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Coronavirus Roundup: Digital Divide in Hardware, Next Century Cities on Local Broadband, CCIA Worker Guidelines

David Jelke

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Photo of Matt Schruers courtesy C-SPAN

School districts are scrambling to purchase as many Google Chromebooks and iPads, the tele-educational tools of choice, to deal with the sudden transition into remote schooling. However, larger, urban school districts are snatching up most of the supply, leaving rural districts even more shorthanded, according to Education Week.

New York City district officials, home to the largest school system in the country, recently placed an order for 300,000 new iPads. Boston and Chicago have followed suit with similar bulk orders. This has placed great strain on the tablet supply chain, which almost entirely exists in China and is still recovering from inefficiencies caused by the coronavirus.

This hits rural school districts particularly hard because they lack the same purchasing power and coordinating prowess to acquire the iPads needed for their district.

Todd Riker, the chief technology officer for the 11,250-student school district of Pike, Indiana, described the rush to acquire these devices by comparing the lack of Chromebook stock to the shortage of toilet paper.

“it feels like there’s not a Chromebook to be found… It’s as if there isn’t a single square of tissue available. Except it’s Chromebooks,” Riker said. “It feels like the upheaval has happened in the supply chain overnight.”

Next Century Cities urges FCC to work more closely with mayors for local broadband deployment

Next Century Cities sent a letter to the FCC on Friday urging the agency “to collaborate with mayors and other local officials on broadband deployment.”

The letter articulated four main suggestions:

  • That stimulus funds from the Senate bill should be used to expand the E-Rate program, allowing schools and libraries to purchase hotspots and loan those devices to Americans of all ages who do not have internet access at home. The FCC should also strengthen the Lifeline program, which was designed to keep people connected in the wake of an emergency.
  • That the FCC ensures reliable networks reach communities in remote places
  • That the insights of local officials are better heeded by the FCC
  • That the FCC revise its definition of broadband by increasing minimum speeds to meet new market demands

The letter also relayed the comments of several local officials, such as Julia Griffin, the town manager of Hanover New Hampshire:

“Here in rural New Hampshire, large portions of the state are woefully underserved or completely unserved by broadband. As soon as statewide school closure was announced by our Governor almost three weeks ago, my phone and email blew up with queries from Hanover residents wondering what the Town could do to improve or provide broadband services immediately to ensure that parents and their children could work and learn from home. Nothing like a pandemic crisis to highlight the extent to which rural America has been shortchanged.”

CCIA asks governments to adoption guidance for essential workers

The Computer & Communications Industry Association joined 28 international business organizations on Friday by issuing a statement asking governments to adopt guidance for communications and essential workers as they help with response to the pandemic.

“As technology services and telecom providers help to keep businesses, educational institutions, and families connected during the pandemic,” wrote CCIA President Matt Schruers, “governments should provide clear guidelines on essential workers to ensure that employees in critical roles in these sectors are able to perform their jobs.”

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