Years from now, we will reflect on how the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) changed our work–member outreach, coalition building, engagement strategies, and more. While uncertain times require that we be nimble in how we accomplish our goals, it has not changed the importance of our cause. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that Next Century Cities’ mission to expand high-speed connectivity to every member of every community is urgent.
Next Century Cities’ has worked to show why the “homework gap” will become insurmountable for students who were already at a disadvantage. Before this national emergency, by low estimates, over 20 million households did not have reliable, affordable broadband. Over one-third of the students in those households did not have sufficient access to the internet or a computer to do schoolwork at home. Now that many of their schools are closed, those students will inevitably scramble to find connectivity options as well as the equipment to get online. That is why we support using disaster relief funds for schools and libraries to purchase mobile hotspots for students in need.
Many of us who benefit from tele-work options cannot help but think of our friends, families, neighbors, and classmates who do not share the same good fortune. Considering that over 60% of the nation does not have enough savings to be out of work for month, ongoing health and economic uncertainty could be devastating for those families and the businesses they support. Notably, broadband may be a low priority compared to other bills such as rent, child care, medicine, and groceries. That is one of the many reasons why Next Century Cities supports programs like Lifeline, a telecommunications subsidy that provides telephone and wireless broadband service for low-income households. It helps the most vulnerable populations to stay in touch with employment opportunities, educational updates, and emergency services when they need it the most.
As for the tele-health options that could provide relief, again, benefits are reserved for the connected. Well-intentioned tele-medicine initiatives fail without high-speed connectivity. Next Century Cities works to help expand the broadband networks that make these solutions viable. Still, millions of people who need care and instruction, but do not have access, will be forced to rely on information that they receive through the local grapevine, rather than direct contact between patient and provider.
In this time of crisis, our work is more important than ever. Broadband is the infrastructure that makes all of these initiatives possible. Without high-speed connectivity, tele-health opportunities are denied, tele-work opportunities remain a partial solution, and remote learning opportunities widen the digital divide.
It will take federal, state, and local efforts to ensure that every American is able to connect to broadband. For example, Chairman Pai just announced the Federal Communications Commission’s pledge to keep Americans connected. State governors have been at the forefront of broadband access initiatives, and recognize connectivity as an essential component of emergency preparedness. Some of the most critical outreach happens in municipalities between constituents and the local leaders that they trust. Next Century Cities works to fortify relationships between local leadership and federal and state officials.
Too many communities are still starving for digital opportunities. Next Century Cities remains focused on accelerating broadband deployment, which could determine how many of their residents recover. While the way in which we conduct our advocacy will change, our commitment to elevating your stories and solutions remains the same.
Thank you for your ongoing partnership and support.