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March 15, 2021

Wireless in the Time of COVID-19 .

Wireless in the Time of COVID-19

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CTIA CEO Meredith Attwell Baker
Meredith Attwell Baker
President & CEO

It’s been one year since COVID-19 was declared a national emergency. With remote as the new normal, COVID-19 has been a powerful reminder of the importance of connectivity.

Even as we’ve been physically apart, the wireless ecosystem has brought us together digitally and rose to the new challenges. Since last March, we’ve connected virtually with our co-workers, our health care providers, and our kids’ teachers in new and critical ways.

Even as we continue to navigate the pandemic, our industry is also shepherding our post COVID-19 world into being. 5G networks will play a key role in rebuilding our economy and helping our country recover so we can tackle the pressing challenges—from climate change to opportunity inequities—that we must address together.

Wireless Industry’s Response to COVID-19.

COVID-19 prompted sudden and significant changes in how we live, work, and educate our kids. America’s wireless networks rose to the occasion, handling an unprecedented surge in mobile voice and data traffic almost overnight. In many other countries, wireless networks strained to maintain quality and speed as COVID-19 drove increased demand last spring, while U.S. networks kept pace quite capably.

And we didn’t stop there. Over the past year we’ve continued to strengthen our networks: median wireless speeds in the U.S. increased nearly 50%, which is even more remarkable when you consider that mobile usage increased ~40% in that time.

COVID-19 presented the ultimate stress test for wireless networks, and our country’s wireless networks kept Americans connected when they needed it the most.

America’s wireless success is no accident or stroke of luck. Our networks met the challenges presented by COVID-19 thanks to the billions of dollars the industry invests annually to build some of the world’s most resilient networks.

In the past year, millions of kids began learning from home for the first time. To date, the wireless industry has helped connect 2.4 million students by providing free and discounted devices and data plans, as well as partnerships in place to provide millions more.
Meredith Attwell Baker, President & CEO

Helping Meet Americans’ Needs in Trying Times.

Not only did U.S. providers keep their networks strong, providers kept so many people—nurses, doctors, teachers, and many more—connected. Over the past year, wireless providers:

  • Offered more wireless data as demand surged and waived data fees.
  • Provided support to millions of subscribers impacted by COVID-19’s economic challenges, including expanded Lifeline offerings.
  • Increased mobile hotspot data amounts, as consumers looked to use their mobile devices to help handle their need for more data. One provider found consumers were using their mobile device’s hotspot ability nearly 40% more than average so they could share that mobile data connection with other devices.
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Keeping America's Kids Connected | Tempele's Story

Connecting Kids. In the past year, millions of kids began learning from home for the first time. Wireless companies quickly acted to make sure these students had the connectivity they needed to continue their education. That meant providing millions of devices so kids could stay engaged with their classmates and teachers. Just watch Tempele, a 5th grade student, share what these efforts meant for her.

To date, the wireless industry has helped connect 2.4 million students by providing free and discounted devices and data plans, as well as partnerships in place to provide millions more.  And wireless companies have kept that focus up, with initiatives like AT&T’s partnership with Connected Nation, T-Mobile’s Project 10Million, and Verizon’s Innovative Learning program, to name just a few.  We applaud Congress’s funding—and Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s commitment—to help us finish the job and connecting all school aged kids and close the homework gap.

Bridging the Digital Divide. Those without connectivity have faced greater challenges and inequities in opportunities during COVID-19. Working together, we’ve made real progress, but we must all work collaboratively to bridge the digital divide.

That’s why the wireless industry supports the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program, an essential effort to keep low-income households connected during the pandemic, and why wireless providers are working with the FCC to ensure eligible consumers across America can use these funds for mobile wireless service.

We must keep focused on this goal. Because while wireless is already the broadband on-ramp for millions of Americans, all Americans should have real opportunities to benefit from our 5G economy.

Building the Platform for America’s Economic Recovery.

While we’ve been social distancing, U.S. wireless providers have been out building 5G networks, the foundation for our country’s post-pandemic recovery. In the past year, we’ve seen three nationwide 5G networks launched and more cell sites are being added every day. More and more mobile devices that can harness the power of 5G are being launched.

5G networks are a uniquely powerful economic engine. Boston Consulting Group found that our 5G Economy will unlock roughly 4.5 million new jobs and $1.5 trillion in economic growth.

These networks, fueled by billions of capital investment and powered by licensed spectrum, will enable new services and applications and spur new entrepreneurs who will grow and reshape our economy. Industry sectors across our economy are already exploring the connectivity offered by 5G to boost their operations and create entirely new products, services, and experiences.

It’s now clear that the U.S. is poised to be at the forefront of the 5G Economy and become home to 5G innovations that will carry us through the next decade.

* * *

Even as we continue to navigate the pandemic, our industry is also shepherding our post COVID-19 world into being. 5G networks will play a key role in rebuilding our economy and helping our country recover so we can tackle the pressing challenges—from climate change to opportunity inequities—that we must address together.
Meredith Attwell Baker, President & CEO

The past year has been challenging. But I’ve been in awe as to how our industry has pulled together, the astounding effort and long hours that have kept us connected.

I’m so proud of the employees who are out every day, adding capacity, maintaining networks, repairing devices, and staffing call centers. Know that your efforts have made a real difference for millions of your fellow Americans in this difficult time.

Their efforts have helped keep us connected there are now lights at the end of this long COVID-19 tunnel.  The wireless industry looks forward to continuing our work to make our country’s future even brighter.

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