At MIO, we’re well aware that broadband isn’t being used to its full potential because not enough of the right people know what it is or what it can do for them. And since they don’t know what they’re missing, they’re not asking policymakers or the companies that provide broadband to make it more accessible. This is, in essence, the underlying problem that will perpetuate the digital divide.
Our nation’s goal is to decrease that divide: to help key decision-makers understand what broadband is and why they need it; encourage companies and policymakers to make it widely available; and help communities make the most of the opportunities it offers for economic development, increased quality and reach of services, and jobs.
So when we (MIO) were ready to talk about our mission and reach out to the people who need to understand the value of broadband, we decided to jump right into the lifeblood of online communications: social media.
We wanted to focus on Twitter, Facebook and blogs. To better understand how to make the most of these resources, we worked with Nology Media, a content publishing, measurement and marketing agency that uses social media to connect brands with audiences. In other words, social media gurus. The folks at Nology outlined the steps we needed to take. First on the list was much like starting a discussion in person: identify the influential people who are talking about broadband, and then join their conversations.
We spent a combined 25 hours searching Facebook, Twitter and various blogging sites for people in the United States talking about broadband. What we found is, in itself, an important illustration of the digital divide.
We were surprised to learn that not many individuals who are knowledgeable and influential about broadband are actually talking about it through one of the hottest communication mediums available: social media. We identified only six key people, or “influentials,” who are consistently engaged in broadband dialogue: Andrew McLaughlin, with 6,058 followers; Susan Reynolds, with 5,089 followers; Cecilia Kang, with 4,905 followers; Bill Schrier, with 3,228 followers; Rachelle Chong, with 1,478 followers; and Craig Settles, with 939 followers.
While it’s true we searched for only 25 hours, it’s important to point out that the Internet is supposed to make it easy to find information, yet this wasn’t our experience with social media. There may be other broadband gurus having conversations out there, but if it takes more than 25 hours to find them, then doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having the conversations online?
What are they talking about?
Ironically, the people who have the most to gain from broadband aren’t even talking about it—nor are they the people being talked to through social media. In fact, based upon a review of conversations occurring among the influentials’ followers, we found that the top six influentials are more often talking with one another. Furthermore, those conversations are dominated by the following topics: policy, announcements (mergers, new devices or apps) and technological issues.
Even entities like Benton Foundation, Pew Research Center, Speedmatters.org, Public Knowledge—all of which release really good information about broadband challenges and usage—aren’t often talking to the real target audience: the current generation, which hasn’t yet adopted broadband but should to join the digital age. Instead, conversations are primarily among those who are already broadband-savvy. Policymakers and industry experts are talking to one another, and too often we couldn’t find information that explains to the target audience in plain English and in a way that matters to them what broadband is, what it can do for them and who can help them get online.
We also discovered that, while existing conversations are happening online, they’re still not reaching broadband’s true target audiences.
Needed: the right message to the right people and in the right place
When our founder traveled around the state last year in her prior role as Washington’s Broadband Policy and Program Director, she talked to potential end-users about what broadband can do for them. During those conversations she was repeatedly asked, “Why aren’t we hearing more about why broadband is important in the news, on TV or in radio?”
Our observation is that the people who are out there advocating for increased broadband usage should be talking about it where it will be really heard and in a manner that truly communicates broadband’s importance.
Consider where people get their news and information today:
- 32% of social media users are ages 23-35
- 26% of social media users are ages 36-49
- 68% of online news users are under the age 50
- 39% of ages 30-49 are online news users
- Average Facebook user is 38
- Average Twitter user is 33
Clearly, the majority of decision makers still rely primarily on traditional media for their news and information. Ironically, they are the very people with the clout to push for wider broadband use if they could only realize what it can do for them in their work and community. But they’re not hearing about broadband in traditional media.
As for the older demographic that is participating in social media, if they even monitor broadband they’re mostly hearing talk about policy, technology changes and announcements. That’s because the policymakers and industry experts are largely talking to one another. They’re not using social media to talk about broadband to others, and they don’t seem to be using traditional media to talk about broadband at all. So are we all really talking about broadband effectively?
What needs to change?
The broadband industry (both public and private sectors) needs to start talking about the value of broadband in a way that resonates with each audience (specific to education, health care, small business, public safety, agriculture, etc.). Plus, the conversation needs to occur, at least for now, in both social and traditional media in order to connect everyone to the issue, irrespective of age, and to one another.
How do we do this?
- We can’t wait for the magical moment when the target audience suddenly sees the light and starts using broadband. Due to the digital divide and the reasons for it, those people don’t know what they’re missing. Instead, influential broadband advocates need to change what they say about broadband, and how and where they discuss it.
- The people who have the most to gain from broadband need to understand in terms that make sense to them what it is, what it can do for them, how they can get access to it, and how they can put it to use. They need real-life examples that resonate with their lives and needs and that are backed by facts and figures to justify the effort to bring broadband into what they do.
- This more robust and meaningful conversation needs to reach the influentials in education, health, agriculture, transportation, small businesses and others.
At MIO, we want to decrease the digital divide. So we’re going to start talking. Naturally we’re going to talk to the people who want to maximize the opportunities provided by broadband. But we’re also going to talk to the people who aren’t using broadband but should be, because they’re the ones who stand to benefit the most. We encourage our peers who are influential in broadband—as well as those who aren’t talking about their laudable accomplishments—to start using both social and traditional media to talk about broadband beyond our inner circle. By reaching all age groups we can collectively generate a ripple effect of transformation and change into the digital age.
Angela Wu, Founder of MIO, a nonprofit corporation, shares facts and figures to inform, educate and connect the benefits of broadband-based applications and services to what people do.
 Hampton, Kieth N., Lauren S. Soulet, Lee Rainie, and Kristen Purcell. “Social Networking Sites and Our Lives | Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.” Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 16 June 2011. Web. 11 July 2011. <http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2011/Technology-and-social-networks.aspx>.
 Purcell, Kristen, Lee Rainie, Amy Mitchell, Tom Rosenstiel, and Kenny Olmstead. “Understanding the Participatory News Consumer | Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.” Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 1 Mar. 2010. Web. 11 July 2011. <http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Online-News.aspx?r=1>.
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 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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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