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RNC week: Axios co-founder Mike Allen hosted a conversation on the future of broadband access, featuring House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, FIL founder Frank Luntz and Microsoft President Brad Smith.

Frank Luntz discussed the need for investment in accessible broadband as a key part of upskilling and job training, especially during the economically turbulent pandemic.

  • On the necessity of broadband access: "This is not a political issue. This is not a partisan issue. Elected officials on the federal and state and local level have a responsibility to provide these programs so that people are able to make a difference in their lives."

Brad Smith highlighted how rural areas are severely impacted by lack of broadband access and the need to close this divide.

  • "Broadband is the electricity of our age. If you want to use a telehealth service. you need broadband. If you want to take a community college course online, you need broadband...But in so many of our rural communities in the United States today, that is missing."

Unpacking the relationship between Silicon Valley and DC, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy discussed worries in Congress about Big Tech and the outsize impact that large tech companies have on the flow of information.

  • "Their power is only getting larger, and in the world of COVID, it's getting larger because they have more influence. But I don't think they're forthcoming on a lot, I have real concerns on what Google has been doing."

Thank you Microsoft for sponsoring this event.

Go deeper

Updated Dec 3, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: The future of broadband connectivity

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.

Dec 3, 2020 - Health

FCC commissioner: Access to broadband essential to boosting telehealth

Axios' Dan Primack (left) and FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks. Photo: Axios

Access to broadband is essential to boost telehealth, which has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, Federal Communications commissioner Geoffrey Starks said on Thursday at an Axios virtual event on the future of broadband connectivity.

Why it matters: "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," Starks said.

The quick FCC fix that would get more students online

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As the pandemic forces students out of school, broadband deployment programs aren't going to move fast enough to help families in immediate need of better internet access. But Democrats at the Federal Communications Commission say the incoming Biden administration could put a dent in that digital divide with one fast policy change.

State of play: An existing FCC program known as E-rate provides up to $4 billion for broadband at schools, but Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai has resisted modifying the program during the pandemic to provide help connecting students at home.

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