WASHINGTON, May 30, 2014 – The president’s chief adviser on telecommunications, the head of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, on Thursday heralded the first of a series of workshops designed to find ways to “build on the momentum of our successful broadband grant program” without access to federal funds.
In a blog post on the NTIA’s web site, Larry Strickling recapped the history of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which tapped into more than $7 billion from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. NTIA was responsible for administering $4 billion of those funds, and used it to support 230 projects across the country. The bulk of the funding went to build “middle-mile” networks, and which appear to have enhanced competition in the marketplace for access to broadband transport services — particularly outside of the nation’s largest cities.
Additional funds were granted to public computer centers at libraries and educational institutions, to projects designed to promote digital literacy for low-income individuals, and for state-based initiatives designed to plan, map, and coordinate state and private-sector broadband investments. Although most of the infrastructure and training grants have been spent, the State Broadband Initiative will continue just beyond the end of 2014.
So the question now is: where do we go from here? It’s a question that affects communities across the nation that are investing in broadband to ensure they have the advanced telecommunications infrastructure – and tech-savvy citizenry – needed to drive growth, attract new businesses and remain competitive in the 21st Century economy.
And it’s a question for us here at NTIA since we want to continue to partner with those communities to keep moving the needle on broadband access and adoption. NTIA has a lot of expertise to share. Working closely with our grantees, we have learned how to build high-speed networks to link even the most remote, rural communities to the Internet backbone and supply high-capacity connections to schools, libraries, hospitals and other anchor institutions that have big bandwidth needs. Together, we have learned how to set up computer labs to serve people who don’t have broadband at home and how to design effective adoption programs to teach critical digital literacy skills to people who may never have turned on a computer before. And we have learned how best to help low-income households acquire discounted computer equipment and sign up for affordable broadband access.
As we look beyond our broadband grant programs, we are exploring ways that we can share this knowledge – as well as best practices and lessons learned from across our grant portfolio – to help communities working to close the digital divide. We envision using everything from toolkits and training programs, to webinars, wikis and workshops, to provide technical assistance, networking opportunities, funding leads and basic guidance for communities going down this path.
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.
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.
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.
Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning
Artificial intelligence can help fill in gaps when teacher resources are limited, an event heard.
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.
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 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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