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Broadband Considerations for Schools and Libraries Impacted by COVID-19 Broadband Considerations for Schools and Libraries Impacted by COVID-19

Broadband Considerations for Schools and Libraries Impacted by COVID-19

The coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for, and in many locations lack of, broadband access and digital inclusion programs to support remote work, telehealth/telemedicine, distance learning, e-government, and much more.
The Federal Communications Commission's E-Rate program allocates funding from the Universal Service Fund to provide discounted connectivity, including high-speed broadband and Wi-Fi access points, to public and nonprofit elementary and secondary school classrooms and libraries.
In response to requests for clarification from the State Educational Technology Director Association and the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, in a notice released on March 23rd, the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) Wireline Competition Bureau clarified that schools and libraries that are closed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak are permitted to allow the general public to use E-Rate-supported Wi-Fi networks while on the school’s campus or library's property, even when such facilities are closed to the public due to the pandemic. The Wireline Competition Bureau left it to the individual schools and libraries to establish policies regarding use of their Wi-Fi networks during closures, including hours of use; however, the Commission is clear that schools may not charge for the use of the service.
The FCC's clarification that schools and libraries are permitted to leave their Wi-Fi routers on even after their buildings are vacated removes fear from these institutions that they could lose their E-rate funding while ensuring that connectivity is available for the general public and those Americans impacted by the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. As a result, schools and libraries across the country are advertising their parking lots as locations in which community members can access the internet, while maintaining safe social distancing in their vehicles.
However, the Commission did not address in its notice the questions raised last week by the American Library Association (ALA) as to whether libraries would run afoul of FCC rules and/or be penalized for extending access into the broader community. The ALA specifically sought the Commission's approval to expand networks beyond library property via Wi-Fi-enabled book mobiles and mobile hotspots. According to the ALA, "[a]mid this current crisis and into what is likely a longer recovery period, libraries need greater flexibility and support in maximizing and leveraging our digital resources to support out-of-school students, distance learners and new teleworkers of all ages, information seekers desperate for accurate health and human services information, and more."

For more information about broadband connectivity, please contact Lindsay Miller, Greg Dunn, Jessica Voltolini or Chris Miller.

This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader’s specific circumstances.
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