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On Cyberbullying, Education and Enforcement Bills Compete for Congressional Action

WASHINGTON, June 12, 2009 – Hill staffers and online safety said Friday that two bills currently before Congress take very different approaches to issues of cyberbullying and online. Speaking at a panel sponsored by the Family Online Safety Institute, CEO Stephen Balkam said that the “key question” of the day was whether or not it is possible to legislate internet safety.

Andrew Feinberg

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WASHINGTON, June 12, 2009 – Hill staffers and online safety said Friday that two bills currently before Congress take very different approaches to issues of cyberbullying and online.

Speaking at a panel sponsored by the Family Online Safety Institute, CEO Stephen Balkam said that the key question is whether or not it is possible to legislate internet safety. Over the past decade, multiple commissions of countless experts have determined that there is “no silver bullet” to protecting young people as they venture online.

Instead, the consensus of each succeeding study has been that a “combination of tools” is required, and that “education is key,” he said. A similar study in the United Kingdom reached many of the same conclusions, he said.

And while Balkam noted the panelists represented widely differing viewpoints on the best way to approach the problem, he would not minimize the seriousness of the issue: “None of us will deny challenges exist,” he said.

“Children and adults today have… come to rely on the Internet for everything,” said Mercedes Salem, legislative counsel for Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif. Sanchez is the sponsor of the Megan Meier Cyberbullying Prevention Act, which would impose criminal penalties for severe harassment which Salem said “crosses a line” beyond normal schoolyard antics.

“We’re not dealing with face to face bullies anymore,” she said. Instead, what was once a shove on the school playground is now reaching home to after school hours, and to students’ mobile devices.

“There’s a big difference” when a bully can attack “any time of the day, anywhere.”

And while education is crucial to prevent such behavior from becoming status quo, Salem stressed the need for legislation to “punish people who cross the line” into criminal behavior. “This is not about hurt feelings,” she said, “but punishing criminal acts.”

Jason Tuber, a legislative assistant for Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., did not dispute the severity of cyberbullyin or the consequences of ignoring it. “Everyone can agree this is a serious problem,” he said.

But in answering Balkam’s original question on legislating safety, Tuber was blunt: “I think the answer is simply no.” But Congress can make it more likely that children are safe by providing resources for parents, educators, and other stakeholders, he said.

Sen. Menendez’s bill, the School and Family Education about the Internet Act, would provide for grants for educational programs and award them based on objective criteria, with the grants adjustable from year to year based on changing needs and technologies, Tuber said.

Progress and Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow Adam Thierer, who has served on prior task forces mentioned by Balkam, called the Menendez bill’s educational approach “infinitely constitutional” — a stark contrast to other child safety laws which have been struck down by courts on First Amendment grounds.

Enforcement and regulation-based laws don’t go anywhere but to court, Thierer said. Speaking of the decade-long battle over the Child Online Protection Act, which was overturned last year, he asked: “How did that make kids better off?”

Thierer would not rule out criminal sanctions, but only in cases of “really aggrieved online harassment,” which he took pains to differentiate from “kid on kid” conduct traditionally handled by schools.  And real “adult on kid” harassment – the sort that served as the impetus behind the Megan Meier Act, “may be a different story,” he said.

Salem defended her boss’ legislation as providing a new option for prosecutors, and not a knee-jerk reaction to a single incident. “We want to stop this behavior: We need new tools, new laws.” Schools may be well-equipped to deal with traditional bullying, she said, but they can’t address conduct that may be criminal.

Andrew Feinberg is 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.

Digital Inclusion

Popularity Of Telework And Telehealth Presents Unique Opportunities For A Post-Pandemic World

A survey released earlier this month illustrates opportunities for remote work and care.

Benjamin Kahn

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Screenshot of Hernan Galperin via YouTube

April 20, 2021—A survey conducted by the University of Southern California in conjunction with the California Emerging Technology Fund explored the popularity and availability of opportunities for telework and telehealth in California.

At an event hosted by USC and CETF Monday, experts dissected the survey released earlier this month to explain the implications it may have for the future. Hernán Galerpin is an Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California. He served as the lead investigator for the survey, which analyzed Californians’ attitudes towards their new schedules during the Covid-19 Pandemic.

The first statistic Galerpin noted was the extent of broadband growth in California between 2008 and 2021. According to the survey, in 2008, only 55 percent of Californians had broadband coverage. By 2021, the number had risen steeply to 91 percent, with 85 percent of Californian’s utilizing broadband through either a desktop, laptop, or tablet (with the rest connected exclusively through a smartphone).

This is significant because it helps to explain the next statistic Galerpin showed; according to his data, Galerpin stated that approximately 38 percent of employed adults worked remotely five days a week over the course of the pandemic, while 45 percent did not work remotely (17 percent worked between 1-4 days remotely).

