Both the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) and the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) are celebrating the progress being made through legislation that will provide nearly $8 billion for an Emergency Connectivity Fund. After passing the House Energy & Commerce Committee for guidance to combat the challenges facing connectivity and education due to COVID-19, the goal is to help students and shrink the digital divide that was exposed by the need for off-site learning.
The funds are for schools and libraries who are eligible to provide students in need with devices, Internet connections, hotspots and other related items to help students and teachers pursuing educational efforts from home. As part of a statement made by E&C Chairman Frank Pallone Jr.,“I’m pleased the Energy and Commerce Committee passed bold legislation today that combats the COVID-19 pandemic, provides relief to struggling families, and helps rebuild our economy. We also expand Internet connectivity to help bridge the digital divide for students and teachers who do not have access to the internet at home.”
Steven Barry, the CEO and President of the CCA, commented that “There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of wireless services, particularly for those in rural and hard-to-serve areas.” Barry continued his statement saying “The (House Energy & Commerce) Committee got it right…the most important and fundamental issue is connectivity. Wireless services and hotspots are the quickest, most efficient, and most effective way to connect children immediately for remote learning, and CCA looks forward to continued work with the Committee to ensure policies help close the digital divide as quickly as possible.”
The CCA has said that there are around 100 regional and smaller providers serving over 130 million subscribers, many of which reside in rural markets which are hard to reach. But the CTIA was also quick to rejoice from the decision. Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for CTIA Kelly Cole released a statement saying, “Wireless providers have partnered with schools across the country to connect millions of kids to their peers and teachers through mobile hotspots, and this legislation builds on that work. We look forward to working with Congress and the FCC to harness mobile wireless services to close the homework gap for good.”
New legislation is not the only great thing we are seeing in the wireless world to help bridge the gap for disadvantaged markets. Towards the end of 2020, the FCC put into place the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and is looking into how to quickly, efficiently distribute the $3.2 billion fund. These funds can be used for a variety of things including providing Internet service available at a discount for consumers who are experiencing financial hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some participants may qualify for discounts on computers and laptops. “We need a program that responds to these concerns and is open to every eligible household. With so much of modern life now dependent on internet access, no one should have to choose between paying a broadband bill and paying rent or putting food on the table,” said newly appointed FCC leader Jessica Rosenworcel. “This agency now needs to make the hard choices to provide relief fast,” the Chairwoman continued.
Informing consumers of the availability of this program remains a great challenge as is getting all a majority of providers to participate so that consumers in all markets can take advantage of the program. “My conversations with broadband providers over the last year gives me confidence we can meet that goal,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. A proponent of reaching difficult markets, Starks has also been vocal on working to provide communities outside of rural markets but may have an inability financially to access high-speed broadband with access as well. Starks noted a particular emphasis on the disadvantages facing many Black communities, “2021 Black Americans and other people of color are still, by a wide margin, significantly less likely to have a home broadband connection than their counterparts.”
Source: Fierce Wireless