Crappy US Broadband Is Also Hampering Equitable Vaccine Deployment

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

As our recent Greenhouse policy forum on broadband made abundantly clear, COVID is shining a very bright light on US broadband dysfunction. The high cost of service, spotty coverage, slow speeds, and high prices are all being felt acutely in an era where having a decent broadband connection is the pathway to education, employment, healthcare, and opportunity. And after 25 years of US apathy to its telecom monopoly problem, COVID-19 is applying pressure on lawmakers and regulators in an entirely new way to do something about the 42 million without broadband, the 83 million under a monopoly, and the tens of millions who simply can’t afford service due to limited competition.

But it’s not just high prices and spotty coverage that have proven to be an issue in the COVID era. In Kentucky, one of countless US states where local monopolies AT&T and Time Warner Cable (now Charter Spectrum) literally dictated state telecom policy for 25 years (with obvious results), a lack of broadband access is hampering the public’s access to vaccines. Louisville, Kentucky high schoolers recently set up VaXConnect Kentucky to help seniors get access to their first and second shots. And they’re finding themselves “surprised” to learn just how many people don’t have access to a reliable, affordable connection:

“People are calling us and they only have landlines, and they don’t have internet or a computer or an email,” Beck says. “That’s more common than I realized.”

Granted part of the problem is monopolization and limited competition impacting broadband availability and price. But the other problem, long discussed here at Techdirt, is the fact that state and federal regulators have done a piss poor job accurately measuring broadband availability. In large part because giant incumbents like AT&T have fought tooth and nail against improving broadband mapping for the better part of thirty years. Mostly because once lawmakers and regulators get a better sense of monopolization’s real impact, they might just get the crazy idea to do something about it.

In this case, our failures to seriously tackle monopolization and regulatory capture are having a very real human cost. And usually, it’s the most vulnerable among us who are the first in line to feel the pain, something experts also discussed at length during our recent Greenhouse panel:

“About 27% of American adults over the age of 65 don’t use the internet, according to the Pew Research Center. Pew also reported that a third of Black adults in the US lack home broadband. ABC News reported that the situation is even worse for seniors of color. Meanwhile the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said people 65 and older, as well as members of racial and ethnic minority groups, are dying at disproportionate rates from COVID-19.”

Having co-built DSLReports, I spent every day for fifteen years watching first hand how the broadband industry (and its various policy tendrils at think tanks, consultants, and lobbying shops) spent millions of dollars and countless man hours trying to convince the press, public, and regulators that the US broadband market was perfectly healthy and competitive, and in absolutely no need for reform or meaningful oversight. COVID has, in a very short amount of time, punched that self-serving, bad faith argument squarely in the jaw. Hopefully we learn something from the experience.

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Comments on “Crappy US Broadband Is Also Hampering Equitable Vaccine Deployment”

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20 Comments
Ben (profile) says:

bottom line

Unfortunately it is very likely that the broadband providers will not be in the least bit interested in serving the low income (urban poor of any colour) or low margin (rural below median income) segment of the market until those segments become profitable.
In the UK, that didn’t happen until broadband connectivity came bundled with premier league football provided by Sky, which the (mainly male) analogous segments in the UK seem to treat as a higher priority than almost any thing else.
There are, of course, still people and isolated regions of the British Isles that are underserved by broadband connectivity of any meaningful standard, but it seems the proportions are not as bad as in the continental US.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Until it is profitable

This is the reason we sometimes need socialized services. Much the way USPS is the only delivery service that guarantees delivery to any residence or place of business in the US (whether or not it’s profitable to ship things there), there are some services for which access should be guaranteed. Things like water and power.

And in 2021, broadband internet.

Given the shitty service Comcast already provides, I can’t imagine if it were seized by the state for imminent domain that it would do any worse.

Not that this could happen in the US given that our government rules not for the people but for plutocrats.

So…eat the rich, I guess.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

But Bloof, don’t you realize the problem is the Democrats. Why? Well it always is. In this case they have unrealistically raised expectations and interfered with the free market by trying to insist that people get what they need.

Besides, they are Godless heathens and their existence allows the devil to interfere with Republican perfection with pesky, unnecessary details.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I do remember a time when this wasn’t too unreasonable a position to take. Then came the Tea Party that claimed to be non-partisan but somehow found it’s only home on the obstructionist right of the Republicans. Then came Trump and sanity and principal more or less completely left the right. The vast majority of their partisans stayed and descended into the morass that is Trumpism, and their criticisms of the other party became more and more bitter, nasty projections of their own behaviour.

There are plenty of Democrats whose political behaviour is about as far from pragmatic as you can get and more than a little impractical. Among them you can find more than enough whose world view is a rather stark contrast with objective reality and some of those have absolutely no mental connection with the world around them, but they are collectively light years ahead of the Trumpist republicans who can’t tell the difference between a party manifesto and Qanon.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"Hopefully we learn something from the experience."

puts on his sociopathic immortal hat
Karl, honey…. have you met humans?

There were Maskholes during the Spanish Flu, & amazingly no one thought there would be people STUPID enough to not wear masks in a pandemic… I give you… Humanity.
Humans claiming its not a real thing… been there done that.
Humans claiming its a plot… been there done that.

The human ability to claim that this has never happened before & will never happen again only to repeat it a few years later is one of the great mysteries to this immortal, often left wonder how the hell y’all manage to survive.

Anonymous Coward says:

What absolute rubbish! You just ask the major companies and the politicians who are taking back handers! They’ll tell you the truth about what’s wrong! Things like not been given enough tax breaks, or enough public money to squander on ceo salaries and retirement packages, or maybe even too long between upgrades and new installs being done, because of the above reasons!1

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

New reality TV show….

We drop CEOs in the middle of the areas they refuse to service & tell them if they get a signal they can go home.

Then we send in the covid infected.

Okay maybe not the best idea, but in my defense I am a sociopath and I really think after the first 3 CEOs die the others might fall into line.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

China syndrome.
LOVE IT.

But why not Dock wages? they would do it to lower paid persons working, they do it to those that Ran away from Children they had from girl friends.
We should also do it tot he politicians. A quarterly Eval. Make it every month on payday.
Let him show his work, and justify it.

For the CEO, give him home work, and he dont get it done, he has to Loose wage, and LIVE int he area, NOT UPDATED.

AND I really want the backbone Checked. They bought the tier 1 parts of it, and I will BET, its not updated nor fully installed. and would answer allot of reasons they DONT finish the last mile.

Anonymous Coward says:

About 27% of American adults over the age of 65 don’t use the internet, according to the Pew Research Center.

Of the remaining 73%, would they be comfortable giving personal information to sign up for the vaccine? Would they know how to check whether they’re communicating with the legitimate government body managing this? Even for the rest of us, I’ll bet there are more than a few ad-hoc sites like StateCovidVaccine.com that are official but disregard the hierarchical nature of DNS, so as to leave us guessing.

The hackers of 2600 Magazine have noted a large number of questionable COVID domains being registered in the past year, including an attempt to "phish" the employees of the World Health Organization (which is how they got the chief computer security person, Flavio Aggio, to give a keynote address at their conference).

Broadband access, though, is (or should be) a red herring with regards to vaccine signup. The dialup services of 30 years ago had sufficient capability to collect one’s name and contact data, and respond with appointment details. If the modern sites require one to load 10 MB of Javascript first, well, that’s their own stupidity.

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