We served together on the Federal Communications Commission for nearly four years as commissioners: a Democrat from South Carolina and a Republican from Virginia. While we sometimes disagreed, we worked hard with our colleagues to expand broadband deployment and adoption to all Americans — especially the unserved and underserved. And the need to do so is made more acute by the current pandemic. In the midst of this scourge, the importance of broadband to help save lives, jobs and the economy has never been clearer.
If the coronavirus pandemic has taught the technology and communications policy world anything, it is that policymakers have utterly failed to meet the mission of the National Broadband Plan. Although the National Broadband Plan provided a road map and initially tracked progress, we have seen a relatively nonpartisan tech policy space abandon consensus views on the technicalities of the network and the importance of universal service principles.
While COVID-19 has highlighted the deficiencies in broadband availability in the homes of our school-age kids around the country, the absence of a broadband connection for our older adults is equally concerning. Lack of internet access sets the stage for growing isolation and harm to our seniors across the country. Although broadband adoption has increased among those 65 and older in recent years, there is still a significant gap. A 2017 Pew Research revealed that over half of those 65+ have a broadband connection at home, and about 67 percent use the internet.
With few funds dedicated to expanding at-home internet access in the $2.2 trillion “phase three” economic stimulus package, broadband advocates and the telecommunications industry are starting to push for the Federal Communications Commission and Congress to ensure that the government prioritizes expanding and funding existing subsidy programs in the next relief legislation to bring more Americans online as the coronavirus continues to spread.