FCC confirms public use of E-Rate supported Wi-Fi networks during COVID-19 pandemic

March 25, 2020
The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau reminds schools and libraries closed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak that they are permitted to allow the general public to use E-Rate-supported Wi-Fi networks while on a school's campus or library property.

In a new publicly released document dated March 23 (WC Docket No. 02-6 / WC Docket No. 13-184), the FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau confirmed that community use of E-Rate supported Wi-Fi networks is permitted during school and library closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The document states that:

The federal E-Rate program provides support for "all public and nonprofit elementary and secondary school classrooms, . . . and libraries" to receive discounted connectivity services, such as high-speed broadband, Internet access service, and Wi-Fi access points.

The State Educational Technology Director Association has asked the Commission to clarify "that schools may allow their Wi-Fi networks to be used by the community without losing E-rate funding." And the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition has asked the Commission to "[c]larify that schools and libraries can allow their Wi-Fi networks to be shared with the community without losing E-rate funding."

By this Public Notice, the Wireline Competition Bureau reminds schools and libraries that are closed due to the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak that they are permitted to allow the general public to use E-Rate-supported Wi-Fi networks while on the school's campus or library property.

Specifically, libraries may offer access to E-Rate funded services on their premises as well as services that are "integral, immediate and proximate to the provision of library services to library patrons" —and because the mission to serve the public is ongoing, libraries are permitted to allow the public to access E-Rate funded services even when they are closed to the public due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Similarly, closed schools may allow access to E-Rate funded services "to community members who access the Internet while on a school's campus" so long as they do not charge for the use of the service. We hope that this reminder will promote connectivity to Americans impacted by the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

We leave it to individual schools and libraries to establish their own policies regarding use of their Wi-Fi networks during closures, including hours of use. And we remind all parties that health and well-being are paramount, and to follow any applicable health and safety guidelines, including those on social distancing, as may be set out by relevant federal, state, local, and Tribal authorities.

For further information, please contact Joseph Schlingbaum, Telecommunications Access Policy Division, Wireline Competition Bureau, at (202) 418-7400 or (202) 418-0829 (TTY), or at [email protected].

Read the full document.

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