Allowing Schools/Libraries to Bring Internet Access to Low-Income Students: A Vital Proposal


By John Windhausen, Executive Director, SHLB Coalition

We applaud FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s forward-thinking proposal to allow schools and libraries to extend wireless Internet access via hotspots to low-income students and library patrons. Her plan builds upon the successful Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) program, which provided $7 billion and connected 8 million households during the pandemic.

Now, as ECF funding nears expiration, Chairwoman Rosenworcel suggests integrating it into the E-rate program. This move ensures long-term support through the Universal Service Fund. The SHLB Coalition fully endorses this approach. In fact, we jointly petitioned the FCC in January 2021, advocating precisely for this solution.

Regrettably, the Heritage Foundation recently submitted a misguided letter opposing the Chairwoman’s proposal. Their claims—that the FCC lacks legal authority, that Internet access lacks educational benefits, and that it would be wasteful—are unfounded.

Here’s the truth: Internet access is crucial for educational achievement. Our letter, co-filed with the American Library Association (ALA) and the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), highlights studies linking Internet access to improved learning outcomes.

Moreover, the E-rate competitive bidding process ensures cost-effectiveness and prevents wasteful spending. And - notably - the FCC’s proposal will give parents the power to decide whether and how their children can use (and not abuse) the service. Legal authority for this action is grounded in section 254 of the Communications Act. 

Our one request to the FCC: make sure that the adopted proposal is technology-neutral so schools and libraries can choose the best wireless option for their local market. The FCC’s proposal is another important step to bridging the digital divide and fostering equitable learning opportunities for all.