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EXCLUSIVE: An Array of FCC Partners on ConnectED Program Strive for Digital Education

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WASHINGTON, October 13, 2014 – As technology permeates society, students are growing more comfortable with learning in the technology medium. Whether it’s organizing tables in Microsoft’s Excel, learning design software, or computer programming, there are increasingly fewer excuses to avoid technology. Tech giants like Microsoft, Autodesk, Apple and Prezi are embracing this rapid evolution and helping educators improve digital readiness in the U.S.

The mechanism by which they’re doing this is the White House’s ConnectED initiative, announced in June 2013, and which aims to complement and enhance the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program. While E-Rate subsidizes schools’ costs for telecom and internet service, ConnectED extends to giving students the tools to adopt 21st century skills free of charge.

Moving Beyond The Textbook

“There’s only so much you can learn from a textbook,” Rebecca Wong said. Beyond pure academia, there’s an entire realm of skills for students to seize. Designing – whether it be movies, skyscrapers, or automobiles – is just one skill Autodesk is promoting.

The 3D design software company has dedicated $250 million to secondary schools in 2014, with plans to continue support in the future. Currently, it has offered software to 3, 300 schools, Wong said. All it takes to start using the software is a quick online registration online.

“Our mission is to help inspire students and empower teachers to imagine, create and design a better world,” Wong said. “When you think about the 21st century skills that these students are gonna need in order to succeed in the real world…we really think that the design thinking can play a very strategic role in helping to unlock those problem solving skills, creativity, collaboration, and communications [skills].”

By granting students free access to professional design software, Autodesk helps students become industry-ready.

“It’s ultimately a commitment to both education and the next generation of America,” Wong added. “It’s a commitment also to our customers. [They] tell us it’s really hard these days to recruit employees who are fresh from school who have the necessary skills to hit the ground running when they hit the work force. By doing this, it’s an extension of our commitment to our customers…that these students will ultimately be professional designers in the industry.”

Fostering Long-Term Partners In The Tech Industry

Safari Books Online shares a similar philosophy. The digital library company committed to help its parent company, O’Reilly Media, distribute roughly 2, 000 online books and training videos on computer technology topics to “every student in the country,” said Safari CEO Andrew Savikas.

Although Safari normally serves professional and corporate interests, Savikas said there are massive benefits to exposing students to his company’s content and brand as they advance in their education.

After all, some of the internet’s greatest phenomenon like Tumblr and Facebook were started by innovators who hadn’t even left school yet, thanks to access to programming tools at an early age. Imagine then, Savikas said, what students could do with professional resources in their hands.

“We benefit by having a lot of technology companies, a lot of energy, and enthusiasm in growth of the technology sector,” Savikas said. “And certainly, helping to spread and foster that among students really helps us to foster the next generation of companies and customers that we look forward to serving ten to 20 years from now.”

To date, Safari has launched a pilot program where students can sign up to participate. A larger rollout to all high school students across the country is scheduled for either late August or early September. By January 2015,  Savikas said he hopes all K-12 students will be served. Currently, U.S. law requires users of the software to verify they are above age 13, meaning that privacy concerns need to be considered.

The goal is for students to be able to log onto Safari’s website and access the entire catalogue of books and videos with just a few clicks.

While Safari’s commitment to ConnectED lasts two years, Savikas expressed confidence that support will be revisited and refined in the future.

More Immersive Classrooms

Even classroom lectures benefit from technology. At Montera Middle School in Oakland, California, Prezi ran a case study by offering teachers its cloud-based presentation software.

“One of the most valuable lessons I’ve taught this year, I actually taught through the Prezi platform,” said Courtney Connelly, a Montera teacher in Prezi’s case study video. “It was a comparison of classical, medieval and renaissance art, and it was this beautiful moment where [the students were] arguing with each other about ‘hey no, it’s classical – but no, it’s not because of the emotion on the face.”

Students became more engaged, Connelly said, adding that it’s a sign that classrooms need to catch up with the vast technological knowledge that digital natives have already acquired.

