One of the unheralded aspects of the pandemic is the performance of the national internet.
Tens of millions of people near simultaneously shifted from employer provided private networks to home-based internet connections. Demand increased for services such as telework, telemedicine, online education, shopping, video conference calling and entertainment streaming services. This caused unprecedented internet usage.
According to the NCTA, a consortia of internet providers, download demand soared 20% and upload demand soared 35% beginning in mid-March and remains at historical levels. It is important to recognize the increased demand did not occur gradually over time, but rather rapidly over just a few weeks. The existing internet backbone networks provided by companies like Comcast, COX, Verizon, AT&T, Liberty and others, were managed behind the scenes to smoothly adjust capacity to support the increased demand.
A year ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed the Net Neutrality regulations. At the time of the repeal, there was vociferous opposition, claiming the repeal would lead to “choked” internet capacity, higher prices and fewer service offerings. It was even necessary for FCC Chairman Pai to hire security staff because some of those opposing the ruling went to his home and threatened his elementary school-aged children.
In the year since the repeal, internet prices have not increased, we have a plethora of new entertainment streaming options and far from constricting traffic, recent events have demonstrated exactly the opposite.
It was a courageous and fortuitously timed decision by the FCC under Chairman Pai’s leadership.
Also, due to the 1996 Telecommunications Act, the FCC began mandating universal service fees be collected by the local, long distance, internet and cellular service providers. For example, Verizon collects $3.50 from each customer each month for every landline. This appears on your bill as a USF fee.
The funds are, by law, to be used for providing IT services to consumers in rural, underserved, high cost areas as well as schools and libraries. That money goes to the quasi federal government Universal Service Administration Company (USACo) to be administered for those purposes. USACo currently collects about $8.5B a year and has collected similar amounts since 1996.
As a result of recent events, the Frederick County government and Frederick County Public Schools are looking at areas considered technologically underserved. Instead of creating yet another fee or tax to address the issues, they should look into USACo funding. Perhaps the staffs of Senators Cardin, Van Hollen and Representatives Raskin and Trone could demonstrate their interest in Frederick County citizens and businesses by helping insure we benefit from a fund we are required by law to support.