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

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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.)

 

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 the Self-Insurance Institute of America. “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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Education

American Library Association Concerned With Burdensome Infrastructure Bill Reporting Requirements

The organization is concerned that access to federal money will come with burdensome reporting.

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Screenshot from the SHLB event on Thursday.

WASHINGTON, February 28, 2022 – Michelle Frisque, a consultant for the American Library Association, said at a webinar on Thursday that reporting requirements required for access to federal broadband infrastructure funds should not be burdensome or else it will harm the success of the program.

“While libraries understand and appreciate the need to gather data for assessment, to measure for impact, and promote accountability, we also ask that it’s not overburdening stakeholders with the intrusive and burdensome reporting requirements,” Frisque said at an event hosted by the Schools, Health, Libraries and Broadband Coalition, a nonprofit organization that aims to close the digital divide through the help of anchor institutions.

The ALA is concerned that it will be forced to breach privacy policy if it is required to report the effectiveness of money coming from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act. Because of this fear, the ALA has requested that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration ensure their reporting requirements don’t call for things like specific searches citizens may have used while on a federal computer funded by the IIJA, as that act would be unconstitutional.

The NTIA has fielded hundreds of comments since it released a request for input from the public about how it should implement the $42.5-billion purse allocated for broadband infrastructure under the IIJA.

One formal question, which drew Frisque’s response, was, “What types of data should NTIA require funding recipients to collect and maintain to facilitate assessment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law programs’ impact, evaluate targets, promote accountability, and/or coordinate with other federal Start and state programs?”

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