Mar 16, 2020 - Technology

The tech industry's efforts to help with the coronavirus crisis

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies from across the tech industry are trying to figure out not only how best to support their employees during the coronavirus crisis, but also how they can be a resource to their users.

Why it matters: There are a lot of unknowns about what the next few weeks and months hold, but there are some clear needs as the U.S. heads into uncharted territory.

Here are some of the ways tech companies and leaders are pitching in:

  • Home internet service providers and wireless carriers are lifting data caps and pledging not to terminate service to those who can't pay their bills, something requested by both the FCC and some on Capitol Hill.
  • The FCC granted temporary permission to T-Mobile on Sunday to use additional unused spectrum in the 600 MHz band (provided by Dish Network, Comcast and others) in order to meet increased demand and help support telecommuters, telehealth and online learning.
  • The makers of video conferencing software, including Zoom, Google (with its Hangouts Meet), Microsoft (with its Teams) and Cisco (which owns WebEx), have expanded their free offerings to help businesses and schools that need to rapidly increase their use of such products.
  • Many educational tech firms are making their products free while schools are closed.
  • Tech investor Sam Altman is leading a push to help fund work to rapidly increase the supply of ventilators and other technical efforts to aid in the COVID-19 response.
  • Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma pledged Friday to send the U.S. a million face masks and 500,000 coronavirus test kits. Sunday, he tweeted a photo of the first planeload departing from Shanghai.
  • Tech companies have been at the forefront of trying to ensure that hourly support workers get paid even as their services may not be needed as offices close and full-time employees telecommute.

The big picture: Behind the scenes, companies are also looking to see if they can do more to aid in the response, from helping support hospitals, researchers and doctors, to supporting workers without jobs and helping families in the community.

Go deeper: Coronavirus dents tech's supply chain

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Coronavirus exposes the digital divide's toll

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As the coronavirus pushes more human activities online, it's forcing a reckoning with the often-invisible digital divide.

Why it matters: The virus crisis is offering vivid case studies of real-world, everyday harms that result from inequality between those who have access to and can afford high-speed internet, and those who cannot.

Broadband providers brace for coronavirus stress test

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Broadband providers are making service changes as policymakers pressure them to prepare for a glut of traffic from Americans working and studying from home in response to coronavirus.

The big picture: The nation's internet service providers say they haven't seen big usage spikes yet, but the coming weeks and months could pose an unprecedented test of their networks' ability to withstand a massive and sustained surge in bandwidth needs.

ISPs promise FCC they won't shut off service during pandemic

FCC chairman Ajit Pai. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images.

The Federal Communications Commission obtained promises from several of the nation's broadband providers that they will not cut off internet service to Americans who can't pay their bills during the coronavirus crisis, agency chairman Ajit Pai said Friday.

The big picture: Americans will rely on home internet access to continue to work, study and in some cases, obtain telehealth services as the coronavirus pushes more people to quarantine themselves.