Students without internet access at home have lower grades than their classmates

Letter Text (PDF)

Washington (February 2, 2024) - Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government, and Congresswoman Grace Meng (NY-06), led 64 of their colleagues in a letter to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel supporting the Commission’s proposal to expand the E-Rate program to allow schools and libraries to loan out Wi-Fi hotspots to students and educators. In their letter, the lawmakers specifically call for the expansion and modernization of the E-Rate hotspot program to help reduce educational disparities and ensure that low-income students are no longer left behind. 

The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated that low-income students who lack internet access at home face significant disadvantages in school, compared to upper- and middle-class students. A recent study in Michigan found that students without internet access at home received lower grades than their classmates. E-Rate expansion will help maintain the progress made through the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF), a $7 billion program that Senators Markey and Van Hollen and Congresswoman Meng created as part of the American Rescue Plan to provide devices and connectivity for students and educators at home. 

In their letter to Chairwoman Rosenworcel, the lawmakers wrote: “[We] are excited that the Commission has proposed to update the E-Rate program to allow schools and libraries to provide Wi-Fi hotspots and wireless internet services to students and educators. This proposal properly recognizes that learning now extends beyond the physical premises of school buildings. When a sixth grader is completing a homework assignment through an online educational platform or a ninth grader is attending class through a video conferencing application, they are clearly engaged in educational activities. 

The lawmakers continued, “In the Communications Act, Congress rightfully provided the FCC with the flexibility to structure and strengthen the E-Rate program as educational conditions change. With millions of students at risk of losing internet access at home, we are glad to see the FCC exercising this authority and modernizing the E-Rate program, and we encourage the Commission to provide schools and libraries with the flexibility to adapt their programs to local conditions while continuing to effectively guard against fraud and waste.”

Cosigners in the Senate include Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Laphonza Butler (D-Calif.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), John Fetterman (D-Pa.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawai’i), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Angus King (I-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawai’i.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).

Cosigners in the House include Representatives Alma Adams (NC-12), Collin Allred (TX-32), Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Anna Eshoo (CA-16), Adriano Espaillat (NY-13), Dwight Evans (NC-12), Dan Goldman (NY-10), Jimmy Gomez (CA- 34), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Raúl Grijalva (AZ-07), Val Hoyle (OR-04), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Barbara Lee (CA-12), Teresa Fernandez Leger (NM-03), Stephen Lynch (MA-08), Doris Matsui (CA-07), Betty McCollum (MN-04), James McGovern (MA-02), Grace Napolitano (CA-31), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Chris Pappas (NH-01), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Katie Porter (CA-47), Deborah Ross (NC-02), Adam Schiff (CA-30), Melanie Stansbury (NM-01), Haley Stevens (MI-10), Mike Thompson (CA-04), Jill Tokuda (HI-02), Paul Tonko (NY-20), and Nikema Williams (GA-05).

Senator Markey is the House author of the original E-Rate program, which has invested nearly $62 billion in schools and libraries across the country. Massachusetts schools and libraries have received more than $876 million from the E-Rate program and another $97 million from the ECF. In December 2022, Senator Markey and Congresswoman Meng sent a letter to congressional leadership to support their continued efforts to provide funding for the ECF. In July 2021, Senators Markey and Van Hollen and Congresswoman Meng introduced the Securing Universal Communications Connectivity to Ensure Students Succeed (SUCCESS) Act, which would provide an additional $8 billion a year over five years to the ECF.