A bill introduced last week by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., would direct that the Federal government spend $100 million per year for five years on a program to provide mobile broadband “hotspot” devices to schools and libraries.

The bill – the “Closing the Homework Gap Through Mobile Hotspots Act” (HR 5243) – would direct the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to set up the program, which would provide grant money to schools and libraries to put in place mobile hotspot infrastructure. The program would provide portable hotspot devices with no data limitations to qualified students, with the goal of providing the devices “to the highest number of low-income students,” the bill says.

Institutions covered by the bill include elementary and secondary schools, institutions of higher learning, federally recognized Indian tribes, and libraries.

In a dear-colleague letter to House members, Rep. Meng said the bill attempts to address the lack of broadband services in students’ homes.

“An estimated 12 million school-aged children lack broadband at home,” she said. “For students who receive homework assignments over the internet, lack of broadband can be distressing. This problem forces many students to find venues that provide free Wi-Fi, like libraries, cafes, or other public spaces. Unfortunately, some of these locations may not be conducive to a study environment. Furthermore, students, then must find transportation to and from such establishments, creating additional barriers to education for the students and their families.”

Rep. Meng continued, “Many schools and libraries have already created mobile hotspot programs to help students who do not have broadband at home. Essentially, students can “check-out” or borrow these mobile hotspots from their local libraries for a set period of time. Funds for such programs, however, may lapse after a few years or when funding is eliminated. The Closing the Homework Gap Through Mobile Hotspots Act, H.R. 5243 would provide the necessary funds for urban and rural areas to access monies needed to start and maintain mobile hotspot programs.”

The House bill has 24 cosponsors, and does not appear to have a companion bill in the Senate.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.