Wyden, Merkley Press For College Students in Need to Have Access to High-Speed Internet

Wyden, Merkley Press For College Students in Need to Have Access to High-Speed Internet

Letter calls for dedicated funding in future legislation to ensure students have access to internet service and devices, such as laptops and tablets, to learn from home during COVID-19

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today joined with colleagues in urging congressional leadership to include funds in future legislation that ensures college and university students with the greatest financial need in Oregon and nationwide have access to high-speed internet during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Even before the pandemic, only 66 percent of black households, 61 percent of Hispanic households, and 63 percent of rural households had access to broadband, and one survey found that about 20 percent of college students did not have consistent access to technology, such as laptops and tablets,” the senators wrote in a letter also signed by 15 Senate and House colleagues.

“Another survey found that 30 percent of students experienced difficulty connecting to the internet when accessing course material online during the pandemic,” the lawmakers wrote Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. 

“Without action from Congress to address these disparities, students are at serious risk of falling behind and missing out on job and academic opportunities provided by the internet,” they wrote.

In addition to Wyden and Merkley, other lawmakers signing the letter led by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Representative Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA) are Senators Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and U.S. Reps. Doris Matsui (D-CA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-PA), Alma Adams (D-NC), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and Tony Cardenas (D-CA).

Full text of the letter can be found HERE and below. A web version of this release is here.

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Pelosi, Minority Leader Schumer, and Minority Leader McCarthy:

We write to urge you to include dedicated funding in future legislation to help ensure that college and university students with the greatest financial need can access high-speed internet during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As colleges and universities across the country have transitioned to distance learning to limit the spread of coronavirus, many students who relied on campus resources are struggling to continue their education from home.  One of the biggest barriers for students of color, students in rural areas, and other disadvantaged students is lack of access to reliable and affordable internet connectivity, equipment required for connectivity, and devices. These are all required to participate in distance learning. Even before the pandemic, only 66 percent of black households, 61 percent of Hispanic households, and 63 percent of rural households had access to broadband, and one survey found that about 20 percent of college students did not have consistent access to technology, such as laptops and tablets.  Another survey found that 30 percent of students experienced difficulty connecting to the internet when accessing course material online during the pandemic.  Without action from Congress to address these disparities, students are at serious risk of falling behind and missing out on job and academic opportunities provided by the internet.

While the spring semester is ending, colleges and universities are moving summer classes and programs online and will likely continue distance learning into the next school year. As it remains unclear when effective treatment or a vaccine will be available, connecting college and university students to the internet is even more essential. 

Although the CARES Act included funding for institutions of higher education, it did not include dedicated funding sufficient to ensure that college and university students have essential internet connectivity. It is for this reason we introduced the bicameral Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act, which is supported by over 60 higher education, civil rights, and public interest organizations.  We urge you to include $1 billion in dedicated funding in a future coronavirus relief package to establish an Emergency Higher Education Connectivity fund at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to help ensure that college and university students with the greatest financial need at historically Black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and other minority-serving institutions, as well as rural-serving institutions, can pay for at-home internet connectivity, equipment, and devices such as laptops and tablets.

Thank you for your attention to this highly important issue. We stand ready to work with you to help keep college and university students connected at this critical time.

Sincerely,