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Digital Inclusion

FCC’s Jessica Rosenworcel Calls for Wi-Fi School Buses, and Brookings Panelists Agree Now is the Time



Photo of Nicol Turner Lee from October 2018 by U.S. Commerce Department

April 10, 2020 – Participants in a Brookings Institution meeting on Zoom expressed interest in an off-hand comment FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel made about deploying Wi-Fi-enabled buses to provide hot-spots for rural students.

Nicol Turner Lee, a fellow at Brookings’ Center for Technology Innovation, and Cathy Trimble, principal of the Francis Marion School in Alabama, asked why this practice couldn’t become more widespread.

Wi-Fi in school buses could be a short-term solution for giving students on the wrong side of the digital divide the internet they need to complete their homework, they said.

“As far as I’m concerned, let’s do it, and let’s do it right now,” Rosenworcel, a staunch advocate for eliminating the so-called “homework gap,” said of the idea, during the Wednesday webinar.

Rosenworcel elaborated on her encounter with a farmer in Coachella, California who came up with the idea of using buses to beam broadband after noticing that the tablets that were donated to the students in his district were useless without connectivity.

The practice caught on from there and spread throughout the nation.  In fact, one of the panelists had reported seeing these buses more than once. “My kids think I’m not getting enough sleep ‘cause I keep seeing this bus,” said Turner Lee.

Rosenworcel took her commitment to providing broadband to needy students to its extreme while talking about the release of the 6 GHz band for unlicensed spectrum. “Let me be clear: I want the FCC to solve the homework gap,” Rosenworcel said.

Trimble provided context for what the homework gap felt like on the ground. When her high school was forced to go remote due to the coronavirus, Trimble said that she and her teachers “spent an entire day” contacting students and their parents “to see who had access to Wi-Fi or who had access to the internet.”

Once a list of students who lacked broadband was compiled, she arranged for those students to receive “hard copy packets” of the week’s readings and homework assignments.

Nonetheless, Trimble’s school has persevered despite inadequate broadband. She proudly noted the 100 percent student graduation rate for seniors and 100 percent acceptance into college in a county where the median salary is $23,000 a year.

“If anybody ever makes an investment in this community, I promise you they’ll get an outstanding return from our outstanding young people,” Trimble said.

Trimble also scolded education officials in her county for slacking. She recounted to the panelists how when she first found out about the E-rate program, which is the largest extant fund for donating education technology to needy schools, she also found out that no one in her country had sent in an application. “We need someone advocating for us,” Trimble said.

She also related a story about how excited she and her colleagues were to begin a “Girls Who Code” chapter at her school after attending a seminar by Apple. Trimble organized the club and found support in some female students “only to find the devices were antiquated.”

Turner Lee then coined a term to describe the disparity that Trimble was describing: “broadband gentrification.”

Broadband's Impact

Mississippi Nonprofit is Looking to Fill Gaps in Affordable Connectivity

The nonprofit Connect and Literacy Fund is planning to increase ACP adoption in Mississippi.



Screenshot of the event on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON, September 28, 2023 – A Mississippi nonprofit is setting up a fund to support connectivity and digital literacy in the state.

The Mississippi Broadband Association is looking to raise $10 million to start the fund, which MSBA Executive Director Quinn Jordan said is intended to ensure newly built broadband infrastructure stays affordable in the state.

“We can build these networks,” he said, speaking at a Fiber Broadband Association webinar on Wednesday, “But if we don’t get people connected, if they don’t have the literacy or capability to do so, what have we really done?”

The initiative, called the Connect and Literacy Fund, is planning to increase ACP adoption in Mississippi. Over 18 percent of the state lives below the poverty line, making them eligible for the $30 monthly internet discount, but less than half that number participate. The MSBA is planning to make ACP sign-up part of the registration process to participate in the fund’s programming.

That programming will focus on teaching people how to use internet services like telehealth and streaming and provide large discounts for tables and PCs. The ACP provides a $100 device subsidy, but this is rarely enough for low-income households to make a purchase, Jordan said.

Difficulty accessing affordable devices is contributing to the digital divide in Mississippi, according to Jordan. He pointed to the fact that over 40% of Mississippians do not have access to a tablet or computer.

“That is a huge number. And it’s a barrier to entry,” Jordan said. “The Connect and Literacy Fund is hopefully going to address that.”

Jordan said the $2.75 billion Digital Equity program, part of the Biden Administration’s Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, will be beneficial, but MSBA’s Connect and Literacy Fund will have a role to play in ensuring the state builds on the gains it makes with the federal funds.

