Coronavirus and Connectivity
We urge Congress to establish a broadband credit — call it America’s Broadband Credit — to ensure many more people can afford high-speed Internet access. Congress could set a household subsidy of $50 per month, which is roughly the cost of medium-tier broadband plans in urban settings (and it could provide a higher subsidy for tribal lands). That subsidy would allow anyone and any device in the household to be connected to the Internet, simultaneously, which is how so many families today are operating.
Just over 100 days ago, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that a number of broadband and telephone service providers had volunteered to take what he calls the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. Over 780 companies took the pledge "in order to ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity as a result of these exceptional circumstances." When first announced, the pledge was to last until May 12, 2020.
Although an unexpected message from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, our aim is really about opportunity and community. We believe that communications policy—rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity—has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities to bridge our divides. We don't believe that broadband educates children. We do believe that broadband facilitates vital connections between students and teachers, especially during this time when so many schools are shuttered. We don't believe broadband makes you healthy.
In a joint letter, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners President Brandon Presley have written to NARUC Commissioners around the US to raise awareness of the federal Lifeline program, which helps eligible low-income consumers access affordable broadband and phone services. Many Americans may be newly unemployed or face other circumstances that make them eligible for Lifeline for the first time. Yet, they may also be unaware either of their eligibility or how to apply for the program.
Back in April, a Pew Research Center survey found that 53% of U.S. adults say the internet has been essential for them personally during the pandemic. Another 34% say it has been important. Those attitudes are reflected in increased traffic over home broadband networks.
We're all obviously aware of the unprecedented National Emergency President Donald Trump declared on March 13, 2020 and the shelter-at-home orders many have lived under in the last few months. Telework, telehealth, and distance education have all boomed during this time, testing residential broadband networks like never before. Back in the early weeks of the crisis, assessments based on data from broadband providers themselves and third-party internet traffic monitors led one policymaker to declare that surges in Internet traffic are well within the capacity of U.S.
On May 12, House Democrats unveiled the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. "We are presenting a plan to do what is necessary to address the corona crisis," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she announced the legislation.
The time has come for Congress to establish a broadband credit—call it America’s Broadband Credit (ABC)—to ensure that people who can’t afford broadband can use broadband. The debate on whether broadband is a luxury or an essential connection to society is over. Broadband is critical, as Americans have now learned as they work, study, consult doctors, socialize, shop—and really lead their lives from home. But for too many, especially the newly unemployed, the cost of broadband service is not affordable.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced the extension of his Keep Americans Connected Pledge until June 30, 2020. While the FCC encourages all providers that have signed the pledge previously to extend their commitments to June 30, we understand that some providers, particularly those in small markets and rural areas, may not be able to do so as a result of financial challenges. Those providers should contact [email protected] by May 12 if they wish to opt out of the extension.
The debate on whether broadband is a luxury or an essential connection to society is over. More than twice as many people are now using residential broadband during business hours as before the COVID-19 crisis. Over 55 million students have been impacted by school closures. The use of telehealth has skyrocketed. This, I believe, is our broadband moment: a hinge of history that will determine whether today’s residential broadband is fit for the changed world in which we inhabit or whether its limits work to disadvantage those that are not equipped to use it.