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Three Women in Communications Policy Highlight Citizen Participation, Activism and Engagement for Broadband

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass., September 22, 2014 – Three of the most prominent women in communications policy on Thursday highlighted the vital role of citizen participation, activism and corporate engagement to ensure a collective high-speed broadband future.

“The next six to eight months are perhaps going to be the most important months in the history of communications policy,” said Gigi Sohn, special counsel for external affairs  at the Federal Communications Commission.

Sohn was referring to the agency’s open internet proceeding, possible FCC action to ensure that municipalities are permitted to provide broadband access, and decisions on the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable and AT&T-DirecTV mega-mergers.

Sohn spoke on a panel at the Broadband Communities economic development conference here in Western Massachusetts. She also lauded the work of her co-panelists Susan Crawford, a former Obama administration technology advisor now a visiting professor at Harvard School of Law; and Sharon Gillett, former head of the FCC’s Wireline Competition Division and currently Microsoft’s principal strategist for technology policy.

Crawford, a leading architect of the Obama administration’s aggressive efforts to stimulate the growth of high-speed internet networks, has been one of the nation’s leading visionaries for the power of fiber-optic communication. Of all available internet technologies, fiber is unparalleled in its ability to offer resilient ultra-high speed broadband connections.

Crawford’s latest book, The Responsive City: Engaging Cities Through Data-Smart Governance, tracks the role that fiber now plays in the democratic relationships on a civic level. Such technologies that enable greater transparency and problem solving by public officials and residents, the book co-authored with Stephen Goldsmith builds a case for deeper urban interconnectedness through broadband technologies.

“To give people dignified lives, we need to make sure people have fiber access,” Crawford said.

She’s also begun a new Project Fiber at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society. The effort plans to “document futuristic fiber networks being built in Massachusetts,” according to a job posting for a research assistantship.

Sohn, Crawford and Gillett all encouraged conference attendees to make their voices heard in Washington. Thanks to the work of internet pioneers like Crawford, Sohn said, Americans have finally begun to understand the importance of policy issues like network neutrality.

Referring to the 3.7 million public comments on the agency’s open internet proceeding by the September 15 deadline for comments, Sohn said that “most of them are from ordinary Americans.” It’s the highest number of comments ever received by the agency.

On net neutrality — and on the importance of municipalities being permitted to provide broadband internet services — Gillett said, “Your Congress needs to hear that, too. The White House needs to hear that, too.”

Gillett was speaking from experience as the head of one of the FCC’s most important bureaus. Prior to her work in Washington, Gillett played a central role bringing higher-capacity broadband to this region of New England through her role as executive director of the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. Crawford praised the work of Gillett and MBI is helping to enhance the fiber economy of the region.

In addition to highlighting the role of broadband infrastructure, Gillett spoke to the key role of digital literacy in enabling better lives through better broadband, and played a video about Microsoft’s efforts to teach digital literacy.

“Advanced communications networks are an essential part [of promoting technological advancement, said Gillett. “In and of themselves, they are not sufficient.”

Broadband investments also need “an ecosystem of planning, involvement and champions of various kinds,” she said.

Gillett also said that in her current role with Microsoft, she sees the company attempting to play an active role as a corporate citizen. And she joked about the name of the Microsoft facility at which she works: the New England Research and Development Center, or NERD Center.

In addition to citizen and corporate influence on actions by policy-makers, Crawford said it was vital to celebrate the connectedness enabled by the internet. 

On a global level, Crawford said she launched the annual One Web Day in 2006 in order to create “a global celebration of the internet” or an “Earth Day for the internet.”

One Web Day is September 22, 2014.

 

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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