NAIROBI, Kenya, December 28, 2009 – Confusion about the legal status of undersea cables has caused internet connectivity costs to remain inappropriately high for web users in Africa, speakers said last week at a two-day conference here sponsored by the non-profit group Africa Gathering.
“There is a need for an on-going relationship regarding the integration of cables between states, in order to regulate bandwidth, and give consumers high quality internet access, at reasonable costs,” said Nkeiru Joe, a lecturer in International Law at the University of Kent, Brussels.
Joe said international maritime law allows anyone to lay cables and give competitive internet services to consumers, but this has not taken place in many African countries, including Kenya.
Panelists at the conference also discussed trends for young Kenyans setting up their own businesses. The event, held at the British Council, was sponsored by Kenya Airways, Africa Rural Connect, AccessKenya, and neo.net, among other local and international companies.
Mark Kaigwa, proprietor of the Kenyan social networking site, gotissuez.com, said his Web site is a forum for Kenyans to express their opinions and complaints about various issues they encounter in their day to day lives.
“Kenyans can now express their dissatisfactions regarding what they feel is not working in their society, and tell their experiences about whatever product or service that has been less than satisfactory to consumers. The web site will help them to get ideas for solutions since other users can offer ideas on how to solve these problems,” said Kaigwa.
Panelists examined the use of mobile phones for money transfers, online purchasing and the use of social websites such as Twitter and Facebook for business networking.
Rose Ohingo and Ann Muthui of the national carrier Kenya Airways, KQ, discussed how the airline has used social networking to attract a new client base as well as to keep in touch with existing customers.
“People are surprised and impressed to find Kenya Airways interacting with them on social networks where they are online. Where they build relationships with people on a personal basis. People try to verify if it really is a KQ representative, and then they dig even deeper trying to find the names of the people behind the account (s),” the two said at the conference.
Molly Mattessich, a Washington-based director of Africa Rural Connect, discussed the doors internet networking has opened for the nonprofit, which recently held an online contest for business ideas in Africa.
Lack of People Opting Into Emergency Alerts Poses Problems for Natural Disaster Scenarios
Disaster protocol experts remarked on lessons learned from fire outbreaks in Boulder County, Colorado.
KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 26, 2022 – A lack of people opting into local emergency alerts poses a severe challenge for public officials during natural disasters, a panel of experts said Tuesday.
The panel remarked on just how significant the number of people not subscribed to emergency alerts is during a panel on disaster preparedness at the annual Mountain Connect conference.
In Boulder, getting emergency alerts is on an opt-in basis, whereas in other areas, it is opt-in by default.
The specific focus of the panel was on lessons learned from the outbreak of fires in Boulder County, Colorado this past December.
Fires presented challenges for providers
Several challenges of managing a response to the fires were recounted.
Blake Nelson, Comcast’s senior director of construction, stated that some of his company’s underground broadband infrastructure buried at a considerable depth was still melted from the heat of the fires to cause service outages for customers. Thomas Tyler, no stranger to disaster response as Louisiana’s deputy director for broadband and connectivity through several hurricane responses, pointed out that it is quite possible local officials may be skilled in responding to one type of disaster such as a hurricane but not another like a tornado.
The panel also spoke to the challenges of coordination between essential companies and agencies if people do not have personal relationships with those who work at such entities other than their own.
Successful emergency responses to service outages during disaster serve as models for the future, with Nelson stating the internet provider opened up its wireless hotspots to temporarily increase service access and Tyler saying that standing up Starlink satellite internet access helped bring broadband to Louisiana communities only accessible by bridge or boat during their periods of disaster.
Conversation moderator Lori Adams, senior director of broadband policy and funding strategy at Nokia, suggested keeping town servers not in municipal buildings but rather off site and Wesley Wright, partner at law firm Keller and Heckman, recommended the Federal Communications Commission’s practice of developing strong backup options for monitoring service outages.
Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning
Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.
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.
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.
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 SIIA, formerly known as the Software and Information Industry Association. “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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