Coronavirus and Connectivity
The Federal Communications Commission issued a temporary waiver of its access arbitrage rules to Inteliquent, a telecommunications company that carries traffic for two of the nation’s largest conference calling providers, Zoom Video Communications and Cisco WebEx. Absent this waiver, the massive increase in conference calls made by American consumers using Zoom and WebEx to work and attend classes from home during the COVID-19 pandemic would likely result in Inteliquent being deemed an “access-stimulating” carrier under the FCC’s rules.
The Federal Communications Commission granted temporary spectrum access to 33 wireless Internet service providers serving 330 counties in 29 states to help them serve rural communities facing an increase in broadband needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Special Temporary Authority (STA) allows these companies to use the lower 45 megahertz of spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for 60 days.
Not everyone in the US has internet access. There are more than 14 million people without any internet access and 25 million without the faster and more reliable broadband access, according to a 2018 Federal Communications Commission study. And that may actually be an undercount. The FCC data is based on census blocks and not households.
On March 5 and 6, Sen Maria Cantwell (D-WA) wrote to the Federal Communications Commission to urge it to consider how the FCC's existing authority and programs, as well as temporary policies or rule waivers, may be used to secure the nation's safety and continued well-being. On March 20, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai responded by listing the steps the FCC has taken to protect its employees, monitor communications networks, and provide support to keep Americans connected.
The Federal Communications Commission took a number of actions to assist Rural Health Care Program participants, including extending the Rural Health Care Program application window until June 30, 2020, among other administrative deadlines. March 26’s actions are part of the FCC’s ongoing efforts to ensure that hospitals and health care providers have the resources they need to effectively respond to the coronavirus pandemic and keep Americans connected to critical services.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced schools and workplaces to close all over the country, tens of millions of American children have started to attend classes online and tens of millions of American adults are now teleworking from home. This crisis has highlighted how many Americans lack high-speed wired broadband internet at home (approximately 141 million) and specifically how many school-age children are disconnected (as many as 12 million). This digital divide did not happen by accident.
The Senate approved the $2.2 trillion stimulus package titled Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which provides $150 billion to states and local government to respond to the pandemic and economic crisis caused by COVID-19. A breakdown of some of the key funding streams that are either directly related to technology or may incorporate technology as an allowable expense:
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai released the following statement after the US Senate passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which includes $200 million for the agency to support telehealth and telemedicine services:
This spring the US government was planning to focus on its strategy for rolling out fifth-generation wireless networks, bringing faster internet connections to power movie downloads, telemedicine, self-driving cars, and more. Then the new coronavirus hit, sending workers and schoolchildren home to try to do their jobs and continue their education on laptops.
The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us all of the importance of a free and open internet. Our broadband connections are more critical than ever, and we must pay special attention to protecting the access of the most vulnerable and those on the front lines of the coronavirus response. That’s why the Commission’s net neutrality remand proceeding is so important – because it asks the public to comment on how the agency’s decision affects Lifeline participants and public safety. Given these extraordinary times, I wish that we’d granted the full extension sought by the requesters.