Legislation introduced as FCC set to vote Thursday on plan to subsidize use of TikTok, other social media sites on school buses
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Ted Cruz (R-Texas), U.S. Senator Ted Budd (R-N.C.) and U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) today introduced legislation to limit children's access to social media at school by requiring schools receiving federal broadband funding to prohibit access on subsidized services, devices, and networks. The senators’ new legislation, The Eyes on the Board Act, comes as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to vote Thursday to expand the E-Rate program to fund Wi-Fi on school buses, even though Congress explicitly confined the FCC’s E-Rate authority to classrooms and libraries. The proposed expansion of funding is not only unlawful (the Commission has no authority to extend support to school buses without congressional direction) but would make the federal government complicit in enabling unsupervised access to distracting and addictive social media apps like TikTok and Instagram on kids’ bus rides to and from school.
“Addictive and distracting social media apps are inviting every evil force on the planet into kids’ classrooms, homes, and minds by giving those who want to abuse or harm children direct access to communicate with them online," said Sen. Cruz. “The very least we can do is restrict access to social media at school so taxpayer subsidies aren’t complicit in harming our children. The Eyes on the Board Act is a commonsense solution to protecting our kids in the classroom and providing parents with the transparency needed to know their kids are safe.”
“Students across the country fell behind in a big way because of COVID-era lockdowns,” said Sen. Budd. “Ever since, parents have reasserted their right to be involved in their child’s education. That’s why I’m proud to help Senator Cruz introduce the Eyes on the Board Act, which is a commonsense solution to ensure that kids are focused on their studies at school rather than social media. If taxpayers are going to pay some of the costs for schools to be connected to the internet, then parents deserve to know that students are actually learning during school hours.”
“The Universal Service Fund’s E-Rate program helps connect schools to the internet so that every child has the same opportunities to learn. However, there is currently no provision that requires schools to prohibit the use of addictive social media apps that distract students. Our legislation would help ensure these dollars from the program are used for learning and not for children to use social media,” Senator Capito said.
While the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requires schools requesting E-Rate subsidies to certify that they are using technology protection software to block or filter access to obscenity, child pornography, and other harmful sexual content, there is currently no provision requiring schools to block access to distracting and addictive social media apps or websites.?As a result, the E-Rate program risks inadvertently enabling access to social media in schools.
The Eyes on the Board Act would:
- Limit kids’ use of distracting and addictive social media apps or websites at school by prohibiting schools or school districts from receiving E-Rate or Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) subsidies unless they prohibit access to social media on subsidized services, devices, and networks;
- Promote parental limits and transparency on screen time in schools by requiring schools receiving E-Rate subsidies to adopt a screen time policy as a condition of receiving federal funding;
- This requirement would be similar to schools’ existing obligations to maintain an “internet safety policy” under CIPA, which prevents schools from receiving E-Rate funding unless they have certified that they have an internet safety policy that includes technology protection measures to block or filter obscenity, pornography, or other harmful sexual content.
- Provide parents and the public with needed transparency by requiring the FCC to create a database of schools’ internet safety policies.
- The FCC does not currently collect these plans, and they are not publicly available, so it’s unclear what steps E-Rate-funded schools are taking to protect children online.
The Eyes on the Board Act has strong support from numerous stakeholders, including: American College of Pediatricians, Parents Defending Education Action, Heritage Action, American Principles Project, Family Policy Alliance, American Association of Christian Schools, Association of Christian Schools International, The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, The Institute for Family Studies, Concerned Women for America, Texas Public Policy Foundation, America First Policy Institute, Bull Moose Project, and New York Young Republicans Club. Click HERE to read the statements of support.
- Established to subsidize broadband connectivity in schools and libraries throughout the country, E-Rate is one of four programs under FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF), which is funded through taxes on consumers’ phone bills.?
- On June 26, 2023, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel launched an initiative called ‘Learn Without Limits’ to expand the E-Rate program to install Wi-Fi hotspots off campus, including on school buses and in students’ and library patrons’ homes.
- In July and September, Sen. Cruz and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers urged the FCC to reject Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s plan to expand the E-rate program beyond school classrooms and libraries.