The legislation would mandate the Federal Communications Commission to distribute funds for Wi-Fi hotspots and other devices for internet connectivity.
A House lawmaker introduced legislation that would allocate $2 billion to get students access to the internet while stuck at home during the global health crisis.
Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., on Tuesday unveiled the Emergency Educational Connections Act of 2020, which would produce an Emergency Connectivity Fund at the Federal Communications Commission to confront the digital divide exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill would provide schools, libraries and certain tribal institutions with funding to buy and dispense Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers and other internet-connected devices to their students and patrons who might lack access. Following its introduction, the lawmaker urged her colleagues to ensure the bill is included in the next coronavirus relief package.
“Before this crisis occurred, students without internet access at home were part of the so-called ‘homework gap’ and struggled to keep up with their peers who have internet access at home,” Meng said in a statement. “Today, with schools across the country having moved learning entirely online, including class meetings, explanations of new content, virtual field trips, homework, and learning exercises, this gap seems more like a chasm.”
The bill mandates the FCC to take action within seven days of its passage. Once the pandemic is over, schools, libraries and other participating institutions would be allowed to use the equipment as they consider appropriate. While they can’t sell or upgrade the equipment after the fact, they “may exchange [it] for upgraded equipment of the same type.”
“Whether they live in urban centers, suburbs, or exurbs, or small communities in rural America, all students require internet connectivity to succeed during this pandemic,” Meng said.
Noting his own intent to file companion legislation in the Senate to provide the funding, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass, reiterated that roughly 12 million students can’t hop online to participate in schoolwork—“at a time when more than 70% of educators assign schoolwork that requires internet.”