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Cities Need to be Involved in Municipal Broadband Because Their Future Depends Upon Such Networks, Says Panel

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WASHINGTON, May 29, 2014 – Four believers in municipal internet access expressed their dismay at the New America Foundation at an increasingly consolidated broadband marketplace – and promoted local government ownership as a remedy.

Speaking on a panel of experts on Wednesday at the think tank, they blasted giants AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable for failing to dispense proper service for localities.

“The incumbents are not building and what we’re hearing from our local communities is that these networks and no longer modern,” said Catharine Rice of the Southeast Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (SEATOA). “This [market] has failed because there are not competitive choices and that’s why communities have stepped in. It’s an infrastructure that they know they need for their community to be competitive in what is now a world market.”

In many cases, giant companies won’t invest in small localities at all because they don’t yield enough profit, said Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

“If you go into some of the larger towns that have DSL, the best they can do now is seven Megabits per second (Mbps), or 12 Mbps depending on the town,” Mitchell said. “This is more than 10 years after [some] areas were told, ‘don’t do anything yourself because we’re going to come invest in you.'”

Outside of metropolitan areas, Mitchell said it’s even more clear that investment will not occur.

“Unless you win the Google lottery or there’s some interesting local provider, you’re not going to have anyone who’s going to challenge the big dominant cable companies and that’s going to be more true as [the cable companies] get bigger,” he said.

When large providers do invest, Mitchell said that service is often sub-par, but not because providers are malicious. Comcast, the panel said, was overwhelmed by demand for its services.

“[Comcast is] an amalgamation of maybe tens, probably hundreds of cable companies on diverse systems that don’t talk well to each other,” Mitchell said. “When you’re serving over 20 million subscribers, you cannot do a good job.”

Joanne Hovis of CTC Technology and Energy explained that local governments can mitigate this problem by building fiber to homes, businesses, and community anchor institutions either by themselves or in partnerships with private providers.

Local governments, she said, are closest to people and their day-to-day issues, making them more responsive to the needs of the community.

“Local elected officials and staff [run] into people in the grocery store every day saying, ‘we have a problem, I can’t get broadband to my business the way I need to.’ We’re hearing this message,” Hovis said.

Hovis added that local governments were some of the “original innovators in broadband.” They were among the first to offer Gigabit Network services for school districts and libraries. They were the first entities to start building fiber optics in cost-effective ways that took advantage of existing construction projects, she said.

“Local governments have a really impressive and unique track record,” Hovis said. “There’s 15 years of projects both on the infrastructure and the adoption side.”

The most important ingredient in partnerships between private providers and municipalities, Hovis said, is to have a “real partner on the other side.”

“No matter what you do, no matter how many assets you put on the table, [or] how much you subsidize, if there’s not a partner on the other side who is really interested in your community and making substantial investments themselves, a lot of this is whistling in the wind.”

One example of a successful publicly-owned network started in Wilson, North Carolina, said Greenlight General Manager Will Aycock. The community included 7,000 external customers and attracted numerous young people drawn to the newly established Gigabit Network.

“One of the things we see [in Wilson] is the migration of folks into the community,” Aycock said. “Upload [speeds are] really important for creative class folks.”

This network connected much of the community’s schools, hospitals and libraries, Aycock said. More than 5,000 devices have been connected to the network.

“We live in the same community. We know what the needs are. We’re easily accessible [and] we’re very responsive,” Aycock said.

Challenges arise as large providers like Comcast conduct lobbying campaigns aimed at prohibiting local networks, Rice said.

“I think the big issue is consolidation and massive power that Comcast has,” Mitchell said. “Comcast is coming into D.C. now and hiring every last major lobbying and law firm to work on their side to make sure that nobody can be hired to work against it. This is a threat to our democracy…. Local governments can build networks that chip away at the monopoly power Comcast has.”

Mitchell concluded by stressing that laws permitting “one size fits all” regulation are troublesome because what’s true for one city may not true for a rural community.

“Each community has different assets, different entrepreneurs that have different goals,” he said. “Decisions should be made by that community because they have to live with the consequences of its action or inaction.”

Hovis and Rice both expressed the need to educate local statesmen on the workings of broadband and how faster networks can further advance the standard of life in the community.

“How can local governments stay out of the infrastructure that is the foundation of our economy, our democracy, and our education system, and our health care system?” Rice questioned. “It is the province of local government if it so chooses.”

Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Education

Fiber Broadband Companies and Consultants Tout Their Work for Social Good

Fiber providers, equipment companies and consultants discussed their work in communities in a session at Fiber Connect

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Photo of Ritchie Sorrells of GVTC Communications, Hu Meena of C Spire, Ji Soo Song of Education Department's Office of Educational Technology and Keven Morgan of Clearfield by Drew Clark (left to right).

June 16, 2022 – Leading fiber broadband platforms are hoping to positively impact future generations beyond fiber deployment through education programs for youth, scholarship awards, and traditional community service events, said panelists at Fiber Connect event Tuesday.

The panel discussion, according to promotional material for the panel in advance of the session at the conference, “represented a new level of commitment based on the belief that operators have a responsibility to make the communities they serve even better.” The showcase panel was a way for the Fiber Broadband Association to highlight the work of providers, equipment vendors, consultants and government officials.

Companies are particularly focused on how to influence following generations for good. C-Spire is working with schools in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education, and it provides programs for youth to learn coding and participate in coding challenges hosted by C-Spire.

Working with the state of Mississippi, fiber provider C-Spire made computer science education available to all K-12 students in the state and donated $1 million for teacher training. C-Spire also provided more than $3 million in scholarships for higher education.

GVTC Communications, a consultant to the telecom industry, works with local nonprofits, churches, schools, and businesses to donate full thanksgiving meals to families in need every year since 2012.

Listening to the needs of the community is essential to make an impact, agreed the panel. “When you have listening as your core value, you find out things that you can really make a difference in,” said Kevin Morgan, chief marketing officer at Clearfield, a provider of equipment for fiber builds.

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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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