How COVID-19 Is A Study In Why We Need Broadband For All
Pandemics underscore the need for connection.
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Overnight our focus has shifted from the economy, politics and the daily grind. COVID-19 has given us instant clarity by demonstrating the importance of preserving life and preventing death. Just standing next to someone has consequences that reach far beyond you and that other person. What have they touched and where have they been? With whom will you be in contact in the future? Your grandparents? Someone with an underlying health condition? This is so much bigger than whether you will get sick.
Realizing the measures necessary to stop the coronavirus has made me become a total tech policy wonk, even more resolved to get the word out that everyone needs access to broadband, regardless of where they live, how much money they have or the color of their skin.
For the better part of two decades, I fought for the rights of others as a lawyer and then as General Counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Stepping into the shoes of Thurgood Marshall in modern times includes having your energies focused on how government and policy impacts people’s daily lives. Later as the leader of a telecommunications policy organization, it means understanding why the digital age holds the promise of opportunity for both urban and rural communities.
Today as a Co-Chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA), I follow in the footsteps of Larry Irving, the man who coined the term “digital divide” and recognized that the great promise of the internet had to be balanced with the need for putting this life-changing tool in the hands of everyone. With the coronavirus requiring us to cut off most in-person interaction with others, lack of internet access will make the divide more clear than ever.
If everyone is connected to broadband, everyone will be connected to each other, no hand washing required. No one should be left behind.
As we face the specter of “social distancing”, telework, remote learning and home quarantine with the coronavirus, now more than ever we have a clear example of why policies that encourage broadband availability and adoption are critical. The internet is a powerful tool that can help our country stand the test of a pandemic.
As we weather this storm, no one should have to lose their connections to friends and family, stop having the ability to make money or fall behind in their education because of being on the wrong side of the digital divide. The coronavirus proves, once again, that broadband is essential not just to the future, but having now — it is about having a future now.
Kim Keenan is co-chair of the DC-based Internet Innovation Alliance. She formerly served as the President and CEO of the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC). She also is the longest-serving female General Counsel in the 100+ year history of the NAACP.