The Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act provides federal support for colleges and universities to help ensure students with the greatest financial need can access critical internet services and essential equipment, such as laptops and tablets, during the coronavirus pandemic
Companion legislation also introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), and G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), and Alma Adams (D-NC)
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) along with Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced legislation to help ensure that college and university students with the greatest financial needs can access high-speed internet during the coronavirus pandemic. The Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act 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 historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions, as well as rural-serving institutions, have adequate home internet connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill provides federal support for these colleges and universities to directly help students in need pay for at-home internet connections and equipment such as routers, modems, Wi-Fi hotspots, laptops, tablets, and internet-enabled devices to students. Under the bill, institutions that receive funding must prioritize students eligible for need-based financial aid, such as Pell Grants.
“As we continue to confront the coronavirus pandemic, ensuring college and university students have access to high-speed internet is critical,” Klobuchar said. “The Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act would help ensure that college and university students with the greatest financial need can access high-speed internet and essential equipment, such as laptops and tablets, to help them stay connected to their schools and communities during this public health crisis.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated the digital divide in America, including the more than 14 million estimated households that don’t have any internet,” Hirono said. “The Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act invests in the college students who are trying to keep up with their studies by providing internet-connected devices and broadband access to continue their education, even as social distancing continues.”
“This pandemic has reinforced the importance of ensuring that students and educators in every corner of our state can access quality, high-speed broadband,” Peters said. “This legislation would help provide community colleges and universities in historically underserved rural communities critical resources needed to strengthen online learning for the duration of this crisis, including providing students in need tablets, routers, modems and Wi-Fi hotspots.”
“Even before the coronavirus pandemic began, far too many college and graduate students lacked adequate broadband access,” Rosen said. “The recent closure of college campuses nationwide has only exacerbated this digital inequality. My colleagues and I are working to increase access to broadband and home internet connectivity so that we can bridge the digital divide affecting so many of our nation’s higher education students.”
Representatives Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Doris Matsui (D-CA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), and Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Joaquin Castro (D-TX), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE), and Alma Adams (D-NC) introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.
“As colleges and universities around our country continue to operate remotely, we must help students most in need continue their education,” said Congresswoman Eshoo. “I’m proud to introduce this legislation to provide funding to higher education institutions so that they can directly support the students in greatest need by directly paying for broadband plans, equipment needed to connect to the internet, and internet-connected devices.”
“Schools at all levels have been thrown upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. To make sure that our students receive the support they deserve, we need bold, innovative solutions,” said Congresswoman Matsui. “As our higher education institutions navigate the realities of remote distance learning, it is clear that more needs to be done to support our most vulnerable students without access to the internet or proper technology. I am proud to join with Representative Eshoo to lead this legislation and address the disparities that are affecting our students’ ability to learn during this crisis.”
"The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that connectivity is more important now than ever—especially for college students in our communities who already face significant financial challenges,” said Marc Morial, President and CEO, National Urban League. “I'm thankful for the leadership of Senators Klobuchar, Hirono, Peters, and Rosen as well as Representatives Eshoo, Matsui, Butterfield, and Fudge, who are committed to equal opportunity for our students with the greatest financial needs, particularly those at historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions. It's imperative they have the resources they need to continue their education and connect with their families and friends during this crisis."
The bill is endorsed by 60 groups: Higher Learning Advocates, ED2WORK, Student Veterans of America, The Education Trust, Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), United Negro College Fund (UNCF), National Urban League, National Action Network, National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), Public Knowledge, MediaJustice, Young Invincibles, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, New America’s Open Technology Institute, OCA- Asian Pacific American Advocates, ACT, Inc., UnidosUS, American Council on Education, EDUCAUSE, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, National League of Cities, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), American Association of State Colleges and Universities, College Forward, Council for Higher Education Accreditation, New America's Higher Education Program, National Skills Coalition, Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, America Forward, Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), Association of Community College Trustees, Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, Breakthrough Central Texas, Cornell Student Assembly, Council for Opportunity in Education, CUNY University Student Senate, Distance Education Accrediting Commission, Greater Memphis Chamber, Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce, LeadMN, Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Nashville State Community College Foundation, National Association of College and University Business Officers, National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment, New England Commission of Higher Education, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, Northwestern Health Sciences University, Rebuilding America's Middle Class, San Antonio Education Partnership, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, St. Louis Graduates, State Higher Education Executive Officers Association, Students United, The Graduate! Network, Inc., uAspire, University of California Student Association, WASC Senior College and University Commission.
In March 2020, Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation to sustain rural broadband connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. The Keeping Critical Connections Act would appropriate $2 billion for a temporary Keeping Critical Connections fund at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families during the pandemic.
In April, Klobuchar and Cramer and Representatives Peter Welch and Roger Marshall led a bipartisan, bicameral letter urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to include dedicated funding to help small broadband providers sustain internet services and upgrades for students and low-income families in any future legislation in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. She also joined a letter led by Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) with 32 Democratic Senators to Senate Majority Leader McConnell, House Speaker Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Schumer, and House Minority Leader McCarthy expressing disappointment in the lack of broadband funding for distance learning in the third coronavirus relief package and urging them to include at least $2 billion for E-rate funding for schools and libraries. Klobuchar joined another letter led by Markey last month with 18 Democratic Senators to Leader McConnell and Commerce Committee Chairman Wicker requesting $2 billion for E-rate funding in the third relief package.
Klobuchar has also urged the FCC to take action to ensure students have internet access so they can continue learning while schools are closed during the pandemic. In March, Klobuchar led a letter with Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Jon Tester (D-MT) urging the FCC to ensure that all K-12 students have internet access and can continue learning from home as schools nationwide are closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The letter also asked the FCC to create a searchable web portal to help consumers locate existing resources to help them connect to the internet. Klobuchar also joined a letter led by Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) with 12 other Democratic Senators to Leader McConnell and Leader Schumer urging them to include funding in the third relief package to support expanding digital distance learning—including for devices for children to access the internet and complete their schoolwork online—and closing the homework gap.