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Here’s How Lawmakers Are Bringing Broadband Relief For College Students

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LA Trade Tech College student Rugmini Vasquez receives technology during the pandemic from the college's tech support program. (Courtesy LA Trade Tech College)
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The digital divide that has widened during the pandemic has been more than a stumbling block for many college students trying to adjust to online learning — it’s been a closed gate.

But there could be at least some relief in sight from the federal government. The coronavirus relief package signed into law by President Trump at the end of the year includes a $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund that will help low-income families with a $50 monthly reimbursement for internet services. College students who receive federal Pell Grant aid are also eligible.

“The lack of access to devices and internet is threatening college students' education,” said Manny Rodriguez, senior legislative associate with The Education Trust-West. “We need to craft solutions with low-income students, students of color at the center because they're the ones that are being impacted the hardest during this time.”

Education Trust-West laid out the digital divide’s impact on college students in stark numbers in an October report:

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  • More than 1 in 10 California college students don’t have access to the internet
  • Roughly the same proportion don’t have a device to be able to engage in distance learning

In a November letter, 20 advocacy groups urged the California Broadband Council to offer college students broadband relief by improving marketing and visibility of low cost and free broadband programs. The groups also recommended removing data limits on those programs so that households can more easily accommodate multiple devices.

An action plan released by the council last month underlined what many people have found during the pandemic: reliable internet access is essential for modern life.

“Californians’ ability to access and use broadband became the difference between being able to fully engage in life, and being cut off,” the plan said.

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