Prezi’s software allows teachers to present lectures on a virtual canvas with stimulating visuals. A zooming user interface allows navigation through information with ease.

Prezi’s commitment covers $100 million worth of four-year EDU Pro licenses – the highest tier of software available for educators – that are being given to Title I high schools for free.

Cost Savings On The Cloud

Like Autodesk, Prezi’s software offerings are cloud-based, freeing schools from the reliance on sophisticated hardware.

“For schools on a limited IT budget, the fact that they have access to free software is a huge chunk off their IT budget that they can spend on other things,” Wong said. “That wasn’t possible before.”

Geographic information software company Esri also committed $1 billion to making its advanced mapping software, running on cloud infrastructure provided by Amazon Web Services, available for free to more than 100, 000 elementary, middle, and high schools in the U.S.

In May 2014, Esri President Jack Dangermond said in a statement: “Geographic Information System technology gives students powerful tools for understanding our planet, and teaches them to become problem solvers…preparing [them] for further education and expanding career opportunities in fields that can help and better manage our world, build better lives for more people, and design a better future.”

Making Tech More Than Just An Elective

Acquainting students with technology is especially important since the future economy will be “fueled by creators and innovators” in the digital realm, said Marissa Hopkins, a spokeswoman for Adobe.

“Adobe believes that creativity cannot just be an elective – where some youth get to be creative after school or because their school can afford to purchase technology tools – but that instead, creativity is the future for all young people. That’s why we’re supporting ConnectED – to increase access to creativity for all.”

Adobe is making its $300 million contribution to Title I qualified schools by donating creative tools like Adobe Photoshop Elements and multimedia software like Adobe Premiere Elements. It will also provide eLearning tools like Adobe Presenter and Adobe Captivate.

The application process for teachers, schools and students began in early June, and Adobe has since been reviewing them on a rolling basis. The ConnectED commitment will continue for five years or until 15, 000 schools are served, with plans to continue support in the future via Adobe’s own Education Exchange and Youth Voices programs.

No Software Without Hardware

In June, Apple opened up its applications for iPads, MacBooks, and technical training to “schools with a high percentage of students in lunch assistance programs.” Apple has committed $100 million to the program.

Likewise, Microsoft has a $1 billion commitment to serve students with both hardware and software. It has thus far partnered with multiple hardware companies to bring tablets and laptops to schools including the Lenovo ThinkPad, ASUS Transformer Book T100, Acer Travelmate TMB113-E, and the Toshiba Satelite NB15t.

Windows 8.1 Pro and Office 365 ProPlus will also be made available for free to schools that apply, on top of Microsoft IT Academy training to familiarize students and teachers with technology.

Serving The Unserved

Together with Verizon, will lend wireless tablets, as well as hands-on learning tools to every Native American student in ten school-related dormitories on reservations across the West and Midwest of the U.S. Verizon will deploy broadband infrastructure to provide robust wireless connectivity.

The telecom company’s total commitment numbers at $100 million over the course of several years, as does Sprint’s, which seeks to bring free wireless service to 50,000 low-income high school students over the next four years.

There’s precedence for technology fostering higher academic achievement. An evaluation study conducted in January by the International Society for Technology in Education, a nonprofit organization that serves educators, found that schools with Verizon Innovative Learning Schools (a professional development program for teachers) that integrated mobile technology experienced much more positive results than others.

Students and teachers from 24 elementary, middle, and high schools participated. The control group included schools without mobile technology as well as schools with mobile technology that did not participate in any systematic, professional development program focused on using technology effectively to teach students.

Among other things, teachers in the VILS program reported that 35 percent of their students showed higher scores on classroom assessments; 32 percent showed increased engagement in the classroom; and 62 percent demonstrated increased proficiency with mobile devices.” Sixty percent of teachers also reported that they were providing more one-on-one assistance to students by using their mobile devices and 47 percent said they were spending less time on lectures to the entire class.

