Brazil passes bill to fund connectivity for students and teachers

Mobile internet provision set to benefit over 18 million pupils and 1.5 million teachers in public schools nationwide.

A bill seeking extra funding to ensure Internet access in Brazil's public school network was passed to benefit millions of students and teachers nationwide.

Under the proposed measures, a budget of 3.5 billion reais ($690 million) will be provided by the central government via the Fund for Universal Access to Telecommunications Services (FUST). The funding will ensure the connectivity required for teachers and students to continue schooling activities during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The proposals were vetoed by president Jair Bolsonaro, but the decision was overturned by the Brazilian Congress and was later confirmed by the Senate. According to the bill, the funding should go mainly towards mobile internet offerings, with fixed broadband provision possible if that option is cheaper or in cases where mobile services are not viable. Schools can also benefit from the funding if local education authorities consider it to be essential for their activities.

It is estimated that approximately 18.3 million students and 1.5 million teachers will benefit from the measures set out in the proposals. The priority groups to receive the government-funded connectivity provided by the state are the beneficiaries of social programs, as well as pupils and teachers of schools in indigenous communities, or quilombolas, which are habitants of black rural communities made by the descendants of African Slaves.

A survey launched in May 2020 by the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) noted that 71% of households in Brazil have access to the Internet. However, more than 20 million households are digitally excluded, with schoolchildren in vulnerable families being the most impacted.

The issue of lack of connectivity is particularly noticeable in households in the poorest areas of the country: 35% of homes in the Northeast region don't use the Internet, and that is also a reality for 45% of Brazilian families on minimum wage.

Separate research from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics has found that millions of citizens are digitally excluded due to factors such as lack of technical knowledge to access the web and availability of Internet services.