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Rural Broadband Focus Increasingly Necessary in Infrastructure Package, Say Blackburn and Panelists at Brookings



WASHINGTON, July 25, 2017 – Rural areas of Tennessee have lost business because they don’t have access to high-speed internet, Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn said Monday at a panel on broadband infrastructure hosted by the Brookings Institution.

Trump was aggressively pushing new infrastructure, said Blackburn, the chairwoman of the House Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee. Of the 19 counties she represents, 16 are rural, she said. When she goes into meetings with her constituents, the number one infrastructure issue is usually about broadband.

A woman raising a daughter and going back to college for nursing has to webstream some of her classes, she said. It took her four hours just to stream a lecture that lasted 45 minutes, Blackburn said.

The lack of broadband creates an opportunity gap, she said. But broadband can drive jobs, access to healthcare and educational opportunity.

The U.S. needs an investment of $130 billion to $150 billion in fiber infrastructure over the next five to seven years to meet the need, she said, citing a Deloitte analysis. She said unserved areas should be the first focus.

She also criticized the net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration Federal Communications Commission, saying that they had delayed the deployment of broadband – and that the agency’s rules are being revisited.

Brad Gillen, executive vice president of CTIA – the Wireless Association, , said he was pleased that discussions of infrastructure now involve broadband. That was not necessarily the case a year ago, during the presidential campaign.

Gillen also said that government funding will be necessary to address the digital.

Rick Cimerman, vice president of external and state affairs at NCTA – the Internet and Television Association, said that broadband investment will be driven by the private sector because the government’s resources are limited.

David Goldman, chief counsel for the Democrats on the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, focused on H.R. 2479, the “Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act,” (LIFT Act),  introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey. The bill aims to fund broadband internet, water, electrical and other infrastructure expenditures over five years.

The first section of the bill deals with broadband and sets aside $40 billion to ensure broadband communications technology is available to 98 percent of the population, he said. Goldman said that the bill prioritizes the unserved, and that the highest speed can’t be reached everywhere.

Jonathan Adelstein, CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, said more spectrum is needed from the government. He also said rural areas place barriers to broadband because people don’t want towers in their backyards. When that happens, there’s no chance of getting broadband there.

Adelstein did appreciate the bipartisanship between the Republicans and Democrats.

“What I heard really today was an agreement upon the big issues about the need for getting this job done,” Adelstein said. “It’s really encouraging, I think, that there’s a recognition of broadband is something of a national treasure.”

Cimerman said there is a problem between the served and unserved, and he made a buffet analogy to get his point across.

“Once I gotten my plate and I’m gone and eating, I don’t go back in the line until all those little old ladies and all the kids and everyone else is gone through the line,” Cimerman said.

The underserved have at least something already, and there is a need to prioritize people who have nothing at all, Cimerman said.

(Photo by Casey Ryan.)



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.



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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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



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.



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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