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Tuesday, April 14, 2020

If not us, who? If not now, when?

OK, I admit, when I heard about Funds for Learning's proposal to expand the E-Rate to provide Internet access to students' homes, I thought, "Oh no, don't try to make the E-Rate do that."  I mean, it already feels like the E-Rate program is held together with duct tape and bailing wire, and now we're going to branch into a whole new realm?  But I listened to John Harrington's presentation about it, and one of his ideas really struck me:  if not through the E-Rate, then how?

There's no question in my mind that something needs to be done about digital equity.  Home Internet access is no longer the Homework Gap; it's the School Gap.  When my local district closed, my first thought was, "How are the low-income kids going to access school?"  The federal government needs to do something.  In the past, my attitude has been, "Let the Lifeline [née Low Income] program handle home Internet access."  But that was before schools closed.  Now, home Internet access is essential to education.  We're not talking about getting Internet to every home; we're talking about getting Internet to every student's home.  So it fits in the E-Rate program nicely.

So is E-Rate the right vehicle to deliver the funding?  Perhaps I would say E-Rate is the "least wrong" vehicle to deliver the funding.  I have pointed out the problems I see.  And I do see some risk that the sudden addition to the program is going to make things (like EPC and PIA) crumple.  But as Mr. Harrington pointed out, there is no better way to deliver the funding.  And it needs to be done.