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Axios' Erica Pandey, Dan Primack, and Ashley Gold hosted a conversation on the future of broadband connectivity, featuring FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, Per Scholas CEO Plinio Ayala and DreamBox CEO Jessie Woolley-Wilson.

Geoffrey Starks discussed the impact of the digital divide, citing research that shows that more than 77 million Americans lack adequate broadband in their home. He also highlighted the racial disparity, adding that 1 in 3 Black adults and more than 1 in 3 Latino adults don't have home broadband connections.

  • On why broadband connection is especially critical during the pandemic: "Access to telemedicine and telehealth via affordable, reliable broadband is going to be extremely important to making sure that folks can safely manage their health from home."

Jessie Woolley-Wilson suggested that broadband should be treated as a household utility, highlighting that primary barriers to access are due to cost or location.

  • On the severity of the issue: "Imagine if there were homes that didn't have electricity or heat — we would figure out policy solutions to that, and I think we have to start thinking about access to broadband almost like it was a utility."

Plinio Ayala argued that the U.S. government needs to focus on workforce development, providing American workers with IT skills to meet the shifting technological and economic landscape.

  • "A lot of the skills that workers obtain in the hospitality sector or in the retail sector, customer service skills are incredibly transferable into the I.T. space...AI was going to cause a disruption in our workforce regardless [and] the pandemic just accelerated that."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with The Internet & Television Association president and CEO Michael Powell and discussed how COVID-19 has been a stress test for network capacity and people have had to shift work and school to home.

  • "[COVID-19] was the greatest experiment in stressing the Internet that we've had in the history of the Internet...How they performed [is] really a culmination of years of of investment, years of excellence in engineering and a cultural commitment to the needs of our country at a time where the public health response is dependent on the ability to let consumers stay at home to work and school."

Thank you Comcast for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper

Updated Jan 13, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: Recovery and resilience after COVID-19

On Wednesday, January 13, Axios' Dan Primack and Dion Rabouin hosted a conversation on the future of equitable economic recovery, featuring Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and chef and World Central Kitchen founder José Andrés. They unpacked the pandemic's impact on small businesses and minority communities and spotlighting efforts to create an inclusive economy.

José Andrés discussed the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality and food industry, stressing the survival of restaurants as a critical part of the U.S. economic recovery.

  • On the food industry's need for federal support: "Restaurants will open again, and the issue is: how many are we going to lose from today until the next three, six months, or one year until everything goes back to normal? We have to make sure that the federal government is behind those businesses that are badly affected by this pandemic."
  • On ensuring living wages for workers: "We need to make sure that ... the food industry is not an industry that lives on the fringe of almost poverty, but that every American employee, every restaurant worker will make a decent living."

Rep. Ro Khanna unpacked the pandemic's impact on rural and minority communities and outlined a strategy for the Federal Reserve Board to better target their efforts.

  • On having the Fed scrutinize how they've been lending: "[We need] to make sure that lending isn't concentrated just to financial institutions and large corporations, that they're using their regional banks to be regional economic development banks considering rural and minority communities."
  • On taking a long-term approach to economic recovery: "We need to infuse [the Small Business Administration] with loans. I would do $10 trillion over 10 years to have 200,000 more loans to small businesses across America."

Axios co-founder and CEO Jim VandeHei hosted a View from the Top segment with Mastercard's strategic growth Vice Chairman and President Michael Froman who discussed the role of the private sector in times of crisis.

  • "The private sector can do a lot. And by this I mean not just philanthropy or corporate social responsibility or ESG efforts. As important as all of those are, the key is really getting companies to look at their products and services, technology and expertise and explore what they can do to have a positive social impact on a commercially sustainable basis."

Thank you Mastercard for sponsoring this event.

FCC chairman says tech giants need to explain themselves

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai testifies at a Senate hearing June 16, 2020. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai says online platforms should be forced to explain their practices in the much the same way he required of broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T.

The big picture: Pai paired those transparency requirements with his 2017 repeal of net neutrality rules. Open-internet proponents feared the repeal would lead to ISPs blocking websites or deliberately slowing traffic, but bipartisan concern has largely shifted to the power of platforms like Google and Facebook to shape what people see online.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Health: Most vulnerable Americans aren't getting enough vaccine information — Fauci says Trump administration's lack of facts on COVID "very likely" cost lives.
  2. Politics: Biden unveils "wartime" COVID strategyBiden's COVID-19 bubble.
  3. Vaccine: Florida requiring proof of residency to get vaccine — CDC extends interval between vaccine doses for exceptional cases.
  4. World: Hong Kong to put tens of thousands on lockdown as cases surge.
  5. Sports: 2021 Tokyo Olympics hang in the balance.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck.

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