What Broadband Connectivity Did for Americans in 2020
The end of the year often brings reflections, and looking back, everyone can agree that 2020 was a year like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic brought not only health struggles, but also financial and economic hardship. It was also a year that saw more people turn to technology and the internet than ever before to continue some sort of semblance of their lives. Remote work, distance learning, telehealth, streaming, and live video chats took off. The cable industry came together early on to use its services, reach, and influence to help connect as many Americans to the internet as possible. In essence, a broadband connection is what enabled millions of people to continue working, learning, and communicating with one another.
From the start, cable internet service providers (ISPs) committed to being transparent with the public about the performance of their networks during the pandemic. In early April, NCTA first published the COVID-19 Dashboard, which collects and tracks network performance data from nine cable internet service providers. Throughout the pandemic, the data has pointed to the resiliency of cable’s networks to handle surges in internet traffic, especially during state lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, with little to no signs of congestion.
Cable ISPs also committed early on to helping Americans undergoing financial hardship stay connected to the internet, and to connect as many unserved households as possible. All of NCTA's ISP members agreed through the FCC's Keep America Connected pledge to open nationwide hotspots to everyone. ISPs also pledged to offer two months of free internet to eligible low-income households, waived late fees for customers who experienced job loss, and offered long-term discounted internet services for qualifying households. Cable operators also further expanded their broadband adoption programs for low-income households. These programs have a long history of connecting families with school-aged children, many whom would otherwise not be able to go online to complete a homework assignment.
Many ISPs also reaffirmed their commitments by extending the timeline of the free and discounted connectivity services so that students could continue distance learning throughout the fall. With a majority of schools still closed or operating in a hybrid model, cable operators all over the country partnered with school districts, local and state governments, philanthropic foundations, and community organizations to bridge the digital divide and to bring connectivity services and technology to students in need. These efforts included identifying those families without services, providing connectivity, and coming up with sustainable solutions that ensure that these families can continue to receive internet in the long term. In September, NCTA and EducationSuperHighway launched the "K-12 Bridge to Broadband" program to help scale these successful models and to establish a national framework of principles to guide cable ISPs in their work with school districts.
On the healthcare front, the industry has made headway on telehealth as hospitals, healthcare providers, and patients adopted the practice at an accelerating rate. ISPs used their partnerships with connected health organizations and hospitals to make telehealth more widely available, and came up with solutions that saved hospital beds for those who were truly sick and that helped to avoid in-person contact when the risk just wasn't necessary.
Cable operators also played a large role in helping businesses adapt to remote work. In some rural areas, small ISPs partnered with companies not only to ensure that all of their employees were connected, but to also assist with transitioning their operations online. This meant that even employees of large manufacturers and factories could receive phone calls and fulfill business orders from their own homes. In addition, many restaurants, breweries, and retail businesses also stayed afloat with help from ISPs that stepped in to help turn them into takeout businesses that could receive orders online.
Throughout the pandemic, the heroes of the cable industry remain the field technicians who not only worked around the clock to install connectivity services, but who navigated news ways of interacting with customers as the industry’s frontline workers. With PPE and social distancing protocols in place, field technicians performed a variety of jobs to give as many Americans as possible, including those who live or work in homeless shelters, the opportunity to connect to the internet.
There are numerous stories across the cable industry about the incredible impact that connectivity, especially during the pandemic, has had in every part of a person's life, and in every sector of society. NCTA looks forward to continuing to share these stories in 2021 as the pandemic evolves, and to bringing to light the limitless possibilities that a broadband connection unleashes.