Keeping America Connected: Beyond’s Year in Review

A young girl celebrates New Year's Eve via video chat during COVID-19.
Dec
31
2020

By Liz Vargas, Digital Director, Beyond Community

No doubt about it: 2020 will forever be remembered as the year of COVID-19. Within a few short weeks, phrases like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” made themselves a permanent fixture in the national vocabulary. But while the pandemic has made an indelible mark, it’s important to not lose sight of the positive things this year has also brought. As we get ready to put 2020 behind us, we will both celebrate our successes here at Beyond – which could not have happened without you, our community members – and also take a look ahead to what 2021 has in store for the world of internet and technology.

Broadband, The Key to 2020 Successes

With the pandemic closing businesses and schools, Americans relied on the internet to power everything from education to personal connections. Thankfully, our broadband networks were up to the challenge. The crisis drove an overall increase in internet traffic of 20-50%, with video conferencing applications experiencing as much as 700% growth, and broadband infrastructure held up marvelously under the pressure. Despite cable networks experiencing up to a year’s worth of traffic increase in the space of a month, there was no measurable impact on download or upload speeds. Without a doubt, this has much to do with the $290 billion that cable broadband providers invested over the last 20 years in building infrastructure, technology, smart engineering, and a flexible network foundation that is constantly being upgraded.

Student Connectivity

In the midst of an unprecedented shift to distance learning, school districts, states and municipalities came together with broadband providers to connect hundreds of thousands of students to the internet. From California to Connecticut, these partnerships ensured that the pandemic did not disrupt students’ education, especially students from low-income families. Thanks to distance learning partnerships, like those made possible by the K-12 Bridge to Broadband initiative, students could continue their education from the safety of home. In some cases, the broadband providers even helped students get laptops like Mediacom in Iowa or Cox Communications in Louisiana. Other cities and states were able to supplement this support with CARES Act funding to cover costs for families.

Commitments to Diversity and Inclusion on TV

While stuck at home for most of the year, Americans also turned to television to keep up with the world – or to escape from it. In the wake of racial equity protests over the summer, may TV networks stepped up to renew their commitments to diversity and inclusion. Comcast NBCUniversal announced a $100 commitment to fight injustice and inequality against any race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or ability. ViacomCBS introduced an initiative requiring unscripted – or reality TV – programming to ensure their casts include 50% talent that is black, indigenous, or people of color. Over the Holiday season, both Hallmark and Lifetime networks released their most diverse set of Holiday Specials yet. Lifetime’s shows included the first Indian-American lead and first Holiday special featuring a LGBTQ couple. Beyond is tracking other networks that follow this lead. We’re committed to keeping our community informed about these efforts in the new year.

The FCC’s Groundbreaking Wi-Fi Decision

In a major win for consumers, the FCC voted in November to free up more spectrum for Wi-Fi by allocating half of the 5.9 GHZ band for unlicensed broadband use. This landmark decision will free up more space for smart technology to power everything from homes and schools to factories and farms. The decision to split the band will enable the creation of a new, wide indoor channel that will bring faster Wi-Fi to American homes and businesses.

Will 2021 Be a Return to Normalcy?

Building on our successes in a challenging year, we are looking forward to 2021, with a new Presidential Administration, a fresh set of priorities and, hopefully, a return to normalcy! Here are three issues to keep an eye on.

Protecting Your Privacy

With so many Americans spending most of their lives online in 2020, we expect attention will turn back to the pressing issue of internet privacy. After all, how many people did their holiday shopping on the internet? And we don’t expect the trend towards “Zoom” calls to reverse any time soon! A single, federal privacy law would prevent states from enacting their own laws, which could be inconsistent, and complicate how data is protected and e-commerce is conducted. And when COVID-19 winds down and Americans once again begin to travel, a single, federal privacy law will ensure we’re protected equally, wherever life takes us. Beyond remains committed to the 3 C’s of privacy: Control, Confidence, and Consistency, which are best enforced by federal law.

Connecting Rural Americans

In light of this year’s successful partnerships to bring broadband to in-need students, attention will turn to the issue of rural broadband. Across the country, gaps remain when it comes to broadband access. Broadband providers are committed to bringing fast internet everywhere, and with some simple changes to federal programs, all providers can be encouraged to participate and speed up deployment even to the most remote parts of the country. America needs to be 100% connected.

Wi-Fi 6 Takes the Stage

Finally, coming up in the new year is the exciting next generation of internet: Wi-Fi 6. In addition to being nearly three times as fast as Wi-Fi 5, version six will include new technologies to allow routers to communicate with multiple devices and send data to multiple devices in the same broadcast. With the average home going from an average of nine devices to 50 within a few years, this combination of speed and versatility will be fundamental.

Whatever the changes 2021 may have in store, one thing won’t change: our commitment to empowering you to make a difference in your community or for your country. Your support has been vital in getting us to where we are, and we look forward to traversing the next stage of our journey together in 2021. To stay up to date on the latest broadband and technology issues, visit our Get Involved page.