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.

Skyrocketing Telehealth Visits Call for Much More Broadband Capacity

Healthcare providers are hurting. As positive coronavirus cases increase in many rural parts of the country, hospitals and health clinics struggle to keep pace with the heightened demand for telehealth visits. Physicians are now seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth than they did prior to the pandemic. The increase in popularity is for good reason.

Like It or Not, K-12 Schools Are Doing a Digital Leapfrog During COVID-19

School districts are beginning to craft their strategies for what teaching and learning will look like for the 2020-21 academic year and beyond. Despite widespread frustrations with the downsides of remote teaching and learning, many teachers are seeing how online learning can make it easier to move students in the same class at different paces and provide one-on-one feedback for struggling students, when they’re not all in the same physical space.

Coalition Calls on FCC to Enhance Lifeline Benefits To Provide Instant COVID-19 Relief

Eight groups called on the Federal Communications Commission to provide support for unlimited talk and texting for recipients of its Lifeline program subsidy.

Idaho’s Proposed Broadband Grant Cares More About Protecting Monopolies Than Expanding High-Quality Connectivity

As states are considering whether and how to use federal CARES Act funding to improve Internet access, Idaho is poised to enact counter-productive limits on who can use that money by excluding community-owned solutions. Though many states have been under pressure from big monopoly providers to only fund for-profit business models with broadband subsidies, those voices seem largely absent in this Idaho fight.

Rep Walden, Chairman Wicker Release Broadband Connectivity and Digital Equity Framework

House Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) and Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) released principles for a legislative framework to expand broadband access and digital opportunity and close the digital divide.

Cable Ready to help Beyond FCC Pledge

Although the Federal Communications Commission’s voluntary Keep Americans Connected pledge that broadband providers made to help consumers maintain internet access during the pandemic expires June 30, NCTA President Michael Powell says his cable trade group members are preparing to lend a hand regardless of whether it’s extended. “If the pledge is no longer at government insistence or fiat, that won’t really fundamentally change what we’re doing,” said Powell.

Vermont House passes $95 million broadband, connectivity, housing coronavirus recovery package

The Vermont House approved an additional $95 million of Coronavirus Relief Funds in the Broadband, Connectivity, and Housing bill (H.966). The passage of H.966 includes $43 million for broadband, connectivity, and cybersecurity initiatives and an additional $52 million for housing initiatives. Highlights of the bill include:

Comcast Extends Free Internet Essentials Offer, Offer Now Valid Through 2020

Comcast said it has extended its free Internet Essentials broadband offer to homes through the end of the year.  Comcast, as did most other cable operators, offered 60-days of free Internet service to homes with college, elementary and high school-aged children back in March as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic. That offer was extended to June 30 as stay-at-home orders continued. Even with most school years ended, Comcast said it has decided to extend the offer through the end of 2020.

Broadband Access Is A Civil Right We Can’t Afford To Lose – But Many Can’t Afford To Have

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the digital divide in an unprecedented way. As civil rights leaders and a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, we are calling on our nation’s leadership to enact a robust connectivity plan to address the immediate and future needs of marginalized communities. An astonishing 34 percent of Black adults, 39 percent of Latino adults, and 47 percent of those on tribal lands do not have a home broadband connection. This compares with the 21 percent of White adults who do not have broadband at home.

How San Rafael, California Built a Wi-Fi Network During a Pandemic

San Rafael (CA) is in the process of launching a new mesh Wi-Fi network for one of its most densely populated neighborhoods, doing so as a response to the COVID-19 crisis. The overarching goal is to ensure that residents there — particularly students — are able to get online. Officials say that the new network — which the city and its collaborators essentially built from scratch between now and when the virus broke out in March — will reach roughly 2,000 students, who may need the connectivity to attend school come fall, depending on the status of public space reopenings.