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Government Should Promote Broadband Adoption and Focus on the Unserved, Says Cable Chief

WASHINGTON, March 5, 2009 – Broadband stimulus funds should be prioritized to unserved areas and encourage greater adoption, National Cable and Telecommunications Association president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow wrote in a Thursday letter to members of Congress.

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WASHINGTON, March 5, 2009 – Broadband stimulus funds should be prioritized to unserved areas and encourage greater adoption, National Cable and Telecommunications Association president and CEO Kyle McSlarrow wrote in a Thursday letter to members of Congress.

McSlarrow wrote to express NCTA’s enthusiastic support for the broadband stimulus programs, while informing lawmakers of the group’s preferred direction for grant programs.

“Our industry applauds the renewed focus on broadband” that the stimulus funding represents, McSlarrow wrote. The American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, signed by President Obama on February 17, allocates $7.2 billion for broadband programs to be administered by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service, with input from the Federal Communications Commission.

Congress should be a vigilant watchdog of the broadband grant funding, McSlarrow said. He suggested that lawmakers build “a framework within which these agencies, with appropriate oversight by Congress, can ensure accountability and most effectively meet the objectives of the Recovery Act with regard to broadband deployment and adoption.”

Extending service to the “small percentage of the nation’s homes with no physical access to broadband” should be the first priority of the grant programs, McSlarrow wrote.

McSlarrow emphasized that once the network is built, Congress must look to overcoming other barriers that prevent more widespread broadband adoption: “the lack of a computer or other equipment needed to connect to the Internet, low levels of basic ‘digital literacy’, and the lack of perceived value in broadband services.”

Funds remaining after build-out should be spent on “supporting programs that enable underserved populations to acquire and make effective use of broadband services where it already available,” he said.

In an interview, McSlarrow elaborated that the federal government should use its position to promote the benefits of broadband services. Consumers would see government as “more objective” in illustrating how broadband is relevant in their lives, or “why broadband matters not just to the country, but also to them as individuals.”

McSlarrow cited a Pew Internet & American Life Project study while suggesting a major factor behind low broadband adoption in many communities is those consumers “just don’t understand why it matters to them,” according to McSlarrow.

If government is to invest in building out broadband networks, McSlarrow said it should use a proportionate amount of resources to encourage more widespread adoption to overcome a perceived lack of relevance to some consumers. “If you’re going to… get everybody connected, you’ve got [to] go right after that specific challenge,” he said.

The new administration’s high regard for the usefulness of broadband should have ordinary people paying attention: “The fact that President Obama says broadband is important – that’s a statement that people are going to filter into their own lives.”

Despite the problems that lay ahead in getting all Americans to be active online, McSlarrow was optimistic about the benefits of expanding broadband beyond the 65 percent of Americans who already subscribe to high-speed services. “The truth is, we only have a faint glimpse of what’s to come if you have an America… that is completely connected,” he said. “We don’t even know what’s around the corner.”

In a separate interview, FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein said that the FCC should take a “comprehensive approach” in working together with other agencies to develop a national broadband strategy.

Adelstein suggested such a strategy should work “on both the demand side and the supply side,” in order to reach underserved populations: “I think a big part of looking at smart nationwide broadband deployment involves…not only ensuring that people understand not only the benefits of broadband but are encouraged to use it.”

Adelstein said government could increase demand for broadband services is by developing solutions “that help people use broadband to interact with the government.” Aggressive deployment of e-government programs could help assure broadband providers that there would be sufficient demand for their services once networks are built out, he said.

Reports in the telecommunications trade press place Adelstein, formerly an advisor to former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., on the short list to run the Rural Utilities Service after his second term at the FCC expires this June.

But Adelstein said he is focused on the goal of developing a national broadband plan – an initiative he has championed for most of his tenure at the commission. Adelstein wouldn’t comment on what he called “future possibilities” at the Agriculture department: “I’m focused on what I’m doing here.”

Broadband Breakfast Club

March Meeting: Broadband Competition: Do We Have It, and How Do We Get More of It?

BroadbandCensus.com presents the March meeting of the Broadband Breakfast Club at Old Ebbitt Grill on Tuesday, March 10, 2009, at 8 a.m. Because of the Commerce Department/Agriculture Department/FCC Public Meeting on broadband stimulus from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the Broadband Breakfast Club will adjourn at 9:30 a.m.

  • NEW! – James Baller, President of Baller Herbst Law Group, will provide a brief summary of the progress of the U.S. Broadband Coalition
  • Art Brodsky, Communication Director, Public Knowledge
  • Kathleen Ham, Vice President, Federal Regulatory, T-Mobile USA
  • Brent Olson, Assistant Vice President, Public Policy, AT&T
  • Emmett O’Keefe, Director, Federal Public Policy, Amazon.com
  • Scott Wallsten, Vice President for Research and Senior Fellow, Technology Policy Institute

Webcasts of the Broadband Breakfast Club Produced in Partnership with:

TV Mainstream

Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Education

Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning

Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.

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Screenshot of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event

WASHINGTON, May 25, 2022 – Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited and provide extra help for students who need individualized teaching, experts said at an event hosted by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation on Tuesday.

As policy makers weigh the options for a structure for AI in the classroom, panelists agreed on its benefits for both teachers and students. Michelle Zhou, CEO of AI company Juji Inc., said AI technology in the classroom can be tools and applications like chatbots for real-time questions during class, and post-class questions at home for when the teacher is not available.

