Students across various regions of the United States, including Alaska, Houston, and Maine, are at risk of losing access to high-speed internet and computers in their homes unless the U.S. Congress provides additional federal funding. This concern has been raised by 65 groups representing private and public schools in a letter to congressional leaders. The groups are urging lawmakers to allocate more money to the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which was created during the pandemic to enable schools and libraries to provide students and teachers with home internet service and devices.
The program, which is administered by the Federal Communications Commission, has already committed $7.1 billion. However, despite reaching over 14 million students, it is still insufficient to meet the demand. The letter highlights that school districts and libraries requested $2.8 billion in the last round of applications, which is more than double the remaining amount in the fund.
To address this issue and bridge the "homework gap," the groups are requesting an additional $1 billion for fiscal year 2023 from Congress. Without this funding, many students will remain disconnected, especially at a time when learning loss and teacher shortages are major concerns.
Furthermore, the survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics indicates a decline in the availability of home internet access provided by public schools. While 70 percent of schools offered this service in September 2021, the number has decreased to 45 percent. The reduction is likely due to the depletion of federal COVID-relief aid. Despite the majority of students returning to in-person learning, access to high-speed internet and devices is still necessary for homework, assignments, virtual interactions, and college or job applications.
The pandemic has accelerated the integration of technology in classrooms, even as students resume in-person learning. Consequently, students from low-income families face greater pressure to have reliable and fast home internet access.
Among the notable signatories of the letter are AASA, The School Superintendents Association; the American Federation of Teachers; the National Education Association; the National Catholic Association; The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Committee on Catholic Education; The National PTA; and the national associations for elementary and secondary school principals.
Additionally, low-income families can receive assistance through the Affordable Connectivity Program, which offers $30 vouchers towards monthly internet bills. Internet companies have pledged to offer $30 internet packages to eligible families, effectively providing free internet. However, a recent investigation by The Washington Post revealed that telecom companies have increased prices, reduced internet speeds, and engaged in deceptive practices affecting individuals benefiting from the program and other COVID-era relief plans. Moreover, many families are unaware of this program, with only a quarter of them having heard of it. Advocates propose that schools should assume a role in educating families about the program, especially as alternative funding options diminish.