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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.

  • "It's especially necessary, again, for our elderly members who may be on a fixed income, but also need to be able to stay safe instead of trying to get through public transportation or further risking themselves going to a physician's office."

By the numbers: The demand for telehealth services' year-over-year growth reached a five-year high of 287% the week of May 11 and has since averaged weekly year-over-year growth of over 150%, per Axios' Bryan Walsh.

  • But according to Starks, more than 77 million Americans lack adequate broadband in their home.
  • Starks added that 1 in 3 Black adults and more than 1 in 3 Latino adults don't have home broadband connections.

Watch the event.

Go deeper

Updated Dec 9, 2020 - Economy & Business

How to develop new skills for a post-pandemic America

The digitized workforce has arrived much earlier than experts previously thought.

What this means: Millions of Americans workers, particularly the nearly 70% who do not have a college degree, could be shut out of America’s fast-changing, techno-centric, post-pandemic economy.

At Google’s Powering Economic Opportunity: Digital Skills for the Future Workforce event, policy makers, thought leaders and experts came together to discuss how companies, nonprofits and governments can future-proof workers.

Key numbers: The Council on Foreign Relations reports that two-thirds of the 13 million jobs created in the U.S. since 2010 require a medium- to advanced-level of digital skills.

The solution, according to several policy makers and experts at the event: Alternative pathways to good-paying, fast-growing jobs.

Their top three potential fixes:

1. Expanding access to technology.

Participants agreed: Broadband access should be treated as a human right, and not a luxury accessible only to the few or to people living in large cities.

The reason: Reliable, affordable internet rests at the center of the future of work – and to economic recovery during and after COVID-19. And closing the digital divide – with more access to technology, for example – between under-resourced communities and their wealthier counterparts is key.

  • But there’s more behind this, as one event guest noted.

Enhancing access to broadband – and other key technologies like laptops and software – is just one step in the right direction. Training adults, not just children, to use these tools is the next.

2. Stepping up efforts to upskill or reskill Americans.

Some companies are already empowering people to develop digital skills that can help them transition into higher-paying, high growth jobs. Here’s how:

  • Training on digital fundamentals, like free Applied Digital Skills courses from Google, to help job seekers establish a foundation upon which they can build on to learn more advanced digital skills.
  • Creating alternative pathways to jobs that go beyond a traditional four-year college degree. Higher education institutions, government, and employers need to work together to give low wage workers access to higher-paying careers, like how the Markle Foundation’s Rework America Alliance and Skillful Initiative support local organizations, employers and governments to connect individuals to good jobs.
  • Developing avenues for employment with private companies after workers have completed skilling programs like Google’s IT Support Certificate, which includes a Hiring Consortium to help workers gain entry into IT Support, a critical job of the future.

What Google is saying:

“There are other Google career certificates coming out that help people move into these high-growth, good-paying jobs with less than a college degree. It's not the only solution, but I think it's one thing we're really excited about.”

– Andrew Dunckelman, Head of Impact and Insights, Google.org.

Why it’s important: Modern technologies, including AI and even cellphones, have slowly uprooted many jobs, leaving the workers with fewer options for work.

  • And this sudden shift is disproportionately impacting women and Black and Latino workers, especially those working in retail, experts at the event said.

3. Developing public-private partnerships that support a well-skilled workforce.

To advance economic recovery, many policy makers and experts at the event outlined the benefits of nonprofits, governments and companies working together to build up America’s digital skills.

  • For example, Google has partnered with different organizations to upskill Americans, like Per Scholas, the American Library Association and Goodwill.

The result: “We've trained more than 5 million Americans on digital skills,” says Andrew Dunckelman. “As we look ahead to recovery, you know, we think that we can help our economy recover quicker by expanding access to digital skills and technologies that Americans need.”

The takeaway: Although the pandemic has accelerated the start of the digitized workforce, together corporations, digital skilling programs and technology can help create better opportunities for all Americans. Learn more.

The Exvangelicals

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Even as evangelicals maintain their position as the most popular religion in the U.S., a movement of self-described "exvangelicals" is breaking away, using social media to engage tens of thousands of former faithful.

The big picture: Donald Trump's presidency, as well as movements around LGBTQ rights, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, drew more Americans into evangelical churches while also pushing some existing members away.

Updated 5 hours ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

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