Ohanian—a vocal supporter of net neutrality—made the remarks during an Instagram Live chat with Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-Fla.) about the coronavirus.
In the discussion, both Ohanian and Murphy said more needed to be done to close the digital divide—the gap between Americans who have access to high-speed internet and those who don’t. As more and more Americans work from home and are schooled from home because of coronavirus and social distancing, the gap has been underscored.
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Murphy said the coronavirus has shined a bright light on the issue and argued that Congress should address it when it tries to focus on how to “restart our economy” in the wake of the coronavirus.
“There are communities and children who don’t have access to broadband or the tech equipment that they need to be able to access their education right now. This crisis is highlighting the importance of us closing that digital divide, because you’re just going to make opportunities less available” Murphy said, adding: “I really am somebody who believes it doesn’t matter what zip code you are born into, you should have access to the American Dream, and that means having access to some of these simple things: education, and technology, and quality healthcare. Those are just the core building blocks.”
“Now that we’ve seen it underscored in this crisis,” Murphy continued, “When we get to the bills that look at ‘how do we restart our economy,’ I think it’s critically important we make those investments into broadband and make sure we ensure all kids have access to a quality education, and everybody has access to healthcare.”
Ohanian agreed, calling the lack of broadband access in rural America a “tragic shortage.”
“That sort of last mile broadband doesn’t exist. This current FCC has not shown much of an interest in expanding that, and I’d love to see more leverage put on broadband companies,” Ohanian told Murphy. “No one’s particularly a big fan of their cable company and when you really consider the fact that we’ve facilitated an oligopoly. Basically there’s only a few per region, they don’t really have to compete. And in America, in a capitalist system where there’s no competition, it’s a big problem because the whole point is we, as consumers, are supposed to be better off when there’s competition. And because there isn’t, these broadband companies have been able to get away with it for too long.”
The most recent coronavirus relief bill did include funding for broadband, but it was mostly focused on telehealth.
The FCC has announced a number of moves it says will help Americans stay connected during the coronavirus emergency, including the “Keep Americans Connected Pledge.” However, some experts believe the agency could be doing more.