Senate Democrats are asking the country's largest broadband providers to expand coverage areas and temporarily suspend some customers' data caps, in order to accommodate remote education.
“Unprecedented numbers of students now rely on remote access for education due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and remote education is only as effective as available internet service,” Sen. Mark Warner (Virginia) and 10 others said Friday in a letter sent to the CEOs of AT&T, Charter, CenturyLink, Comcast, Cox, T-Mobile and Verizon.
The lawmakers say they have received “numerous complaints from parents and educators” over usage caps that prevent daily video calls required for distance learning.
Warner and the other senators also say they have learned that some people aren't eligible for new services aimed at low-income households, due to missed payments in the past.
“These predicaments shine a light on our growing digital divide and threaten the education and subsequent futures of our students,” the lawmakers write.
“For these crucial reasons, we ask again that you temporarily suspend data caps and associated fees or throttling for affected communities,” the senators add. “These options are essential for students, regardless of household billing histories.”
Many broadband providers suspended data caps in March, when parts of the country shut down in response to COVID-19. But some carriers later reinstated the monthly limits on data.
The letter comes two weeks after the wide circulation of photo showing two elementary school students sitting on the sidewalk outside a Taco Bell, in order to access WiFi to do homework.
Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who was among those who tweeted the photo, called on her fellow commissioners to “act now” and “get every child connected."