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Web Content Producers Favor Net Neutrality, Reject Regulation of Search Engines

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2009 – Web content producers applauded the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission to turn Net neutrality principles into enforceable rules – but lawyers, academics and commissioners were divided on whether the agency should begin regulating the internet in the name of democracy and economic growth.

“The genius of the Internet is its openness, its dynamism and its availability to one and all,” said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps in his opening statements at a Tuesday afternoon workshop on “Democratic Engagement and the Open Internet.”

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WASHINGTON, December 16, 2009 – Web content producers applauded the efforts of the Federal Communications Commission to turn Net neutrality principles into enforceable rules – but lawyers, academics and commissioners were divided on whether the agency should begin regulating the internet in the name of democracy and economic growth.

“The genius of the Internet is its openness, its dynamism and its availability to one and all,” said FCC Commissioner Michael Copps in his opening statements at a Tuesday afternoon workshop on “Democratic Engagement and the Open Internet.”

“History teaches us that when a company has the technical capacity and a financial incentive to interfere, there will be some bad apples who will,” Copps continued. “Given what’s at stake, we need hard and fast rules…to keep them from doing so.”

Commissioner Robert McDowell said that throughout 15 years of development of the private internet, a bipartisan government has allowed for the Internet to grow unfettered by government regulation.

McDowell noted that the Constitution is a check on the government’s ability to limit speech. When the government guesses wrong and imposes a regulatory regime based on unfounded fears about the future, a market failure might soon follow.

Stuart Benjamin, the FCC’s latest scholar in residence, moderated the panel. Benjamin is a noted First Amendment scholar from Duke Law School, where he also teaches telecommunications law.

He began the workshop with the statements of web content producers, bloggers and actors. John Moore, CEO of Rowdy Orbit IPTV, supported a clear alternative platform and unobstructed direct line to under-served and minority viewing audiences.

People of color can go online, control their own cost, and connect with like minded people to create content without going through the approval process with a corporate executive. Garlin Gilchrist, director of new media at the Center for Community Change, wanted to inspire others to build stronger communities and promote passion for technologies. A truly open internet will allow local non-profits to connect with donors in their area, and open internet allows for funding from more outlets, said Gilchrist.

Michelle Combs from the Christian Coalition of America said that she wanted to protect her ability to Tweet and send YouTube videos to her constituents during a political race or when an amendment comes up in Congress that her organization opposes.

Glenn Reynolds, founder of Instapundit.com, added that low barriers of entry have created an entirely new face of journalism and information-sharing. He cited how independent journalists are now able to provide live commentary from Iraq, when many small broadcasters cannot afford such a luxury.

Bob Corn-Revere, a partner at Davis Wright and Tremaine and a self proclaimed student of the First Amendment, agreed that content regulation might be threat to the open internet. He agreed with McDowell’s view that Net neutrality rules were not the answer.

Jack Balkin, from Yale Law School disagreed with Corn-Revere. Balkin said that the open internet is crucial to freedom of speech and democracy because it allows people to actively participate in decentralized innovation, form new digital networks, and allows for freedom from prior government constraints. People can reach all audiences and route around gatekeeper with great new tools and applications. Balkin finished, “the First Amendment protects speech, not business models.”

Andrew Schwartzman from the Media Access Project, followed up on Balkin’s comments by asking, “Whose First Amendment right are we talking about? … An internet service provider is not serving as a speaker while it is serving as a conduit.”

Benjamin then asked the panelists, how serious was the problem of providers blocking internet access, if all past instances of blocking have been cured by currently existing open internet principles?

Content producers seemed to agree that the real danger lies in the fact that it is not clear what gate keepers will try to block. Reynolds said that while providers might have a First Amendment right to speak, they do not have the right to be an avatar for the speech of their customers.

To Benjamin’s second point, that there would be no consumer pushback to network management if consumers didn’t discover anything wrong, Balkin said, “Much of the problem is what we do not know and what we cannot find.”

Added Schwartzman: transparency is very important when most Americans have a very limited choice of provider and a very high switching cost.

The last question from Benjamin and audience members asked whether it would also be necessary to regulate search engines as well as internet providers. Here a clear majority that believed that search engines are not carriers and therefore do not need to be regulated.

As Deputy Editor, Chris Naoum is curating expert opinions, and writing and editing articles on Broadband Breakfast issue areas. Chris served as Policy Counsel for Future of Music Coalition, Legal Research Fellow for the Benton Foundation and law clerk for a media company, and previously worked as a legal clerk in the office of Federal Communications Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein. He received his B.A. from Emory University and his J.D. and M.A. in Television Radio and Film Policy from Syracuse University.

Public Safety

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.

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Photo of Lori Adams of Nokia discussing emergency communications response to Colorado wildfires at Mountain Connect by Drew Clark

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.

Screenshot of Blake Nelson, Jon Saunders, Wesley Wright and Thomas Tyler (left to right)

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.

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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 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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