U.S. Representative Grace Meng

Twenty-six Members of Congress, led by Representative Grace Meng of New York, have proposed a $100 million annual grant program to fund community efforts to provide mobile wi-fi hotspots for home use by low-income students.

Rep. Meng introduced H.R.5243, the “Closing the Homework Gap Through Mobile Hotspots Act”, on November 21. It was referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce, as well as the Committee on Education and Labor.

See Rep. Meng’s press release announcing the bill’s introduction here. A list of initial co-sponsors can be found here.

HR 5243 would authorize up to $100 million a year for six years (2020-2025) to enable the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to create a program of grants to schools, libraries, colleges, U.S. territories and Federally recognized Indian tribes. An eligible institution could apply to NTIA for a grant to “facilitate a mobile hotspot program that provides a hotspot device to an enrolled student, or the family or guardian of such enrolled student.”

The bill defines “hotspot device” as “a portable device… that connects to broadband internet access service using a cellular data connection… to which other devices wirelessly connect by means of Wi-Fi.”

Notably, hotspots funded by the program “shall… not contain a data limitation”.  Data caps are a common feature of K-12 student hotspot programs now offered by commercial providers in many school districts.

NDIA Executive Director Angela Siefer applauded Rep. Meng’s proposal:

Home internet access is so essential today that we must have a variety of strategies Representative Meng’s bill provides a solution for one of our most vulnerable populations. The mobility of hotspots as the connectivity solution allows students who spend time away from home or with multiple caregivers to always have access to their online homework. NDIA commits to providing implementation guidance when this bill passes in order to ensure maximum impact.