COVID-19 RESPONSE PLAN
Telework, telehealth, and distance learning are essential activities during the national COVID-19 emergency in order to slow the spread of the virus. However, many households, businesses, and institutions cannot participate in these activities due to inadequate or non-existent internet connectivity.
There are four primary challenges that need to be addressed to facilitate these activities from a broadband perspective
- Availability: Rural areas are unserved or underserved by broadband infrastructure.
- Affordability: Households with internet service available to them may struggle to afford the monthly cost of service or the initial installation cost of connecting to an existing network.
- Devices: Some households do not have an adequate number or type of internet-enabled devices to allow participation in online activities.
- Training: Ensuring new broadband adopters have access to online training – in particular internet safety training
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The following are step-by-step strategies states can implement in the short term to address the connectivity challenges brought on by “shelter in place” policies.
This effort would be the spear point for all local connectivity efforts and builds upon the Keep Americans Connected campaign launched by the Federal Communications Commission. The federal campaign was recently extended through June 30. The state version of this should include the following elements:
Champion: The Campaign would be led by a connectivity champion to oversee the efforts. This champion should be well versed in broadband issues and have the capacity and ability to coalesce diverse stakeholders to address the challenge presented.
Rapid Response Taskforce: The champion would convene a small rapid response taskforce to provide subject matter expertise and connections to various stakeholder groups throughout the state. The taskforce should include representation from ISPs and their respective associations, education, libraries, business community, local and regional government associations, and state agencies and NGOs that serve vulnerable populations of all types. This taskforce would provide an outlet for those wishing to address this challenge to actively participate. The taskforce could establish distribution channels for donated equipment and funds, and would have their finger on the pulse of everything going on with this space during the COVID emergency. This taskforce could work with existing state resources to establish a consumer hotline for connectivity questions and resources.
Information Clearinghouse: The campaign should create and maintain a central and singular resource (website) for sharing information regarding connectivity-related resources. Most states already provide such a resource for COVID-19 related updates and information, and this resource should be included there to.
Call to Action: The campaign would create a call to action for donations, special pricing, and resources to support vulnerable populations, disconnected residents, and households with students during the national emergency. The Campaign would call on ISPs to create special low-cost programs for qualifying households (if they don’t have one already) to ensure vulnerable populations can stay connected at home. This could involve discounted monthly rates, low-cost or no cost installation, access to low cost devices, etc. Similarly, the Campaign would call on businesses, philanthropic organizations, foundations, and others to gather funding and resources in support of the recommendations found below.