The clock is ticking on one of the Biden administration’s major priorities—closing the digital divide and advancing equity for our students by nominating a strong, proven leader as chair of the Federal Communications Commission. That is why the National Education Association—on behalf of our 3 million members and the 50 million students they serve—is urging President Joe Biden to nominate current Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to lead the FCC.
The digital divide was with us before the COVID crisis, but the pandemic has exposed the huge gap between our nation’s internet “haves and have nots.”
Last year, NEA released Digital Equity for Students and Educators, a report exploring the digital divide, revealing that one-quarter of school-aged children (ages 5 to 17) don’t have what they need for online learning during the pandemic. That study additionally showed this is a problem that disproportionately impacts students of color—particularly Black, Latinx, and Native students —as well students from rural communities.
Even as students return to physical classrooms this school year, internet access remains essential for learning. It is critical for conducting research, doing homework, and, when school buildings are closed, attending class.
Jessica Rosenworcel has been sounding the alarm on the digital “homework gap” for years. She has worked tirelessly to shine a spotlight on this problem, which forces students to do their schoolwork outside fast-food restaurants or linger in community centers until late at night to get the broadband access they need to succeed in school, apply to college, and pursue internships and enrichment opportunities.
The Biden administration’s Build Back Better agenda promises a historic investment in broadband access, including nearly $100 billion in the infrastructure legislation working its way through Congress now. This new infusion of funding would build on the down payment in the American Rescue Plan that Biden signed into law in March.
Already, Acting Chair Rosenworcel is leading the Biden administration’s efforts to address this problem, delivering an initial $1.2 billion in emergency connectivity funds to schools and libraries around the country. Her foresight on this issue and her successful ability to lead a divided FCC toward bipartisan progress make her the right candidate to oversee the deployment of these vital broadband funds.
This nomination is urgent as we approach the final legislative push of 2021. Indeed, failure to nominate and confirm a permanent chair before Acting Chair Rosenworcel’s current term expires at the end of the year would hamstring the FCC and undermine efforts to help America’s students.
That’s why 25 Democratic senators have written the administration urging the quick nomination of Acting Chair Rosenworcel, pointing out she has already been vetted and confirmed more than once by the U.S. Senate. This followed an earlier call by 33 House Democratic women urging her nomination as the first woman to be confirmed by the Senate as FCC chair.
With years of service as an FCC commissioner and after now serving as acting chair since the beginning of the Biden administration, Jessica Rosenworcel would continue leading on administration priorities on Day One. She has broad support. including progressive groups who celebrated her elevation to acting chair and major civil rights groups who urged the president to nominate her as permanent chair this August. And last week, 17 education associations representing educators, principals, school administrators, and librarians made the case for Acting Chair Rosenworcel.
Time is too short for any further delay on this vital matter. Biden has a historic opportunity to close the digital divide, strengthen opportunities for our students, and address the homework gap.