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FCC's Geoffrey Starks: HBCUs Must Have Reliable, Affordable Access

FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks
(Image credit: FCC)

It is imperative that students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) get access to affordable, reliable broadband," said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, particularly in a time so focused on distance learning.

That is because the pandemic has highlighted, and exacerbated, the systemic inequities in healthcare, education, and employment, he said, and it is HBCU students, and alumni, that are on the front line in the push for political, social and economic justice.

Also Read: Starks Convenes HBCU Roundtable

Starks was speaking at the FCC's HBCU Presidents' Roundtable Feb. 18, which he organized.

One piece of good news is that Pell Grant recipients are automatically eligible for some of the $3.2 billion in Emergency Broadband Benefit funding Congress allocated in the December COVID-19 aide package and for which the FCC has to come up with rules by the end of next week for handing out. Nearly three quarters of HBCU students are eligible for the grants. The EBB provides both a subsidy for home broadband service and money toward devices.

"[W]e must make crucial investments to connect HBCU students, and more broadly, to the communities they come from and the areas surrounding these institutions," he said. "The time to make these investments has never been more urgent."

Also Read: Democrats Push Billions for Distance Learning

The current COVID-19 relief bill being hammered out in Congress includes more than $7 billion in funds for broadband access and devices, including connectivity for HBCUs and their "anchor communities," defined as within a 15-mile radius.

It also creates an Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the White House's chief telecom policy arm, the mission of which is to "develop recommendations to promote the rapid, expanded deployment of broadband internet access.