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March 17, 2022

Future of Higher Education

WGU Responds to NTIA Broadband Implementation Effort

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Western Governors University (WGU) responded to a request for comment on the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Bipartisan Infrastructure Law broadband program implementation efforts.

WGU has long been an advocate of closing the digital divide—the gap between those who have accessible, reliable broadband internet and those who don’t—asserting that digital connectivity is no longer a luxury. An estimated more than 21 million Americans do not have access to reliable broadband internet and it is limiting the development of our workforce and amplifying inequity.

"WGU advocates for public policies that enable and empower innovation on behalf of students, ensure academic quality, expand access to affordable education, improve accountability, and prioritize student-centered supports and graduation outcomes,” WGU President Scott Pulsipher in his letter to the NTIA.

“WGU strongly supports the intent of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), which includes a historic investment of $65 billion to help close the digital divide,” he said. “Creating access to broadband for all is a far-reaching initiative that will have significant upfront costs but will yield considerable dividends. With broadband in every home, each family will have an access point for learning and work, creating unparalleled opportunities for individual prosperity and economic growth.”

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The response answered several questions from the NTIA that covered broadband access, digital equity and how NTIA can support states in their effort to fully address gaps in broadband access. 

WGU urged the NTIA to require states and territories to include higher education as subgrantees and partners in their broadband access plans, citing today’s reliance on technology and online components in all aspects of education. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), at least 14.5 million Americans do not have access to reliable, high-speed internet at home, with the actual number likely much higher.

Data from the Pew Research Center shows that more than 40% of adults with household incomes below $30,000 per year do not have home broadband services, and roughly 39% of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband, compared with just 4% of urban Americans. Also, approximately 67% of all new jobs since 2009 require medium to medium-high digital literacy and require the individual to connect online.

In response to a growing need, WGU established an Online Access Scholarship Program in August 2020 to close the digital gap for new and existing WGU learners without access to affordable or reliable internet. The scholarship covers the cost of both broadband and a computer device to complete their degrees. Through this initiative, WGU supports broadband expansion and is committed to providing equitable access to education to our vulnerable and underserved student populations, including rural and urban low-income populations.

WGU asked the NTIA to monitor how states with a digital equity task force or broadband office assess the process for engaging with higher education institutions in planning efforts and problem-solving conversations.

“The NTIA can ensure that all Americans, especially those covered populations mentioned in BIL programs, receive access by evaluating State Digital Equity Plans on their inclusion of and collaboration with higher education providers with outcomes tied to workforce needs, digital access, and equity,” the response concludes.

According to the notice, the comments will be used “to bolster NTIA’s work and to improve the number and quality of ideas under consideration as the agency develops Notices of Funding Opportunity (NOFOs) for each of the broadband grant programs to be implemented by NTIA pursuant to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”

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