May 14, 2020 — The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, also called the HEROES Act, contains $5 billion for discounted broadband service designed to increase broadband connectivity.
The HEROES Act, which was introduced by Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich., is the next stimulus measure being considered by Congress in response to the coronavirus. It extends upon the CARES Act, passed in March, and provides various benefits such as tax breaks for first responders.
The bill’s so-called Emergency Connectivity Fund works in conjunction with the Federal Communication Commission’s existing LIFELINE program and allocates $5 billion for discounted broadband service.
Rural and low-income connectivity problems have been in the spotlight recently, with some unable to make a proper transition to working from home. A variety of smaller grants have been handed out by agencies like the USDA and the FCC, mostly for broadening existing infrastructure and preparing new networks in underserved areas.
However, the proposed legislation would subsidize broadband companies to allow the unconnected to connect to the $50-or-less broadband option of their choice.
The bill would expedite the approval process for household subsidized broadband, granting discounts to requestees within two days of the applicant’s initial request.
Broadband providers that supply an affected household with a connected device will receive up to $100 if it meets specific guidelines.
In addition to subsidized broadband, the bill specifies that affected persons will receive unlimited calling minutes and unlimited data per month, as well as 4G speeds where available.
The bill also stipulates several restrictions on the broadband providers to safeguard against abuse and corruption of the funds.
For example, if passed, it would be unlawful for broadband providers to terminate or change consumers’ broadband access if they cannot pay. This prohibition would also apply to the imposition of late fees, data limits, or data overage fees on individual persons and small businesses.
The bill allocates $200 million to facilitate the rollout of application methods for the service, such as online portals for municipalities across the country.
Huizenga introduced the bill in the house on April 3rd, and it was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means the same day. Although it has been highly publicized, representatives have not yet voted on the bill, and may not for some time.
This lack of movement is not unusual, as such legislation rarely moves faster than a snail’s pace on the Hill. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., introduced the CARES Act in January, and it went through several evolutions before Congress and the adopted it into law in late March.
Several organizations are already applauding the HEROES Act. Matt Wood, Vice President of Policy and General Counsel for media and internet watchdog Free Press Action, said the bill is necessary.
“Millions of people across the country couldn’t afford to get online before the pandemic hit. Over the last two months, millions have lost their jobs in record numbers and may now be unable to pay for essential services like internet access,” he said.
Wood also said that to preserve the livelihoods of millions, Congress needs to act quickly.
“The need to get and keep everyone connected to the internet isn’t up for debate, but we must act quickly … The HEROES Act is an important step in that direction,” he said.
Popularity Of Telework And Telehealth Presents Unique Opportunities For A Post-Pandemic World
A survey released earlier this month illustrates opportunities for remote work and care.
April 20, 2021—A survey conducted by the University of Southern California in conjunction with the California Emerging Technology Fund explored the popularity and availability of opportunities for telework and telehealth in California.
At an event hosted by USC and CETF Monday, experts dissected the survey released earlier this month to explain the implications it may have for the future. Hernán Galerpin is an Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California. He served as the lead investigator for the survey, which analyzed Californians’ attitudes towards their new schedules during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
The first statistic Galerpin noted was the extent of broadband growth in California between 2008 and 2021. According to the survey, in 2008, only 55 percent of Californians had broadband coverage. By 2021, the number had risen steeply to 91 percent, with 85 percent of Californian’s utilizing broadband through either a desktop, laptop, or tablet (with the rest connected exclusively through a smartphone).
This is significant because it helps to explain the next statistic Galerpin showed; according to his data, Galerpin stated that approximately 38 percent of employed adults worked remotely five days a week over the course of the pandemic, while 45 percent did not work remotely (17 percent worked between 1-4 days remotely).
When asked how many times they would like to telecommute to work, respondents were most likely to indicate a preference for what they had become accustomed to; those who worked from home five days a week had a 42 percent chance of preferring working from home 5 days a week; those who worked from home three to four days a week had a 35 percent chance of preferring a three to four day telecommute schedule; those who worked remotely one to two days per week had a 56 percent chance of favoring a one to two day telecommuting schedule.
The data collected also indicated that low-income and Hispanic workers were disproportionately unable to telecommute.
Overall, telecommuting five days a week was the most popular option, with 31 percent of total respondents favoring that arrangement. By comparison, only 18 percent of respondents favored a schedule without any telecommuting.
