Coronavirus and Connectivity
Broadband makes telehealth, telework, and distance learning possible. But is U.S. broadband up to the task of delivering these services to everyone in the face of the coronavirus (COVID-19)? Both the government and private sector are moving to online systems and operations, but not everyone in the US can easily follow. Large hospitals across the country are quickly expanding the use of telemedicine to safely screen and treat patients for coronavirus, and to try to contain the spread of infection while offering remote services.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai spoke with broadband companies and trade associations about ensuring Americans can remain connected to the internet as coronavirus spreads. Some of the ideas that came up in the talks included expanding discounted internet service tiers for low-income people, easing data limits and minimizing service interruptions for subscribers, one of the people said. The nation's internet service providers say they haven't seen big usage spikes yet, but the coming weeks and months could pose an unprecedented test of their networks' ability to withstand
Rep Jerry McNerney (D-CA-09) led a letter to nine major communications providers asking them to outline any potentials plans they are considering implementing to address connectivity challenges related to COVID-19, particularly for individuals who are impacted by the digital divide. Congressman McNerney was joined by 11 other Democratic Members on the House Commerce Committee, including the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, Rep Mike Doyle (D-PA-14).
Sen Warner Leads Colleagues in Urging ISPs to Suspend Service Terms Affecting Telepresence Services During Coronavirus Outbreak
Sen Mark Warner (D-VA) led 17 of his colleagues in sending a letter to the CEOs of eight major internet service providers (ISPs) calling on the companies to take steps to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services. In the letter, sent to the CEOS of AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, the Sens call on companies to suspend restrictions and fees that could limit telepresence options.
AT&T is waiving home-Internet data caps during the coronavirus pandemic. AT&T imposes monthly data caps of 150GB on DSL, 250GB on fixed wireless, and 1TB on most of its faster wireline services. Overage charges are $10 for each additional 50GB, up to a maximum of $100 or $200 per month, depending on the plan. AT&T provides unlimited data to customers when they subscribe to the gigabit-speed tier or when they purchase both Internet and TV service. There's also an option to pay $30 extra per month for unlimited data.
As schools and businesses ask people to stay home to reduce the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus, I wanted to share some thoughts about how I expect broadband Internet access networks will handle the change and increase in broadband traffic in residential areas. Our first reaction is that, as with so many areas with network effects, the rich will get richer.
Comcast Increases Access to and Speeds of Internet Essentials to Support Americans Through Coronavirus Pandemic
As our country continues to manage the COVID-19 emergency, we recognize that our company plays an important role in helping our customers stay connected – to their families, their workplaces, their schools, and the latest information about the virus – through the Internet. We also know that for millions of low-income Americans who don’t have Internet service at home, this uncertain time is going to be even more difficult to manage. As schools and businesses close and families are encouraged, or even mandated, to stay home, Internet connectivity becomes even more important.
Americans are going to need broadband in their homes—to help them telework to keep the economy strong; to help them understand medical information, and potentially connect with medical care via telemedicine; and to help our youngest learners continue to grow. The Federal Communications Commission must join that effort immediately with emergency steps that bring broadband into homes in communities impacted by COVID-19.
To enable social distancing, institutions including schools, governments, workplaces, and libraries are moving many of their daily functions online. The successes — and failures — of these efforts can tell us a lot about how tech policy is (or isn’t) working in America, and where it needs to go. The biggest hurdle is access to broadband at home.
If we have to suspend or otherwise modify political campaigning because of coronavirus, social media will become even more important and the fissures it creates even more painful. We should expect the platform companies such as Facebook and Google to step up to this national emergency—but can we?