The US Chamber has released 9 principles to close the digital divide. Well, they say there are 9 I can only see 8…
Broadband Funding Principles
- Technology Neutrality: Allow all technologies [and providers] to compete for funds to serve truly unserved areas, prohibit duplicative funding, and establish funding programs without existing Section 254 limitations, such as existing ETC requirements.
- Collocation: Support collocation by enabling funds to be used for leasing tower space in addition to capital expenditures.
- Speed to Market: In a COVID environment, speed matters and funding should be distributed to those who can stand up broadband network quickly.
Homework Gap Principles
- Funding Source: Fund out of general appropriations, not universal service contributions.
- Program Design: A separate program from E-rate, but to the extent FCC finds useful it can borrow E-rate rules.
- Targeted and Temporary: The program should last for only the duration of the national emergency and be targeted to low-income households without a home broadband connection or in jeopardy of losing their broadband connection, including related equipment and/or a computer (laptop, tablet, or desktop computer).
- Technology Neutrality: Allow any technology.
- Eligibility: Limited to; 1) connectivity (wired or wireless), 2) service equipment (e.g. modems, routers, hotspots), and 3) devices (e.g. tablets/computers/smartphones).
There are a few things here that make me nervous, such as the speed to market and the targeted and temporary principle. I’ve mentioned before I am nervous about this big investment in the short term. The need for broadband will not go away. We can’t lose focus on that. COVID19 is likely to have some sort of impact on school through 2021 – so even the short term needs to be longer term.
But beyond the pandemic, the need to interact online is accelerating during the pandemic and for many more tasks, going online will become the regular or the only way in the future. So closing the divide temporarily will leave part of the population even farther behind when the stopgaps are removed.
Also limiting eligibility to connectivity and devices is only supporting two legs of what is often called the three-legged stool of digital equity. We need to include training and the human side of support to increase use to improve use. The good news is that can be a temporary investment as people who are trained can train others. Training is a renewable resource!