NY Rep. Seeking Billions For Internet Access For Schools Amid Coronavirus Shutdown

Apr 22, 2020
In The News

New York congresswoman Grace Meng pressing for billions of dollars in new funding to address the digital divide in education, backing a bill that would fund internet equipment and devices for schools and students.

Meng, a Democrat, argues that the coronavirus pandemic has called attention to the shortfalls and inequities in students' access to technology.

"Covid-19 has forced over 55 million students to stay home during this national health crisis and adjust to a new future that requires internet access and a computer to continue their studies," Meng said in a statement.

Proponents of faster, cheaper and more widely available broadband service have long argued that schools and the students they educate would be among the principal beneficiaries of policies to narrow the digital divide.

But like it has with so much else, the coronavirus pandemic has both magnified that challenge and attached a pressing urgency to addressing it.

"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.

"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," she added. "Students without internet service will fall further behind as students with internet service at home can continue advancing in their studies."

Meng's bill would establish a $2 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund to be administered by the Federal Communications Commission, one of the main federal agencies with responsibility for doling out federal funds to support broadband and other communications services.

Under the bill, the FCC would be directed to disburse the funds to schools and libraries, including those on tribal lands, to purchase equipment like modems, routers and devices for students, as well as setting up wi-fi hotspots.

"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.

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a longtime champion of expanding broadband access, said on Twitter that he plans to introduce companion legislation.

Meng is appealing for support from other members of the House, and said she hopes to incorporate her bill into the next coronavirus relief package.