Free Of Charge

With all the free hardware, software, and educational tools being offered to schools, one could be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at the motive and end goal of these tech companies.

There really isn’t a catch, Wong said. The contributions by each of the ten ConnectED partners are a steadfast dedication to the next generation of innovators and customers.

“What are you waiting for?” she asked. “It’s free.”

Or as Ashley Whitlatch, Global Education Relations at Prezi, puts it: “we’re giving away tools to educators that are able to utilize them to improve education. Why would that ever be a bad thing?”

 

Digital Inclusion

Digital Inclusion Week Highlights Focus on Broadband-Disconnected Urban Residents

Most Americans benefitting from federal spending on rural broadband are white non-Hispanic Americans, says NDIA.

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Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance

WASHINGTON, October 8, 2021 – Experts on digital empowerment pressed the federal government to maintain a focus on broadband equity during a Wednesday event, hosted on Wednesday by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance as part of “National Digital Inclusion Week.”

Speaking about the broader agenda for NDIA, Angela Siefer, the non-profit group’s executive director, said that NDIA’s purpose was to provide “peer-to-peer learning. We get the conversation started. Everything we get is from boots on the ground.”

This theme of community-informed practice and knowledge sharing echoed throughout the presentation.

Siefer said that NDIA “learned that digital redlining is happening in Cleveland” from discoveries that came from having boots on the ground and from living there.

“Digital redlining” refers to discrimination by ISPs in deployment, maintenance, upgrade or delivery of services. Often, as was alleged in Cleveland, NDIA accused AT&T of avoiding making fiber upgrades to broadband infrastructure. The group has also published reports with the Communications Workers of America making similar charges.

These discoveries have built momentum for some, including New York Democratic Rep. Yvette Clark’s Anti-Digital Redlining Act, introduced in August. The bill attempts to ban systematic broadband underinvestment in low-income communities.

Panelists argued that federal government perpetuates digital divide

Underinvestment in historically excluded communities extends beyond large corporations’ – it includes the U.S. federal government’s broadband investment approach. Paolo Balboa, NDIA’s programs and data manager, said that federal government perpetuates racism within the digital divide.

Balboa discussed how federal broadband programs focus funds on expanding availability to residents in unserved and underserved rural areas, but ignore the many – often black and brown – urban Americans lacking high-speed internet access.

But NDIA’s research found that most Americans benefitting from federal spending on rural broadband are white non-Hispanic Americans. Americans who lack home broadband service for reasons besides local network availability are disproportionately of color, says NDIA.

The panelists argued that federal policies directed at closing the digital divide by spending primarily on rural infrastructure leaves out the digital inclusion programs urban and some rural inhabitants need.

Amy Huffman, Munirih Jester, Paolo Balboa, Miles Miller

In finding that fewer than 5 % of the bulk of American households without home broadband are rural, NDIA argues for a federal policy approach centering cost of access as the solution to connecting more families of color. The officials advocate a broader focus that includes the experiences of urban city and county residents for whom cost is the major barrier.

Munirih Jester, NDIA programs director said that NDIA keeps an active list of free and low-cost internet plan available for low-income households, and how they may access it to find affordable ISPs.

Amy Huffman, NDIA policy director, discussed the provision of COVID-19 response funding. She highlighted organization’s resources to raise awareness of the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit, a program to help households afford Internet service during the pandemic.

This year, more than 100 events were registered as part of this week’s Digital Inclusion week, with many visible on the NDIA blog, said Yvette Scorse, NDIA Communications Director.

In a statement this Monday, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications Infrastructure Agency spotlighted the agency’s efforts on the topic, including its Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program which is making $980 million available to Native American communities.

As previously reported this August, NTIA recently launched Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program making $268 million in grant funds available to HBCUs and other Minority-serving institutions.

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Digital Inclusion

Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates

Panelists argued that lack of equitable digital access is deadly and driven by lack of competition.

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September 24, 2021- Affordability, language and lack of competition are among the factors that continue to perpetuate the digital divide and related inequities, according to panelists at a Thursday event on race and broadband.

