At the hearing, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai and FCC Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks agreed that Klobuchar-led legislation will help keep Americans connected to the internet during the pandemic
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) highlighted the urgent need to connect all Americans--especially low-income families and students--to high-speed internet at the Senate Commerce Committee hearing on oversight of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In her questioning, Klobuchar outlined how legislation she introduced with Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND), the Keeping Critical Connections Act, would establish a temporary fund at the FCC to help small broadband providers continue to provide internet services for students and low-income families during the pandemic. She also highlighted legislation she introduced last month with Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV), 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 pandemic.
“Senator Cramer and I have a bill, which I know you’re aware of, which would create a major fund at the FCC to help providers—some of the small internet providers that are the ones that are stepping in right now to help so many families—so students and low-income families can connect to school, work, and their communities. We now have thirty-two cosponsors, including nine on this committee,” Klobuchar said.
“We have a bill, the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act, with Senators Hirono, Peters, and Rosen, to help the National Telecommunications Information Administration ensure that college students with financial need can access critical internet services.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel agreed that Klobuchar’s Keeping Critical Connections Act is important legislation to help small broadband providers keep Americans connected during this crisis. Commissioner Starks also agreed that Klobuchar’s Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act is an extremely helpful measure in working to ensure college students with the greatest financial need are connected to the internet during this crisis and beyond.
Klobuchar also highlighted the need to increase enrollment in the FCC’s Lifeline program, which helps low-income people obtain broadband and telephone services, as well as the bicameral letter she led in April with Senator Durbin and Representatives Marcia Fudge (D-OH) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA), along with over 140 members of Congress, urging the 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 Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid are informed of their eligibility for the Lifeline program. Commissioner Starks expressed strong support for increasing enrollment in the Lifeline program and ensuring that the FCC coordinates with other agencies for this purpose.
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 low-income families, are connected to the internet during this public health crisis.
Earlier this month, Klobuchar and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) led 15 colleagues from both the House and Senate in a bicameral letter to Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader Schumer, and Minority Leader McCarthy urging the leaders to include dedicated funding in future legislation to help ensure that college and university students with the greatest financial need can access high-speed internet during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
In May, Klobuchar and Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced 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. The bill 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. Representative Eshoo introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives with Representatives Doris Matsui (D-CA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), and Alma Adams (D-NC).
In March 2020, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) 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 FCC to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families during the pandemic.
In March 2020, Klobuchar and Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), Gary Peters (D-MI), and John Thune’s (R-SD) bipartisan legislation to improve the FCC’s broadband coverage maps was signed into law. The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act would require the FCC to collect more granular data from fixed, wireless, and satellite broadband providers, strengthen the accuracy of data from mobile broadband providers, consider a process to ensure data is reliable, and create a process for state, local, and Tribal governments to challenge the FCC maps’ accuracy.
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 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.
Excerpted transcript of Klobuchar’s remarks at the hearing below and video available HERE.
KLOBUCHAR: Thank you very much Mr. Chairman.
Thank you to all of you and for your heartfelt words about what this pandemic has meant. Particularly thank you to you Commissioner Starks for so many families across this nation.
Senator Cramer and I have a bill, which I know you’re aware of, which would create a major fund at the FCC to help providers, some of the internet providers that are stepping in right now to help so many families so students and low income families can connect to work, school, and communities. We now have 32 cosponsors, including nine on this committee. Peters, Young, Baldwin, Duckworth, Sullivan, Tester, Sinema, and Rosen.
Chairman Pai, last week you sent a letter to Congressional leaders requesting legislation to help ensure that nearly 800 broadband providers that signed the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected pledge can continue providing services to consumers after the pledge expires at the end of the month. You also state in your testimony, ‘These companies, especially small ones, cannot continue to provide service without being paid for an indefinite period of time. Do you agree that legislation like the one that Senator Cramer and I have introduced would help ensure that we can keep Americans connected.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai: I appreciate the question Senator Klobuchar. There’s no question that some of the smaller providers that are the subject of your bill have endured significant losses in many cases as we’ve heard and I think that your legislation is an important step in the right direction to make sure that from the consumer perspective that they can continue to enjoy the services that they’ve relied on the last three months.
KLOBUCHAR: Commissioner Rosenworcel.
FCC COMMISSIONER JESSICA ROSENWORCEL: Yes, thank you for your leadership on this issue and I agree with everything the Chairman [Pai] just said.
KLOBUCHAR: Very good, yes which I’m sure is always the case. No I’m kidding..
Commissioner [Geoffrey] Starks, last week in your joint op-ed in Essence with the civil rights leaders - I think that was the one you mentioned, you called on lawmakers to improve connectivity for marginalized communities during this crisis and in the future. We have a bill, Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act, with Senators Hirono, Peters, and Rosen, to help the National Telecommunications Information Administration ensure that college students with financial need can access critical internet. Do you believe that that legislation would be helpful?
FCC COMMISSIONER GEOFFREY STARKS: Yes Senator, I do believe that is extremely helpful legislation. I held an HBCU roundtable myself with presidents from HBCUs from as large as Howard and FAMU to Morgan State and each of them also discussed how important this is going to be to make sure that Pell Grant students, students that are going back to their homes in rural areas, urban areas where there is not connectivity, making sure that we’re thinking through that is extremely important.
KLOBUCHAR: You also mentioned the Lifeline program. Senator Durbin, Marsha Fudge, Anna Eshoo, and myself led a letter along with 140 members of Congress, urging the FCC to take action to make sure that they are aware of the help they can get to access the internet. We know that this has always been an issue, but this pandemic has put a major magnifying glass on the problem. What additional measures do you think are necessary to help close the homework gap and increase connectivity for students moving forward?
STARKS: Yes, and on that letter in particular, we know that only 7.5 million Americans are on Lifeline right now. Whereas upwards of 30 million are eligible and it’s going to be increasingly important and what I called for was an MOU by the FCC to SNAP, to HHS, to other agencies that are prerequisites basically to get Lifeline. I think it’s going to be extremely important that agencies be a part of this. And the fact of the matter is that Americans cannot afford for our government to work in silos right now.