Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
On October 1, AT&T stopped selling digital-subscriber-line (DSL) connections. At first glance, the move may seem like a market-based decision to drop an obsolete technology. But as journalists and advocates were quick to pick up on: What about the abandoned customers? At a time when safety dictates that many of us learn and earn from home, how are people to do so when a commercial decision impacts health and well-being?
How can America’s communities secure the benefits of fiber-optic infrastructure? Our answer is that local governments need not accept a binary option of waiting for the private sector to solve the problem—which the private sector already would have done if it made business sense—or taking on the challenge entirely as a public enterprise. Rather, public-private collaboration can disrupt this binary and give communities options.
This week, House Democrats unveiled (and later passed) an updated version of the HEROES Act, a pandemic-relief bill the House passed in May, but was never considered by the U.S. Senate. The original Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act included a number of provisions aimed at getting and keeping more people in the U.S. connected and safe during the pandemic.
“Broadband” is short-hand for an “always-on,” high-speed internet connection provided by a company or other entity known as an “internet service provider” (ISP). We say “always-on” to differentiate contemporary internet connections from the dial-up era of the 1990s, when a user had to dial a telephone number through their computer to connect. Today, the internet comes to us uninterrupted and we cannot get “booted off” if someone lifts up a phone receiver. We say “high-speed” connection because not all internet connections are technically broadband (see below for more on this point).
About one-third of the U.S. job market is made up of middle-skill jobs, which do not require four-year college degrees. Data indicate that the number of these jobs exceeds the supply of available workers. The skills needed for these jobs include facility with the internet and computers.
As federal COVID-19 relief is set to expire, Senate Republicans finally unveiled their "starting point" for negotiations between the Senate, the House, and the Administration. Two weeks ago, we wondered if extending broadband's reach and connecting more Americans would be part of the mix. Now we have the answer. At a time when working and learning from home are so important to keeping people healthy, Senate Republicans propose doing nothing to get more of us connected online.
Thirty percent of all Americans live in multi-tenant environments (“MTEs”) like apartment buildings. Their annual income tends to be only about 54% of median homeowner income, so they are at greater risk of not being able to afford broadband. When apartment owners can profit by restricting tenants’ broadband options and reducing competition, it adds to our nation’s broadband affordability challenges.
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society announced the appointment of two new board members, Denise Linn Riedl and Leon Wilson. Mayor Pete Buttigieg named Denise Linn Riedl the Chief Innovation Officer for the City of South Bend (IN) at the end of January 2019. Previously, Linn Riedl was in charge of Ecosystem Development at Chicago’s City Tech Collaborative.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is expected to roll out a $1 trillion COVID-response bill as early as the week of July 20. There's no indication yet about whether broadband will be part of the package.
Perhaps there’s no better day to contemplate the critical connection between communications and equity than Juneteenth. June 19 commemorates the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas first learned about the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Cut off from communications, slaves in Texas were deprived news of their freedom for over two and a half years. In our time when information travels at the speed of the internet, it is almost inconceivable that anyone could be denied information so vital to their well-being for so long.