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.

Locked Out of Remote School: In shelters without Wi-Fi, homeless kids can’t even get online for class.

Lack of Wi-Fi access has been plaguing New York City’s shelters for unhoused families for seven months now, where some 13,500 school-aged children of the 100,000 students in temporary housing citywide, have been enrolled in remote education since March. When schools initially shut down, the city sent hundreds of thousands of iPads with cell service to kids in shelters, but not all families received them, and those that did quickly began complaining that their connections were spotty, if they worked at all.

Americans Working From Home Face Internet Usage Limits

The coronavirus pandemic led millions of Americans to turn their homes into offices and classrooms. It also forced many to change their habits to keep their internet bills in check. The amount of time consumers spend streaming TV, gaming and using Zoom or other videoconference platforms substantially increased since the start of the pandemic, activities that often eat up large amounts of data.

American Connection Project organizations launch an interactive tool for users to locate more than 2,300 free Wi-Fi locations in 49 states

Several partner organizations announced the launch of the American Connection Project (ACP) interactive Wi-Fi map. The map provides a free resource to help the public locate more than 2,300 free Wi-Fi locations across 49 US states. The map includes Wi-Fi locations from Land O’Lakes, Inc.

The pandemic makes clear it’s time to treat the internet as a utility

The internet has grown into a utility, and internet access should be regulated as such. The position of the US government — not to mention phone and cable companies — is that the internet is a free-market service, full stop. It’s not a utility. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai says the internet industry merits only what he calls “light-touch” regulation, which is to say hardly any regulation at all. “The FCC’s light-touch approach is working,” Chairman Pai declared in 2019.

Broadband task force to draw 'blueprint' for closing digital divide

A group of 24 county officials from across the country have formed a broadband task force with the goal of creating a “blueprint” for closing the digital divide. Organized through the National Association of Counties, the task force is co-chaired by J.D. Clark, the county judge of Wise County, Texas, and Craig Rice, a member of the Montgomery County Council in Maryland.

What has Internet infrastructure done for us lately?

The end-user rarely has to worry or even think about a lot of what domain name systems companies do to keep things humming along. Working primarily in the background, infrastructure companies provide a critical yet completely overlooked service, unless something out of the ordinary, like abuse of the domain name system, or general downtime, happens.

Moody’s Raises Cable Outlook to ‘Positive’

Moody’s Investors Service raised its rating on the cable television sector to “positive” from “negative,” fueled mainly by expected growth in broadband. Moody’s expects cash flow in the sector to rise more than 5% over the next 12-to-18 months, based on the continued rise in broadband customers due to the pandemic. Moody’s noted that cable broadband subscribers grew by about 2.5% (3.5 million customers) in Q2, and market penetration rose to 50% in the period, compared to 48% in the prior year. This despite video and voice customer declines in the 4-6% range annually.

COVID-19 gives the FCC a platform to leverage educational programming

Months before COVID-19, the Federal Communications Commission voted to loosen broadcasters’ obligations to carry core “educational and informative” content across their networks. The National Association of Broadcasters thanked the FCC profusely, touting that obligations to carry “low-rated children’s programming” would have serious economic consequences when stations were already dealing with shrinking profits.

Broadband from the Bottom Up: How Community Organizations Can Shape the Broadband Future

The private market will not close this digital divide on its own. Nearly 28 million American households have a single choice of broadband provider; millions more live in duopolies. Government primarily serves as a regulator—recently, an anti-city, anti-competition regulator—with a few programs that subsidize internet service providers’ (ISPs) service of low-income residents. New models of public-private partnership are essential to achieve universal broadband. The public and civic sectors have three principal tools to shape these partnerships:

Remote learning is deepening the divide between rich and poor

Peru, the nation with the world’s highest coronavirus mortality rate, is also one of dozens of countries where schools nationwide remain closed on account of the pandemic, with no reopening date in sight. The quarantine here is particularly severe; children 14 and under are permitted out of their homes only one hour per day. Some families can afford workarounds. Students from families wealthy enough to pay for private schools have kept their educations going with private tutors and interactive classes on home computers.