Approximately 6.5 million Pell Grant recipients may be eligible for a new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program offering discounts on broadband internet service and connected devices. Education officials on May 12 announced that they are reaching out to individuals and households about the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program, which is also available to families with K-12 students participating in the free or reduced-price lunch or school breakfast program.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the digital divide in education, especially the access gaps faced by students of color, those in rural or tribal communities, and those from low-income families, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said. “Providing reliable, affordable internet access to more students disproportionately impacted by the pandemic is one way we can make sure all students are set up for success,” he added.
Monthly discount on internet service, devices
Under the temporary EBB Program, low-income college students who received a Pell Grant during the 2020-21 school year can receive a discount of up to $50 per month—$75 per month for those on qualifying Tribal lands—for broadband service and equipment. The program also provides a one-time discount of up to $100 for a “connected device,” such as a tablet or laptop computer, purchased from a participating vendor. To receive the connected device discount, households must contribute a co-pay of $10 to $50.
The program will last until its funding runs out, or until six months after federal officials declare that the COVID-19 public health emergency has ended, whichever arrives first. Higher Ed Dive notes that, while the $3.2 billion program could help alleviate some internet access disparities in the short term, education experts are still calling for longer-term investments to grow broadband availability and shrink costs. In the meantime, federal officials hope the EBB Program will generate data to help inform future legislative solutions.