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Lessons learned from the pandemic: Availability, affordability, and deployment

Washington, D.C., (March 30, 2023) — On March 24, the Communications Equity and Diversity Council (CEDC) hosted the roundtable, “Lessons Learned from the Pandemic on Broadband Access, Affordability, and Deployment.” The objective of this event was to assess lessons learned regarding programs that provided broadband connectivity to communities during the coronavirus pandemic.

In her opening remarks, Heather Gate, Executive Vice President of Digital Inclusion for Connected Nation and CEDC Chair, explained CEDC’s role in promoting access to digital communication services and broadband during the pandemic. She also introduced the topics for both of the day’s panels.

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Panel 1

The first panel, titled “Availability, Affordability, Deployment,” helped identify successful strategies that various organizations and entities implemented to promote deployment of affordable and accessible broadband service during the pandemic. The discussion covered what measures worked well and best practices going forward to address challenges in the event of a future health emergency.

The panelist included: Panel Moderator Clayton Banks, CEO and Founder of Silicon Harlem; Joshua Breitbart, Senior Vice President for ConnectAll NY; Greta Bryum, Principal of Broadband and Digital Equity for HR&A Advisors; Broderick Johnson, Executive Vice President of Public Policy and Digital Equity for Comcast; Thu Nguyen, Executive Director of OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates; Annette Taylor, Director of Digital Equity and Literacy for the North Carolina Department of Information Technology; and Ovidiu Viorica, Broadband and Technology Manager for New Mexico Public School Facilities Authority.

Below are the some of the key questions and responses from this important discussion.

Question 1: What program, if any, did your organization start regarding broadband accessibility and affordability during the pandemic?

  • Annette Taylor: “We have taken many steps, including pushing the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), asking for additional funding, and working with agencies.”

  • Broderick Johnson: “We've had programs that help with affordability, including internet access for $9.95. We also have always worked hard to get access to more people. Working on accessibility includes translation services for 240-plus languages.”

  • Question 2: Should subsidies to programs like the FCC’s ACP continue? Do they work? What should be changed?

    • Thu Nguyen: “Yes. We ask that the ACP program continues because it not only gets people online, but it helps people get the devices they need.”

    • Greta Bryum: We must not just address digital equity needs one by one, but must also help improve digital skills. Statistics show those with digital skills have more awareness of these programs that can help them.”

    • Question 3: Are organizations and states ready for another emergency-type event like the pandemic?

      • Ovidiu Viorica: “I'm not sure we're prepared — not yet. We don't want kids to have to ride a school bus or sit on top of a hill to access Wi-Fi to do their schoolwork. We need to better use and build the infrastructure.”

      • Joshua Breitbart: “We don't know the specifics or shape of the next disaster that might come, but what we do know for sure is that connectivity will be a critical component of surviving it.”

      • Other comments:

        • Thu Nguyen: “Access to the internet is a need, not a want. The government also either needs to set aside resources for in-language support or give resources to community organizations providing that assistance. Also, keep ACP funding, for sure.”

        • Annette Taylor: “We need the investments and data sharing between all these groups — the federal government, the private sector, ISPs, and the community organizations. We need to be able to make sure we're addressing the appropriate solutions for those we are all trying to serve.”

        • To watch the full panel, click the video below: