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Coronavirus Roundup: Senators Urge Distance Learning, Zoom Privacy, NTIA Broadband and RUS Grants

Adrienne Patton



Photo of then-Rep. Ed Markey by Michael Geissinger from November 1993 in the Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division

Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, on Thursday joined 31 of their colleagues in a letter to House and Senate leadership requesting funding for all K-12 students to have adequate home internet connectivity if their schools close due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The senators expressed their disappointment with the lack of such funding in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act that recently passed Congress, despite their repeated call for resources dedicated to distance learning.

The lawmakers urged leadership in both chambers of Congress to support $2 billion in E-Rate funding in the next coronavirus relief package for students to learn at home.

“Children without connectivity are at risk of not only being unable to complete their homework during this pandemic, but being unable to continue their overall education,” write the lawmakers in their letter to Senate and House leadership. “Congress must address this issue by providing financial support specifically dedicated to expanding home internet access in the next emergency relief package so that no child falls behind in their education.”

Sen. Markey was one of the authors of the original E-Rate program created as a part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.

Report: Zoom privacy remains questionable

In a massive unforeseeable shift to online schooling, worship, meetings, and working, Zoom is the go-to platform during coronavirus, but its privacy is questionable, reports Kate Cox for Ars Technica.

After recent negative attention for its privacy policy, Zoom changed aspects of the agreement. The policy boldly highlights, “Zoom does not sell customer content to anyone or use it for any advertising purposes.”

However, this isn’t the only problem. Zoom also shared data with Facebook, a feature that the company has since removed. A Vice Motherboard report also “found that users who sign up from the same email domain are automatically being added to each others’ contact lists,” writes Cox.

New York Attorney General Letitia James expressed trepidation in a letter to Zoom. “Zoom’s existing security practices might not be sufficient to adapt to the recent and sudden surge in both the volume and sensitivity of data being passed through its network,” wrote James.

NTIA updates American Broadband Initiative

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration updated the American Broadband Initiative under the Trump Administration, said NTIA Associate Administrator Doug Kinkoph.

While eight states are currently included in the National Broadband Availability Map, five additional states – Nebraska, New Mexico, Michigan, Missouri, and Virginia – have come on board.

“We have seen increased participation in our State Broadband Leader’s Network, and our BroadbandUSA website now has the most comprehensive information on state resources available,” said Kinkoph.

Also, “NTIA supported Verizon’s application to the FCC for a Special Temporary Authority to access radio frequency spectrum due to increased commercial use,” announced Kinkoph.

The NTIA continues to coordinate and work across sectors to expand connectivity.

On April 15, 2020, at 2 p.m. ET, NTIA will hold a BroadbandUSA "Practical Broadband Conversations" webinar series.

Second window for Agriculture Department's Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program

The Rural Utilities Service of the United States Department of Agriculture is opening a second window for funding is Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program.

Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the RUS was notified that several applicants missed the first window deadline of February 10, 2020. Rather than extend the deadline and prolong the allocation of funds, RUS will open a second application.

Under the first window, RUS used $71.7 million.


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