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FCC and Connect to Compete provide solutions for Cost of Broadband Adoption

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WASHINGTON, Thursday November 10th 2011,  The Federal Communications Commission’s Chairman Julius Genachowski announced what the Commission is touting as the “Biggest effort ever to help close the Digital Divide.”  Following up on the launch of the Connect to Compete  private and non profit sector partnership a couple of weeks ago, yesterday’s announcement at Langley Education Campus in Northeast Washington DC laid out specific initiatives to drive broadband adoption for students and low income communities.

The Chairman’s began by addressing the huge issue that is our digital divide.  68% of American households are not connected to broadband in their home.  If the broadband adoption gap were fully closed, the size of America’s online market would increase by 50%.  Mr. Genachowski stressed that landing many jobs today require digital skills and students with computers in the home are better situated to compete in school and in the eventual workplace.

Genachowski reiterated some of the findings from a Pew Study on adoption and mentioned that the three reasons given for non adoption were lack of understanding and relevance, lack of digital literacy, and cost.

“Four weeks ago, along with leaders of businesses and non-profits, we announced the creation of ‘Connect to Compete,’ a first-of-its-kind national effort to address the barriers to broadband adoption. The focus in that announcement was on improving digital literacy and closing the skills gap. As part of that effort, many major companies made significant commitments to tackle digital literacy and promote adoption. For example, Best Buy announced it will put its 20,000 Geek Squad Agents to work beginning in 20 cities to train Americans in basic digital literacy.” Said Genachowski.

“Today, we are taking on the difficult challenge of cost – the primary obstacle to adoption for tens of millions of Americans, especially minorities and those hardest pressed in these challenging economic times.”

National Cable & Telecommunications Association and a coalition of cable providers are addressing the cost of adoption issue by offering a low cost internet service option for families with children eligible for the National School Lunch Program.  This low cost broadband for low income families will be available for $9.95 a month, which is approximately a 70% discount.

Michael Powell, President and CEO of NCTA released a statement later in the day saying, “Cable broadband providers reaching 86 percent ofU.S.households with broadband service have committed to participate in C2C or some other complementary program. They’ll offer a discounted promotional rate of no more than $9.95 a month (plus tax) for high-speed Internet access to qualifying families with kids in grades Kindergarten through 12 who receive free lunch under the National School Lunch Program.  Participating companies will waive installation fees in the case of standard or self-installation.  They’ll throw in a cable modem free of charge during the length of the program, or offer to sell one for a deeply discounted fee.  And those who sign up for the program will enjoy, at a minimum, download speeds of up to 1 Mbps, while some may receive faster speeds.”

Powell added, “The program will launch in 2012, in the back-to-school period for the 2012-13 school year.  There will be a sign-up window of three years.  And any family that qualifies and signs up can stay in the program for up to two years.”

Genachowski continued “Ten bucks a month for broadband. That’s great, but most of the families who don’t have broadband at home don’t have a computer either, and it doesn’t help if you have broadband but don’t have a device to get online.”

The second major announcement was that Redemtech, a technology refurbishment company has committed to offering refurbished laptops or desktops for $150.  Microsoft has also committed to offering a new set of laptops and desktops designed for students that start at $250.  Additionally Morgan Stanley has committed to developing micro financing plans to help low income families take advantage of these low cost offers.

Genachowski announced the further partnerships of a number of non profit, private sector and government actors who are committed to building the skills necessary to operate in a digital world.  Some of these partners include, United Way World Wide, Common Sense Media, Opportunity Nation, iKeepSafe, America’s Promise, oDesk, Appalachian Regional Council, Delta Regional Authority, Glassdoor.com, Indeed.com and the Learning Express.

TheJointCenterfor Political and Economic Studies will be tracking the effectiveness and promoting accountability along the way.

Pat Esser President of Cox Communications pledged his full support to the Connectr to Compete program and said, “Cox has launched its own community-based broadband adoption initiatives in California, Virginia and other markets so we have seen first-hand how the comprehensive approach of attacking the entire broadband adoption challenge – from digital literacy to affordability to relevance – is vitally important to making the connection a success.

Sig Behrens, Mircosoft’s General Manager of U.S. Education noted in his released remarks that, “Access to world class learning through the power of technology can help kids stay in school, graduate, get better jobs and contribute to economic growth. As part of the FCC’s ‘Connect to Compete’ initiative to accelerate opportunities for low income students and their families, starting early next year, Microsoft with its hardware partners will offer a series of affordable, high-quality education computers starting at $250 that include Windows and Office.”

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.

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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