WASHINGTON — On Wednesday, 12 partner organizations jointly delivered more than 110,000 petition signatures to the U.S. Congress. The petitions call for upcoming rounds of COVID-19 stimulus legislation to ensure that internet and phone services are available to all during the pandemic.
Advocates delivered the petitions during a live online event featuring remarks by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D–Connecticut), Sen. Ed Markey (D–Massachusetts), and Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D–New York) in support of the initiative.
In conjunction with the petition delivery, 218 public-interest and industry groups sent a letter urging congressional leadership to include policies that support broadband availability, including increased funding for adoption, network sustainability and deployment for areas lacking access.
“The cost of broadband is so high and the broadband-providers’ policies are so discriminatory that even before the crisis began and millions lost their sources of income, more than one-fifth of households nationwide didn’t have home internet,” reads one of the group’s petitions. “Internet and phone access should be affordable public services — like water and electricity. We demand that you provide the billions of dollars needed to get and keep people connected to broadband and phone services during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis.”
The 12 organizations that collected the petitions are Access Now, Common Sense Media, Consumer Reports, Demand Progress, Fight for the Future, Free Press Action, Libraries Without Borders, MediaJustice, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, New America’s Open Technology Institute and Public Knowledge.
“This disparity in access to essential communication tools is a deplorable failure to protect the fundamental rights and health of people in the United States,” said Jennifer Brody, U.S. legislative manager at Access Now. “Over 26 million Americans and counting have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and may not be able to pay their internet and phone bills. It is unacceptable that communities at risk who were already struggling economically will be hit the hardest by the national emergency.”
“We need to connect all students and families and close the digital divide for good,” said Amina Fazlullah, equity counsel for Common Sense Media. “Right now, 12 million students do not have access to the technology they need to participate in distance learning. On behalf of millions of families and educators across the nation, Common Sense is calling on Congress to connect all students and close the digital divide now.”
"The coronavirus pandemic has forced many Americans to work and learn from home — which means a high-speed home-internet connection is more important than ever,” said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumer Reports. “Yet far too many homes still lack access to broadband internet. A Consumer Reports survey taken earlier this month found that 80 percent of Americans agreed that internet service is as important as water or electricity service. Clearly consumers know how vital a connection to the internet is in 2020. Policymakers need to step up and ensure that it is as widely available and affordable as other essential services."
“The digital divide has long represented a great abdication by our policymakers — one that has left far too many behind, unable to fully participate in our economy and democracy,” said Mark Stanley, communications director for Demand Progress. “The fact that millions are now left without broadband during the coronavirus pandemic is catastrophic. If we are to recover from this crisis and thrive going forward, lawmakers must act now to ensure all Americans have access to high-speed internet.”
“It is unconscionable not to provide internet access for people who have to stay home right now,” said Caitlin Seeley George, Fight for the Future’s campaign director. “The next COVID response package must include funding to ensure everyone has internet access, and these funds must go directly to support real people. We’ve already seen corporate lobbyists swoop in, under the radar, to win bailouts in past coronavirus response packages, and we know that the same politicians who killed Net Neutrality will prioritize their friends at Comcast and Verizon over people who need to get online. We can’t let this happen when it comes to internet access — we can’t let ISPs profit while real people suffer.”
“High prices and systemic racial discrimination are leaving millions of people on the wrong side of the digital divide,” said Leo Fitzpatrick, policy counsel for Free Press Action. “These problems have become even more acute during the pandemic. Twenty-two percent of households don’t have home internet, and low-income Black and Hispanic households are even less likely to have home internet than their low-income white counterparts. Internet and phone access should be affordable public services — like water and electricity — especially during an emergency. Congress has the power to help get and keep people online and it must take action.”
“This pandemic is teaching us that not having access to the internet is not just inconvenient, it’s inhumane,” said Steven Renderos, executive director for MediaJustice. “Indigenous communities and people of color continue to be the canaries in the coal mine, with millions offline simply because they cannot afford to stay connected. As we all struggle to survive this global crisis, we must ensure that no one is left behind because a lack of internet access means we also lack jobs, education and basic services that are essential to everyday life even without COVID-19. The internet is not just a luxury; it is a right and we need leaders who are willing to step up and close the digital divide. Congress and the FCC must act immediately to provide the expanded relief to connect our folks so that we can survive, and ensure that we have the internet access we need to thrive beyond this pandemic.”
“The United States is in dire need of a broadband subsidy,” said Angela Siefer, executive director for the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. “The free and low-cost plans of some internet service providers are appreciated but the gaps in eligibility and availability are significant. Lifeline, first and foremost, provides phone support, not home-broadband support. Students learning in parking lots due to a lack of home internet is completely unacceptable. We must establish a federal broadband subsidy immediately.”
“Before this pandemic, Latinx families were one of the least likely demographics to have internet access at home,” said Brenda V. Castillo, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition (NHMC). “As unemployment rises, our communities face a choice between making ends meet and staying connected. Access to communications isn’t a luxury — especially not amid a pandemic. NHMC, our allies and over 100,000 signatories urge Congress to act now to create a broadband subsidy through underutilized programs like Lifeline, and to connect millions of families today.”
“The federal government’s failure to address the dire state of the digital divide is undermining our efforts to combat the pandemic,” said Joshua Stager, senior counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute. “Shelter-in-place orders assume that people have home access to online services, but that is simply not true for millions of Americans. Congress must act to help people get online, stay connected and stay at home. Public health depends on it.”
“Without broadband access, it’s all but impossible to work, learn and access medical care while staying home during the pandemic,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge. “With millions unable to work right now, it's becoming more and more difficult for Americans to get and stay connected. Congress must step in to help now, when Americans need broadband access the most.”