FCC Seeks Comment on Petitions to Allow Use of E-Rate Funds for Remote Learning During COVID-19

The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) has received eleven (11) petitions asking for emergency relief to help students learn remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic. In response, the FCC has released a Public Notice seeking comment on the Commission’s ability to extend E-Rate funds to off-campus services and facilities. Specifically, the Commission seeks comment on the specific equipment and services that E-Rate should support to fund off-campus access to broadband services to those who lack sufficient Internet connectivity. Two of the filed petitions ask for a waiver of the E-Rate competitive bidding rules, and as such, the Commission asks how it can ensure that E-Rate applicants are making cost-effective purchases. As E-rate funding is limited in comparison to its demand, the Commission seeks comment on how to most efficiently use the funds to target rural students and those students that are disproportionally affected by the “Homework Gap” or live in locations that are expensive or difficult to reach. With the pandemic starting during the 2020 school year, and the uncertainty as to when students will be able to fully return to classrooms and libraries, the Commission seeks comment on whether funding should apply retroactively to equipment purchased during the 2020 school year and through the 2021-2022 school year. Finally, the Commission asks for comment on the its legal authority to use E-Rate funding to help support remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Pai FCC consistently stated that the Commission lacked such authority.

Interested parties may file comments by February 16, 2021 and reply comments are due by February 23, 2021. If you would like to file comments or have questions please contact Dee Herman dee@hermanwhiteaker.com, Clare Andonov at candonov@hermanwhiteaker.com, or Hilary Rosenthal at hrosenthal@hermanwhiteaker.com.