Pell Grant recipients could qualify for broadband internet discount

by Emma

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Dive Brief:

  • College students who received a Pell Grant in the 2020-21 academic year are eligible for up to a $50 or $75 monthly discount on broadband internet through a new Federal Communications Commission program.
  • The FCC and the U.S. Department of Education announced the offer through the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program on Wednesday. Officials said they did not know how long it would last.
  • Higher education experts contend long-term investment is needed to expand broadband infrastructure and reduce financial barriers to accessing it.

Dive Insight:

The FCC’s $3.2 billion EBB Program launched May 12. Eligible households can receive up to $50 per month off the cost of broadband service and equipment. The benefit increases to $75 for households on tribal land. They also can get up to $100 toward the cost of an internet-connected device, including laptops and tablets. 

The department plans to reach out to the roughly 6.5 million Pell Grant recipients to tell them they may be eligible. It is also working with the FCC to create materials to help schools share information about the offer.

Officials from the department and FCC told reporters they do not know how long the offer will last. They hope to study data on who receives the benefit to inform lawmakers when developing legislation that could expand broadband access.

President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan asks Congress to provide about $100 billion to increase broadband access. And federal coronavirus relief packages provided money to expand service to underserved areas and populations. The EBB was established through the second major coronavirus relief legislation.

Many college students struggled with internet access even before the pandemic, but the crisis exacerbated the problem as institutions moved their classes online. Higher ed experts contend that the relief funds are a temporary solution and that long-term investment is needed. Improved data on who already has broadband can also help ensure widespread access.

The only Pell recipients eligible for the EBB are those who received a grant for the 2020-21 academic year. But many students decided not to enroll in college that year, causing a 3.6% decline in undergraduate enrollment in fall 2020, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. At community colleges, enrollment fell more than 10%.

An Ed Department spokesperson did not answer Higher Ed Dive’s emailed question by press time about whether the benefit will extend to incoming students who receive Pell Grants for the 2021-22 academic year.

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