Sep 21 2022

Government Program Helps Expand Internet Access at Minority-Serving Institutions

Five colleges and universities received $10 million in the first round of grants created through the 2021 federal infrastructure package.

Improved digital connectivity is coming to a handful of minority-serving colleges and universities through more than $10 million in grant funds that were awarded by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration in late July.

The funds were made available as part of the $1 trillion federal infrastructure plan passed into law late last year, which promised to boost, among other things, broadband internet availability in traditionally underserved areas. That gave rise to the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, which pledged the eventual distribution of $268 million in grant funds for historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions.

The first round of grants awarded in July include $2.9 million to Diné College, part of the Navajo Nation; $2.4 million to Drake State Community and Technical College in Alabama; $2.6 million to New York’s Mercy College; more than $750,000 to the Oklahoma State University Institute of Technology; and $1.9 million to the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Tohono O’odham Community College in Arizona.

The grants will go toward programs supporting digital literacy, workforce development and technology upgrades at the selected institutions and will boost broadband internet access and reliability on those campuses and in the surrounding communities.

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At a press conference announcing the awards, Deputy Secretary of Commerce Don Graves spoke about the grant program’s potential impact.

“America’s minority-serving colleges and universities are bedrock learning centers that have too often been left behind when it comes to accessing affordable high-speed internet,” he said. “The Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program enables these institutions to be a resource for access, digital skills training and workforce development programs for students and the community to help level the economic playing field.”

LEARN MORE: Bringing connectivity to rural, tribal colleges.

The first five grant recipients were chosen from more than 200 applications received before the application window closed in late 2021. At least 40 percent of the $268 million in total funds must eventually be distributed to HBCUs, and an additional 20 percent must go toward providing high-speed internet access and/or equipment to students.

Additional application windows and awards will be announced “on a rolling basis,” according to a press release.

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