John Windhausen Jr
One of the most disturbing aspects of the digital divide is the “homework gap.” The term – first coined by FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel – describes the situation faced by the estimated 12 million students that cannot complete their school assignments because they have no broadband access at home. As she notes, roughly 7 in 10 teachers assign homework that requires a broadband connection, which means that many students, especially in low-income communities, are missing out on the educational opportunities afforded to their connected peers.
We already know that the Federal Communication Commission’s current broadband maps are flawed – they overstate broadband availability, they don’t contain pricing information, and they rely too heavily on industry-provided data. The FCC is now seeking additional funding from Congress to improve its mapping efforts.
Healthcare providers are hurting. As positive coronavirus cases increase in many rural parts of the country, hospitals and health clinics struggle to keep pace with the heightened demand for telehealth visits. Physicians are now seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth than they did prior to the pandemic. The increase in popularity is for good reason.
The lack of affordable residential broadband reflects a failure of US broadband policy. The National Broadband Plan of 2010 called for ubiquitous, affordable, high-speed broadband for all by the year 2020. Depending on which measure you use, the U.S. has fallen short by 10% to 50%. We are now suffering the consequences – residential broadband is often slow, expensive, and not universally available.
Congress is on the verge of passing legislation to improve broadband maps. Unfortunately, tucked inside the “Broadband DATA Act” is a provision that could unintentionally jeopardize broadband funding for schools, libraries, and healthcare providers.
Eliminating the educational priority for EBS would be disastrous for online learning, 5G deployment, and rural consumers. The best way to encourage 5G in rural markets is to award licenses to educational institutions that live and work in their communities and whose mission is to serve the needs of students. Deploying broadband via EBS is not rocket science – it has been successfully done in northern Michigan, rural Virginia, and even at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
The 116th Congress has a golden opportunity to solve the digital divide, by including broadband funding in upcoming infrastructure legislation. President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and prospective Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi have all said that investment in infrastructure is an area that they can agree on in 2019.
Here are a few principles that should guide Congress’ broadband policies:
SHLB Expresses Concern With USAC Request for Information on Special Construction Costs for Fiber Installation
The Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition filed a letter on April 27, 2017 to express concern with the recent set of inquiries sent by Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) to over 100 E-rate applicants seeking support for special construction costs for fiber installation. SHLB said the questions ask for information irrelevant to determining whether an application meets E-rate requirements and suggests new limitations on funding that were not contained in the 2014 E-rate Modernization Orders, the Federal Communications Commission’s rules or USAC’s training materials. SHLB encouraged the FCC and USAC to maintain the existing policies adopted in 2014 that promote competition and cost-effective fiber options for schools and libraries.