Coronavirus Telecommuting To Further Highlight Shoddy US Telecom Market
from the completely-unprepared dept
To be clear, there are going to be layers of life and death dysfunction that the Coronavirus shines a bright spotlight on, most notable being a shaky US healthcare system and incompetent government leadership. But the outbreak and response is also going to shine a bright light on the broken US telecom market, and the millions of Americans that won’t be able to effectively telecommute in a crisis.
We’ve noted time and time again how a lack of competition in the US broadband market means consumers pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for broadband that usually ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack. While we talk a lot about this problem, few actually do much about it. Similarly, few really have noticed how as US telcos effectively give up on upgrading antiquated DSL lines, they’re giving cable giants like Comcast even bigger monopolies across vast swaths of America. In turn, those cable giants are facing less incentive than ever to improve customer service, upgrade rural networks, or compete on price.
With little competition and federal regulators that are little more than a rubber stamp to their every monopolistic whim, these companies have also been given a green light to gouge US consumers with usage caps and overage fees. Worse, a recent report suggested that 40 million Americans can’t get broadband at all, nearly double FCC estimates. The Trump administration and FCC’s response to this problem so far has been to blow sweet kisses at the nation’s biggest telecom providers in the form of regulatory favors, massive tax breaks for doing nothing, and a lot of overheated rhetoric.
This has always been a problem, but as FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel notes, it’s going to become a more obvious problem as millions of Americans are suddenly asked to work (and learn) from home to avoid spreading the virus further and faster:
As a result of the #coronavirus we are going to expand telework, telemedicine & tele-education.
In the process we?re going to find out that the digital divide is real.
Because for too many folks in rural & urban America broadband is still out of reach.
We have to fix this.
— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) March 8, 2020
While the overlaid teleconferencing technology has come a long way in recent years, millions of Americans will need to rely on expensive, slow, capped broadband that comes with what is statistically some of the worst customer service and satisfaction rates of any industry in America. Assuming these Americans have the luxury of working from home at all, many will be forced to rely on throttled, capped, and otherwise restricted cellular and satellite connections, since incumbents have effectively frozen expansion into rural markets, and fought tooth and nail against communities building their own, better networks.
While (as usual) this won’t be as big of a problem for the white and affluent (many of whom have long insisted this isn’t a big deal), it’s going to be a particular problem for the minority, tribal, and low income communities that have been overlooked for decades. Especially as a growing number of colleges and schools try to shift the entirety of their workload online. It’s a problem America has historically found relatively easy to ignore. And while broadband is likely to be the least of our issues over the next few months, recommending that millions of Americans work and learn from home will make ignoring that problem exponentially more difficult.