Coronavirus and Connectivity
More than 30 million Americans live in communities that lack broadband infrastructure, or don’t provide minimally acceptable speeds to log onto the internet successfully. Rural areas, some tribal lands, and under-served Black and Brown communities are among those often lacking adequate access. The broadband access issue is getting major attention right now.
The report highlights the following findings about internet traffic since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic:
Acting Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel revealed just how soon she hopes to set up the $7 billion subsidy program aimed at helping students get internet connections at home. Congress slated this money for the FCC as part of the pandemic relief package that President Joe Biden signed into law in march. The FCC is still “mid-course in developing” the program for doling out these subsidies, which could help put Wi-Fi hotspots and modems in the hands of students stuck at home, said Chairman Rosenworcel.
In COVID times, many courts remain closed to in-person proceedings. Hearings continue online. They are streamlined, quick and, for some, convenient. Participants with busy lives can attend on their lunch break at work or at home while caring for their kids. But without greater attention to equal access, remote justice is likely to leave tenants and landlords alike worse off. Many tenants behind on rent also lack the technological resources to participate effectively in virtual proceedings. They may have no internet service or unreliable, spotty service.
Though an entire year has passed since the beginning of the pandemic, many of the broadband access problems that were present last March have only worsened with the passage of time.
The newly enacted New York state budget requires nearly all internet providers to sell broadband service for $15 a month to low-income customers who qualify for food stamps, Medicaid or similar benefits. Internet providers have 60 days to start offering minimum internet speeds of 25 megabits per second for $15 a month to qualifying customers. They have the option to provide 100 Mbps service for $20. The mandated service is similar to what state regulators already require from two of the state’s largest providers, Spectrum and Optimum.
The COVID crisis has highlighted both the severity of the so-called "homework gap" and the shortcomings of early remedies like mobile hotspots and even low-cost home broadband plans. Now, more than a year into the pandemic, schools and cities across the country are increasingly testing novel ways to get students connected, not just for the duration of the pandemic, but for the long term.
Immediately following the onset of the pandemic and the shift to virtual learning, many Governors initiated or supported short-term solutions to access to broadband and computers. However, states must prioritize investment in the expansion of sustainable and affordable broadband infrastructure in order to permanently close the digital divide. Governors are at the forefront of this effort and have started this year by proposing record levels of investment in broadband infrastructure, with 36 Governors calling attention to the need for increased access in their State of the State addresses.
Internet service providers (ISPs) and their defenders are repeatedly claiming that the US did better than other network neutrality countries (specifically, the EU27) when it came to handling the crush of Covid-19 induced traffic. Unsurprisingly, they credit the lack of regulation for this amazing response. Once again, this claim does not hold up to real scrutiny. As with the investment nonsense, this is a highly complicated area and therefore subject to a lot of spin and heated arguments over what the data actually show and how to explain it.
A coalition including broadband heavyweights AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon is asking Congress and President Joe Biden to build off the recent $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit and craft “a long-term federally-funded broadband benefit program that the [Federal Communications Commission] would manage and administer to provide low-income individuals with enhanced fi