Just over 100 days ago, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that a number of broadband and telephone service providers had volunteered to take what he calls the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. Over 780 companies took the pledge "in order to ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity as a result of these exceptional circumstances." When first announced, the pledge was to last until May 12, 2020.
Broadband competition is more important than ever because – in these crises and beyond – America has fast-forwarded into its broadband future. But broadband competition is limited: At a typical broadband speed of 100/10 Mbps, at least 80% of Americans face either a monopoly (no choice) or a duopoly (only one choice) for fixed service. It’s worse in rural America, where monopoly is even more prevalent. The impact is obvious: higher prices, lower quality and/or slowed innovation limiting the ability of people to participate fully in society and the economy.
Although an unexpected message from the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, our aim is really about opportunity and community. We believe that communications policy—rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity—has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities to bridge our divides. We don't believe that broadband educates children. We do believe that broadband facilitates vital connections between students and teachers, especially during this time when so many schools are shuttered. We don't believe broadband makes you healthy.
We're all obviously aware of the unprecedented National Emergency President Donald Trump declared on March 13, 2020 and the shelter-at-home orders many have lived under in the last few months. Telework, telehealth, and distance education have all boomed during this time, testing residential broadband networks like never before. Back in the early weeks of the crisis, assessments based on data from broadband providers themselves and third-party internet traffic monitors led one policymaker to declare that surges in Internet traffic are well within the capacity of U.S.
On May 12, House Democrats unveiled the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act. "We are presenting a plan to do what is necessary to address the corona crisis," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she announced the legislation.
The time has come for Congress to establish a broadband credit—call it America’s Broadband Credit (ABC)—to ensure that people who can’t afford broadband can use broadband. The debate on whether broadband is a luxury or an essential connection to society is over. Broadband is critical, as Americans have now learned as they work, study, consult doctors, socialize, shop—and really lead their lives from home. But for too many, especially the newly unemployed, the cost of broadband service is not affordable.
The debate on whether broadband is a luxury or an essential connection to society is over. More than twice as many people are now using residential broadband during business hours as before the COVID-19 crisis. Over 55 million students have been impacted by school closures. The use of telehealth has skyrocketed. This, I believe, is our broadband moment: a hinge of history that will determine whether today’s residential broadband is fit for the changed world in which we inhabit or whether its limits work to disadvantage those that are not equipped to use it.
A quarter-century ago, the idea of “educational technology” popularized the notion that children would benefit if computers in schools and libraries were connected to the internet.