May 20, 2020 — In a web forum Wednesday, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said that while the U.S.’s broadband response to the coronavirus pandemic has been satisfactory, the country still has room to improve with applications such as telemedicine.
The US Telecom forum featured a conversation between Commissioner Carr and Dr. Brendan Carr, Chair of Emergency Medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
The U.S.’s internet has performed comparatively well since the pandemic reached the states. A recent study found that, on average, the United States was the only one of the top ten countries by population that did not experience decreased download speeds — but Commissioner Carr said the public and private sectors still have work to do.
“We’re not flying the mission accomplished flag at this point,” he said. “There’s work to do, and how do we finish closing the divide?”
He said the government needed to provide additional funding for infrastructure in areas where population density was not sufficient for private sector viability.
The commissioner continued to explain that, contrary to politically popular binary ways of thinking about broadband access, it is not easy to categorize performance as good or bad.
“You’ve got some people on the political extreme that want to say, ‘The U.S. is terrible, the internet isn’t working,’ which is not true, and the others that mischaracterize what I say to say that every small American has gigabit-speed service, which is not true,” he said.
However, the participants noted that the internet’s performance has generally been sufficient to allow them to implement telehealth services that, to many, are a matter of life and death. The technology that the agency has funded in numerous hospitals across the country, Dr. Carr said, has enabled doctors to monitor patients’ conditions remotely with virtually the same effectiveness as in-person treatment.
“What we would do for you in a healthcare setting until you’re very, very sick is very similar to what you can do for yourself at home,” he said. “We could send devices to them sometimes to help them to get more information for us. And then we can make decisions with them about when it would be time to come get evaluated.”
Many have criticized the U.S. government’s response to the coronavirus, but Commissioner Carr claimed that his agency was on the right track.
“If you look at some international comparisons, we did a lot better than other countries, Europe included, that were similarly hard hit by COVID,” he said. “So I think the policies we have in place are the right ones — they’re working.”
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