WASHINGTON — Jessica Rosenworcel’s nomination as permanent chair of the Federal Communications Commission was confirmed today by the U.S. Senate, making her the first woman ever to serve in this critical leadership role. Since January, she has served as acting chair of the FCC and has served on the commission since 2012. The 3-million member National Education Association was one of the first organizations to publicly endorse Rosenworcel for FCC chair, advocated for her nomination, and pushed for her appointment because of her commitment to expanding internet access to America’s students.
Rosenworcel has long championed closing the homework gap through the FCC’s E-Rate program, which has brought connectivity to public school students, educators, and library patrons nationwide. In 2014, she supported lifting the E-Rate funding cap for the first time in a decade. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she supported the creation of the E-Rate Emergency Connectivity Fund to help beat the Digital Divide and the specific aspect of it known as the homework gap — the inability to do schoolwork at home due to lack of internet access or devices. As Acting Chair, Rosenworcel had led the Biden-Harris administration’s efforts to address this problem, delivering funding from the American Rescue Plan to schools and libraries around the country.
“No matter what we look like or where we live, everyone deserves access to the internet and the world of possibilities that it opens. Any educator can recall instances when their students were forced to do their schoolwork outside fast-food restaurants, sat in school parking lots to log onto the school’s WiFi, or lingered in community centers so they could get online because broadband access at home wasn’t an option,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “Accessing the internet is a major part of equity and opportunity in education. It is critical for conducting research, doing homework, and attending class. On behalf of NEA’s 3 million members, I congratulate Jessica Rosenworcel on her historic confirmation as the first woman to permanently chair the Federal Communications Commission. We look forward to partnering with her and other members of the Biden-Harris administration so that educators can continue supporting students and their families by closing the homework gap.”
When the pandemic shuttered school buildings, more than 17 million students — nearly one in three — were affected by a lack of internet access. NEA research, released in October 2020, revealed that an estimated one-quarter of all school-aged children live in households without broadband access or a web-enabled device such as a computer or tablet. Students in rural areas lagged slightly regarding access to the internet and devices, but the most significant gap was broadband. Students of color were less likely to have full access to the devices and broadband internet they needed to learn.
Rosenworcel’s nomination is welcomed news to the millions of educators like Shawna Mott-Wright, a drama and speech teacher who has witnessed her students struggle with internet connectivity and lobbied Congress to invest in the E-rate program. She estimates that as many as half of her students at Memorial High School in Tulsa, Okla. — where more than 80 percent of students are from lower-income families — couldn’t engage in distance learning during the pandemic due to a lack of devices or access to high-speed internet.
“People like to talk about opportunity all the time, but I always say without access, opportunity means nothing,” said Mott-Wright. “This is one of those moments where it all comes down to access.”