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 Acts to Support Telehealth and Remote Learning During Coronavirus

The Federal Communications Commission announced important changes to the Rural Health Care (RHC) and E-Rate programs that will make it easier for broadband providers to support telehealth and remote learning efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, the FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau has waived the gift rules until Sept 30, 2020 to enable service providers to offer, and RHC and E-Rate program participants to solicit and accept, improved connections or additional equipment for telemedicine or remote learning during the coronavirus outbreak.

Chairman Pai Thanks Companies That Have Gone Above And Beyond The Keep Americans Connected Pledge

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai commended broadband and telephone service providers that have responded to his call to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge and have gone even further to enhance Americans’ connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic. The week of March 9, Chairman Pai specifically asked companies with low income broadband programs to expand and improve them and those without to adopt such programs.

What tech wants from Washington amid coronavirus

As the markets crash and foreshadow a potential economic downturn, some people in the tech industry are also asking what Washington can do for them — particularly as Congress weighs stimulus packages to protect future structure of the American economy. Here's what to watch when it comes to the tech industry and the coronavirus recovery effort.

Outbreak Loosens E-Book Rules for Libraries

Book publisher Macmillan rescinded its policy that restricted libraries from buying e-books for the first two months after release. The change will take effect March 20. “There are times in life when differences should be put aside,” Macmillan CEO John Sargent said in a letter to authors and libraries.

All Eyes on Broadcasters

President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai spoke to broadcasters to assess how they can help. Vice President Mike Pence said public service announcements will boost Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance, while Chairman Pai is urging broadcasters to air public service announcements (PSAs) to promote social distancing. The National Association of Broadcasters announced a PSA campaign last week.

Counties Take on Connectivity Challenge

Local government officials are grappling with how to keep communications flowing for the millions of people who have retreated to their homes. “This is a true test of all of our connectivity, whether it's through a satellite provider, cable provider, cellphone provider,” said Rita Reynolds, the chief technology officer for the National Association of Counties. Her trade association is in the middle of assessing how local chief information officers and IT directors are processing the logistical challenges prompted by COVID-19.

What the coronavirus reveals about the digital divide between schools and communities

With a disproportionate number of school-age children lacking home broadband access, the breadth of the US digital divide has been revealed as schools struggle to substitute in-school resources with online instruction, electronic libraries, streaming videos, and other online tutorials. In the US, there are approximately 480,000 school buses that transport about 25 million students on a  weekly basis to school and back. With newly installed Wi-Fi hotspots, these buses can maintain the integrity of current social distancing.

The coronavirus is creating an 'enormous stress test' of America's internet

The US' internet and wireless networks are coming under immense pressure to deliver reliable connectivity as schools and businesses confronting the novel coronavirus have shifted their day-to-day operations out of the workplace and into homes, according to industry analysts and government officials. "This is going to be an enormous stress test for our communications networks," said Blair Levin, a former Federal Communications Commission chief of staff and author of the agency's 2010 plan to improve internet access nationwide.

FCC Waives Lifeline Rules to Help Keep Low-Income Consumers Connected

The Federal Communications Commission announced changes to the Lifeline program to assist program participants potentially affected by the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic and aid community efforts to slow its spread. The FCC's Wireline Competition Bureau waived the Lifeline program’s recertification and reverification requirements for participating low-income consumers for 60 days.

HHS Secretary Azar Announces Historic Expansion of Telehealth Access to Combat COVID-19

The Trump Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced unprecedented steps to expand Americans' access to telehealth services during the COVID-19 outbreak.