On Thursday, Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) announced a new bill that would require the Federal Communications Commission to study how the novel coronavirus pandemic has affected the lives of people who are now using the internet to learn and work from home. The bill is part of a larger push for more broadband availability as a response to the ongoing pandemic.
The foundation of Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-MA) plan lies in the Obama-era American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a stimulus package passed in 2009 as part of the federal government’s response to the last global economic crisis. Markey authored language in that law creating the National Broadband Plan, requiring the FCC to lay out a “roadmap” for providing universal internet access across the country.
“The coronavirus pandemic has shown us that our work is far from done to ensure universal connectivity,” Markey said in a statement on Thursday. “Now more than ever, we see how necessary robust and affordable broadband is to the future of education, employment, medical care, and commerce in America.”
Markey’s National Broadband for the Future Act of 2020, would force the FCC to assess whether it’s lived up to the broadband expansion goals it promised to reach nearly 10 years ago. The agency would also need to examine the effects COVID-19 has had on students and workers without high-speed broadband access at home. This includes examining how the gaps between students with and without broadband services are affecting learning and crafting proposals that “could make working from home more practical for workers and more productive for employers.”
A number of other Democrats have called for more broadband availability as a response to social distancing restrictions, which have forced many jobs and classrooms online. In an editorial for the Benton Institute on Thursday, former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wrote that “one lesson from the pandemic is the glaring shortfall of our telecommunication infrastructure.” Copps encouraged lawmakers to finally “get the broadband job done” as a result of the crisis.
Last week, Markey announced that he would be introducing another measure that would bolster the FCC’s E-rate program with an additional $4 billion so schools and libraries with access to the funds could purchase more Wi-Fi hotspots, routers, and modems to keep students connected during the pandemic.
There have been efforts in the House to expand broadband access, too. Last week, House Democrats unveiled a new plan to inject over $80 billion over five years to build out broadband infrastructure across the country. Democrats said the funds would focus on bringing access to impoverished communities across the country. If approved, the plan would reduce the cost of service by requiring providers who access the funds to make affordable plans available to customers.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Markey said that he’s “hopeful” Republicans will sign onto his latest broadband effort, but there is no bipartisan support as of now.