One of the panelists faulted the lack of public broadband pricing information as a root cause.

In poorer communities there’s “fewer ISPs. There’s less competition. There’s less investment in fiber,” said Herman Galperin, associate professor at the University of Southern California. “It is about income. It is about race, but what really matters is the combination of poverty and communities of color. That’s where we find the largest deficits of broadband infrastructure.”

While acknowledging that “there is an ongoing effort at the [Federal Communications Commission] to significantly improve the type of data and the granularity of the data that the ISPs will be required to report,” Galperin said that the lack of a push to make ISP pricing public will doom that effort to fail.

He also questioned why ISPs do not or are not required to report their maps of service coverage revealing areas of no or low service. “Affordability is perhaps the biggest factor in preventing low-income folks from connecting,” Galperin said.

“It’s plain bang for their buck,” said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, referring to broadband providers reluctance to serve rural and remote areas. “It costs more money to go to [tribal lands].”

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that digital divide clearer and more deadly. “There was no access to information for telehealth,” said Morris. “No access to information on how the virus spread.”

Galperin also raised the impact of digital gaps in access upon homeless and low-income populations. As people come in and out of homelessness, they have trouble connecting to the internet at crucial times, because – for example – a library might be closed.

Low-income populations also have “systemic” digital access issues struggling at times with paying their bills having to shut their internet off for months at a time.

Another issue facing the digital divide is linguistic. Rebecca Kauma, economic and digital inclusion program manager for the city of Long Beach, California, said that residents often speak a language other than English. But ISPs may not offer interpretation services for them to be able to communicate in their language.

Funding, though not a quick fix-all, often brings about positive change in the right hands. Long Beach received more than $1 million from the U.S. CARES Act, passed in the wake of the early pandemic last year. “One of the programs that we designed was to administer free hotspots and computing devices to those that qualify,” she said.

Some “band-aid solutions” to “systemic problems” exist but aren’t receiving the attention or initiative they deserve, said Galperin. “What advocacy organizations are doing but we need a lot more effort is helping people sign up for existing low-cost offers.” The problem, he says, is that “ISPs are not particularly eager to promote” low-cost offers.

The event “Race and Digital Inequity: The Impact on Poor Communities of Color,” was hosted by the Michelson 20MM Foundation and its partners the California Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Southern California Grantmakers.

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Digital Inclusion

Outreach ‘Most Valuable Thing’ for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Rosenworcel

FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said EBB will benefit tremendously from local outreach efforts.

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Internet Innovation Alliance Co-Chair Kim Keenan

WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday that a drawback of the legislation that ushered in the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program is that it did not include specific funding for outreach.

“There was no funding to help a lot of these non-profit and local organizations around the country get the word out [about the program],” Jessica Rosenworcel said during an event hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance about the broadband affordability divide. “And I know that it would get the word out faster if we had that opportunity.”

The program, which launched in May and provides broadband subsidies of $50 and $75 to qualifying low-income households, has so-far seen an uptake of roughly 5.5 million households. The program was a product of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“We gotta get those trusted local actors speaking about it because me preaching has its limitations and reaching out to people who are trusted in their communities to get the word out – that is the single most valuable thing we can do,” Rosenworcel said.

She said the FCC has 32,000 partners and has held more than 300 events with members of Congress, tribal leaders, national and local organizations, and educational institutions to that end.

“Anyone who’s interested, we’ll work with you,” she said.

EBB successes found in its mobile friendliness, language inclusion

Rosenworcel also preached the benefits of a mobile application-first approach with the program’s application that is making it accessible to large swaths of the population. “I think, frankly, every application for every program with the government should be mobile-first because we have populations, like the LatinX population, that over index on smartphone use for internet access.

“We gotta make is as easy as possible for people to do this,” she said.

She also noted that the program is has been translated into 13 languages, furthering its accessibility.

“We have work to do,” Rosenworcel added. “We’re not at 100 percent for anyone, and I don’t think we can stop until we get there.”

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