The people who work in the communications industries.
As the pandemic batters America for its second month, small broadband providers are having a harder time finding protective gear needed to allow workers to go into the field. “I got about four emails today from people being like, ‘Help me get PPE, we can't get equipment,’” said Shirley Bloomfield, head of rural telecom trade group NTCA. Rural ISPs are turning to local distilleries for hand sanitizer and lumber yards for gloves, according to Bloomfield. USTelecom has expressed similar anxiety among its larger ISP members and ongoing dialogue with the Department of Homeland Security.
COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting the Black community. So is the digital divide — and it’s not a coincidence
Those of us who are able to work from home are only able to do so because we have three things — a working computer, broadband access and the technical skills needed to use our devices. But the people who live on the other side of the digital divide — most of whom are people of color, many of whom are people in their 40s, 50s and 60s — can’t work from home. The digital divide has always disproportionately impacted the same communities that have always been left behind in the US.
Employees at Charter Communications, the internet, cable TV and phone giant known as Spectrum, have been getting sick while adhering to a company policy that has required thousands of them to work in offices and call centers rather than from home. More than 230 Spectrum employees have tested positive for Covid-19 since the pandemic hit the US, apparently. They have fallen ill at a time when some rank-and-file workers and managers have questioned how many Spectrum employees must work in offices and call centers.
While there's been plenty of reports in regards to how service providers' networks have withstood the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, there hasn't been a lot of focus on how carriers pivoted internally to keep their employees safe and their customers connected to the services they rely on. Verizon's core crisis response team started preparing for the coronavirus' impact during the first week of March. On March 11, Verizon's leaders were briefed that most of the company's employees, which total 135,000, would need to start working from home.
Unequal access to high-speed internet could be the biggest obstacle to getting the American economy back on track
As unemployment claims reach record highs, Americans' unequal access to high-speed internet could become a roadblock to recovery. Even before the age of coronavirus, there's evidence that the availability of high-speed internet directly affects employment. At least six studies spanning two decades show a cause-and-effect relationship: Where broadband is deployed, businesses adopt more efficient practices, introduce new services, and can reach new labor pools and customers.
Infrastructure workers were essential long before COVID-19, but their economic importance has come into greater focus during the crisis and is beginning to shape the response, too. Just as our infrastructure systems require generational investment, so too do our infrastructure workers. Beyond protecting essential workers right now, there are enormous concerns over who will fill these jobs in the months and years to come. Policymakers have traditionally viewed infrastructure jobs in terms of construction projects.
Toggling between two computer screens instead of four. Slower wireless connections. Plain old cellphones — missed calls and all — standing in for highly programmed devices that allow instantaneous connections. Instant messaging and video conferencing replacing quick bursts of conversation across a floor.
Media industry, take note: As of the past week, a Federal Communications Commission action item is now circulating that could spell some structural changes within the FCC, specifically within its Media Bureau that deals with TV and radio issues. “If adopted, this proposal would consolidate the Media Bureau’s Engineering Division with the Bureau’s Industry Analysis Division,” an FCC spokesperson said. For the coming fiscal year, the FCC requested funding for 131 full-time employees for its Media Bureau, a number that’s been dwindling in recent years amid the changing media landscape.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai writes: "It might be hard to find hand sanitizer and toilet paper, but I’m happy to report that Internet access is proving to be one of the most valuable non-medical commodities right now." Is he forgetting the people on the wrong side of the digital divide?