COVID-19 Elevates the Need for Better Internet Connectivity At Schools, Libraries, Hospitals, And Homes

Bob Nilsson Director, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 10 Jul 2020

The Federal Government Must Up Its Game

High-speed network connections to the Internet have never been more important for schools, libraries, students, and in fact for all residents. This Boston Globe op ed explains that boosting subsidies to help people get online would expand access to education, health care, and economic opportunity. Pandemic-caused unemployment has left many people without the means to afford broadband Internet service. Without high-speed Internet access, education, healthcare, and economic opportunity all suffer.

To help fill this need on a temporary basis, many schools are providing drive-up Wi-Fi access to the Internet at their outdoor parking lots – see The Wi-Fi Has Left the Building – Creative Wi-Fi Solutions for Shut-Down K-12 Schools.  In healthcare, medical centers like Henry Ford Health System set up temporary pop-up testing and care facilities along with extended telehealth services to provide expanded care during the peak of the pandemic.

The FCC Steps In

A much broader solution is now needed as the pandemic continues to spread in hotspots across the US. To this end, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has asked Congress to increase funding for broadband in support of education. The CARES Act allocated $200 million to tele-health, and a much higher amount — $16 billion — to local school districts; but none of that was specifically earmarked for broadband. The FCC is working with the Department of Education to use this funding to get schools the connectivity they need.

This push by the FCC is in line with Extreme Networks’ urging of Congress and the FCC to apply economic and educational jumper cables post CV-19. The E-rate program has been helping schools get connected to the Internet since 1996. With the onset of the pandemic USAC, which administers E-Rate, has provided additional assistance, such as extending application deadlines and temporarily relaxing gift rules to help schools cope with the new challenges.

Keeping Students Engaged During the Pandemic

The State University of New York system found an effective way to keep students engaged during the beginning of the pandemic: esports. “We saw an opportunity to bring SUNY colleges together in friendly competition during this time of social distancing and isolated learning,” said SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson. “Every college within our system was invited to compete regardless of whether they have an esports team.”

By the time the competition was over, 46 schools had participated with 139 teams and a total of nearly 500 students from across the SUNY system. The first-place team in each game received a $2,000 donation to the winning school’s student emergency funds. The $20,000 total prize pool was provided half by Extreme Networks and half by SUNY.

Here’s more information about how schools and businesses are making the transition to the new normal.

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