As broadband gaps grow during COVID-19, newspapers are the right home for public notices

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By Tonda Rush, NNA General Counsel

Making sure Americans receive public notice on matters of critical concern to them during the coronavirus public health crisis requires newspapers as the primary venue, National Newspaper Association President Matt Adelman, publisher of the Douglas (Wyoming) Budget, said this week.

“NNA is not the only news organization to notice that during the pandemic access to every digital source is being undermined by lack of effective broadband access. While we’ve commented before that 25-30% of rural America lacks any type of broadband, at least some of those people could use the internet at work. Now, with people working at home and lacking access to libraries and restaurants, internet access is a growing problem,” Adelman said.

Adelman cited a recent CBS News report that the pandemic has worsened the access problem. He thanked NNA member Jim Bardwell, publisher of the Gladewater (Texas) Mirror, for calling the report to his attention.

“Newspapers have to educate their public policy representatives constantly about what meaningful internet access is. It is more than just having fiber under the road near someone’s house. It is about having adequate speed to use the system. And then, it is about having the money to pay for the service. The big picture: paying a dollar or so for a local newspaper is more effective and reliable when you need to know what is going on,” Adelman said.

The NNA has advocated for public notice in newspapers for most of its 135 years, arguing on Capitol Hill that while websites and mobile apps are useful for enhancing public notice, the function of providing official record of notices through newspapers is largely unchanged.

“I am issuing this statement now both to remind our members that their communities have an ongoing problem with access and to keep resources before the public to help our citizens protect their right to know,” Adelman said.

The CBS news report is here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-great-broadband-divide-living-without-high-speed-internet-access/

Microsoft’s rural broadband report is here: https://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2018/12/03/the-rural-broadband-divide-an-urgent-national-problem-that-we-can-solve/

The FCC’s resources on rural broadband gaps can be found here: https://www.fcc.gov/about-fcc/fcc-initiatives/bridging-digital-divide-all-americans

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