ACE, Higher Ed Groups Urge Federal Support for Broadband for Students and Campuses
July 12, 2021

​ACE and 21 other higher education associations wrote to leaders of the House Energy and Commerce and Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committees last week urging them to include dedicated investments in broadband technology for college students and institutions in any infrastructure package they might consider.

The Senate returned to work today after a two-week July 4th break, with their sights set on passing infrastructure legislation. The bill furthest along likely will be based on the bipartisan framework backed by President Joe Biden and a coalition of lawmakers that was released last month, which includes $579 billion in new spending. The Senate could vote on that bill as early as next week. A second, more partisan bill that might be on offer could include tax increases on corporations and the wealthy to expand social programs and initiatives to fight climate change.

The Biden administration included a range of proposals that would aid students and institutions in its two infrastructure plans introduced in the spring. The American Jobs Plan released March 31 included $100 billion to support and expand broadband networks as well as $12 billion to community colleges for facilities and technology. Congressional discussions have consistently maintained investments in broadband infrastructure as a core element as part of a possible infrastructure package.

As the groups wrote in their letter, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the preexisting digital divide in students’ access to fundamental tools such as reliable internet connections and devices capable of managing distance learning. Compounding the problem, many institutions, and particularly those serving the largest numbers of low-income students, experienced an institutional digital divide, lacking the resources to fill students’ gaps and struggling to manage aspects of transitioning their operations online.

Congress took steps to help institutions and students in the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act—the COVID-19 relief bill approved in December 2020—providing subsidies for broadband service and devices for households with Pell Grant recipients and directing additional funding to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions. However, as the groups wrote, these are limited measures that will expire in the near future.

Among their recommendations, the associations are requesting that the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program included in the CARES Act be expanded and made permanent; that resources be provided to students who lack an internet-capable device or a device that fully meets the demands of online learning; and that the problem be addressed of states that prohibit public or government-owned networks from owning or leasing fiber optic assets.

Wrapping Tax Proposals Into Infrastructure Package

ACE and 33 other higher education groups sent another letter June 14 to the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees, urging them to include a number of key tax proposals in any legislation that incorporates the Biden infrastructure bills.

Each of the proposals identified would support students, their families, and higher education institutions as we continue to move forward from the COVID-19 crisis. Among the tax provisions the groups are advocating for are a repeal of the taxability of scholarship and grant aid, including for Pell Grants; enhancements to various higher education tax credits; enhancing bond financing mechanisms; and a repeal of the endowment tax.