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Broadband for All

By driving a large share of work and education online, the COVID-19 pandemic has likely triggered a permanent change in many economic sectors. That makes closing the digital divide and ensuring universal Internet access more urgent than ever.

STANFORD – COVID-19 has revealed both the strengths and weaknesses of America’s broadband Internet infrastructure. On the positive side, supply has not only withstood the remarkable increase in demand for e-commerce, telehealth, and communications, but expanded. As shelter-in-place measures and social-distancing rules reduced normal access to education and health services, the Internet compensated, at least in part, by providing remote connectivity to tens of millions of people.

Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former director of the US Congressional Budget Office, argues persuasively that, by unleashing competition and innovation, government regulatory policy in the United States has allowed the tech sector to grow. Computing power has increased 100-fold in the past 15 years. The US today has more high-speed broadband than Europe, and has avoided many unnecessary regulations that would have constrained private-sector initiative. As a result, 90% of American adults now use the Internet, and 25% of companies use the Internet of Things.

Moreover, McKinsey & Company projects that the number of IoT-connected devices globally will increase to 43 billion by 2023. It is safe to say that Internet usage will continue to grow so long as we avoid a regulatory reversal. In a recent survey of Americans who have worked remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, three-fifths of respondents say they would prefer to continue to do so. Similarly, 20% of chief financial officers have already started planning for a future in which at least 20% of their company’s workforce will operate remotely.

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