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FCC Leaders Praise Importance of Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee In Spite of Narrowed Agenda

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WASHINGTON, June 13, 2019 — Members of the Federal Communications Commission’s newly re-chartered Broadband Deployment Advisory Commission touted the importance of the body at its first meeting on Thursday, even as its scope appears to have narrowed to issues around recovering from disaster communications and a few other topics.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and BDAC Chair Elizabeth Bowles heaped praise on the BDAC, which is a federal advisory committee that makes recommendations to the FCC, in spite of the controversy that has surrounded it due to the lack of local government representation.

A significant portion of the meeting was devoted to a presentation from the Disaster Response and Recovery Working Group, which was put in place several months ago.

The issues addressed by this group are of “tremendous importance,” said Jonathan Adelstein, CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association. “Our customers are virtually everybody in this country. When there is a disaster is when they rely on our networks more than anything else.” However, times of disaster are also “when the challenges are the greatest in the industry.”

The working group is comprised of three subgroups, the first of which focused on government processes and procedures. Government entities need to be better aligned with private sector industries and take a more holistic approach to the interdependency between broadband connectivity and energy supplies, speakers said.

Members of the second subgroup, which deals with infrastructure standards and resilience, studied recent historical events, previous FCC reports, and the work of other industry groups to try to determine resiliency targets.

However, the nature of natural disasters has made this process difficult since the events don’t occur with enough frequency or consistency to define metrics, said Kurt Jacobs, the corporate director of JMA Wireless.

The third subgroup targeted mutual aid, research sharing, and coordination. A great deal of research has been done on best practices for disaster response and recovery, FirstNet State Point of Contact Red Grasso said, but now the group must figure out how to distill this information into “actionable intelligence and operationalized practices.”

An important part of this will be educating and informing local governments and consumers about their communication dependencies and about the processes for coordination with response agencies that are already in place.

“We can’t stop these disasters from happening,” said Grasso, who leads the working group. “We can just make our communities more resilient. We can make our networks with backups. We can look at this holistically and make sure that we can maintain the connectivity that we have.”

Other members of BDAC raised concerns about the scope of the Disaster Response and Recovery Working Group. One of these was the lack of a clear definition for “disaster,” leaving questions about whether things such as cyberattacks were included or if the focus was solely on weather related events. Jacobs said that currently there is not a significant focus on cyberattacks.

BDAC Vice Chair David Young pointed out that most of the discussion had centered around the resiliency of private networks, but that it was “just as important” to determine recovery recommendations for institutional networks such as those used by fire fighters or police officers.

In spite of all the 5G hype, the BDAC is “not a 5G body,” said Bowles. Their primary goal should be to get broadband to as many people as possible as quickly as possible.

(Photo of FirstNet State Point of Contact Red Grasso speaking at the Thursday meeting from the FCC.)

Development Associate Emily McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for campus publication Student Life. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer skills to underprivileged children in six cities across Southern California.

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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