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Expert Opinion: Technology Policy Institute Study Misunderstands Purpose of Broadband Program

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Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition Finds Fault  with Study Critiquing Broadband Technology Opportunities Program

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2013 – The Technology Policy Institute issued a report on Thursday criticizing the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).  Unfortunately, the report reflects a misunderstanding of the purpose of that program.

The Technology Policy Institute study of BTOP mischaracterizes the purposes of the Program and fails to recognize the program’s enormous benefit to community anchor institutions across the country.  The authors of the study describe the BTOP program as a “rural subsidy” program.  In fact, the BTOP program is neither “rural” nor a “subsidy.”

While the Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP) administered by the Rural Utility Service (RUS) was focused on connecting rural residential consumers to “last mile” broadband, the principal purpose of the BTOP infrastructure program was to provide high-capacity “Middle Mile” broadband services to schools, libraries, health providers, community colleges, and other anchor institutions all across the country, not just in rural areas.  The BTOP program also provided valuable support for public computer centers and promoted broadband adoption in urban, suburban and rural areas.  Unlike an ongoing subsidy, BTOP provided a one-time investment in long-lasting broadband infrastructure that expands the reach of broadband services across many underserved geographic areas that previously suffered from an inadequate level of broadband capacity.  The National Broadband Plan called for anchor institutions to have 1 Gbps capacity by 2020, and the BTOP program has played an important role in moving us toward that goal.

The SHLB Coalition is a broad-based coalition of non-profit and for-profit organizations that promote open, affordable, high-capacity broadband for anchor institutions and their communities.  Enhancing the broadband capabilities of community anchor institutions promotes economic growth and enables the most vulnerable segments of our population to be equal participants in the 21st century society and economy.

John Windhausen is Executive Director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition (pronounced “SHELL-bee Coalition”).

 

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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Education

American Library Association Concerned With Burdensome Infrastructure Bill Reporting Requirements

The organization is concerned that access to federal money will come with burdensome reporting.

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Screenshot from the SHLB event on Thursday.

WASHINGTON, February 28, 2022 – Michelle Frisque, a consultant for the American Library Association, said at a webinar on Thursday that reporting requirements required for access to federal broadband infrastructure funds should not be burdensome or else it will harm the success of the program.

“While libraries understand and appreciate the need to gather data for assessment, to measure for impact, and promote accountability, we also ask that it’s not overburdening stakeholders with the intrusive and burdensome reporting requirements,” Frisque said at an event hosted by the Schools, Health, Libraries and Broadband Coalition, a nonprofit organization that aims to close the digital divide through the help of anchor institutions.

The ALA is concerned that it will be forced to breach privacy policy if it is required to report the effectiveness of money coming from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act. Because of this fear, the ALA has requested that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration ensure their reporting requirements don’t call for things like specific searches citizens may have used while on a federal computer funded by the IIJA, as that act would be unconstitutional.

The NTIA has fielded hundreds of comments since it released a request for input from the public about how it should implement the $42.5-billion purse allocated for broadband infrastructure under the IIJA.

One formal question, which drew Frisque’s response, was, “What types of data should NTIA require funding recipients to collect and maintain to facilitate assessment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law programs’ impact, evaluate targets, promote accountability, and/or coordinate with other federal Start and state programs?”

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