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On Spectrum Policy, Congress May Step Between the FCC and Commerce Department’s NTIA



WASHINGTON, July 16, 2019 — Differences between the Federal Communications Commission and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration have gotten to the point that Congress may need to get more involved in the spectrum allocation process, legislators said Tuesday at a House subcommittee hearing.

Coordination between federal agencies is an essential component of creating coherent and comprehensive spectrum policies, said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. However, recent years have seen less cooperation.

“The Trump FCC goes one way, the Commerce Department and NTIA go another,” Pallone said. “Then you have other departments throughout the federal government, like the Departments of Transportation, Education, and Defense voicing their own opinions about how spectrum should be used.”

Pallone continued to assert that the lack of interagency coordination has affected a “mind-numbing” number of important spectrum bands. “In my opinion, the process has completely broken down,” he said.

“It’s concerning when cabinet officials are publicly fighting with the FCC over spectrum policy,” agreed Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Michael Doyle, D-Pennsylvania. “I’m deeply concerned that this process has broken down and that American people will be the ones to suffer.”

Spectrum should be “carefully and deliberately” managed just like any other natural resource, said Pallone, and doing so correctly has great potential to “meaningfully improve the lives of Americans” by improving rural online education, remote telehealth services, and competition from small businesses.

“It’s clear that Congress must legislate to resolve these concerns and provide the greatest benefit to consumers,” Pallone said.

Derek Khlopin, senior policy advisor at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said that his agency plans to work closely with federal partners and technology industries “to ensure that the U.S. leads the world in effectively and efficiently putting to use this critical, limited resource that drives our economic activity and helps protect the safety and security of all Americans.”

“To meet current demand and enable future needs we need a national spectrum policy that incentivizes innovation and provides opportunities for new technologies and new entrants,” said Doyle. “The challenge we face today is just how constrained our spectrum resources are.”

Last month, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules to make 2.5 Gigahertz spectrum available to commercial entities through a public auction following a priority filing window for tribal nations. Sen. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, highlighted the widespread bipartisan criticism of the decision to remove the band’s educational requirement.

It was a “tough decision,” but the agency hoped that greater flexibility would incentivize investment in rural areas, said Julius Knapp, chief of the office of engineering and technology at the FCC.

Recent concerns over the 24 GHz band were also addressed at the hearing. Following a licensing auction in March, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration claimed that the commercial use of this band would significantly reduce the accuracy of weather forecasts, a claim that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has emphatically denied.

Sen. Greg Walden, R-Ore., called for the study from NOAA and NASA to be made publicly available. “We can only effectively figure this out if we have access to the information,” he said.

The FCC had “a number of concerns” about NOAA and NASA’s study, said Knapp, asserting that the use of recently auctioned spectrum can peacefully coexist with weather-sensing capabilities now and in the future.

Each study that has been done on interference in the 24 GHz band has arrived at a different proposed limit, Knapp added, and the FCC is trying to find a balance that avoids protections so stringent that thousands of megahertz of spectrum are left on the table.

(Photo of hearing by Emily McPhie.)

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.

Public Safety

Lack of People Opting Into Emergency Alerts Poses Problems for Natural Disaster Scenarios

Disaster protocol experts remarked on lessons learned from fire outbreaks in Boulder County, Colorado.



Photo of Lori Adams of Nokia discussing emergency communications response to Colorado wildfires at Mountain Connect by Drew Clark

KEYSTONE, Colorado, May 26, 2022 – A lack of people opting into local emergency alerts poses a severe challenge for public officials during natural disasters, a panel of experts said Tuesday.

The panel remarked on just how significant the number of people not subscribed to emergency alerts is during a panel on disaster preparedness at the annual Mountain Connect conference.

In Boulder, getting emergency alerts is on an opt-in basis, whereas in other areas, it is opt-in by default.

The specific focus of the panel was on lessons learned from the outbreak of fires in Boulder County, Colorado this past December.

Fires presented challenges for providers

Several challenges of managing a response to the fires were recounted.

Blake Nelson, Comcast’s senior director of construction, stated that some of his company’s underground broadband infrastructure buried at a considerable depth was still melted from the heat of the fires to cause service outages for customers. Thomas Tyler, no stranger to disaster response as Louisiana’s deputy director for broadband and connectivity through several hurricane responses, pointed out that it is quite possible local officials may be skilled in responding to one type of disaster such as a hurricane but not another like a tornado.

Screenshot of Blake Nelson, Jon Saunders, Wesley Wright and Thomas Tyler (left to right)

The panel also spoke to the challenges of coordination between essential companies and agencies if people do not have personal relationships with those who work at such entities other than their own.

Successful emergency responses to service outages during disaster serve as models for the future, with Nelson stating the internet provider opened up its wireless hotspots to temporarily increase service access and Tyler saying that standing up Starlink satellite internet access helped bring broadband to Louisiana communities only accessible by bridge or boat during their periods of disaster.

Conversation moderator Lori Adams, senior director of broadband policy and funding strategy at Nokia, suggested keeping town servers not in municipal buildings but rather off site and Wesley Wright, partner at law firm Keller and Heckman, recommended the Federal Communications Commission’s practice of developing strong backup options for monitoring service outages.

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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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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.



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 SIIA, formerly known as the Software and Information Industry Association. “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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