Lessons from the Pandemic: Chatting with FCC Chairman Pai on the Past, Present & Future of Broadband

On June 25, the Internet Innovation Alliance hosted a webinar featuring a virtual fireside chat with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and IIA Co-Chair Bruce Mehlman. Their discussion highlighted the resilience of broadband networks during the pandemic thanks to the US’s history of light-touch regulation, explored what efforts to close the digital divide are underway, and emphasized the need for the government to step in with funding and by streamlining regulations in order to reach universal broadband.

The full webinar video is available on the IIA site.

Media coverage of the event included:

IIA Leadership on Education and Remote Learning

IIA Chairman Boucher authored an op-ed for Morning Consult, “All of America’s Kids Should Have Access to the Virtual Classroom,” published on July 8. Boucher says closing the Digital Divide/Homework Gap is a national priority requiring a national solution that can only be addressed by Congress. Rather than today’s patchwork of programs that promote broadband deployment, he urges unification of all efforts under a single program, guided by better broadband mapping that awards funding through a reverse auction process.

IIA Co-Chair Kim Keenan also recently had two op-eds published on the urgency of closing the Digital Divide and the Homework Gap. The first, “Prioritize quality internet connections in order for students to learn remotely,” ran in Memphis’s major newspaper the Commercial Appeal on July 1, and was also picked up by the Jackson SunThe Tennessean and the Knoxville News Sentinel. The second, titled “School’s Out: A COVID-19 Lesson,” was published by EdTech: Focus on K-12 on July 7. Both pieces encourage Congress to give the Federal Communications Commission the resources it needs to improve its broadband coverage maps, then provide the necessary funds required to connect every household in America that is unserved based on the new coverage maps. Distance learning should be available to all of America’s children, she urges.

IIA’s Rick Boucher on Telemedicine and Narrowing the Healthcare Gap

IIA Chairman Boucher authored two op-eds on telemedicine. “Congress can narrow the healthcare gap by closing the digital divide” was published by FierceHealthcare on June 18.  Boucher noted that obtaining a high-speed internet connection for telehealth is an impossibility for tens of millions of rural residents who are on the wrong side of the digital divide. Boucher calls on Congress to fund rural broadband deployment starting with an overhaul of the FCC’s national broadband map, and also provide the funds to connect rural America through the FCC’s time-tested reverse auction process.

Boucher also had a piece published on May 13 by Bloomberg Law, “Telemedicine Rules Should Be Permanently Eased.” He notes that Medicare and state telemedicine restrictions have been relaxed during the coronavirus pandemic, and these changes need to be made permanent. Doctors can see more patients and get fairly paid for it, and patients can use smartphones and personal computers to get needed medical advice.

Mehlman on Broadband’s Role in Economic Recovery

IIA Co-Chair Bruce Mehlman had a piece published on May 30 by Fox News, “Economic recovery from coronavirus demands more available, affordable and accessible broadband.” In his op-ed, Mehlman says that as policymakers focus on helping Americans rebuild our economy and our lives, they can take meaningful steps to close the digital divide and accelerate our comeback by making broadband more available, affordable, accessible and American.

American Networks Prove Resilient During Pandemic

In an op-ed for CIO published on April 26, IIA Honorary Chairman Rick Boucher notes that while the world has changed because of COVID-19, U.S. download speeds are holding steady despite more Americans spending their days at home, remotely working, learning, show-streaming and much more. In his piece, “Let’s Learn From Europe’s Broadband Mistake,” Boucher says the US’s better internet performance during the coronavirus pandemic is attributable to sustained private investment that has been encouraged by a light-touch regulatory regime for broadband.

IIA also released the below infographic, “American Broadband Networks Prove Resilient Due to Sustained Private Investment,” which notes that from 2014 to 2018, U.S. broadband providers invested 31% more than their European counterparts, and that U.S. download speeds stand firm despite an unprecedented increase in internet traffic due to social distancing.