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Broadband's Impact

Tim Bobrowski: Let it snow; we won’t miss school

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Despite the same landscape and weather challenges faced by many areas of West Virginia, in 2015, the schools in Owsley County, in the coalfield region of eastern Kentucky, did not lose any days of school to snow or inclement weather.

In that same year, we were able to dramatically increase the number of students graduating from high school with an associate’s degree, or that were college- or career-ready.

What made these remarkable improvements possible was widespread access to high-speed Internet.

Thanks to a federal investment in broadband infrastructure a few years ago, and a real spirit of innovation and determination at the local level, 90 percent of households in our region have access to high-speed Internet.

In terms of our education outcomes, installing up-to-date Internet infrastructure was a game-changer for our county.

West Virginia, that opportunity is now yours.

In 2010, Owsley County school district, which covers a rural population of about 4,500 people, was one of two school districts in Kentucky selected for a pilot program to use nontraditional instruction methods to improve educational outcomes.

The cornerstone of that program is an innovative, cutting-edge education platform called Blackboard, which uses digital content, online learning and class management systems to provide both students and teachers with a 24/7/365 learning environment.

Five years later, and that program has expanded to 44 districts across the state.

The impact that providing an effective online learning environment has had on our students has been remarkable. College- and career-readiness numbers have seen tremendous growth in the past three years for the district.

Seven percent of Owsley County’s graduates were recognized as being college- or career-ready in 2010. This year, 79.4 percent of graduates were college- or career-ready.

There were 10 days during the past school year when I had to cancel classes because of bad weather. But, rather than having to tack those days of learning on to the end of the year, disrupting vacation plans and parents’ work schedules, thanks to Blackboard, we were able to keep students engaged with nontraditional lessons, help them complete assignments and provide direct teacher support. The teachers were in their homes, teaching, and the students were in their homes, learning.

(And, for those of you wondering whether our students really pay attention during nontraditional online lessons, this past school year, 92 percent of students completed the assignments given by teachers on those snow days. That’s an excellent return, even when teachers are in the room with their students.)

Additionally, this technology has made it easier for students to take dual-credit classes at local colleges. Rather than losing half a day to travel, now students can integrate college-level classes into their Blackboard learning environment. As a result, we now have students graduating from high school here with associate’s degrees.

We’re getting our kids ready for college, and ready for the workplace. That’s a competitive advantage for our students and for the state of Kentucky.

None of this would have been possible if not for the fact that 90 percent of households in our region have access to high-speed Internet.

Owsley County is one of the poorest in America. It is rural, sparse and pocketed by mountains. If we can build this infrastructure here, what is stopping other rural communities from doing the same?

I believe providing Internet infrastructure, and all the opportunities that come with that, could well be one of the most transformative events that happens for Appalachia.

Tim Bobrowski is the superintendent of the Owsley County School District, in Eastern Kentucky.

Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.wvgazettemail.com

A great argument from Tim Bobrowski, the superintendent of the Owsley County School District, in Eastern Kentucky, on the application of broadband to education.

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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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Broadband's Impact

USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability

Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.

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Hernan Galperin of USC's Annenberg School

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.

In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”

Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.

“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.

“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”

The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.

The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.

The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.

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Broadband's Impact

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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