Lynda Martin, director of learning strategy for strategic solutions at learning company McGraw Hill, said AI provides the extra help students need, but sometimes are too shy to ask.

When a teacher has a high volume of students, it is difficult to effectively help and connect with each student individually, Martin said. AI gives the teacher crucial information to get to know the student on a more personal level as it transmits the student’s misconceptions and detects areas of need. AI can bring student concerns to the teacher and foster “individualized attention” she added.

Privacy and security concerns

Jeremy Roschelle from Digital Promise, an education non-profit, raise the privacy and security concerns in his cautious support of the idea. He noted that there needs to be more information about who has access to the data and what kinds of data should be used.

Beside bias and ethical issues that AI could pose, Roschelle cautioned about the potential harms AI could present, including misdetecting a child’s behavior, resulting in potential educational setbacks.

To utilize the technology and ensure education outcomes, Sharad Sundararajan, co-founder of learning company Merlyn Minds, touched on the need for AI training. As Merlyn Minds provides digital assistant technology to educators, he noted the company’s focus on training teachers and students on various forms of AI tech to enhance user experience.

There is an “appetite” from schools that are calling for this, said Sundararajan. As policy makers contemplate a strategic vision for AI in the classroom, he added that AI adoption in the classroom around the country will require algorithmic work, company partnerships, and government efforts for the best AI success.

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Education

Closing Digital Divide for Students Requires Community Involvement, Workforce Training, Event Hears

Barriers to closing the divide including awareness of programs, resources and increasing digital literacy.

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Screenshot of Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Experts in education technology said Monday that to close the digital divide for students, the nation must eliminate barriers at the community level, including raising awareness of programs and resources and increasing digital literacy.

“We are hearing from schools and district leaders that it’s not enough to make just broadband available and affordable, although those are critical steps,” said Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said at an event hosted by trade group the Self-Insurance Institute of America. “We also have to make sure that we’re solving for the human barriers that often inhibit adoption.”

Song highlighted four “initial barriers” that students are facing. First, a lack of awareness and understanding of programs and resources. Second, signing up for programs is often confusing regarding eligibility requirements, application status, and installment. Third, there may be a lack of trust between communities and services. Fourth, a lack of digital literacy among students can prevent them from succeeding.

Song said he believes that with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, states have an “incredible opportunity to address adoption barriers.”

Workforce shortages still a problem, but funding may help

Rosemary Lahasky, senior director for government affairs at Cengage, a maker of educational content, added that current data suggests that 16 million students lack access to a broadband connection. While this disparity in American homes remained, tech job posts nearly doubled in 2021, but the average number of applicants shrunk by 25 percent.

But panelists said they are hopeful that funding will address these shortages. “Almost every single agency that received funding…received either direct funding for workforce training or were given the flexibility to spend some of their money on workforce training,” said Lahasky of the IIJA, which carves out funding for workforce training.

This money is also, according to Lahasky, funding apprenticeship programs, which have been recommended by many as a solution to workforce shortages.

Student connectivity has been a long-held concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students themselves are stepping up to fight against the digital inequity in their schools as technology becomes increasingly essential for success. Texas students organized a panel to discuss internet access in education just last year.

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Education

FTC Approves Policy Statement on Guiding Review of Children’s Online Protection

The policy statement provides the guiding principles for which the FTC will review the collection and use of children’s data online.

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FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2022 – The Federal Trade Commission last week unanimously approved a policy statement guiding how it will enforce the collection and use of children’s online data gathered by education technology companies.

The policy statement outlines four provisions in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, including ones related to limiting the amount of data collected for children’s access to educational tools; restricting types of data collected and requiring reasons for why they are being collected; prohibiting ed tech companies from holding on to data for speculative purposes; and prohibiting the use of the data for targeted advertising purposes.

“Today’s statement underscores how the protections of the COPPA rule ensure children can do their schoolwork without having to surrender to commercial surveillance practices,” said FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan at an open meeting on Thursday.

Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter added Thursday that although COPPA provides the strongest data minimization rule in US law, it’s enforcement may not be as strong, saying that “this policy statement is timely and necessary.”

Slaughter, who was the acting FTC chairwoman before Khan was approved to lead the agency, said last year that the commission was taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to tackling privacy and data collection practices of ed tech companies, which has seen a boom in interest since the start of the pandemic.

Thursday’s statement comes after lawmakers have clamored for big technology companies to do more to prevent the unnecessary collection of children’s data online. It also comes after President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address earlier this year that companies must be held accountable for the “national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.”

Lawmakers have already pushed legislation that would reform COPPA – originally published in 1998 to limit the amount of information that operators could collect from children without parental consent – to raise the age for online protections for children.

Thursday’s FTC statement also seeks to scrutinize unwarranted surveillance practices in education technology, such as geographic locating or data profiling. Khan added that though endless tracking and expansive use of data have become increasingly common practices, companies cannot extend these practices into schools.

Review is nothing new

“Today’s policy statement is nothing particularly new,” said Commissioner Noah Phillips, saying that the review started in July 2019.

Commissioner Christine Wilson, while supporting the statement, was also more withdrawn about its impact. “I am concerned that issuing policy statements gives the illusion of taking action, especially when these policy statements break no new ground.”

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