The economic stimulus package passed by the Senate earlier this week is expected to pass the House today. While it provides a $200 million boost for FCC telehealth programs and funding for USDA broadband efforts, it left out money to keep students and others connected during the pandemic, reports Politico.
“I cannot understand how the U.S. Senate can approve a $2 trillion emergency package and not find even $1 billion to ensure that every school child in America can connect to the internet on a functioning device at a time when virtually all students in the country are required to learn from home for their own safety,” said Common Sense founder Jim Steyer. He supported at least $2 billion going to support the FCC’s E-Rate program. “This decision will leave kids behind and unfairly impact those most in need.”
“This is a political farce, and a tragedy for tens of millions of people who are already disconnected during this time of crisis, to say nothing of the tens of millions more who could lose their income and, with it, their ability to pay for internet connections in the coming days,” said Free Press VP Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood. The consumer group had pushed for far more broadband spending.
The Benton Foundation too, thinks more needs to be done to close the digital divide. In an Op Ed, Executive Editor Kevin Taglang calls FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s frequent list of what the agency is doing to increase connectivity during the pandemic “tone deaf.”
Over 20 million Americans don’t have broadband in their home. Purdue researchers found there’s likely to be problems in nearly 40 percent of counties—in no small part because of limited digital connectivity, cites Taglang. ”The coronavirus pandemic isn’t making broadband essential—it’s exposing that it always was and turning up the urgency of connecting everyone now. We need Ajit Pai to hear that.”