Underwood hosts discussion on rural broadband accessibility

U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, speaks to the Northwest Herald editorial board on Sept. 3, at the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, speaks to the Northwest Herald editorial board on Sept. 3, at the Northwest Herald in Crystal Lake.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made many people change their work and school arrangements, working from home or starting online learning.

With that, many have faced internet connectivity issues.

On Monday, U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, D-Naperville, hosted a virtual roundtable with the Federal Communications Commission and local stakeholders to discuss improving rural broadband in northern Illinois communities.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel discussed challenges that communities across the country are facing with rural broadband and connectivity during the pandemic, according to a news release.

“Federal investments in broadband infrastructure and internet access will be necessary in the short term during this pandemic, as well as an essential part of our country’s economic recovery,” Underwood said.

The Heroes Act, passed last month, set an Oct. 1 deadline for new data to help guide these investments.

“We must not make these investments for the 21st century using 20th century math,” Underwood said.

Underwood sent a letter to the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urging for implementation of the Broadband Data Act to help with recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the event, Underwood and Rosenworcel heard from educators in Plano, Sandwich and Newark about how important internet access is to their teaching during the pandemic.

“These schools acted swiftly to provide students with satellite hot spots when bandwidth was unavailable,” Underwood said. “They have been covering the cost of the hot spots and in some cases had to wait months for them to arrive due to the high demand.”

Underwood said that many schools are planning on using e-learning to some degree in the coming school year and will rely on students having access to the internet.

A Harvard constituent wrote to Underwood that his broadband service at home was so slow he could not work from home, Underwood said. “Forcing him to choose between risking his job or his health.”

There are students who are unable to complete school work and parents who can’t work from home while their children do online learning due to their internet access being too weak, Underwood said.

Rosenworcel said that there are millions of students who go to school where they have internet access, but they go home at night and don’t have broadband.

“This crisis has revealed some really hard truths,” Rosenworcel said. “One of them is that the digital divide in this country is really big. As a nation, we got asked to go online for work, for health care, for entertainment, and for school.”

Rosenworcel wants to make sure that Washington policymakers make it easier for educators to teach students who don’t have internet access at home and get those students connected.

“The FCC for more than two decades has had a program called E-Rate that helps our nation’s schools connect to the internet,” Rosenworcel said. “We’ve got to figure out how to use that program to meet this moment and make sure that every student also gets connected at home.”

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