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The Pole Attachment Controversy Shadows the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee

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WASHINGTON, August 2, 2018 – Local representatives and telecommunications providers faced off at last Thursday’s meeting of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee meeting on regulatory barriers to new pole attachments and wireless facilities.

On July 26 and 27, the Federal Communications Commission hosted a Broadband Development Advisory Committee meeting. The committee met to discuss, create recommendations and vote on harmonizing a Model Code for Municipalities and Model Code for States.

Announced in January 2017 as one of the first actions of new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, BDAC was seen to be a multi-stakeholder committee to discuss recommendations and advice for broadband deployment.

However, BDAC has been criticized for imbalanced representation. The National League of Cities and other municipal stakeholders collaborated to nominate 26 local representatives for positions on BDAC. Yet when the committee was unveiled, only one — San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo — was empaneled.

The issue of pole attachments comes to the FCC on Thursday

Later on Thursday, August 2, the FCC is scheduled to hold an monthly Open Commission Meeting and vote on a One Touch Make Ready policy that would “adopt a new framework for the vast majority of pole attachments” which would allow a new attacher to “opt to perform all work to prepare a pole for a new attachment”

The stated goal of OTMR is to accelerate the preparation of poles for new attachments such as small cell wireless deployments, which would be critical to infrastructure for 5G technology.

According to the agency’s proposal, “an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 small cells will be constructed by the end of 2018, and these numbers are projected to reach 455,000 by 2020 and 800,000 by 2026.”

Make Ready refers to “modification or replacement of a utility pole, or of the lines or equipment on the utility pole, to accommodate additional facilities on the pole.”

The OTMR proposal states that by shifting the framework to allow the new attachers to prepare the pole for the new attachment, OTMR will speed up the process greatly, as it will no longer be a complex multi-party process.

Pole attachments and wireless facilities a source of controversy for BDAC

At the BDAC meeting on July 26 and 27, a contentious debate erupted between Georgia Municipal Association Executive Director Larry Hanson and AT&T representative Chris Nurse over removal of a clause in the definition of what a pole is.

In the Model Code for Municipalities, the definition originally read: “‘Pole’ means a legally conforming (or otherwise legally constructed) pole, such as a utility, lighting, traffic, or similar pole.”

However, in the July 26 proposed version, the clause “legally conforming (or otherwise legally constructed)” had been removed to adopt the model state code’s definition, which did not include the clause.

Hanson argued that the deleted clause should be reinstated to enforce that existing regulations for poles are respected.

Seemingly an insignificant issue, the “pole” debate became a divisive issue in the BDAC meeting. It was representative of the overall conflict in the body between local officials and telecommunications carriers.

Hanson claimed that removing the language “legally conforming” could result in undermining current city regulations on poles, allowing for the nonconforming poles to continue to potentially violate current city regulations.

On the other end, Nurse argued against reinstating the clause, claiming that such regulatory barriers would cause a burdensome obstruction for telecommunications carriers seeking to add new attachments, such as small cells, to poles.

How the vote totals broke down on the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee

In the initial vote for the amendment, BDAC Chair Elizabeth Bowles counted 10 voted in favor of reinstating the language, with 9 voting no. However, in a later roll-call vote, 12 voted no, and the amendment was turned down.

“It can’t be that much of a problem for the municipality because if it was, they would compel its removal already,” Nurse said, arguing that legally nonconforming poles already standing in the city are not a significant issue, unless they are a threat to life and safety.

“It’s something that they were willing to live with,” he said.

He argued it would be extremely cumbersome for cable companies to identify who the owner of the pole is, and to what “pedigree” it is legally nonconforming.

“It’s a substantial barrier on carriers to make that showing,” he said.  “It would require us to prove that they were legally conforming, 800,000 times,” Nurse said.

(Photograph of a January 2018 Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee meeting via Twitter feed of Ajit Pai.)

 

 

 

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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Health

Digital Literacy Training Needed for Optimal Telehealth Outcomes, Healthcare Reps Say

Digital literacy should be a priority to unlock telehealth’s potential, a telehealth event heard.

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Photo of telehealth consultation from Healthcare IT News

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – Digital literacy training should be a priority for providers and consumers to improve telehealth outcomes, experts said at a conference Tuesday.

Digital literacy training will unlock telehealth’s potential to improve health outcomes, according to the event’s experts, including improving treatment for chronic diseases, improving patient-doctor relationships, and providing easier medical access for those without access to transportation.

Julia Skapik of the National Association of Community Health Centers said at the National Telehealth Conference on Tuesday that both patients and clinicians need to be trained on how to use tools that allow both parties to communicate remotely.

Skapik said her association has plans to implement training for providers to utilize tech opportunities, such as patient portals to best engage patients.

Ann Mond Johnson from the American Telemedicine Association agreed that telehealth will improve health outcomes by giving proper training to utilize the technology to offer the services.

The Federal Communications Commission announced its telehealth program in April 2021, which set aside $200 million for health institutions to provide remote care for patients.

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