Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks said the federal government’s emergency program that subsidizes internet service for low-income households has been a major benefit for the Black community.
Starks said the program, which provides $3.2 billion over six months to reimburse internet service providers for providing internet and devices to low-income households, has been critical to closing that divide in schooling, job searches, and medicine in the visible minority community.
Starks was speaking at the second roundtable discussion for historically Black colleges and universities on February 8. He emphasized how the Black community has been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis. Each university president expressed alarm over some of their students having to choose between paying for food and rent or broadband.
Glenda Glover, president of Tennessee State University, said her students were not prepared for this crisis, and getting devices to students is critical for many services, not just education. She said they, too, need to take care of their families.
Starks echoed that sentiment by adding that many students lost their jobs during the pandemic, which means adequate internet is also needed to help them apply and look for jobs at home, something that can’t be done well on inadequate devices and bandwidth.
He added that getting the word out on the emergency program, especially in a holistic way to members of the HBCU community would help HBCUs close the digital divide.
President of Delaware State University Tony Allen said he wants to create a real learning environment where communities of color can better access his university’s expertise and resources. He expressed hope the university will continue to educate great Black leaders as it had done so previously.
The presidents shared gratitude for corporate partnerships with the likes of Apple and Microsoft in supplying iPads and Surface Duo computer devices as that helps alleviate the demand for devices. Howard University President Wayne Frederick said he appreciates the philanthropic community stepping up during the pandemic in its efforts to supply internet and devices.
Frederick praised the FCC in its handling and initiatives to close the digital divide as he sees educational disparities among the most glaring concerns America is facing.