How can the Feds make it easier for schools and libraries to connect the community to broadband?

Schools and libraries are closing in deference to strides to slow the spread of coronavirus. But kind of like the Giving Tree, even closed both have something to offer – access to broadband connectivity. The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition has outlined simple steps the FCC can take to make it possible for schools and libraries to share what they’ve got. For years, communities with poor connectivity have wondered why they couldn’t tap into the school network. This could open a door…

Today the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition asked the Federal Communications Commission to expedite affordable broadband solutions for unconnected Americans. The novel coronavirus is driving schools to online learning and increasing healthcare providers’ reliance on telehealth solutions. The SHLB Coalition letter proposes several practical, immediate actions the FCC could take to swiftly connect those without home internet access.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, and schools and libraries close across the country, the need to ensure everyone has affordable broadband at home becomes an urgent national priority. Unfortunately, approximately one-quarter of people, including 7 million students, do not have access to broadband service at home,’” said John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition. “The FCC can and should take immediate action to leverage the broadband capabilities of our nation’s community anchor institutions to make affordable broadband available to everyone.”

“The FCC can take several steps now to promote hotspot lending programs and allow schools, libraries and telehealth providers to increase their broadband capacity and share that capacity with the surrounding community,” Windhausen continued. “We cannot leave people on the wrong side of an education gap and a healthcare gap, especially with the Centers for Disease Control recommending school closures for at least 8 weeks. The SHLB Coalition urges the FCC to harness the power of community anchor institutions to protect our nation’s access to healthcare and education during this difficult time.”

SHLB urges the FCC to take the following actions in the next week:

  • Authorize emergency funding from the Universal Service Fund for hot-spot lending programs through schools, libraries, and community organizations.
  • Encourage internet service providers (ISPs) to expand their low-cost broadband service offers.
  • Provide a subsidy to ISPs offering free or low-cost broadband to students at home in areas that schools have closed.
  • Allow schools and libraries to extend their networks to the home, without losing E-rate money.
  • Adopt a final Order expanding funding for the Connected Care pilot program.
  • Extend the deadline to file RHC applications to June 30.
  • Approve technical rules to promote TV White Space broadband use and availability.
  • Allow rural schools and educational nonprofits to claim Educational Broadband Service licenses.
  • Authorize funding for wireless internet service providers to deploy broadband in unserved areas where schools are closed.

What I like about their suggestions is that they focus on making broadband affordable where it exists and making it available where it doesn’t. Making it available will be more difficult but at least as valuable in the short and long term!

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