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Broadband's Impact

Digital Advertising Experts Square Off on Privacy Against Skeptical Members of Congress

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WASHINGTON, June 21, 2018 – Top digital advertising experts defended the importance of data collection against a committee skeptical of ad companies’ ethics.

With data privacy increasingly at the forefront of tech policy debate, a June 14 House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing on the digital advertising ecosystem became a flashpoint for the debate between members of congress and industry experts on the dangers digital advertising present to consumer data privacy.

Among the markers of controversy include the Equifax data breach of September 2017 that compromised millions of Americans. This year, revelations of Facebook selling user data to Cambridge Analytica, and more than 60 other companies.

An example of the practice of digital advertising tracking, as applied to a congresswoman and opiods

Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., recounted how she had been conducting research on opioids late night on Google. In the morning, she was being given drug rehabilitation center advertisements online.

“I didn’t want anybody to think that I was a drug user, but that’s the kind of data that’s being collected, then a potential employer can buy that from somebody,” Dingell warned.

When asked if that could actually happen, privacy official Rachel Glasser said: “Anything is really possible, right? It absolutely can happen,” Glasser said, though within the industry, there are restrictions on certain types of targeted advertising.

Glasser, chief privacy officer at Wunderman – parent company of a KPMG data analytics company – defended how companies typically use consumer data.

“Most ad tech companies don’t want to know the identity of a consumer,” Glasser said. “They only want to link interest categories (loves travel) or demographic data (male under 30) with a consumer’s browser so that they can serve up relevant ads.”

Glasser emphasized the importance of digital advertising to the current internet. “Digital advertising is the lifeblood for the internet economy,” Glasser said. “Data is at the center of this American success story.”

Necessary to maintain the internet marketplace, or reserving broad rights to themselves – or both?

Howard Beales, George Washington University professor of strategic management and public policy argued that revenue from digital advertising is necessary to maintain the internet content as a private market.

“The value of advertising depends critically on the availability of information about the likely viewer,” Beales said, stressing the importance of collecting data for internet content providers.

“When information is available, advertising prices are roughly three times higher than when there is no information about the viewer. Impairing the flow of information would significantly reduce the revenues available to support internet content, an impact that would be particularly problematic for smaller publishers.”

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, criticized Congress for the lack of effective protection policies.

“Congress has been woefully slow in responding to the risks that online advertising practices pose to privacy, fairness, and our very democracy. The FCC does not have the resources it needs to be an effective consumer watchdog,” she said, listing lack of staff and not enough tools.

Justin Brookman, director at Consumers Union – which publishes Consumer Reports – called for better transparency, arguing that Congress should legislate some basic “rules of the road”, for instance, requiring greater transparency.

“You know, I review privacy policies as part of my job. I can’t make heads or tails of them, and it’s my job,” he said. “They don’t actually say what companies are doing – they reserve really broad rights to do stuff.”

(Photo of Rep. Debbie Dingell by Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy used with permission.)

 

Broadband's Impact

Baltimore Needs Grassroots Help to Bridge Digital Divide, Experts Say

‘Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections.’

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Photo of Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore's Office of Broadband and Digital Equity

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2022 – Local leaders from Baltimore said at a Benton Institute event that there needs to be an alignment with the community and leadership when it comes to closing the digital divide.

“Baltimore lags behind many cities when it comes to the number of households with home internet connections,” said Amalia Deloney from the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, which invests in projects to improve the quality of life in the city. The foundation estimates that 74,116 households don’t have internet access.

The event’s speakers pointed to digital redlining, in which segments of racial minority and lower income Americans are disconnected from services or can be considered living in low priority areas.

Jason Hardebeck, director of Baltimore’s Office of Broadband and Digital Equity, said the city is a “pioneer in redlining,” and “a century later, we still see the effect on the digital divide.”

To address this, Deloney said the foundation’s approach to the digital divide in Baltimore by starting at the social level through its Digital Equity Leadership Lab. This is a program for Baltimore residents to “increase their understanding of the internet and strengthen their ability to advocate for fast, affordable and reliable broadband.”

The program aims to train and build leadership within the community to advocate for closing the digital divide. It points to a strategy of bringing “advocates together with community leaders,” as “digital equity is social, not a technological problem,” said Colin Rhinesmith, founder and director of the Digital Equity Research Center.

Michelle Morton from the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Association also said local leaders need to work with community members to have a bottom-up approach. “You have to work with the people doing the work on the ground.

“Their voices matter,” said Morton.

Mayor Brandon Scott has allocated $35 million from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide across Baltimore “by the end of this decade.”

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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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Digital Inclusion

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Emphasizes 100 Percent Broadband Adoption

‘It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,’ said the chairwoman.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is making progress towards bringing “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the country,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here on Tuesday.

Rosenworcel pointed to the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now being deployed across the country, with a particular focus on unconnected rural and tribal areas.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will take the lead with these funds, the FCC’s new broadband coverage maps will be important in implementing state digital equity plans.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel also discussed how the upcoming 2.5 GigaHertz spectrum auction will involve licensing spectrum primarily to rural areas.

At the July FCC open meeting, said Rosenworcel, the agency is scheduled to establish a new program to help enhance wireless competition. It is called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program.

The program aims to build incentives for existing carriers to build opportunities for smaller carriers and tribal nations through leasing or partitioning spectrum. Existing carriers will be rewarded with longer license terms, extensions on build-out obligations, and more flexibility in construction requirements.

“It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,” she said.

She also indicated her commitment to work with Congress to fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to reimburse many rural operators’ transitions from Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. She also touted the role that open radio access networks can plan in more secure telecommunications infrastructure.

In other news at the conference, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the role of funding broadband operations in rural America, the challenges of workforce training, and ensuring that rural carriers have access to high-cost universal service support.

In a session moderated by AmeriCrew CEO Kelley Dunne, panelists from the U.S. Labor Department, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and Texas A&M Extension Education Services addressed the need to offer a vocational career path for individuals for whom a four-year degree may not be the right choice. AmeriCrew helps U.S. military veterans obtain careers in building fiber, wireless and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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