About "E-rate to the Home"


We are calling for Congress to appropriate $5.25 B for an “E-rate to the Home” initiative, so that schools and libraries can provide home broadband, end-user devices, and cybersecurity to address the COVID-19 pandemic.


The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, the State E-rate Coordinators Alliance (SECA), and Funds for Learning (FFL) have developed a proposal for Congress to provide one-time funding so that school students, teachers, and library patrons can obtain broadband at home, end-user devices (such as laptops and tablets), and cybersecurity to address the COVID-19 crisis. We are asking Congress to include this legislation in the next coronavirus relief legislation that may be brought up for a vote in the very near future. Over 1,000 organizations have signed on to support the draft bill. 

 

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The Problem:  Schools and libraries across the country are largely closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are unlikely to resume full operations for the foreseeable future.[i]  As a result, nearly all educational and learning-related activities have been moved online. Regrettably, in some school districts, 20 percent[ii] to 80 percent[iii] of students do not have access to high-speed broadband internet at home. This is much worse than a “homework gap”; it is a “learning gap” that means students cannot benefit from online education and adults cannot enhance their job skills or work remotely. The lack of broadband at home causes educational inequity and raises constitutional “equal protection” concerns.[iv]

The Research: Funds for Learning, experts in E-rate analytics and one of the country’s largest E-rate consulting firms, analyzed Government Accountability Office and National Center for Education Statistics data and found that approximately 7.15 million families cannot afford to pay for broadband at home. FFL estimates that it will cost approximately $7.5 billion to ensure that these families have adequate broadband, devices, and cybersecurity:

  • $4.29 Billion for 12 months of broadband service at home.
  • $1.79 billion for end-user devices (laptops or tablets).
  • $1.46 billion for cybersecurity.

The Proposal: The federal government can address this immediate need by establishing a dedicated emergency fund within the framework of the existing E-rate program, a successful and bipartisan program with established cost controls. Based on the existing E-rate program’s nationwide average discount of 70 percent, the federal government should should appropriate $5.25 billion[v] for this initiative (allowing schools and libraries to provide the remainder in matching funds).[vi]

The SHLB, SECA, and FFL draft bill would appropriate this emergency one-time funding for an “E-rate to the Home” initiative and would build on H.R. 6563 introduced by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y.

The Key Provisions: The “E-rate to the Home” bill includes the following key provisions:

  1. It provides one-time emergency funding of $5.25 billion to the Federal Communications Commission for an “E-rate to the Home” initiative.
  2. It provides funding for home broadband service, broadband network equipment, end-user devices including laptops or tablets, and cybersecurity.
  3. It ensures that all broadband providers are eligible to participate (provider-neutral).
  4. It explicitly allows schools and libraries to extend their existing E-rate-funded networks to serve the surrounding community, including for backhaul.
  5. It provides funding for cybersecurity so that schools and libraries can protect their networks against ransomware and cyberattacks, which have been on the increase.
  6. It directs the FCC to set funding caps at the applicant level to ensure fiscal integrity and allow schools and library to know how much funding is available for their planning purposes.
  7. It ensures funds can be used for expenditures back to March 13.
  8. It streamlines and expedites the application review and approval process so that schools and libraries receive their funding soon after the bill’s passage and are prepared to provide online instruction and learning in the fall.

 

Footnotes


[i] “In many districts, officials have said it's still unclear whether students will be able to return to the classroom by next fall. And even if they do, many are planning for social distancing measures that could make school look radically different from the past.” https://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2020/04/28/us/politics/ap-apus-virus-outbreak-reopening-school.html.

[ii] “The Maine Department of Education estimates 20 percent of the state’s 180,000 pre-K to grade 12 students don’t have functional internet at home.” https://www.pressherald.com/2020/04/05/for-thousands-of-maine-students-without-home-internet-access-remote-learning-is-an-extra-challenge/#.

[iii] “One of the least-connected school districts on this map is the rural Red Mesa Unified District in Arizona, where the majority of students are Native American. More than 80% — nearly 1,700 households — don’t have internet access, according to 2015 census data. But it’s not just a problem for rural communities: In Laredo Independent School District in the city of Laredo, Texas, nearly 14,000 households, or 53%, don’t have internet access.” https://www.citylab.com/equity/2020/03/coronavirus-online-schools-homework-internet-access-homework/608116/.

[v] The percentage subsidy varies from school district depending on the level of poverty and rurality. See, https://www.usac.org/wp-content/uploads/e-rate/documents/samples/Discount-Matrix.pdf.

[vi] Schools may be able to use funding from the Education Stabilization funding made available in the CARES legislation enacted by Congress in April 2020.  See, https://oese.ed.gov/offices/education-stabilization-fund/states-highest-coronavirus-burden/.



 

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