May 07, 2020

Wyden, Colleagues Push Comcast to Open Public Wi-Fi to Students Lacking Access at Home During COVID-19

In a letter to Comcast, lawmakers urge the telecom giant to help close digital divide as education moves online through COVID-19 crisis

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. today urged Comcast to open all of its public Wi-Fi networks to the approximately 12 million American students who lack internet access at home, as schools rely on online education as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

In a letter to Comcast, the lawmakers wrote, “The COVID-19 pandemic … [has] shuttered schools across the country, leaving teachers and students forced to navigate the necessary but difficult transition to virtual classrooms. Unfortunately, this new burden is disproportionately borne by the 12 million students in rural and low-income areas of the United States who lack reliable internet access at home. With anchor institutions that traditionally provide internet access to these students, like schools and libraries, now closed for the duration of the pandemic, many of America’s children are unable to complete their lessons and will likely fall behind their classmates who can benefit from connectivity and the remote learning it affords.”

“Comcast has taken important steps to help Americans get connected during this global public health emergency. But it can — and should — do more to help children and teachers in Oregon and across the country. We urge you to start by dropping the paywall and providing free access to Comcast residential public Wi-Fi networks,” the lawmakers continued.

“Comcast is the largest cable internet company in America; it generated $18.7 billion dollars from high-speed internet access fees in 2019 alone. Particularly in these extremely difficult times, Comcast has a responsibility to do right by the communities in which it does business,” the senators concluded.

On March 13, Comcast joined hundreds of other internet and telecommunications providers in a Federal Communications Commission pledge to Keep Americans Connected. As part of this pledge, Comcast committed to "open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them." However, to date, Comcast has only opened a small percentage of its Wi-Fi networks, specifically those in businesses and outdoor locations. The paywall on the guest networks for millions of Comcast subscribers’ homes remains in place.  

Wyden has pushed for expanded internet access for all throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. In April, Wyden led a letter to Lifeline internet service providers to expand service for low-income Americans, especially for students learning at home.

A copy of the letter is available here.