COVID-19 has highlighted the need for broadband services for consumers across the expanse of our country. The crisis has dictated a protracted stay at home period for most of the country that has required our work, school, and entertainment to move from the outside, to the confines of our homes, relying entirely on a broadband connection.
The nation’s broadband providers have stepped-up to the challenge, and the U.S. has experienced unparalleled service compared to other countries around the world also struggling with this pandemic. However, there are still steps to be taken to address the broadband needs of our diverse communities, and it is time for our federal legislators and regulators to act.
In the past month, the House and the Senate have held hearings on this very subject, discussing the state of broadband during the time of COVID-19, and the general response of providers of these services.
For the vast majority of consumers, broadband has been the backbone of their stay at home existence: it has taken our work from the office to home; school now only happens on desktops, laptops or tablets; birthdays, anniversaries, and even graduations are celebrated online; and we spend hours streaming shows for entertainment. Because of this, the pandemic has revealed this critical reliance all consumers have on a fast, reliable, ubiquitous broadband network.
Concurrently, however, this pandemic has exposed a digital divide that has revealed millions of consumers who don’t have internet access and therefore have been left out of opportunities to connect. As Gene Kimmelman of Public Knowledge highlighted in his testimony to the Senate Commerce Committee, broadband is an essential service and far too many people remain on the wrong side of the digital divide in our country.
It is therefore critical that our policymakers initiate efforts to close the digital divide and advance a broadband network that reaches everyone. In order to do so, we must take three steps.
First, in order to assist with broadband build-out, it is important to reform regulatory policies that will streamline permitting policies to accelerate infrastructure development.
Next, to ensure that critical resources are actually sent to the right areas — unserved areas — broad mapping is a crucial step that needs to happen, and the funding support must be made so that mapping can be accomplished.
Finally, it is critical that policy makers continue the right policies to promote investment and innovation to ensure that the U.S. continues to lead the world with the most reliable, efficient, and fast broadband network that continues to meet the needs of consumers during these challenging times, and the brighter future.
As was made clear during the Senate and House hearings, one of the primary reasons that the U.S. network has been able to handle this surge in traffic and maintain peak performance is because of the incredible amount of investment and improvement in broadband infrastructure in recent years.
We can no longer turn a blind eye to the important role that broadband plays in the daily lives of Americans and it’s time for everyone to have access to this vital tool. In order to make that a reality, Congress must act expediently to close the digital divide.
Debra Berlyn is president of Consumer Policy Solutions, a firm centered on developing public policies addressing the interests of consumers and the marketplace, and executive director of the Project to Get Older Adults onLine (Project GOAL). This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.