Senator introduces legislation to ensure all students—particularly those in rural areas and Indian Country—have internet access during COVID-19 pandemic

U.S. SENATE — As part of his continued efforts to ensure that all Montana students have access to online schooling during the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced legislation to help elementary, secondary, and Tribal schools and libraries provide internet and internet-enabled devices to students and staff.

The Emergency Educational Connections Act aims to close a ‘homework gap’ experienced by K-12 students who are unable to complete assignments and classwork due to a lack of internet access. Many of these students come from low income families or live in areas that do not have broadband access such as Montana’s frontier and Tribal communities.

“In a state as rural as Montana, a lot of families just don’t have access to the internet—and with schools moving to tele-education to prevent the spread of coronavirus, students without broadband are being left in the dust,” said Tester, a former teacher and school board member. “We owe it to the next generation of Montanans to ensure that each and every child can access schooling during this public health crisis, and this bill will help schools and libraries ensure that students can keep up with their studies no matter where they live. Montana students should be hitting the books, not a firewall.”

Tester’s Emergency Education Connections Act would authorize $4 billion to provide schools and libraries—including Tribal schools and libraries—with Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and other internet-connected devices through the E-rate program. The E-rate program is under the Federal Communication Commission’s Universal Service Fund and provides subsidies for eligible elementary and secondary schools and classrooms, as well as libraries, for internet access, internal network connections, and telecommunications services.

Tester has been fighting to ensure that students, particularly those that lack consistent access to the internet, are able to continue their educations amid the COVID-19 crisis. Earlier this month he worked to bring more than$9 million to support Montana’s higher education institutions, and he secured nearly $100,000 to help libraries across the Treasure State expand access to online services during the pandemic. Last month, he brought in more than $41 million for Montana K-12 schools impacted by the crisis.

As a farmer in an area with limited cell service, Tester has also been working tirelessly to expand and maintain broadband access for Montana’s frontier communities during the crisis. Earlier this week, he advocated for broadband expansion and data mapping improvements across the state without wasting taxpayer dollars during a Senate Commerce Committee hearing. He also recently introduced bipartisan legislation that would compensate broadband providers for giving free or discounted services and upgrades to low-income families in rural areas, and he joined a bipartisan call to establish better access to telephone-based health care for Montanans without internet connectivity.

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