Congress should ensure that all Americans have the home internet connectivity necessary to participate in telemedicine, teleschooling, and telework as part of any additional COVID-19 relief legislation, Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt told U.S. Senate and House leadership in a letter sent last week.
“Large portions of rural America, including here in Kansas, currently lack broadband access at a time when many of our critical needs are being fulfilled online,” Schmidt said. “It’s essential that Congress take action to prevent government responses to the COVID-19 pandemic from worsening the existing digital divide and ensure access to work, school, and healthcare for all Americans.”
Schmidt, along with 38 other state and territory attorneys general, on Thursday, sent the letter urging Congress to provide funding to state and local governments and the U.S. Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to address disparities in access to home internet connectivity. Unless Congress acts, the attorneys general argue the stay-at-home response to the virus will exacerbate the existing gap in access to broadband for rural Americans and other disproportionately affected groups.
After weeks of learning, working, socializing, and seeking healthcare from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have become more dependent on internet access for basic needs than ever before. While the attorneys general recognize and commend independent efforts of various companies to increase access by waiving late fees or even providing free or discounted access to students and medical providers, they argue congressional action would ensure those efforts are sustainable.
The attorneys general urge Congress to provide certainty for rural Americans by:
- Providing state, territory, and local governments with adequate funding expressly dedicated to ensuring that all students and medical patients, especially senior citizens who are at risk, have adequate internet-enabled technology to participate equally in online learning and telemedicine.
- Increasing funding to the FCC Universal Service Fund, which provides vital funding to rural and low-income populations, healthcare providers, and educators with the goal of bridging the digital divide.
With public health experts warning that a second wave of coronavirus infections may require teleschooling and telemedicine to continue for millions of Americans throughout 2020, the attorneys general argue it is critical that Congress act now to help ensure that all Americans have the home internet connectivity they need to access educational opportunities, healthcare and to earn a livelihood.
A copy of the letter is available at https://bit.ly/2zTDmFk.