During the Pandemic, the FCC Must Provide Internet for All

from Wired

IF ANYONE BELIEVED access to the internet was not essential prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, nobody is saying that today. With ongoing stay-at-home orders in most states, high-speed broadband internet access has become a necessity to learn, work, engage in commerce and culture, keep abreast of news about the virus, and stay connected to neighbors, friends, and family. Yet nearly a third of American households do not have this critical service, either because it is not available to them, or, as is more often the case, they cannot afford it.

Lifeline is a government program that seeks to ensure that all Americans are connected, regardless of income. Started by the Reagan administration and placed into law by Congress in 1996, Lifeline was expanded by the George W. Bush administration and expanded further during the Obama administration. The program provides a $9.25 a month subsidy per household to low-income Americans for phone and/or broadband service. Because the subsidy is so minimal, most Lifeline customers use it for mobile voice and data services.

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Posted in Future Thinking, Ideas, Web and tagged , , , .

4 Comments

  1. Here’s a test to decide if something should be a right, and it’s a simple one: Can you live without it happily? That last word is what people will struggle with, from definitions to applications. But, realistically ask and analyze the question in regards to your life. What are the alternatives for people with no internet access (or stable access, as it should be viewed)? Can they go outside and enjoy recreational and leisure activity? No, they can do basically nothing in public. Do they have an alternative to the internet for communication purposes? Outside of data (expensive and also regional) or radio (and I want to see the demographics for who owns a 2 way radio and can use it), there are no reasonable alternatives. For many reasons, I agree with this article. First, the cost to supply these people with internet is infinitesimal compared to the $3 trillion and counting stimulus money that has been dispersed so far. Second, how do you actually expect someone in 2020 to remain mentally healthy being physically separated with few outlets and no internet for an unknown amount of time? That is asking for trouble, and is truly inconsiderate considering that many would not even be able to seek mental help during this time because of quarantines. In a weird way, subsidized internet for all during the pandemic can save lives — plus, with the instant abilities to connect everyone, it SHOULD be looked at as a matter of national defense (from another “invisible enemy”), especially considering the government’s assertions that 5G is a matter of national defense. They’ve practically already said in their actions that fast internet for all helps the nation in every way, so why not take this time to push that forward?

  2. Whether we have a pandemic or not going on in the United States, I believe the internet is crucial for everyone in the country. We use it for work, school, communication, surfing the web, and even playing games. Now with the coronavirus pandemic, we went from doing everything in person to doing everything online. Students are still going to school online and adults are continuing to work from home over the internet. It is really important everyone has access to the internet so that no one is at a disadvantage. I honestly think that when the coronavirus pandemic ends and a vaccine comes out, not much will change for schooling and working. In March, we were forced to adapt to this new way of life. Older employees who were not great at using computers are now experts. Companies are also realizing that they do not need office space anymore because their employees are getting their work done at home. Also, people are not going to want to risk being around other people in case of future viruses. We are now living in this new way of life. The internet has to continue being available to everyone so that people can work and communicate properly and not be at a disadvantage than others. Income should come into this play for anybody. In fact, it should not even be in consideration. For low income Americans, $9.95 a month is still a lot of money to be paying when this type of service should be free from the very beginning. We are going to be living this new way of life for a very long time and it is important everyone has the same advantages at others. No one asked for this pandemic, but we are all doing the best we can in adjusting.

  3. The discussion on the right to the internet has been far-ranging and especially relevant in this global pandemic, lack of access to the internet will potentially widen a concerningly large educational gap that has existed since the first digital assignment was given. While this article speaks about if internet access is a right, I would like to ask a different question: is the internet the commons? To start, a definition of the commons might be needed. Elinor Ostrom, a Nobel-prize-winning political economist defined the commons as having two essential elements; first, they must provide continuous and steady benefits and second, resources that are too massive to effectively exclude anyone utilizing them unsustainably. The internet, in its a great web of interconnected resources, is creating a constant benefit of information, entertainment, and opinion for anyone to access. While it can be debated how much benefit some elements of the internet are, the ability to speak to anyone and acquire almost any piece of information can only be described as a beneficial resource that is always available online. As for the second point, it becomes more complicated to ascertain how exactly the internet as a whole may be affected by unsustainable use. While, in theory, a group could cause viral destruction of the internet it would be hard to argue that destruction would be caused through “unsustainable” personal means. The internet is so vast that there is an entire “dark web” packed with every possible illegal activity and service and it makes a dent on the overall health of the massive sphere of the internet. However, the internet is technically built and maintained by various corporate entities that operate the server and process most data collected through the internet. These corporate entities technically have control of how the internet survives, if they ignore all regulation that is. So, even if the internet is a common good, what does that mean for its continuation? Well a common good is to be considered non-excludable, meaning that there isn’t a way to prevent people from accessing it, which is where the article comes in. While technically the internet is non-excludable by the fact that it can be accessed through any millions of devices and there is a very little credential to get approval to access it, in practice, there is exclusion based on economic access to the services and devises that provide internet. If the internet is truly a common good, then it should be treated as such.

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