Coronavirus and Connectivity
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To ensure social distance, we have been asked to recreate work and school in our homes. Distancing ourselves is necessary to “flatten the curve.” But while we try not to overload hospitals, the success of home schooling and work from home rests on a misguided presumption of universal internet connectivity. This is not the reality for millions of Americans.
Democratic Reps' coronavirus response plan unveiled March 23 would direct funding to pay for Wi-Fi hotspots for students and bar broadband providers from imposing data caps during the crisis. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announced the legislation after the Senate failed to move its own stimulus measure forward. The House's $2.5 trillion "Take Responsibility for Workers and Families Act" includes several provisions related to tech and telecommunication issues for the duration of the national emergency, including:
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. I’m committed to using every legal means at the Federal Communications Commission’s disposal to help Americans deal with the coronavirus pandemic.
Sens Klobuchar, Cramer, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Sustain Rural Broadband Connectivity During Coronavirus Pandemic
Sens Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), along with colleagues, introduced the Keeping Critical Connections Act to help small broadband providers ensure rural broadband connectivity for students and their families during the coronavirus pandemic.