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.

Rep Matsui Leads Letter Calling on FCC to Expand Flexibility for Internet Connectivity Support During the Pandemic

Rep Doris Matsui (D-CA) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, urging him to support expanded flexibility in the Lifeline program to help low-income consumers stay connected to voice and internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. In early June, the FCC provided new flexibility to allow some Lifeline service providers to voluntarily initiate service before a consumer's application paperwork has been finalized. However, this new Lifeline flexibility was limited to rural Tribal areas.

The dangers of tech-driven solutions to COVID-19

Contact tracing done wrong threatens privacy and invites mission creep into adjacent fields, including policing. Government actors might (and do) distort and corrupt public-health messaging to serve their own interests. Automated policing and content control raise the prospect of a slide into authoritarianism. But most critics have focused narrowly on classic privacy concerns about data leakage and mission creep—especially the risk of improper government access to and use of sensitive data.

What to Do for Families With Internet Access Too Slow for Remote Learning

During the COVID-19 school building closures, big equity problems around internet access emerged. But one layer of this equity issue went largely unexplored: Some households have access to the Internet, but only at slow speeds that make school tasks like videoconferencing or completing homework assignments next to impossible. That's especially true for families with multiple children, or for parents using the home internet while forced to work remotely during the pandemic. 

FCC Approves Eleventh Set of COVID-19 Telehealth Program Applications

The Federal Communications Commission approved an additional 62 funding applications for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.  Health care providers in both urban and rural areas of the country will use this $23.25 million in funding to provide telehealth services during the coronavirus pandemic. To date, the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which was authorized by the CARES Act, has approved 367 funding applications in 45 states plus Washington (DC) for a total of $128.23 million in funding.  Below is a list of health care providers that were approved for funding:

Rep Underwood hosts discussion on rural broadband accessibility with FCC Commissioner Rosenworcel

On June 15, Rep Lauren Underwood (D-IL) hosted a virtual roundtable with Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and local stakeholders to discuss improving rural broadband in northern Illinois communities. Commissioner Rosenworcel discussed challenges that communities across the country are facing with rural broadband and connectivity during the pandemic. “Federal investments in broadband infrastructure and internet access will be necessary in the short term during this pandemic, as well as an essential part of our country’s economic recovery,” Rep Underwood said.

COVID-19 Has Widened the ‘Homework Gap’ Into a Full-Fledged Learning Gap

In a matter of days, the “homework gap” widened to a full-fledged learning gap, as computers and internet connections soared to the top of the list of required school supplies and districts made hasty plans to roll out virtual learning. What that disparity has revealed about the education inequities in our country, according to Common Sense Media’s CEO Jim Steyer, is “a national disgrace.” “Millions and millions of kids … don’t even have the basic essentials of what they need to be students during this time,” Steyer said.

A New Approach to Closing the Digital Divide: Direct Giving

Where communities cannot access the basic elements of a healthy and prosperous life, technological solutions that eliminate or, at least, substantially reduce the transaction costs of reallocating capital from the “haves” to the “have nots” should be implemented. These solutions need not come from an establish tech company or even a startup, something as lean as a nonprofit can make this sort of solution tenable and effective. We need a direct giving platform for donors to cover people’s broadband bills, including upgrades to higher-speed services.

FCC Chairman Pai Discusses C-Band, the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, and Bad Broadband Maps at Appropriations Hearing

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government held the hearing "Oversight of FCC Spectrum Auctions Program" in which Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai testified. Leading the hearing was Subcommittee Chairman John Kennedy (R-LA), one of the harshest critics of the FCC decision to give satellite companies close to $10 billion in incentive payments to exit the C-Band spectrum by 2021 and 2023 instead of the 2025 deadline the FCC set.

Food, Internet Access Are Priorities for Georgia Students

Staff from the Georgia Department of Education shared a statewide public education update June 15. Two key issues came to the forefront quickly for school districts across the state, said Tiffany Taylor with the Georgia Department of Education. Those were providing students with continued access to school meals and ensuring families have access to internet connectivity and digital devices for distance learning. The state education department surveyed schools at the start of the pandemic to find out how many students would have access devices outside of school.

There's now free Wi-Fi in West Baltimore's Sandtown

The partners behind a new Wi-Fi hotspot in West Baltimore's Sandtown are ready to bring free high-speed internet access to another city neighborhood. A free Wi-Fi hotspot has been active in Baltimore's Sandtown neighborhood for about a month. Jonathan Moore, one of the local organizers behind the hotspot project, said now it's time to begin building out an affordable wireless network spanning several underserved neighborhoods.