With more and more schools closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students across the country are switching to online learning. This change poses problems for low-income students who may lack internet connectivity in their homes.

In light of this, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on March 18 waived gift rules for its E-Rate program to allow broadband service providers to support remote learning capabilities. Internet service providers (ISPs) have also undertaken their own steps to improve internet connectivity and speeds to meet the increased demand.

In a March 23 statement, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr praised ISPs for creating or expanding access plans intended to keep students and others in low-income households online.

“The FCC has a number of existing programs that support internet access at schools and libraries and for low-income families who may not be able to afford access on their own,” Carr said in a statement. “Still, with social distancing and the move from school to home, there is an enhanced need to provide students in low-income households with fast internet.”

He noted that hundreds of ISPs have signed on to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge. The pledge, which was launched March 13 says that for the next 60 days, signatories will:

  • Not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic;
  • Waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and
  • Open their Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

Carr said that “nearly all of the country’s largest providers,” as well as many smaller ones, are “going further” and have expanded offerings for low-income households, especially those with students.

“I want to commend them for how quickly they have moved to ensure that Americans – and low-income consumers in particular – stay connected,” Carr said. “Internet providers understand that low-income households now more than ever need access to fast internet to keep working and learning. Creating and enhancing plans for those most in need is caring for our communities and deserves our praise.”

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs