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National Cable and Telecommunication’s ‘Adoption Plus Program’ Born on Discussions with FCC Chiefs

WASHINGTON, December 2, 2009 – The nation’s cable television and internet providers are once again making an aggressive push for broadband stimulus funds to be spent on “demand-side” programs as the National Cable and Telecommunications Association announced a pilot program for “Adoption Plus” – a proposal to promote broadband adoption for nearly 3.5 million children of middle school age.

The children targeted by the program live in around 1.8 million low-income households that are eligible for the National School Lunch Program and do not receive broadband services.

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WASHINGTON, December 2, 2009 – The nation’s cable television and internet providers are once again making an aggressive push for broadband stimulus funds to be spent on “demand-side” programs as the National Cable and Telecommunications Association announced a pilot program for “Adoption Plus” – a proposal to promote broadband adoption for nearly 3.5 million children of middle school age.

The children targeted by the program live in around 1.8 million low-income households that are eligible for the National School Lunch Program and do not receive broadband services.

The program, called “A+,”  for short, is detailed in filings NCTA submitted Monday to both the Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and found its genesis during extensive discussions between NCTA and the offices of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Omnibus Broadband Initiative Executive Director Blair Levin.

Genachowski and Levin both have history of support for using schools in the battle against the digital divide. Each played prominent roles in the development and implementation of the FCC’s “E-Rate” program in the wake of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The program – which still operates to this day – created a pool of funding to connect schools and libraries to the Internet.

During those discussions, all the parties realized there is “no silver bullet” for increasing broadband adoption, said NCTA president Kyle McSlarrow. “Our view…was that you needed to attack the problem in a way that was comprehensive.”

The A+ program, as proposed, would use federal funding to take aim at multiple barriers that have been identified as inhibiting broadband adoption, McSlarrow said. Each identified barrier would be attacked head on with digital literacy training for children, along with programs to provide discounted computers capable of internet access – as well as subsidizing the access itself. NCTA members have committed to providing cable modem service to eligible homes at a 50 percent discount over the next two years during the “pilot” phase of the program.

Genachowski was full of praise for NCTA and the A+ program. “Ensuring that all Americans have access to affordable broadband service is a national priority,” he said Tuesday in a statement.  He echoed McSlarrow’s assessment that there is “no silver bullet for promoting sustainable adoption,” and  called A+  “a program that will bring the benefits of broadband to millions of middle school-aged children in low-income households across the country.”

The NCTA proposal drew immediate statements of support from Members of Congress. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Community Reinvestment Task Force, said he “applauds efforts to develop public-private partnerships to expand access to broadband services, especially for children in economically-impacted communities where such access is very limited.” And Rep Linda Sanchez, D-Calif, said A+ “will help level the playing field for the children of working families who are currently being left behind in the digital revolution.”

Other stakeholders – including longtime advocates of “demand-side” broadband programs – were full of praise for the NCTA proposal. One Economy CEO Rey Ramsey called A+ “a bold and thoughtful approach to expanding broadband adoption to those who need it most,” and pledged his organization’s support. “One Economy will join forces with industry, government and other institutions to ensure that this initiative is the success it deserves to be.”

Family Online Safety Institute CEO Stephan Balkam said his organization would support A+ “particularly due to the focus on digital literacy.” And Internet Keep Safe Coalition president Marsaki Hancock hailed the A+ proposal as a “public-private partnership promoting broadband adoption includes comprehensive digital citizenship education, including security and media literacy training, through a scalable model to provide the skills and infrastructure necessary to create a generation of responsible, ethical, and resilient digital citizens.”

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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