Panel Highlights Emergency Broadband Benefits Available for Higher Ed Students

By Hugh T. Ferguson, NASFAA Staff Reporter

The outset of the pandemic forced institutions of higher education to quickly pivot to online and remote learning but many students found themselves lacking access to affordable and high-quality internet. Now, more than a year into the virtual landscape, students are learning about a new federal benefit to help promote broadband access.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), with congressional approval, launched an Emergency Broadband Program in which Pell Grant recipients are eligible for up to $50 per month — or $75 in Tribal areas — to pay for internet service. A recent panel convened by New America looked to highlight the usage of the program and encouraged students to access the benefit to help promote their access to higher education.

While the Department of Education (ED) has contacted Pell Grant recipients about the benefit through an email, some eligible students may not have recognized the correspondence or have been on the lookout for it.

Ed Bartholme, associate bureau chief in the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau at the FCC urged Pell Grant recipients to search their emails looking for an email from “[email protected]” with the subject line: “Apply for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.”

That email will enable students to easily access the monthly stipend.

“The other great thing about that email is for Pell Grant recipients that serves as your proof,” Bartholme said of students meeting eligibility requirements. “So when you complete the online application...there’s a box you check that says ‘yes, I am a Pell Grant recipient’ and you’ll have the ability to upload a copy of that email directly into that application and that’s how you get approved.”

The benefit is slated to last until the funding appropriated by Congress runs out or until six months after the pandemic is declared to have ended by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, whichever happens first. Providers will also be required to notify beneficiaries that the subsidy is winding down.

Advocates hope the program serves as a call to policy makers to invest in higher education access and ensure that the Emergency Broadband Program does not serve as a simple one-time bandaid.

"Geography should not define if I can go to college. That's just wrong, that's un-American. It should not be like that,” Monty Roessel, president of Diné College said. ”If we change the question, not about access to the Internet, but access to college, then we also are looking at it in a different way."


Publication Date: 7/2/2021

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