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Thursday, March 12, 2020

Coronavirus and the Digital Divide

Margaret Harding McGill at Axios:
  • The 2020 Census will be "online first" this year, raising concerns that it could undercount Americans who lack internet access. Coronavirus could add to that worry, complicating backup plans to count people in person. (The census will also accept responses by phone or in the mail.)
  • Coronavirus is prompting schools and businesses to consider shifts to online-only classes and work, but not every district or company has that option.
  • An $8 billion emergency federal funding package allows Medicare to expand the use of telemedicine in response to the coronavirus outbreak — though that may not be much immediate help to people who can't get to a reliable internet connection.
What they're saying: "Coronavirus, without some immediate changes being made, is certainly going to exacerbate the haves and have nots for who's digitally connected," Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks told Axios.
  • Starks, a Democrat, wants to see his agency direct funds under the FCC's telecom subsidy programs toward helping serve connectivity needs laid bare by coronavirus.
By the numbers: The FCC estimates 21 million Americans don't have access to high-speed broadband, though that number could be higher due to problems with data collection.
  • According to the FCC's most recent report, the gap is largest on rural and Tribal lands — more than 26% of residents in rural areas and 32% on Tribal lands lack access.