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Coronavirus Roundup: Broadband’s Importance Burnished During Pandemic, Ajit Pai Touts Telehealth, New E-Rate Bill in House

David Jelke

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Photo of Rep. Grace Meng from her Twitter account

Lawmakers commented on the need of broadband during the coronavirus outbreak according to an article by the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. The Journal also highlighted the uses for broadband during coronavirus as Americans work online, apply for jobs online, receive government aid online, seek telemedicine, and keep their children educated from afar.

“Having affordable broadband—it’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity,” said Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., chairman of the House communications and technology subcommittee. “Broadband infrastructure has to be one of the key elements to that, and this pandemic has brought that right to the forefront.”

“[The pandemic] helps us drive the point home as to urgency,” said Sen. Roger Wicker, R.-Miss., the chairman of the powerful Senate Commerce Committee. “Absolutely it gives us an impetus—that is one of the silver linings here.”

“The urgency of this issue is like triple times what it has been,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R.-W.Va., who co-chairs the Senate Broadband Caucus. Under existing federal programs to subsidize broadband, “we’re getting there, but it’s too damn slow…It could happen in a stimulus bill.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai touts telehealth

The following is a distilled version of a Tuesday blog post by Ajit Pai on the Federal Communication Commissions’ action on telehealth:

Yesterday, a new poll came out that found more than 1 in 8 Americans used a video chat to consult with a health care professional during the past month. That’s more than double the percentage who report receiving care in an emergency room and triple the rate who went to an urgent care facility.

This highlights the importance of telehealth during the coronavirus pandemic, and I’m proud of the role that the FCC is playing to expand telehealth opportunities. Thanks to Congressional action, the President’s signature, and quick work by FCC staff, the Commission has already pushed resources out the door to help healthcare providers meet the growing demand for telehealth services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Commission started accepting applications for our COVID-19 Telehealth Program last Monday, April 13. And in only three days, the Commission was able to process applications and award money for telehealth expansion to six medical facilities in hard-hit areas, from New York to New Orleans.

And earlier today, we approved telehealth funding for another five healthcare providers from Michigan to California. Commission staff have done tremendous work processing these applications, and their efforts continue as they review all of the applications that we have received for this vital program. We will be approving additional funding in the days and weeks ahead—stay tuned.

Senators Markey, Van Hollen, Bennet, and Hassan applaud new New E-Rate bill in the house

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., applauded the introduction by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., on Tuesday for E-rate legislation that would create a special $2 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund at the Federal Communications Commission to connect schools and libraries in to the internet, according to a press release.

“Children who lack connectivity at home are at risk of falling behind their peers because they cannot complete their coursework and continue their education during this pandemic,” said the senators. “We plan to file companion legislation to Congresswoman Meng’s bill that would provide $2 billion in E-Rate funding specifically dedicated to expanding home internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has shone a bright light on the “homework gap” experienced by the 12 million students in this country who do not have internet access at home and are unable to complete their homework — at a time when more than 70 percent of educators assign schoolwork that requires internet access. Without Congressional action, this existing inequity will only be exacerbated by the high number of schools that are suspending in-person classes and have transitioned to remote learning over the internet to protect the health of students, faculty, and staff.

Markey, one of the authors of the original E-Rate program created as a part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, highlighted the more than $52 billion committed nationwide to provide internet access for schools and libraries.

He called the E-Rate program “an essential source of funding to connect the nation’s schools and libraries to the internet” And said that As the coronavirus pandemic provides the opportunity to use the E-Rate program as an immediate solution to mitigate the impact on our most vulnerable families.

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