Coronavirus and Connectivity
At the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission pushed internet service providers to promise they wouldn't penalize customers who struggled to pay their internet bills when they needed connectivity the most. More than 800 companies signed onto the Keep Americans Connected pledge, a commitment to not disconnect customers who were behind on their bills or charge late-payment fees that drew effusive praise from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.
In October 2019, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society issued Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. The agenda was comprehensive, constructed upon achievements in communities and insights from experts across the nation. The report outlined the key building blocks of broadband policy—deployment, competition, community anchor institutions, and digital equity (including affordability and adoption).
On May 12, the Federal Communications Commission will launch the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, which will have internet service providers give low-income Americans who qualify up to $50 off per month for broadband service. Advocates for older adults say the government's new broadband subsidies are a good step towards closing the digital divide — but that much more will need to be done to get them on the internet.
The House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology held a hearing on the disparities that exist in accessing affordable, reliable high-speed internet in the US. The panel heard from the National Urban League's Joi Chaney, Public Knowledge President Chris Lewis, Francella Ochillo of Next Century Cities, and George Ford, the chief economist at the Phoenix Center.
In light of many moving pieces and the potential broadband funding streams, we recommend communities take the following steps to develop a funding strategy and position themselves competitively for federal dollars:
Without a massive investment to build out the country’s open fiber infrastructure and a new set of rules to govern its use, the United States risks being left behind. Recommendations:
The digital divide and the homework gap haven't gone away, even with new attention and funding directed toward emergency relief.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic began towards the tail end of the first quarter of 2020. The impact was immediate and has forever changed bandwidth usage patterns. As 2020 came to an end, subscribers, on average, were consuming close to one half of a terabyte (TB) of data, up 40% from 2019. The pandemic impact is even more pronounced with the growth in upstream bandwidth. OpenVault predicts that by December 2021, the average broadband consumption per household will be around 600-650 gigabytes -- that's more than six times the average broadband consumption level since 2015.