The FCC and Trump Administration Are Sacrificing Student Learning for Corporate Profit

Once again, the FCC and the Trump administration are sacrificing underserved children on the altar of corporate profits. If there was any question who the FCC works for it was answered this week with another timid and industry-favoring response to the pandemic.

Yesterday, with ample self-promoted fanfare and self-congratulations, the FCC pulled in their pal Betsy DeVos from the Department of Education to tout their latest puff of smoke, in a press release titled, “FCC and U.S. Department of Education Promote Remote Education So Students Can Continue Learning.”

At first, you might think this is a good thing. After all, everyone agrees that right now every child needs internet access, otherwise they cannot attend school. And just because a child was born to a parent with an old debt should not lock them out of the virtual schoolhouse. That’s why thousands of parents, educators and activists have been imploring the FCC to force cable companies and broadband providers to put the pandemic and the country ahead of their own profits. But the FCC won’t do it. 

Instead, the FCC used yesterday’s press release to throw up a smokescreen, and not actually solve this problem—a problem it could fix with one stroke of a pen.

What a joke. And by the way that joke is on you, as a taxpayer. But it weighs most heavily on the 12 million students in the U.S. without reliable access to internet. 

First of all, the press release literally has nothing new to offer. It’s essentially a summary of the money already allocated for education in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was enacted more than a month ago. And by the way, that $16 billion is not nearly enough to deal with the sudden and unimaginable body blow the entire education sector has been dealt.

Worse, the FCC is basically saying that the way they’re going to “help” is by telling states and schools to deal with the problem themselves. Insult, meet injury.

I reached out to an expert who has worked for over a decade with the FCC’s E-Rate program, which is intended to make internet more affordable for schools and libraries. Here is how he described the “news” from DeVos and the FCC: “It’s still wholly incomplete. Block grants and optional choices still doesn’t include fucking internet.”

If you want to bore yourself with the details you can check out what they are promising. But the bottom line is that kids don’t need some block grants, with no promise they get connected, or some optional choices, publicity efforts, or partnerships with internet companies, who may offer you grace or they may not. 

And that’s the rub. We don’t need a program that relies on the kindness of internet companies or states. The FCC needs to guarantee an individual right for every low-income child to internet that allows them to fully participate in school. At a minimum they need to state this as the goal and use the pressure of their federal regulatory authority to hold the feet of these profit-driven, broadband goliaths to the fire. 

The FCC and particularly its chairman Ajit Pai could do this, and the fact they don’t says a lot about who they serve and who they don’t.

Don’t be bamboozled, the current “news” from the FCC will have all our underserved families right back where they are now, in 6 months, probably less. Sitting outside the virtual schoolhouse door, relegated to a second-class internet, or begging for kindness from fickle and greedy cable companies, who hold the key to the schoolhouse door.Our babies deserve better. Please sign and share the petition, and join Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush and nearly 15,000 others who believe that internet should be a right for low-income children, and that the FCC should demand that any internet company that wants to use the nation’s airwaves provide free service with no strings attached for the most vulnerable families.

What do you think?

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