During a hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology yesterday, Jonathan Adelstein, president and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, discussed the wireless industry’s commitment to serving an increasing number of Americans with broadband access.
Titled, “Connecting America: Broadband Solutions to Pandemic Problems,” the hearing addressed the recently marked-up legislation known as the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which would provide $7.6 billion in funding for remote learning.Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), who serves on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and who chairs its Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, said this investment in connectivity is long overdue.
“We have known about the homework gap for years, and the pandemic has really laid this inequality bare,” Doyle said. “The fund seeks to start closing that gap, helping low-income students by subsidizing the cost of internet-connected devices and broadband service so that students can learn at home. It’s critical that we give students and families the resources they need to allow kids to participate in their own education.”
In written testimony submitted to the subcommittee, Adelstein applauded the fund, which would enable eligible schools and libraries to provide connected devices, internet service and hotspots to students and teachers for broadband use at home.
“WIA is committed to work with this subcommittee and members on both sides of the aisle working to implement equitable solutions to address the homework gap,” he said.
Doyle went on to say that the only way to solve the digital divide is through federal investment, because the business case does not exist for companies to build out broadband in countless communities. In the last Congress, the House passed the Moving Forward Act, which included $100 billion for broadband deployment, which Doyle hopes will be enacted in the new Congress.
“I hope we can work with the Biden administration and our colleagues in the Senate to take up similar legislation again this Congress, and finally take real steps in this country to close the digital divide,” he said.
WIA supported the Affordable Internet for All Act, which was contained in the Moving Forward Act.
“Given the dramatic benefits of broadband for consumers, business and the overall economy as witnessed in the pandemic, sufficient subsidies for deployment in unserved and underserved areas are clearly warranted,” Adelstein said. “Federal investments of the magnitude approved by the House last year are needed and will offer outsized return on investments to the U.S. economy and for the quality of life in our country.”
Adelstein spoke about the importance of wireless connectivity during the pandemic to sustain the economy, connect students to their teachers and link patients to their doctors.
“Work-from-home, remote learning and telehealth have all generated an unprecedented demand for wireless connectivity anchored by the need for wireless infrastructure,” Adelstein said, “and the wireless industry is meeting the challenge.”
Adelstein urged the representatives to include funding in future infrastructure legislation to support registered apprenticeship programs, which are already used to increase broadband employment.
“We have an opportunity to put Americans hurt by the pandemic back to work with high wage jobs that provide opportunities for advancement,” he said. “As the wireless industry continues to grow, these workers will speed the economic recovery and grow along with us. Congress can seize this opportunity to re-skill dislocated workers to diversify the workforce to do these jobs.”
FCC Ready to Battle the ‘Homework Gap’
The lack of digital access for students was already an issue of importance for Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel when she was commissioner. Along with writing several editorials on the issue, on Feb. 1, she kicked off an effort to get more students connected with their schools, releasing a Public Notice asking for input on petitions that have been filed with the agency seeking support from the E-Rate program to help close the Homework Gap.
“By collecting feedback like this, we are taking a step forward,” Rosenworcel said “But we won’t consider the job done until we have policies in place that can help every student get the connection they now need for class, no matter who they are, where they live or where they go to school.”
“We need to get to work to update E-Rate funding so all our students can be connected to virtual classrooms, no matter who they are or where they live,” said Rosenworcel. “Kids shouldn’t have to do homework in parking lots because that’s the only place they can get online. We can do better. We can close the Homework Gap. Today’s action is the first step in a process to hear about the emergency relief communities are seeking and to chart a path forward for the FCC to help solve this crisis.”
FCC Hears About Broadband Efforts at Open Meeting
Yesterday, at its February Open Meeting, the FCC heard several updates on programs meant to increase access to broadband. In the implementation of the $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program, the commission is supporting broadband service and equipment for low-income households.
During a presentation on its COVID-19 Telehealth Program, the commission heard a presentation about the next steps in implementing the additional $249.95 million provided by Congress to support the FCC’s efforts to expand connected care throughout the country and help more patients receive health care safely.
In another effort to expand broadband to unserved areas, the commission heard a presentation on the work the agency is doing to improve its broadband maps, which has received $65 million in direct funding from Congress.