FCC Must Fully Address Broadband Connectivity Needs During COVID-19 Pandemic

Statement of Michael Copps, Former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Advisor

Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai launched the Keep Americans Connected Pledge in response to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. Telephone and broadband service providers who sign the pledge agree for the next 60 days not to: (1) terminate service to any residential or small business customers due their inability to pay bills caused by coronavirus disruptions; (2) waive any late fees due to economic circumstances; and (3) open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any Americans that need them.

Statement of Michael Copps, Former FCC Commissioner and Common Cause Special Advisor

“We welcome steps the FCC is taking to urge broadband providers connect Americans during this unprecedented pandemic our nation is currently facing.  As businesses shift to telework policies and schools transition to online-only classes for extended periods of time, communities will need robust and affordable broadband access now more than ever. Unfortunately, the FCC has spent the last few years stripping much of its authority to oversee the broadband industry, preventing many of the provisions in this pledge from being enforceable.

“Despite its limited authority, the FCC can and should do more to fully address broadband connectivity needs during this pandemic. The FCC can use its universal service authority to ensure existing programs designed to connect communities to broadband are fully utilized. For example, the Lifeline program connects eligible low-income households to affordable communications services. However, millions of eligible low-income households remain unenrolled. The FCC can take action to ensure all eligible low-income households are enrolled in the program. Further, millions of students lack a broadband connection at home. As Commissioner Rosenworcel has repeatedly stated, the ‘homework gap’ puts students without home broadband at a significant disadvantage. The FCC could address this by expanding its E-rate program to families with students that don’t have a broadband connection at home. The FCC must also address telehealth services so Americans can adequately connect to hospitals and other medical services.

“These are just a few small steps the FCC can take. The coronavirus pandemic will expose many of the gaps in broadband connectivity we face today. The FCC must do everything it can to close these gaps and fully address the broadband connectivity needs of all Americans during this pandemic.”