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'Net May Protect Economy From Swine Flu, GAO Finds

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2009 – The Internet could provide vital links between people and institutions to keep government running and businesses operating during an outbreak of H1N1 influenza, said a report released in October by the Government Accountability Office.

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WASHINGTON, November 3, 2009 – The Internet could provide vital links between people and institutions to keep government running and businesses operating during an outbreak of H1N1 influenza, said a report released in October by the Government Accountability Office.

Maintaining a robust infrastructure that can handle a rise in the use of bandwidth-heavy applications that would be used during widespread pandemic-based telecommuting should be a top priority for network operators during times of heightened concern, the report said.

“It is obvious that a functioning Internet will keep both government, private companies and individuals in contact, and people will be able to access information from wherever they are.”

The Internet would allow people to communicate effectively without coming together physically during an outbreak, GAO said. This would assist in creating “social distance” to reduce the potential for illness to further spread.

Many other governmental agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, have been advocating that businesses and other enterprises consider increased use of telework by their workforce as a way to continue operations while maintaining physical separation from other workers during a pandemic.

Doing so would typically involve employees working from home and accessing their business’s networks over an Internet connection. Some entities have also advocated the use of the Internet as a means for reducing the social isolation that could arise when people are asked to avoid contact with others.”

But despite warnings over the harm of an H1N1 outbreak, the Department of Homeland Security has not weighed in on the importance of protecting networks during a pandemic or under threat of one – a situation the report called “unfortunate.”

This omission contrasts the public tug-of-war for agency or executive authority to seize control of networks during national emergencies under proposed “cybersecurity” legislation.

Even without including H1N1 in its cyber doomsday scenarios, the department has failed to even assessed the viability of finding ways to call upon the public to voluntarily reduce non-essential network usage  in order to relieve congestion and maintain network availability for the public interest, the report scolds.

But a separate DHS study says increased demand during a severe pandemic could exceed the capacities of Internet providers’ access networks for residential users and interfere with teleworkers in crucial sectors such as the securities market and other sectors.

Currently, private Internet providers have limited ability to prioritize traffic or take other actions that could assist critical teleworkers – and many fear the FCC’s recent Net neutrality regulation would proscribe any such conduct, however well-intentioned.

An intern at the National Journalism Center, Mercy was a Reporter-Researcher for BroadbandCensus.com until November 2009. She was a business reporter on leave from the Daily Nation of Nairobi, Kenya. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and Education from Daystar University in Nairobi.

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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Health

Digital Literacy Training Needed for Optimal Telehealth Outcomes, Healthcare Reps Say

Digital literacy should be a priority to unlock telehealth’s potential, a telehealth event heard.

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Photo of telehealth consultation from Healthcare IT News

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – Digital literacy training should be a priority for providers and consumers to improve telehealth outcomes, experts said at a conference Tuesday.

Digital literacy training will unlock telehealth’s potential to improve health outcomes, according to the event’s experts, including improving treatment for chronic diseases, improving patient-doctor relationships, and providing easier medical access for those without access to transportation.

Julia Skapik of the National Association of Community Health Centers said at the National Telehealth Conference on Tuesday that both patients and clinicians need to be trained on how to use tools that allow both parties to communicate remotely.

Skapik said her association has plans to implement training for providers to utilize tech opportunities, such as patient portals to best engage patients.

Ann Mond Johnson from the American Telemedicine Association agreed that telehealth will improve health outcomes by giving proper training to utilize the technology to offer the services.

The Federal Communications Commission announced its telehealth program in April 2021, which set aside $200 million for health institutions to provide remote care for patients.

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