The digital future has long been talked about but the pandemic has brought it a big step closer. For millions, technology has been a lifeline in a new, socially-distanced reality. Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. For the companies, the crisis has not only cemented their market power but provided an opportunity to show that they can be responsible corporate citizens.
During the Great Depression, people waited in bread lines for sustenance. In today's economic crisis, the internet is often the pathway for relief. Online is where people try to keep or find work. How they see their doctor or apply for jobless benefits. How they order food and supplies. Where they find solace through faith, or laughter through entertainment.
The “digital divide” in the accessibility of telecommunications services remains far too wide — and that current needs give urgency to closing it. A lack of sufficient Internet access is very likely keeping 12 million students from doing distance learning while their schools are closed.And the more that low-income communities are dependent on temporary grace from telecom providers, the more they have to lose when this is all over. New ideas are clearly required.
Internet access is, of course, fundamental to sound educational policy. Even before the pandemic, an estimated 12 million schoolchildren had trouble completing schoolwork because they lacked internet access at home. Nevertheless, there is significantly more to online education than streaming a lesson designed for the classroom. Effective virtual education requires new styles of teaching as well as curriculum materials designed specifically for online use.
A new law requires the Federal Communications Commission to provide better, more accurate maps of broadband internet availability across the United States. The goal of the new law is to ensure federal funding for rural broadband internet service in areas that today lack this 21st century necessity — a need that has become all the more urgent amid the stay-at-home orders resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
The White House has just confirmed, no doubt unintentionally, that the US government’s premier international broadcaster, Voice of America, is independent from the Trump administration. A shrill commentary posted on the White House website April 10 assailed VOA for “promoting propaganda” of the Chinese government about the novel coronavirus epidemic. The evidence? A tweeted video showing residents of Wuhan watching a light show following the lifting of that city’s lockdown, and another tweet showing that the covid-19 death toll in the United States “exceeds the official China tally.
The coronavirus has shut down schools across America, and desperate parents are scrambling to ensure their children’s education doesn’t suffer. The US Department of Education could help with some guidance about how schools can move forward on remote teaching. If the feds don’t take the lead, the teachers unions will—to the detriment of students. Not every student has a laptop and Wi-Fi to study online during the shutdowns. In some districts, this inevitably has an adverse effect on poor students or children who don’t speak English as their first language.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is taking steps to boost Wi-Fi across the country. He proposed to make 1,200 megahertz of the 6 GHz mid-band spectrum available for unlicensed use. This will effectively increase Wi-Fi spectrum capacity by a factor of five, enabling more inter-operable 5G devices such as smart appliances not to mention faster speeds so Americans can do more things online.
Living indoors to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, millions of Americans are turning to the Internet to meet their most pressing needs. This massive shift online poses troubling barriers to the least digitally connected Americans. The disconnectedness may force individuals to make devastating decisions and undermine the fight against the coronavirus.