Coronavirus and Connectivity
University of Virginia Professor Christopher Ali spoke about rural broadband with the Reimagine New York Commission. The rural-urban digital divide is primarily one of infrastructure. At least 22.3% of rural Americans, or 15.8 million people, lack access to broadband infrastructure and are therefore cut off from the internet.
As federal COVID-19 relief is set to expire, Senate Republicans finally unveiled their "starting point" for negotiations between the Senate, the House, and the Administration. Two weeks ago, we wondered if extending broadband's reach and connecting more Americans would be part of the mix. Now we have the answer. At a time when working and learning from home are so important to keeping people healthy, Senate Republicans propose doing nothing to get more of us connected online.
An adequate connection is no longer a matter of convenience; it is a necessity for anyone wishing to participate in civil society. Service is often unavailable or too expensive in rural communities and low-income neighborhoods. This has forced people into parking lots outside libraries, schools and coffee shops to find a reliable signal — while others are simply staying logged off.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to roll out a $1 trillion COVID-response bill as early as the week of July 20. There's no indication yet about whether broadband will be part of the package.
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.
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.
A push from an advocacy group for children in Ohio’s Appalachian region and two former governors has led Gov Mike DeWine’s (R-OH) administration to decide to expand broadband services to students without requiring school districts match 50% of their allocations. When the DeWine administration initially launched its plan to use a $50 million grant from federal CARES Act funds to purchase Wi-Fi hot spots and internet-enabled devices late in July, officials set a 50% match contribution for school districts to access the money.
The stay-at-home orders that were widespread in April due to the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in a surge in data traffic for regional operator US Cellular. The company reported that data traffic on its network increased 20% to 25%.