President and CEO of CETF Sunne Wright McPeak called this data “unprecedented,” and stated that broadband had the potential to serve as a “green strategy” that could limit the number of miles driven by employees, and ultimately reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as other harmful pollutants. According to the data, as many as 55 percent of work commutes could be offset by a reconfigured telecommuting schedule.
The benefits of broadband did not stop there, however. Data also indicated that nearly 70 percent of Californians 65 years and older were able to utilize telehealth services, whether that was over the phone/smartphone or computer. Unsurprisingly, wealthier Californians were also more likely to benefit from telehealth services, with nearly 56 percent of low-income Californians going without telehealth, compared to 43 percent of “not low income” Californians.
An additional positive sign was that the overwhelming majority of disabled individuals were able to utilize telehealth services, with 70 percent of disabled respondents indicating that they were able to do so over the course of the pandemic.
Multilingual Digital Navigators Crucial For Inclusion
Digital liaisons who speak multiple languages can help guide multilingual communities for the digital future.
April 19, 2021 – Encouraging multilingualism among digital navigators will help facilitate better inclusion in digital adoption, experts said last week.
Speaking Spanish is a huge plus for digital navigators in Salt Lake City, Utah, for example, as many of its focused neighborhoods needing to be connected to broadband speak the language, said Shauna McNiven Edson, digital inclusion coordinator at Salt Lake City Public Library.
Edson and other panelists spoke last Wednesday at the 2021 Net Inclusion Webinar Series hosted by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a digital inclusion advocacy group on what skills are needed to become a digital navigator.
At the Salt Lake City Public Library, progress is there but challenges persist for digital inclusion and navigation. Edson said there were about 450 participants in its library program’s group for digital inclusion. However, only about 5 percent of participants, or 22 people, have adequate broadband at home. Seventy-five percent of members said they needed help finding a computer or internet-enabled deice, and 10 percent of its 450 members have contacted the library’s support staff for It issues.
Digital navigators are crucial because they connect community members with the skills and resources they need to become digitally literate and help them get adequate broadband. Navigators can be volunteers or cross-trained staff who already work in social service agencies, libraries, health, and more who offer remote and socially distant in-person guidance.
Compared to the rest of the country, Salt Lake City is highly connected, said Edson. Every community has a unique demographic make-up, and if the communities who need access to broadband mostly speak Spanish or English or even Mandarin, there should be community anchors with highly trained digital navigators to help the underconnected.
Andrew Au, director of operations at Digital Charlotte, said digital inclusion should include adult education. Every library and public institution that offers internet services should have digital navigators available and onsite to guide individuals in their communities and offer continuing education resources to keep digital skills literacy up, he said.
Mentorship Instrumental To Women Involvement in Telecom Industry
Experts advise mentorship and encouragement to get more women in the industry.
April 19, 2021 – A group of women were asked to rate gender equality in their workplace on a scale of 1-10. Their average score? About a four. The solution? More mentorship early in their lives.
The women, experts in network companies, spoke at the event, “Women in Broadband: Achieving zero barriers,” hosted by fiber network company Render Networks last Wednesday.
Kari Kump, director of network services at Mammoth Networks, said that in the broadband industry, she rates it a four, and in government jobs, a bit higher at five. Kump said she sees lots of women in marketing positions and non-technical managerial positions that “may oversee tech.” She said the worst gender equality in her view is at the construction site, where women “pay the bills” in the office rather than being out on site.
What’s causing gender inequality? The problem starts long before the job interview. Mitsuko Herrera, from planning and special projects for Montgomery County, said in her current work, only 2 out of 25 colleagues are women.
“The opportunity may be there, but we don’t see a lot of qualified women in the industry,” she said. Even before they reach college, women and girls need to have opportunities for engagement across various industries. Having mentors at an early age would greatly increase women participation and influence at work. In the workspace, praising women privately is just as important as praising them publicly, said Herrera. Women need to know they are supported at all times with all people.
Having better representation at the table is crucial because diverse perspectives affect industry and society for the better, said Laura Smith, vice president of people and culture at Biarri Networks. “The groups making decisions should reflect society,” she said.
And even if there is diversity, it’s not enough to have women at work for diversity’s sake—you also need to listen to that diversity and not ignore it.
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