Coronavirus and Connectivity

Through our Headlines news service, Benton is tracking the role of broadband in the response to coronavirus (COVID-19). Click on titles below for full summaries of articles and links to sources.

FCC's Keep Americans Connected Pledge Surpasses 500 Signers

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that 580 broadband and telephone service providers have now taken his Keep Americans Connected Pledge, an increase of 190 from March 19. Chairman Pai also commended providers that have responded to his call to go above and beyond the Pledge by taking additional pro-consumer actions to enhance Americans’ connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chairman Tone-Deaf

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai writes: "It might be hard to find hand sanitizer and toilet paper, but I’m happy to report that Internet access is proving to be one of the most valuable non-medical commodities right now." Is he forgetting the people on the wrong side of the digital divide?  

The Broadband Lifeline in a Pandemic: How Your Community Can Quickly Deploy Free Wi-Fi to Meet Urgent Needs at Public Housing and Other Locations

Over the past several days we have heard from numerous communities seeking guidance for delivering broadband to unconnected households as fast as possible to meet urgent,  critical needs for remote work and education. Free community-provided Wi-Fi can be a lifeline during the pandemic. Given that the current crisis doesn’t seem like it will be short-term, a more robust alternative is to set up a Wi-Fi network for multi-dwelling buildings such as public housing developments. This approach needs to be customized for each building but would include the same key elements:

House Commerce Ranking Member Walden Calls on Wireless ISPs to Boost Hot Spot Data

House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) says wireless broadband providers need to do more to help families connect to broadband during the coronavirus pandemic. While he praised the efforts to date, including waiving overage fees and encouraged "all providers [to] temporarily make as much data available as possible, as quick as possible," he also called on them to provide more data for mobile hot spots during the Covid-19 crisis. "This is an unprecedented time, and wireless providers have already stepped up to the plate in a big way," he said. “But more can be done.

AT&T Offers Savings to Schools to Support eLearning for their Students

With the COVID-19 virus having unprecedented impacts on our society and keeping millions of students and teachers home for the foreseeable future, AT&T* is stepping up to enable virtual classrooms across America. AT&T is offering schools a way to save on unlimited wireless broadband connectivity for students. Through May 22nd, qualified schools activating new lines on qualified data-only plans for school-issued tablets, 4G LTE-enabled laptops and hotspot devices will get the wireless data service at no cost for 60 days.

COVID-19 and Broadband: Potential Implications for the Digital Divide

According to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, approximately 21.3 million Americans lack a broadband connection speed of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download/3 Mbps upload, which is the FCC’s benchmark for high-speed broadband. In the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, federal, local, and state governments, in addition to large and small businesses, are considering remote working or distance learning options to help abate the spread of the virus.

With a surge in usage due to COVID-19, networks are fine, for now: Nokia Deepfield

By most accounts, internet networks are holding up just fine in the face of increased usage due to the impact of the coronavirus, but that could change over the coming weeks. According to research by Nokia Deepfield that started the week of March 9, networks have seen an increase of 20% to 40% during peak usage in impacted regions. As the coronavirus has stretched across the globe, networks have seen increased usage due to total lock downs of citizens in some countries, more employees working from home and increased gaming and streaming by kids home from school.

Reps Eshoo and Doyle Urge Loosening Rural Health Care Restrictions

In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, doctors around the country are turning to telemedicine as a safety precaution to contain the spread of the virus. Virtual visits also enable healthcare facilities to more efficiently handle issues not related to the virus. The Federal Communications Commission's Rural Health Care Program (RHCP) is critical for enabling internet connectivity for rural healthcare facilities that may otherwise not be able to afford it by subsidizing a discount for broadband services.

Digital divide suddenly wider

In San Antonio, schools, under a state directive, now must provide “remote instruction” and many will start March 30. Although several districts are offering curbside pickup of paper packets, lessons largely will be given online — further exacerbating the digital divide in a city with one of the nation’s biggest income gaps. Even in better times, students who don’t have ready access to computers and the internet face greater challenges completing homework and college applications.

Schools are shutting down for the year—here’s how the FCC can get kids online now

As schools across the country move toward virtual learning as they shut down their buildings amid the coronavirus emergency, it has highlighted the digital divide that exists between students who have readily available internet access and those who do not. The Federal Communications Commission has announced a number of initiatives to help more people get connected to the internet in the wake of the coronavirus emergency. But some experts, lawmakers, and members of the agency believe it can do more.