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On Wednesday, the Federal Communications Commission temporarily waived rules in a move to foster internet access for hospitals and schools stuck in the broadband gap as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt everyday life.
In its announcement, the FCC said that it would waive the “gift rules” included in its Rural Health Care and E-Rate education programs that forbid participating hospitals and schools from accepting or requesting additional hardware and services from internet service providers. These rules will be null until September 20th, 2020 and could allow providers to upgrade these institutions’ network capacity and loan out Wi-Fi hotspots to schools and libraries to administer to students who don’t have access to the internet at home.
“The increase in COVID-19 patients is presenting unique challenges to America’s hospitals and health care providers,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement. “And we strongly encourage service providers and equipment makers to partner with schools and libraries to provide mobile hotspots and other broadband-enabled devices to students to help bridge the digital divide during the coronavirus pandemic.”
Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called for this action in an op-ed for The Verge on Tuesday. In a statement on Wednesday, Rosenworcel called on the commission to continue its work in connecting students and health care workers during the coronavirus crisis by “using our universal service powers to provide hotspots for loan for students caught in the Homework Gap so that no child is offline.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, schools across the country have started to shut down classes or move them online. According to a UNESCO study, about 850 million kids around the world have stopped going to school amid the crisis. For schools that decide to hold classes over the internet, they face new challenges in ensuring each student has the same access to information as their peers.