Federal Government Considers Plans For Broadband Access

Although millions of Americans are at home, the Senate did not include money for broadband infrastructure in the $3 trillion stimulus package under consideration. However, the current bill does include some funding to deploy mobile hot spots around the country. Proponents of accessible broadband will try to add that to any upcoming stimulus package. Meanwhile, the U.S. government, along with several Big Tech companies, is providing global access to 16 supercomputers to help researchers discover vaccines to combat the coronavirus.

The Wall Street Journal reports that, “if a larger broadband plan is eventually adopted, the proposals could provide an influx of cash to telecom companies including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon Communications.”

A spokeswoman for the Republicans in the House Energy and Commerce Committee said her party supports funding for “Wi-Fi hot-spot devices, laptops and mobile phones,” but not ideas with “longer time horizons,” saying “we want policy decisions that have an immediate impact.” Democrats “are pushing to include broadband funding in any stimulus law, including funding for network infrastructure and boosts to federal programs that subsidize broadband equipment for schools and people with low incomes.”

The FCC now allows “broadband providers to offer free equipment and services to schools, libraries and hospitals, but it isn’t clear how many companies will take advantage of the new flexibility.”

AT&T and Verizon “have been pushing to secure funding,” and firms such as Kajeet that providess online learning hardware/software are hearing from “hundreds of districts asking for help.” “Our biggest challenge right now is, where do I find $100 million to convince certain factories in the other part of the world to build all the stuff we need?” said Kajeet chief executive Daniel Neal. “Our company does not have that capacity.”

Legislators are also “discussing ways to increase the availability of Lifeline, a federal subsidy for poor people to get mobile-phone plans.” The FCC has also “suggested two crisis-response ideas to Congress.”

Elsewhere, WSJ reports that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy stated that the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, which includes IBM, the Energy Department’s national laboratories, Google Cloud, Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and others, will put 16 supercomputers at the disposal of researchers looking for “vaccines and drugs to combat the novel coronavirus.”

Beginning Sunday, government and private-sector researchers will “be able to submit coronavirus-related projects through a website,” and projects will be approved by Consortium representatives with expertise in “high-performance computing, biology and epidemiology.” IBM Research director Dario Gil stated projects will be approved “based on merit and the path to fastest impact.”

“Ultimately, we need a cure,” said Gil. “To be able to tackle that, we need to accelerate science.”

Two IBM supercomputers — Summit, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Lassen, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory — are part of the Consortium’s compute power, which will total “over 265 petaflops of computing capacity, 775,000 computer processing unit cores, and over 34,000 graphics processing units.”

Energy Department undersecretary for science Paul Dabbar stated that researchers at its “Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee recently used the IBM Summit supercomputer to run simulations on more than 8,000 compounds and identified 77 small molecules that could be used to accelerate the discovery of new therapies and vaccines for the coronavirus.”

Related:
Verizon Gives All Mobile Customers 15GB of Extra Data During Coronavirus Pandemic, The Verge, 3/23/20