When asked how many times they would like to telecommute to work, respondents were most likely to indicate a preference for what they had become accustomed to; those who worked from home five days a week had a 42 percent chance of preferring working from home 5 days a week; those who worked from home three to four days a week had a 35 percent chance of preferring a three to four day telecommute schedule; those who worked remotely one to two days per week had a 56 percent chance of favoring a one to two day telecommuting schedule.

The data collected also indicated that low-income and Hispanic workers were disproportionately unable to telecommute.

Overall, telecommuting five days a week was the most popular option, with 31 percent of total respondents favoring that arrangement. By comparison, only 18 percent of respondents favored a schedule without any telecommuting.

President and CEO of CETF Sunne Wright McPeak called this data “unprecedented,” and stated that broadband had the potential to serve as a “green strategy” that could limit the number of miles driven by employees, and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as other harmful pollutants. According to the data, as many as 55 percent of work commutes could be offset by a reconfigured telecommuting schedule.

The benefits of broadband did not stop there, however. Data also indicated that nearly 70 percent of Californians 65 years and older were able to utilize telehealth services, whether that was over the phone/smartphone or computer. Unsurprisingly, wealthier Californians were also more likely to benefit from telehealth services, with nearly 56 percent of low-income Californians going without telehealth, compared to 43 percent of “not low income” Californians.

An additional positive sign was that the overwhelming majority of disabled individuals were able to utilize telehealth services, with 70 percent of disabled respondents indicating that they were able to do so over the course of the pandemic.

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Education

Multilingual Digital Navigators Crucial For Inclusion

Digital liaisons who speak multiple languages can help guide multilingual communities for the digital future.

Derek Shumway

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Screenshot taken from the Net Inclusion webinar

April 19, 2021 – Encouraging multilingualism among digital navigators will help facilitate better inclusion in digital adoption, experts said last week.

Speaking Spanish is a huge plus for digital navigators in Salt Lake City, Utah, for example, as many of its focused neighborhoods needing to be connected to broadband speak the language,  said Shauna McNiven Edson, digital inclusion coordinator at Salt Lake City Public Library.

Edson and other panelists spoke last Wednesday at the 2021 Net Inclusion Webinar Series hosted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a digital inclusion advocacy group on what skills are needed to become a digital navigator.

At the Salt Lake City Public Library, progress is there but challenges persist for digital inclusion and navigation. Edson said there were about 450 participants in its library program’s group for digital inclusion. However, only about 5 percent of participants, or 22 people, have adequate broadband at home. Seventy-five percent of members said they needed help finding a computer or internet-enabled deice, and 10 percent of its 450 members have contacted the library’s support staff for It issues.

Digital navigators are crucial because they connect community members with the skills and resources they need to become digitally literate and help them get adequate broadband. Navigators can be volunteers or cross-trained staff who already work in social service agencies, libraries, health, and more who offer remote and socially distant in-person guidance. 

Compared to the rest of the country, Salt Lake City is highly connected, said Edson. Every community has a unique demographic make-up, and if the communities who need access to broadband mostly speak Spanish or English or even Mandarin, there should be community anchors with highly trained digital navigators to help the underconnected.

Andrew Au, director of operations at Digital Charlotte, said digital inclusion should include adult education. Every library and public institution that offers internet services should have digital navigators available and onsite to guide individuals in their communities and offer continuing education resources to keep digital skills literacy up, he said.

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Broadband's Impact

Mentorship Instrumental To Women Involvement in Telecom Industry

Experts advise mentorship and encouragement to get more women in the industry.

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Mitsuko Herrera, center, via Montgomery County, Maryland

April 19, 2021 – A group of women were asked to rate gender equality in their workplace on a scale of 1-10. Their average score? About a four. The solution? More mentorship early in their lives.

The women, experts in network companies, spoke at the event, “Women in Broadband: Achieving zero barriers,” hosted by fiber network company Render Networks last Wednesday.

Kari Kump, director of network services at Mammoth Networks, said that in the broadband industry, she rates it a four, and in government jobs, a bit higher at five. Kump said she sees lots of women in marketing positions and non-technical managerial positions that “may oversee tech.” She said the worst gender equality in her view is at the construction site, where women “pay the bills” in the office rather than being out on site.

What’s causing gender inequality? The problem starts long before the job interview. Mitsuko Herrera, from planning and special projects for Montgomery County, said in her current work, only 2 out of 25 colleagues are women.

“The opportunity may be there, but we don’t see a lot of qualified women in the industry,” she said. Even before they reach college, women and girls need to have opportunities for engagement across various industries. Having mentors at an early age would greatly increase women participation and influence at work. In the workspace, praising women privately is just as important as praising them publicly, said Herrera. Women need to know they are supported at all times with all people.

Having better representation at the table is crucial because diverse perspectives affect industry and society for the better, said Laura Smith, vice president of people and culture at Biarri Networks. “The groups making decisions should reflect society,” she said.

And even if there is diversity, it’s not enough to have women at work for diversity’s sake—you also need to listen to that diversity and not ignore it.

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