Broadband in the time of coronavirus: Making it affordable helps where it exists

Coronavirus is going to shine a light and deepen the digital divide. But providers are doing what they can – at least when it comes to making accessible broadband more affordable to low income households.

Locally HBC is offering free access to customers who need it. And other providers are stepping up too. Slate reports

AT&T announced on Thursday that it is suspending data caps on its broadband service in response to the pandemic, which range from 150 GB to 1 terabyte per month and can cost up to $10 in penalties for every addition 20 gigabytes used. CenturyLink and Comcast also said they’d be removing the caps. Comcast will additionally be upping broadband speeds for its Internet Essentials program—a $9.95 per month plan that caters to low-income consumers, compared to its standard plans that start at $20—from 15/2 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps. The company is also offering the service for free to new qualifying customers for 60 days. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called on the agency on Thursday to convince other providers to take similar steps, while a coalition of 17 senators sent a letter to major ISPs asking that they also temporarily suspend the caps.

But that only helps when there is broadband in the community and when providers help out. But what about areas without broadband. Internet Governance Hub reports…

The FCC estimates 21 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed broadband, though that number could be higher due to problems with data collection.

According to the FCC’s most recent report, the gap is largest on rural and Tribal lands — more than 26% of residents in rural areas and 32% on Tribal lands lack access.

In the same article…

In Senate testimony this week, Rosenworcel said the FCC should be exploring how it can use its funding to help schools loan out Wi-Fi hotspots to students whose classes have shifted online.

I have mixed views on that option because we need something that works now but this doesn’t build infrastructure and what would be nice would be to use this disruption to expedite lasting infrastructure.

I do appreciate the efforts for affordability but the next step is expending access and ensuring that bandwidth is sufficient to meet, what is sure to be, heightened need.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Healthcare and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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