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Ajit Pai Comes to Senate Oversight Hearing, Defends his More Limited Vision of FCC Authority

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WASHINGTON, March 10, 2017 – Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai defended his very vision of the agency’s role, as compared with his predecessor, during the first Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing this year. The difference in attitude between Pai and former Chairman Tom Wheeler on broadband deployment highlighted the differences between the two.

“High-speed Internet access, or broadband, is critical to economic opportunity. But there are still too many parts of this country where broadband is unavailable or unaffordable,” Pai said, describing a “real and growing digital divide” between cities with ubiquitous 4G wireless service and rural areas where such service is lacking.

Pai said the FCC already had the tools to ameliorate such problems. In particular, he highlighted already-extant Universal Service Fund programs that subsidize broadband service for low-income Americans, and the push he has made since becoming FCC Chairman to roll back and revise “regulations that deter the private sector from investing in next-generation networks.”

That was a reference to his initial efforts to overturn the Open Internet order that reclassified broadband service under Title II of the Communications Act, and which asserted FCC authority to promulgate and enforce network neutrality regulations. Rolling back those rules has been a major goal of Pai’s and other Republicans for many years.

Pai also highlighted recent plans to use the second phase of the agency’s Mobility Fund to increase wireless broadband access and his plans for “Gigabit Opportunity Zones” that would use tax incentives to encourage investment in high speed networks in currently underserved areas. Pai’s proposal has been compared to the “Empowerment Zone” concept that was to spur investment in minority communities, and was championed by former Rep. Jack Kemp, R-N.Y.

Some Senators weren’t convinced by Pai’s attempts to pledge allegiance to the cause of affordable broadband and access for all.

Ranking Member Bill Nelson, D-Fla., expressed concern that Pai was planning major changes to the E-Rate program, which has historically enabled schools and libraries to connect to high-speed networks at reduced rates. Nelson called the program “essential to schools and libraries. I would expect the FCC not to make any major changes” until completing the required review of the program in 2018, he said.

Senator Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, also questioned Pai on his desire to roll back network neutrality regulations in light of the proposed merger between AT&T and Time Warner — a merger Pai claimed the FCC had no legal authority to review under the so-called “public interest” standard – because the merger would not involve any FCC license transfers.

Schatz asked Pai if rolling back Network Neutrality regulations would mean that the FCC could no longer enforce the merger conditions placed on Comcast when the FCC approved its merger with NBC-Universal. Pai responded that the FCC could enforce merger conditions already in place. But he did not say how the Commission could enforce conditions based on regulations if the regulations were no longer operative.

Regarding the AT&T-Time Warner merger, Senator Tom Udall, D-Colo., asked Pai directly if he would respond to pressure from the Trump Administration to possibly hold up the merger because of the Trump Administration’s dislike of Time Warner subsidiary CNN’s news coverage.

That subject reportedly came up in meetings between Trump advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner and Time Warner executives. Pai deflected the question, refusing to comment.

Despite Pai’s repeated assertions that Network Neutrality regulations were stymieing investment in broadband networks and innovation, Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., had other ideas. He pointed out that when it came to network neutrality harming investment and innovation, “the sky is not falling.”

Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Education

Fiber Broadband Companies and Consultants Tout Their Work for Social Good

Fiber providers, equipment companies and consultants discussed their work in communities in a session at Fiber Connect

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Photo of Ritchie Sorrells of GVTC Communications, Hu Meena of C Spire, Ji Soo Song of Education Department's Office of Educational Technology and Keven Morgan of Clearfield by Drew Clark (left to right).

June 16, 2022 – Leading fiber broadband platforms are hoping to positively impact future generations beyond fiber deployment through education programs for youth, scholarship awards, and traditional community service events, said panelists at Fiber Connect event Tuesday.

The panel discussion, according to promotional material for the panel in advance of the session at the conference, “represented a new level of commitment based on the belief that operators have a responsibility to make the communities they serve even better.” The showcase panel was a way for the Fiber Broadband Association to highlight the work of providers, equipment vendors, consultants and government officials.

Companies are particularly focused on how to influence following generations for good. C-Spire is working with schools in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math education, and it provides programs for youth to learn coding and participate in coding challenges hosted by C-Spire.

Working with the state of Mississippi, fiber provider C-Spire made computer science education available to all K-12 students in the state and donated $1 million for teacher training. C-Spire also provided more than $3 million in scholarships for higher education.

GVTC Communications, a consultant to the telecom industry, works with local nonprofits, churches, schools, and businesses to donate full thanksgiving meals to families in need every year since 2012.

Listening to the needs of the community is essential to make an impact, agreed the panel. “When you have listening as your core value, you find out things that you can really make a difference in,” said Kevin Morgan, chief marketing officer at Clearfield, a provider of equipment for fiber builds.

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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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