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.

Federal government allows use of TANF, SNAP E&T, WIOA funds to support digital inclusion

New guidance from the federal government can help skills advocates to improve digital access and equity for adult learners and workers. In particular, several federal agencies have clarified how existing policies can be used to remedy technology gaps faced by many US jobseekers and workers. What federal policies can support greater digital inclusion?

Recap of FCC Oversight Hearing

All five Federal Communications Commissioners testified at a Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing. Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) said the hearing was an opportunity for Commissioners to discuss what more can be done to expand broadband access and digital opportunity for all Americans.

FCC Approves Twelfth Set of COVID-19 Telehealth Program Applications

The Federal Communications Commission approved an additional $29.41 million for 77 funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. To date, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which was authorized by the CARES Act, has approved 444 funding applications in 46 states plus Washington (DC) for a total of $157.64 million in funding. Below is a list of health care providers that were approved for funding:

Social Distancing Inspires New Digital Literacy Strategies

Digital literacy work — which involves teaching folks to use computers so they aren’t left behind by societal digitization — often plays out through classroom instruction, library initiatives, or direct outreach at community events. COVID-19 and social distancing, however, have made all of that limited or impossible.

Pandemic Reveals Need to Make Airwaves More Resilient

The pandemic has put the spotlight on the challenges facing the nation’s wireless communications infrastructure. As patients and doctors use telemedicine; children and teachers use distance learning; and parents telework from home, our spectrum resources are being stretched to the limit. If we can’t create more spectrum, we must use it more efficiently. Just as highways into a city may have heavy traffic only during the rush hours but are largely open the remaining twenty hours a day, there may be opportunities for commercial and government organizations to share the mid-range spectrum.

Advertisers Urge Controls on Flow of Cellphone Data to Government

The Network Advertising Initiative, a national trade group representing the digital advertising industry, has advised member companies to put stricter controls on consumer mobile-phone location data they provide to government units such as public health authorities and law enforcement and intelligence agencies.

Senator Smith Leads Push on USDA to More Quickly Allocate COVID-19 Relief Funds to Bolster Rural Broadband Access

Sen Tina Smith (D-MN) led her Senate colleagues in calling on the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to speed up spending the resources allocated within COVID-19 relief legislation to expand broadband access for Minnesota families and people across the country. In her letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Sen Smith and her colleagues point out that Congress recognized the urgent need for broadband access in rural communities, and made sure the CARES Act included $100 million for the ReConnect Program. However, much of the allocated funds are still unspent.

Unequally disconnected: Access to online learning in the US

A new weekly Household Pulse Survey from the US Census Bureau offers a rich opportunity to quantify the impact of COVID-19 on children’s education during this time. It includes questions about the availability of digital devices and the internet in homes across the US, which allow us to explore the concern that access to distance learning is out of the reach of many of the most vulnerable students. Based on four weeks of data, our findings are bleak:

End of broadband pledge could cut lifelines for families

Internet service providers' pledges to waive fees and forgive missed payments end on June 30, likely cutting off service for some families who can't pay their bills due to the economic impact of the pandemic. Congress hasn't included funding to pay for broadband bills in its previous COVID-19 packages.

These Young Entrepreneurs Have A Plan To Bring The Internet To Detroit, The Least Connected City In America

So what if we treated the Internet like a public utility, as essential and ubiquitous as electricity or water, and piloted this in Detroit?  A team of Forbes Under 30 alumni hacked at this problem; their idea: Connectivity For All, a three-step pilot program that would be a public-private partnership to create a quick-to-implement, self-sustaining system to bridge the digital divide. The team quickly realized that parts of their solution had already been figured out by local organizations — the biggest issue was funding. With that in mind, the team dreamed up of tech hubs — physical communi