Dems Urge Top Lawmakers To Back $1B Virus Broadband Bill

By Anne Cullen
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Law360 (June 5, 2020, 5:16 PM EDT) -- Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., have called on congressional leaders to get behind their emergency broadband bill, which would create a billion-dollar fund to support high-speed internet access for college students stuck at home amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a recent letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the two plugged their Supporting Connectivity for Higher Education Students in Need Act, arguing it closes a funding gap left by earlier coronavirus relief packages.

While the $2.2 trillion CARES Act included funding for institutions of higher education, they said it didn't allocate enough resources to ensuring their students can get online at home.

"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," the lawmakers said in the May 29 missive, which was also signed by more than a dozen of their Democratic colleagues.

The legislation, which Klobuchar and Eshoo introduced in their respective chambers last month, would form a fund within the White House's telecom agency — the National Telecommunications Information Administration — aiming to help students lacking internet access.

The bill would target 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, all of which may not have reliable internet at home while their school campuses are closed.

"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 lawmakers said in the letter.

Representatives for Pelosi, McConnell and the NTIA did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

--Additional reporting by Stephen Cooper. Editing by Bruce Goldman.

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