The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has accentuated the benefits of telework. As many organizations seek to maximize “social distancing,” the transition to telework has helped slow the spread of the disease, but has also challenged the traditional norms for how we conduct normal business operations. Months into this national emergency, questions still remain as to whether every American has the requisite tools to do so from home.
More employees working from home means more congestion on residential networks. Aside from the network strain, many Americans lacked the equipment or broadband subscriptions to work remotely. This is among the many urgent reasons that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) must find a way to deploy high-speed and reliable broadband to every community. Broadband access is the only way to ensure that, regardless of income or geographic origin, Americans will be able to participate in the online workforce, especially while shelter-in-place orders are commonplace.
In 2018, almost a quarter of the U.S. workforce worked at least in-part from home. Two years later, essentially all non-essential employees had to convert their living rooms and kitchens into workspaces. Likewise, some cities have not been able to adapt to telework models as quickly as others, even still, we must be prepared for mass teleworking to become characteristic of our economy.
Ten percent of U.S. adults say that they do not use the internet. According to American Community Survey data, nearly a quarter of these adults have noted that service is either not available or is too slow where they live. Accordingly, strategies to achieve universal broadband access require specific tailoring to connect the unconnected and make broadband affordable for individual communities based on the challenges, resources, and assets of those communities.
Of course, there is no single “correct” way to connect a community. Many models have successfully brought broadband access to cities, towns, and counties. Each is unique in their distribution of responsibilities and risks amongst stakeholders. Performing a thorough and thoughtful inventory of a community’s assets, needs, and priorities is essential as we prepare for long-term mass teleworking scenarios.
Additionally, there is no “one size fits all” technological solution to achieve universal connectivity. While some communities may respond better to the deployment of wireless solutions, others may require more robust fiber optic connections to meet the demands placed on their networks. Both policymakers and lawmakers must be intentional in reaching out to work with and listen to community leaders. That is the most effective way to identify funding opportunities that accelerate broadband deployment in areas that are still searching for solutions.
The pandemic has revealed the importance of telework and need for universal broadband access. At a time where social distancing and quarantining are essential to maintaining public health, telework is a valuable tool that makes business stronger and more resilient, only if their employees are able to get and stay online. Having fast, reliable connections is a prerequisite.