“That money is going to run out,” he said. “What we’re doing is ongoing.”

The ACP might also be short-lived. The $14 billion allocation from the Infrastructure Act is set to dry up in April of next year.

MSBA has spent the last two months developing its programing and is looking to start coordinating events with local anchor institutions in the coming months, Jordan said. 

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Association Argues Providers Not Engaged in Rollout Discrimination

Trade group says telecoms are not discriminating when they don’t build in financially difficult areas.



Image of redlining from historic map of the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation of Richmond, Virginia, from PBS.

WASHINGTON, September 18, 2023 – Broadband association US Telecom sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission last week saying internet service providers don’t build in certain areas because it is financially difficult, not because they are being discriminatory.

The FCC proposed two definitions of digital discrimination in December 2022: The first definition includes practices that, absent technological or economic constraints, produce differential outcomes for individuals based a series of protected characteristics, including income, race, and religion. The second definition is similar but adds discriminatory intent as a necessary factor.

“To make business determinations regarding capital allocation, an ISP must consider a host of commercially important factors, none of which involve discrimination,” said the September 12 letter from USTelecom, which represents providers including AT&T, Verizon, Lumen, Brightspeed, and Altafiber.

“As the Commission has consistently recognized, such deployment is extremely capital-intensive…This deployment process is therefore subject to important constraints related to technical and economic feasibility” added the letter.

US Telecom explained that ISPs’ will choose to invest where they expect to see a return on the time and money they put into building broadband.

The association added that factors like population density, brand reputation, competition and the availability of the providers’ other services all go into deciding where broadband gets deployed.

“The starting point of the Commission’s approach to feasibility should be a realistic acknowledgement that all ISPs must prioritize their resources, even those that invest aggressively in deployment,” added the letter.

The association also highlighted the fact that it hopes to see as little government intervention in broadband deployment activity as possible, a concern that has been echoed by lobbyists before.

“Rather than attempting to use Section 60506 to justify taking extra-statutory intrusive actions that could paradoxically undermine ongoing broadband investment, the Commission must enable ISPs to make decisions based on their own consideration of the kinds of feasibility factors discussed above” read the letter.

Section 60506 of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act says that the FCC may implement new policies to ensure equal access to broadband.

The FCC is also looking to develop guidelines for handling digital discrimination complaints filed against broadband providers.

USTelecom said that ISPs should be allowed to demonstrate financial and logistical concerns as a rebuttal to those claims, in addition to disclosing other reasons for directing investment elsewhere to demonstrate non-discriminatory practice.

Reasons for investment elsewhere would include rough terrain, low-population density, MTE owners not consenting to deployment, zoning restrictions, or historical preservation review.

“To aid in the success of the Infrastructure Act and facilitate equal access, the Commission must continue to foster an environment conducive to ISP investment in the high-speed broadband infrastructure that Congress rightly views as central to our connected future,” concluded the letter.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC and HUD Partner to Promote Internet Subsidies for Housing Assistance Recipients

The effort is aimed at raising awareness about federal internet subsidies among housing assistance recipients.



Photo of Marcia L. Fudge, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development

WASHINGTON, August 18, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced on Monday a partnership to promote the Affordable Connectivity Program to people receiving federal housing assistance.

The promotion efforts will include promoting the FCC program at public housing properties, joint enrollment events, and increased collaboration on messaging campaigns.

HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge touted the agency’s partnership with the FCC at a community event in Seattle, Washington, and encouraged residents to sign up.

The announcement comes a month after the launch of White House’s “Online for All” campaign, an effort to raise nationwide awareness of the ACP.

Part of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, the ACP monthly discounts on internet service of between $30 for low-income American and $75 for Tribal residents.

The $14 billion program is serving more than 20 million households as of August 14, roughly a quarter of whom had no internet access at all prior to receiving ACP benefits.

A monitoring tool developed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a community advocacy group, estimates that $6.3 billion in ACP funds have been used up.

The remaining $7.7 billion is expected to dry up in 2024. Lawmakers have called for funding increases, citing the racial divide in internet access – 71% of Black households and 65% of hispanic households have broadband access, compared to 80% of white households –  that could worsen in the absence of ACP discounts.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, released in July a report calling for Congress to eliminate old broadband subsidies that have been rendered redundant by the $42.5 billion BEAD program and divert the funds to the ACP.

“Public energy and time in this space would be much better served fine-tuning and scaling digital inclusion efforts than being obligated to lobby for a program whose continuation should be a no-brainer,” wrote Joe Kane, director of broadband and spectrum policy at the ITIF and author of the report.

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