As so many of us have experienced, most states issued temporary shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders to slow the spread of COVID-19. Many businesses transitioned to working remotely, while others had to close their doors completely. Despite these shutdowns, several industries have been defined as “essential” and their workers have continued to show up for work.
Of those considered essential, the utility and information communication technology industry will continue to remain relevant even as states begin lifting shelter-in-place orders. In order to understand what makes these industries essential, let’s look into the formal definitions and the roles these industries have played during the pandemic.
Critical Infrastructure is a term used by state and local governments to describe assets, systems, and networks that are essential for the functioning of a society and economy. According to CISA, essential workers are those who conduct and support a range of operations and services that are typically essential to continue necessary infrastructure sustainability.
The private sector and federal agencies created a list of Essential Critical Infrastructure Workers to help decision makers understand how they can ensure that these essential functions and critical workforce continue to work, despite the COVID-19 restrictions (CISA 2020). Those who work in critical infrastructure have a special responsibility to maintain their working schedule and are necessary to keeping critical systems and assets working.
Defined in several of CISA’s 16 Essential Critical Infrastructure guidelines, the utility and telecommunications industry have never been more relevant than they are today. They connect and power societies while keeping businesses and our economy operating.
Utilities create and maintain the infrastructure necessary to provide electricity, gas, water, and telecommunications. At home, utilities play a crucial role to your having a functional, comfortable, and livable space. Explained by CISA Director, Christopher Krebs, “Many of the men and women who work across our nation’s critical infrastructure industries are hard at work keeping the lights on, water flowing from the tap, groceries on the shelves, among other countless essential services.”
The utility industry plays a vital role in continuing operations during these times. They are responsible for ensuring both the functionality and safety of telecom and other essential services. Without electricity, we would not be able to power the technologies we use every day.
Information Communication Technology
The ICT sector is leading the efforts of remote work and virtual learning. As a result, keeping businesses running at a social distance is possible. Our daily lives were significantly altered in the midst of the pandemic, and the telecom sector has been crucial in supporting our communities, allowing us all to stay connected. Shelter-in-place created a new demand for remote working, virtual learning, home entertainment, and social interconnectivity.
We rely on ICT technologies to stay in touch with friends and family and for educational learning, work, daily news and updates. The demand for faster and more reliable internet and voice services has increased dramatically.
Here is just a glimpse of how the telecommunications industry has aided the response to COVID-19:
- The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced the Keep Americans Connected Initiative.
- High-speed connectivity, video-conferencing,and telehealth support first responders, healthcare, and government agencies.
- Increased and maintained network capacity support remote work and virtual learning.
- Free Wi-Fi hotspots have been opened to residential areas and small businesses.
- Late fees have been waived in certain cases.
- Cloud computing has supported on-demand availability of computing services, applications and data.
- AT&T donated $10 million to online learning.
- Verizon donated over $50 million to COVID-19 relief efforts.
A Brighter Future
Critical Infrastructure industries were essential long before the pandemic, but their importance to our economy and communities has become even more prominent in response to COVID-19. The utility and information communication technology industries have significantly improved essential services as the need for innovative solutions has increased.
The FCC has played an instrumental role in serving communities and regulating interstate communications. For example, it recently transitioned six megahertz of low-band spectrum available to the development of critical wireless broadband technologies and services by utilities and other industries. This transition will enable electric utilities to develop their own communication networks to meet the evolving technological needs of industries that provide crucial services to the public.
From surviving to thriving, the futures of the utility and telecom sectors remain positive. Demand for critical infrastructure remains strong, and forecasts of the future look promising.