During the COVID-19 crisis, internet access has become a lifeline for a third of the global population on lockdown. But what about the hundreds of millions of people unable to access the internet and take advantage of today’s technologies?
Even in the United States, for example, more than 40 million people lack broadband access. In Australia, 2.5 million people aren’t connected. And according to the latest The State of Broadband report from ITU/UNESCO, only 1 in 5 people in the least developed countries are connected. Such an uneven distribution in internet access leads to economic, educational and health-related inequalities, which are getting even worse during the coronavirus pandemic.
On the one hand, the COVID-19 outbreak has accelerated worldwide uptake of digital solutions and services, including telehealth and robotics. On the other hand, it has exposed the magnitude of the digital divide between the connected and the unconnected.
Surprisingly, it didn’t take long to recognize the obvious and treat broadband internet as an essential service in many countries across the globe. This was done either by granting providers additional spectrum to support increased broadband usage, or by setting up various governmental programs.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), for example, launched the Keep Americans Connected initiative that is aimed to secure internet continuity for residential or small business customers despite their inability to pay their bills caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Moreover, it granted 33 wireless internet service providers (ISPs) in rural communities (as well as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon, and others) to use additional spectrum to help meet increased customer demand for broadband during the COVID-19 crisis.
US-based Comcast and AT&T are offering free public Wi-Fi for 60 days and temporarily are lifting data caps. T-Mobile is providing unlimited smartphone data to all current subscribers and has increased the data allowance to schools and students.
Spanish telcos Telefonica, Orange, Vodafone and MASMOVIL are giving more broadband data and TV packages for free during the coronavirus quarantine.
Vodafone UK is offering half a million users free unlimited mobile data, while the British government is providing computers and 4G routers for free to disadvantaged children across the country.
The National Broadband Network (NBN) in Australia is giving away up to 40% more bandwidth for free to ISPs like Telstra, Optus, TPG and Aussie Broadband. As a result, and in a new effort to assist customers during the lockdown, Telstra and Optus started offering additional broadband and mobile internet access free of charge.
Thailand is giving free mobile data to the public as companies and schools shift online.
Some Canadian ISPs also are offering low-cost internet packages for low-income families. TELUS also has waived fees for its Internet for Good customers for two months due to COVID-19.
In addition to more than 17,000 free computers that are being given to low-income families in New Zealand, the government is providing modems to families with school-aged children who don't have home internet access.
The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated just how essential internet access is – and how the lack of it can turn our lives upside down in just days. This crisis has taught many service providers that their network infrastructure is generally not ready for the vast transfer and uploading of data required by remote work and distance learning and results in inadequate capacity and poor performance.
Having said that, telecom companies with a network continuity strategy in place are being rewarded for their investments. By investing in flexible wireless hauling solutions and delivering reliable connectivity at maximum capacity to meet subscribers’ skyrocketing demand, they will undoubtedly benefit from long-term social and economic dividends.
To learn about Ceragon’s flexible wireless hauling solutions