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State Educational Technology Officials Say Better Broadband Necessary for Pedagogy and Equity

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Photo of SETDA event by Masha Abarinova

WASHINGTON, November 6, 2019 – High-speed internet access is essential for improving pedagogical approaches and broadband equity, and that means access to devices both at school and at home.

Technology disruption is “game changing” for the education sector, said SETDA Deputy Executive Director Christine Fox, deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, which presented their findings at a Capitol Hill event Wedneday. Teachers and students depend on changing technology so that they can receive adequate bandwidth, she said.

Fox described the main recommendations SETDA outlined in its third “Broadband Imperative”report. First, leaders must leverage technology to support student learning experiences in preparation for careers in the digital age.

Of teens, 17 percent don’t have reliable access to a device, Fox said. This is a problem because much of today’s educational material is used with cloud computing. Digital tools such as augmented or virtual reality can help provide personalized learning experiences for students.

To better implement this technological transformation, Fox encouraged schools and districts to strategically a way to support sustained, seamless access to online administrative tools as well as the Internet of Things. By analyzing the recommended peak utilization bandwidth capacity goals and Wide Area Network implementation considerations, she said, districts can develop the best plan that meets current and future needs.

However, Fox added, building these infrastructures requires effective security practices and appropriate funding from the federal and state levels.

Doug Casey, executive director for the Connecticut State Commission for Educational Technology, described how states can demonstrate leadership to support high-speed broadband connectivity.

Eight percent of Connecticut public school students are under the “homework gap,” he said. In other words, about 48,000 students have difficulty completing assignments because they lack internet access at home.

The goal of CET, Casey said, is to ensure the successful integration of technology in Connecticut’s educational facilities. So far, 94 percent of Connecticut public school students have registered Google IDs. These IDs allow them to use Chromebooks for extended learning.

In addition to providing more accessibility, Casey said, the Connecticut Education Network provides state-level cybersecurity protection. There has been a recent spur of Distributed Denial of Service attacks on educational operations, so CEN works to detect and mitigate these threats.

CEN’s work has proved to be beneficial technologically and financially, he said, averaging approximately 24 million in cost avoidance per year. Each technology solution, however, will be different for individual states and geographic locations.

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Education

Coalition Says FCC E-rate Portal Proposal Could Create More Problems

Industry officials say the commission’s approach to E-rate competition would burden applicants.

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John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 21, 2021 – The executive director of a broadband coalition for anchor institutions said the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to force providers to bid for school and library services through a new portal will burden those applicants.

The agency proposed Thursday to force service providers to submit applications through a bidding portal overseen by the Universal Service Administrative Company, which administers the E-rate program that provides broadband subsidies to schools and libraries. The current approach is that libraries and schools announce they are seeking services and service providers would apply directly to those institutions.

By giving USAC the ability to see service provider applications before they go to the institutions, the agency said this would eliminate at least some forms of abuse or fraud, including participants who may misrepresent their certification or circumvent competitive-bidding rules.

But John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, said that while he applauds the effort to listen to consumer needs, the portal’s one-size-fits-all approach would ultimately burden E-rate applicants and service providers.

He also claimed that there is not enough evidence to show that a new portal is needed and that it “would add a lot more federal bureaucracy on a program that is running pretty well right now.

“You would have federal employees at USAC trying to make determinations about what’s…in the best interests of the schools or libraries,” said Windhausen, “And we don’t think they’re really qualified to do that.”

Windhausen also sees potential conflict between the new bidding portal and some state laws already governing E-rate bidding. In a scenario in which state law and FCC policy conflict, it is not clear which policy would take precedence.

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Education

FCC Commits Another $603 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Money

The agency has now committed $3.8 billion from the $7.17-billion program.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, December 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission’s latest round of Emergency Connectivity Fund money will disburse $603 million to connect over 1.4 million students in all 50 states, the agency said Monday.

The FCC said it has now committed $3.8 billion of the $7.17-billion program, which provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, WiFi hotspots, modems, routers and connectivity to help students stay connected off school premises. The money comes as a new Covid-19 variant sweeps the nation again, putting face-to-face interactions at risk once again.

The agency also said Monday that it has allocated an additional $367 million in its first commitment and nearly $236 million in the second commitment.

The agency in October said that previous rounds had committed $2.63 billion from the fund since its launch in June.

The total amount committed to go to support 9,000 schools, 760 libraries, and 100 consortia for nearly 8.3 million connected devices and over 4.4 million broadband connections, the agency said in a Monday release.

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Education

Texas High School Students Enter the Fight for Better Connectivity

Students in a Houston-area school district hosted a panel on connecting schools and libraries as part of a national event on bridging the digital divide.

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John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – Generation Z students are making their mark at a Houston-area school district by adding broadband access to the list of issues they are actively working on.

The high school students in the Fort Bend Independent School District organized a panel conversation on internet access in education as part of Connected Nation’s national event titled “20 Years of Connecting the Nation,” and were able to host some high-profile guests in the world of telecommunications.

The November 17 panel included John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, Chris Martinez, division director of information technology for the Harris County Public Library, Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion for Connected Nation, and Meredith Watassek, director of career and technical education for Fort Bend ISD.

Nine percent of residents in Harris County, where Houston is located, reports that they do not have a connected device at home and 18 percent say they do not have access to an internet connection. These gaps in access are the focus of the panelists’ digital equity efforts.

With Windhausen and Martinez present on the panel, a key point of discussion was the importance of helping libraries to act as anchor institutions – institutions which help enable universal broadband access.

Watassek pointed out that she has been helping oversee distance learning in Fort Bend ISD for six years, starting such a program to enable teachers to teach students in several of the district’s buildings without having to drive to each one, and has seen that with time and learned experience it is possible to work through distance learning logistical issues that school districts around the nation are currently facing.

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