Pell students can soon access their Emergency Broadband Benefits
Beginning on May 12, the over 7 million students who receive Pell Grants can begin to sign up on GetEmergencyBroadband.org to receive a $50 per month subsidy to help pay for internet at home, and up to $100 for a connected device. Since the pandemic began, the existing digital divide has become an even larger problem for college students. When college campuses closed and students shifted to learning from home, high-speed home internet suddenly became essential for attending Zoom lectures, completing assignments, and connecting with peers and professors. But accessing broadband proved challenging: polling by New America found that in December 2020, over half (57 percent) of students surveyed reported that accessing high-speed internet was a challenge. In addition, a survey by ThirdWay and New America found that 54 percent of students with an internet connection considered it a “significant” cost to them.
When Congress authorized the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which was included in December’s funding package, help was now on the way for lower-income students who struggled to afford the cost of high-speed internet. The benefit provides a $50 per month subsidy to pay for broadband access and up to $100 for a connected device for any student who receives a Pell Grant (read our previous post for more on the EBB). Though the Federal Communications Commission was faced with the challenge of standing up a new program within just a few months, the FCC and the Department of Education devised a straightforward plan that significantly reduces the burden of accessing the benefit for students.
Beginning May 12, every Pell recipient will receive an email from the Department of Education notifying them that they are eligible to enroll in the EBB program. This email can also be used as verification to claim the benefit. All students need to do is provide their internet supplier with either of the following documents to verify their eligibility and ensure the subsidy is applied to their bills: 1) an email to Pell recipients from the Department of Education informing them of their eligibility for the EBB program or 2) a screenshot of a StudentAid.gov dashboard from this academic year. Students should also keep an eye out for information from their internet service provider informing them of the benefit and their eligibility.
Though the EBB is an important benefit and will help many low-income students access the high-speed internet they need, Congress can and should continue to do more to ensure that lack of quality and affordable internet does not stand in any student’s way to complete their college degree or credential. Additional funding for the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program should continue to be appropriated by Congress. And other legislation, such as the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act, introduced by Senator Klobuchar and Congresswoman Eshoo in response to Higher Learning Advocates’ recommendations, would ensure further widespread access. The legislation would appropriate $1 billion to establish an Emergency Higher Education Connectivity fund at the National Telecommunications Information Administration to help ensure that college and university students at underserved institutions have adequate home internet connectivity during the pandemic. Higher Learning Advocates urges Congress to continue providing robust funding for the EBB program and to advance the Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act to ensure that reliable, affordable internet is available to an even wider group of today’s students as the pandemic continues and beyond.