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COVID-19 Pandemic Reveals Inequities in High-Speed Internet Access

July 20, 2020

In our ever-increasing digital world, it is almost impossible for most of us to imagine what life would be like without high-speed Internet access in our homes. Internet access has quickly become as essential for many of us as electricity, water, and heat.  When Internet access goes down, it causes havoc in our world. We can’t do our normal business related to work, school, banking, entertainment, shopping, staying in touch with family and friends all of which are put on hold until service is restored.

Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that many of our fellow citizens do not have access to the Internet that so many of us enjoy. As a society, we should all agree that Internet access needs to be considered a standard utility that everyone should have access to. 

In a pre-COVID19 world, not having Internet access wasn’t ideal but it was manageable as children were still going to school, adults were going to the office, wifi available at coffee shops, retail stores and services were still open.  But imagine not having Internet access in a post-COVID19 world where students are taking classes online, you’re working from home and online shopping is the only way to get the goods your family needs.  For low-income families making difficult choices with limited resources or those in geographies with spotty connections, not having access to the Internet post-COVID19 is debilitating and unacceptable. We as a society need to do more to ensure we are not excluding large segments of the population from participating in society, work, school and life. 

Everyone should have access to affordable high-speed Internet access regardless of their location, finances, or social status. 

Many of our fellow Americans do not have Internet access because providers have historically focused on profit and will not invest in installing large networks in areas where they do not think they will get a return on their investment.  However, even in areas where Internet providers have chosen to make the investment to install Internet access, it isn’t always done in a way that is affordable.  Families and individuals with limited means still find Internet access inaccessible even though it may be available in their own building.   

Advocates have been trying to fix this inequity or “digital divide” for decades but lack the support to get the equity issue resolved.  We had high hopes for “Google fiber” - a multibillion-dollar initiative to build and install high-speed Internet access via fiber cables throughout the country so that more citizens can have access to the Internet. Unfortunately, like a lot of these initiatives proposed by the carriers, Google failed to deliver on their promises, stalling out before they even began.  

To be fair, a lot of the carriers do offer assistance to low-income families and we should be spreading the word about these programs. I’ve listed some of the individual carrier programs below.

And there is hope on the horizon.  The advancements of the fifth generation of wireless networks, or 5G, may be a way to finally narrow the digital divide.  Since 5G is wireless cellular technology, it doesn’t require personal investments like having to install a modem and carriers and municipalities won’t have to spend millions digging up streets to run cable lines to homes and apartment buildings. Another advantage - 5G will offer much higher speeds than traditional wired networks finally giving everyone equal access to the Internet.

The COVID crisis has challenged us to find new ways to live our lives. It has also revealed the vast inequities in American families’ ability to weather such storms based on their income or geographic location. It shouldn’t be this way. As Internet providers embrace the next generation of high-speed technology, let’s make sure they leave no family behind.

Note: POAH currently provides internet for residents and guests in our first-floor common areas and we are looking to partner to do more for our 20,000+ residents across our owned and emerging portfolio.

Comcast Low-Income Program

AT&T Low-Income Program

Spectrum Low-Income Program