Late last night, the U.S. Senate passed a $2 trillion COVID-19 response bill that included almost no funding to improve broadband internet access or affordability. Lack of internet access was already a problem for millions of marginalized people in the U.S., and the COVID-19 crisis is exacerbating the dilemma, especially now that unemployment claims are at a record 3.3 million (more than 5x higher than the prior record). People need robust internet access to find new jobs, communicate with family, establish support networks, or simply learn new information about COVID-19.
One program that helps achieve the goal of universal access is the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Lifeline program, which plays an integral role in helping low-income people get connected by addressing the need to make communication services more affordable. Access Now recently joined a letter of more than 250 organizations urging the FCC to take immediate action in response to COVID-19 to make it easier for individuals who need Lifeline service to get access during this crucial time.
Yet, the Senate bill provides no support for Lifeline or other FCC programs, and it includes a negligible amount of funding for improved telehealth and for networks that may take years to build.
“The Senate has turned its back on the nation’s most vulnerable and disconnected,” said Eric Null, U.S. Policy Manager at Access Now. “Senate leadership wasted an opportunity to improve the state of broadband in the U.S. during a critical time for people to stay connected. Our country has struggled with expanding internet access to all pockets of the U.S., and that failure is more prominent now than ever before. Rather than try to fix our long-standing internet access issue, Congress has left the most vulnerable to fend for themselves.”
As authorities around the world grapple with how to confront the public health crisis, Access Now will continue to call for the full protection of digital rights, including the right to access information, for everyone.