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Announcement and Support of Government Could Lead to First State-Wide Gigabit Network in Connecticut

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HARTFORD, Conn., September 16, 2014 – Connecticut state and city leaders on Monday announced a nationally-praised effort to build the first all-state Gigabit Network.

The mayors of the state’s second- and fourth-largest cities, New Haven and Stamford, joined with state legislative leaders, the state’s Comptroller, and others to seek to create an “open access” fiber-optic network targeting the state’s residential and commercial corridors with Gigabit connectivity.

A Request for Qualifications document released Monday envisions a public-private partnership leveraging existing state assets, including an existing ultra-high speed statewide fiber network that connects all 169 municipalities with multiple nodes and Gigabit access.

“This project is an important step toward making Connecticut the first Gigabit State,” Comptroller Kevin Lembo said. “It would be the ultimate economic assistance and incentive program – rewarding all business and industry with an infrastructure worthy of settling in Connecticut. It would serve as an open door to all businesses, including new ones and those already established here.”

“This collaboration among our cities and these state-level groups will lead Connecticut forward and avoid a damaging digital divide,” said New Haven Mayor Toni Harp.

“It’s essential that the municipalities in this state work together as a whole on this project,” said Stamford Mayor David Martin.

Economic Development-Driven Effort

In addition to the prime goal to “foster innovation, drive job creation and stimulate economic growth,” the RFQ’s other two goals include the provision of “free or heavily discounted 10-100 [Megabit per second] internet service over a wired or wireless network to underserved and disadvantaged residential areas,” and making Gigabit Network services available at low prices.

“Respondents are thus encouraged to fashion comments or responses to this RFQ that propose the involvement of the state’s assets in the Project,” read the document. It also encouraged “collaborative efforts among multiple governmental organizations in order to offset some of the local asset discrepancies.”

The document, which could lead to statewide procurement, grew out of efforts undertaken by Connecticut’s office of Consumer Counsel, bringing together national Gigabit leaders — including Blair Levin, architect of the Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 National Broadband Plan — earlier in this year.

“As soon as we started the conversation about Gigabit Network, we heard from businesses, universities, high-tech start-ups, mayors and first selectmen – really such a variety of stakeholders – about how greater internet speeds at lower costs are essential to their functioning,” said Consumer Counsel Elin Swanson Katz. Connecticut’s State Broadband Initiative office operates out of the Office of Consumer Counsel.

“It’s time we tear down the galls to Gigabit internet access in Connecticut, said state Sen. Beth Bye from West Hartford. “We have the will and I believe we have the ability to make this happen for Connecticut.”

West Hartford, the third of the three cities issuing the RFQ, is the state’s 11th largest city. Among the city’s assets is a 35 linear mile fiber optic network.

Business Support and Tangible Benefits

In addition to the commitments by New Haven, Stamford and West Hartford — and the interest of the state — technology business leaders pledged their support to making the effort a success.

“We have an opportunity to take Connecticut to the next level,” said Ted Yang, founder and CTO of the Stamford-based Media Crossing, a digital media start-up. “Our competitors in New York City and San Francisco don’t think twice about having the best broadband speeds, and we need to level the playing field.”

“We would like to see the progress of science and medicine being limited only by our intellectual capacity and imagination, not by the speed and volume with which we exchange and share our data and ideas,” said Dr. Yu-Hui Rogers, state director of the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in neighboring Farmington.

Declining costs of computing have dropped the cos of sequencing the humane genome from $300 million to less than $1,000. “Advances in sequencing the genome translates into health benefits for people,” she said. This can only happen if data can be rapidly shared among collaborating entities.

State Assets in Streamlined Rights of Way

Among the most significant drivers of the project will be the state’s ability to provide potential respondents with access to telephone poles and rights-of-way — the key building block to successful fiber-optic construction.

“All the utility poles across the state are subject to the central statutory jurisdiction of the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority,” read the RFQ. “The established and firm timelines for the entire pole attachment process that the Connecticut regulator has ordered and manages … thus facilitat[es] the deployment of broadband.”

The RFQ is the first state-wide effort to implement a model pioneered by Gig.U, a national non-profit consortium started by Levin after he concluded the National Broadband Plan in 2010.

The state-driven initiative also praise from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler: “High-speed broadband is an essential asset for today’s communities and tomorrow’s economy. Too many Americans lack real choices for fast, affordable Internet service, which I why I’m heartened to see these leaders commit to bringing gigabit connectivity to the businesses and consumers of central Connecticut. Today’s announcement will lead to more competitive choices for consumers and more innovation to create jobs and improve the lives across the region.”

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark is a nationally respected U.S. telecommunications attorney. An early advocate of better broadband, better lives, he founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for better broadband data in 2008. That effort became the Broadband Breakfast media community. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over news coverage focused on digital infrastructure investment, broadband’s impact, and Big Tech. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Clark served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative. Now, in light of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, attorney Clark helps fiber-based and wireless clients secure funding, identify markets, broker infrastructure and operate in the public right of way. He also helps fixed wireless providers obtain spectrum licenses from the Federal Communications Commission. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

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 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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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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