Sen Klobuchar Highlights Urgent Need for Internet Connectivity during Pandemic at Senate Commerce Committee Hearing

Thanks to Senator Klobuchar’s staff for the notes…

Today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted he urgent need to connect all Americans–especially students and seniors–to high-speed internet at the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on the state of broadband during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. In her questioning, Klobuchar highlighted how students rely on the internet to learn from home and outlined how legislation she introduced with Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND), the Keeping Critical Connections Act, would establish a temporary fund at the Federal Communications Commission to help small broadband providers continue to provide internet services for students and low-income families during the pandemic.

“All over the country, kids are being asked to learn from home and parents are being asked to teach them. The disparities are large when some don’t even have access to the internet,” Klobuchar said at the hearing.

“We have the story out of Minnesota with one of our Tribal communities. One household was able to pay for high-speed internet and all the kids gathered in their front yard to do their homework. We can’t have that continue.”

Two witnesses at the hearing, Gene Kimmelman, Senior Advisor at Public Knowledge and Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, expressed strong support for Klobuchar’s legislation and highlighted how essential it is for broadband companies to keep Americans connected during this crisis. Klobuchar also highlighted legislation she introduced this week with Senators Hirono, Peters, and Rosen, the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act–to help ensure that college and university students with the greatest financial needs can access high-speed internet during the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition, Klobuchar highlighted that protecting seniors during this coronavirus outbreak does not have to come at the expense of their access to quality health care and maintaining ties to family and friends and how legislation she introduced with Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), the Advancing Connectivity during the Coronavirus to Ensure Support for Seniors (ACCESS) Act, makes federal funding available to expand telehealth and virtual services at nursing facilities so that seniors remain connected to their health care providers and communities when in-person visits are limited.

Watch Senator Klobuchar’s remarks HERE at the Commerce Committee.

As a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, Klobuchar has long championed closing the digital divide and has led efforts to ensure that our most vulnerable populations, including students and seniors, are connected to the internet during this public health crisis. This week, Klobuchar introduced legislation to help ensure that college and university students with the greatest financial needs can access high-speed internet during the coronavirus pandemic. The Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act would appropriate $1 billion to establish an Emergency Higher Education Connectivity fund at the National Telecommunications Information Administration to help ensure that college and university students at historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions, as well as rural-serving institutions, have adequate home internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, Klobuchar led a bicameral letter with Senator Durbin and Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), along with over 140 members urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)  to coordinate with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to help ensure the millions of people in the U.S. who are newly eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid are informed of their eligibility for the FCC’s Lifeline program.

In March 2020, Klobuchar and Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation to sustain rural broadband connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. The Keeping Critical Connections Act would appropriate $2 billion for a temporary Keeping Critical Connections fund at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families during the pandemic.

In April, Klobuchar and Cramer and Representatives Peter Welch and Roger Marshall led a bipartisan, bicameral letter urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to include dedicated funding to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families in any future legislation in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

She also joined a letter led by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) with 32 Democratic Senators to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, House Speaker Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Schumer, and House Minority Leader McCarthy expressing disappointment in the lack of broadband funding for distance learning in the third coronavirus relief package and urging them to include at least $2 billion for E-rate funding for schools and libraries. Klobuchar joined another letter led by Markey last month with 18 Democratic Senators to Leader McConnell and Commerce Committee Chairman Wicker requesting $2 billion for E-rate funding in the third relief package.

Klobuchar has also urged the FCC to take action to ensure students have internet access so they can continue learning while schools are closed during the pandemic. In March, Klobuchar led a letter with Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Jon Tester (D-MT) urging the FCC to ensure that all K-12 students have internet access and can continue learning from home as schools nationwide are closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter also asked the FCC to create a searchable web portal to help consumers locate existing resources to help them connect to the internet. Klobuchar also joined a letter led by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) with 12 other Democratic Senators to Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer urging them to include funding in the third relief package to support expanding digital distance learning—including for devices for children to access the internet and complete their schoolwork online—and closing the homework gap.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Policy and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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