The two Democrats on the Commission yesterday pushed for the agency to do more to close the digital divide during the pandemic. The Commissioners are still considering Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan that was circulated Monday among his colleagues for spending $200 million for telehealth as part of the CARES Act.
Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks referenced the plan during yesterday’s short remote monthly meeting. Rosenworcel discussed the agency’s Connectivity Pledge, saying: “Kudos to those who are not cutting anyone off. We can do more. We have the authority to extend the reach of broadband and close the homework gap.”
“Roughly 45 million K-12 students have been sent home, millions to disconnected homes and as a result of those school closures we know they may last to the end of this school year. Our long-standing digital divide has morphed into a monstrous new COVID-19 divide,” said Starks.
He called for extending E-rate and telemedicine. “Americans will rely on the internet extensively for an indeterminate amount of time,” added Starks.
Starks explained: “It’s clear to avoid the pandemic accelerating beyond the capacity of our health care system, social distancing and quarantining will remain America’s best path forward for several weeks to come. Digital connectivity will remain the safest way to telework, access medical information, look for jobs and help our next generation learn while school is closed. We must connect all Americans as soon as possible.”
The Republican Commissioners offered hope. FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said he’s “confident we will emerge” from the pandemic. “It will take some time.” He noted the agency has been monitoring network performance. “The surge in traffic we’re seeing is well within the capacity of U.S. networks.”
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who opened the teleconference yesterday by clicking his coffee mug against a mic, thanked those who have signed the Commission’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge: 653 telephone carriers and broadband companies and 17 trade associations.