Wyden, Merkley Call on FCC to Bolster Program That Keeps Students Connected

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to boost its Lifeline program to keep students connected as millions of children return to school both virtually and in person.

Since 1985, the FCC’s Lifeline program has made basic internet and telephone service more affordable for low-income Americans and has had bipartisan support.

“As millions of American families face unprecedented financial pressures and educational challenges, we urge the FCC to reverse proposed changes to the Lifeline program, take immediate steps to open its assistance to more households, and ensure that its services meet the pressing needs of families during this crisis,” Wyden, Merkley and 23 other senators wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“We are alarmed that as students head back to class – in person or online – there is still no national plan from the FCC to secure families’ access to their educational future,” the senators wrote Pai. “Regrettably, under your Chairmanship, the FCC has actively worked to undermine and destabilize the Lifeline program, which has left more families vulnerable during the pandemic by widening the learning gap and lessening household’s ability to access crucial services, such as unemployment benefits, food assistance, and health resources.”

The senators called for the FCC to put in place a comprehensive plan to respond to this national crisis and to immediately take steps to implement reforms that will bridge the homework gap that has already left millions of children behind with no access to internet or connected devices. These reforms include additional financial support for Lifeline providers to temporarily expand unlimited mobile data and voice minutes to consumers to keep them connected during the pandemic, pause and extend any bureaucratic obstacles for subscribers that could result in cutting off their broadband access in the midst of a pandemic, and notify Congress if additional funding is needed to support the program.  

On the issue of affordable broadband, Wyden and Merkley also have

·       Pressed for the Lifeline program to receive an additional $1 billion during this public health and economic crisis;

·       Introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act, which would ensure all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during COVID-19; and

·       Sponsored the Emergency Broadband Connections Act, which would provide a $50/month benefit to low-income Americans or workers who have been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic, and enhance the Lifeline program.

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, today’s letter to Pai led by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) was also signed by U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Mark Warner (D-VA), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tina Smith (D-MN), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jack Reed (D-RI), Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Kamala Harris (D-CA).

The entire letter is available here.

A web version of this release is here.