FCC chairman Ajit Pai continues to make it clear that, as he reads the law, the FCC cannot use E-Rate subsidies for school and library connectivity for home broadband for distance learning.
E-Rate is the Universal Service Fund advanced telecommunications subsidy for high-speed broadband access for schools and libraries.
He spelled out his position in a letter to Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) the FCC has released.
Pai said he recognizes that schools have had to change the way they teach due to the pandemic and that "it is critical that parents and students stay connected so that they can participate in online learning from home during this crisis."
But he remains adamant that the language of the statute is clear.
"[W]e face a major barrier: The Communications Act, which the FCC is duty-bound to administer. He said the Act "expressly limits the FCC's use of E-Rate program funding to broadband and other services delivered to school 'classrooms' and libraries. Connectivity and devices supplied to students at home unfortunately do not qualify for E-Rate support under the law."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) suggested to Pai during an FCC oversight hearing that his reading was too narrow and Congress was OK with him interpreting classroom to mean the new home classroom necessitated by COVID-19, but Pai didn't budge. But he has told Congress he would be happy to spend the E-Rate money on distance learning if Congress changes the statutory language.
Pai pointed out to Klobuchar, as he has to others, that there is $16 billion in CARES Act COVID-19 aid funding that states and localities can tap for home connectivity if they choose. He said there is also $3 billion in emergency grants in the Governor's Emergency Education Relief Funds that could be used for remote learning.
He said the FCC has been working with the Department of Education to educate schools on the availability of that local funding.