiative – a program designed to connect students for remote learning. They look forward to having the FCC further support their efforts to provide connectivity to in-need students,” Polka said.
About ACA Connects: America’s Communications Association – Based in Pittsburgh, ACA Connects is a trade organization representing more than 700 smaller and medium-sized, independent companies that provide broadband, phone and video services to nearly 8 million customers primarily located in rural and smaller suburban markets across America. Through active participation in the regulatory and legislative process in Washington, D.C., ACA Connects’ members work together to advance the interests of their customers and ensure the future competitiveness and viability of their businesses. For more information, visit: http://www.ACAConnects.org