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Maintaining Student Privacy Amid Coronavirus Challenging, Says Center for Democracy and Technology



Photo of Center for Democracy and Technology Senior Fellow Elizabeth Laird courtesy of CDT

June 18, 2020 — The coronavirus pandemic and the resulting shift to primarily-online learning have placed students’ privacy in jeopardy, said participants in a Thursday webinar hosted by the Center for Democracy and Technology.


The shift to online schooling in the wake of the pandemic has left millions without access to educational resources. But even for those able to access their online learning, the transition presented a real danger, said Elizabeth Laird, senior fellow at CDT.


“What we care deeply about is… ensuring that any use of technology and data is in no way endangering or jeopardizing the wellbeing of students and their families,” Laird said.


Among the threats that unsuspecting students online could face were Zoombombing incidents and hacking, she said. 


“They’re not only potential legal violations,” she said, “but have a direct and negative and potentially harmful impact on students, and that is the problem that we’re trying to solve.”


Laird laid out six steps that states and other organizations could employ to reduce the risk of such events.


The first, she said, was to “utilize existing data and technology governance structures.” She noted that governmental organizations could make better use of the tools they already have at their disposal.


Laird also said that states should provide teachers with privacy training and secure telelearning tools.


Erin Mote, executive director of InnovateEDU, said that these concerns were valid and that educators did not have “adequate training around how to configure permission levels, how to set up waiting rooms [and] how to mute and unmute students during discussion.”


Further, Laird said user agreements for learning technologies were outdated and did not take into account the changes caused by the coronavirus. She noted that the ability to delete their data is something that users need more than ever. 


“One of the issues that we hear from students and their families is that they are concerned about students accumulating a permanent record or information being used out of context to potentially limit opportunities for them,” she said.


Marcia Bohannon, senior consultant at Point B Inc., said that tech companies lost the ability to delete data in their rush to get students online. 


“Everybody was so conscious of getting the kids back to a learning environment,” she said. “Some of these processes and steps were seen as very onerous and legalistic… so they didn’t really want to follow that.”


Finally, Laird said that internet equity and the availability of access to Americans of all backgrounds was a modern imperative.


She noted that while large numbers of children were unconnected to their classrooms due to an inability to afford broadband or the devices that would make telelearning possible, issues of access for disabled children were also pertinent.


“The first step today is just, know what you’re dealing with,” she said. “Understand what the level of access to devices and internet is, as well as the different kinds of needs that your students have, and [be] thoughtful and deliberate about that throughout the process.”


Bohannon added that in her home state of Colorado, the virus had highlighted widespread access issues.


“We’ve still got over 50 thousand students that we have not been able to identify actually where they are, because the families don’t have internet access,” she said. “They can’t pay for it. Or they may not have devices. Somewhere in that supply chain of getting internet to the student in the home, someplace… it’s broken.”

Elijah Labby was a Reporter with Broadband Breakfast. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and now resides in Orlando, Florida. He studies political science at Seminole State College, and enjoys reading and writing fiction (but not for Broadband Breakfast).


National Non-Profit to Launch Joint Initiative to Close Broadband Affordability and Homework Gap

EducationSuperHighway is signing up partners and will launch November 4.



Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of Education Super Highway.

WASHINGTON, October 18, 2021 – National non-profit Education Super Highway is set to launch a campaign next month that will work with internet service providers to identify students without broadband and expand programs that will help connect the unconnected.

On November 4, the No Home Left Offline initiative will launch to close the digital divide for 18 million American households that “have access to the Internet but can’t afford to connect,” according to a Monday press release.

The campaign will publish a detailed report with “crucial data insights into the broadband affordability gap and the opportunities that exist to close it,” use data to identify unconnected households and students, and launch broadband adoption and free apartment Wi-Fi programs in Washington D.C.

The non-profit and ISPs will share information confidentially to identify students without broadband at home and “enable states and school districts to purchase Internet service for families through sponsored service agreements,” the website said.

The initiative will run on five principles: identify student need, have ISPs create sponsored service offerings for school districts or other entities, set eligibility standards, minimize the amount of information necessary to sign up families, and protect privacy.

The non-profit said 82 percent of Washington D.C.’s total unconnected households – a total of just over 100,000 people – have access to the internet but can’t afford to connect.

“This ‘broadband affordability gap’ keeps 47 million Americans offline, is present in every state, and disproportionately impacts low-income, Black, and Latinx communities,” the release said. “Without high-speed Internet access at home, families in Washington DC can’t send their children to school, work remotely, or access healthcare, job training, the social safety net, or critical government services.”

Over 120 regional and national carriers have signed up for the initiative.

The initiative is another in a national effort to close the “homework gap.” The Federal Communications Commission is connected schools, libraries and students using money from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which is subsidizing devices and connections. It has received $5 billion in requested funds in just round one.

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Federal Communications Commission Says $5 Billion Requested for Emergency Connectivity Fund — in Just Round One!

The program is designed to help schools, libraries and students.



Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 25, 2021—Two months after launching the first round of applications, the Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that the Emergency Connectivity Fund has received more than $5 billion in funding requests.

The requests, which came from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, are for 9.1 million connected devices and 5.4 million broadband connections.

The $7-billion program, whose first round closed August 13, provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and general connectivity is expected to help students stay connected at school and off school premises, addressing the “homework gap” made paramount during the pandemic.

The money is to be used for said services and devices purchased between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. The program will open a second round for applications due to a spike in new coronavirus cases, which will run from September 28 to October 13.

“The Emergency Connectivity Fund is the single largest effort to bring connectivity and devices to students who lack them – and this robust response from applicants shows the tremendous need in our communities,” FCC acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a Wednesday press release.

“This funding is an important down payment in closing the Homework Gap so that all children, regardless of their circumstances or where they live, have access to the tools they need to succeed,” she added.

Congress authorized the program as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The FCC has previously noted that the Emergency Broadband Benefit had proved out that there is demand for such a program and that the ECF would help fill the gap.

Breakdown by state

The FCC included a breakdown of the first-round requests by state. California was the top requester at roughly $812 million, followed by New York with $559 million, Texas with $496 million, Florida with $264 million, New Jersey with $225 million, Arizona with $200 million, Illinois at $197 million, Georgia $183 million, North Carolina with $149 million, Michigan with $108 million, Ohio with $103 million, and Puerto Rico with $102 million, and Washington rounding out the 9-digit requesters with $101 million.

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NTIA Releases Details on Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Project

The $285-million program will help connect minority educational institutions.



Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo

August 4, 2021–The agency managing telecommunications policy for the commerce department has released details Tuesday on eligibility for its $285-million grant program for broadband access for minority educational institutions.

The Connecting Minority Communities pilot program, announced in June, will address the lack of broadband access, connectivity and equity at historically Black colleges or universities, Tribal colleges or universities, and minority-serving institutions.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration released a notice of funding opportunity for the program, established via the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, which will grant funds to eligible recipients to purchase broadband service or equipment, hire IT personnel, operate a minority business enterprise or a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, and facilitate educational instruction, including remote instruction.

Eligible institutions include 501 Hispanic-serving institutions, 336 Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions, 104 predominantly Black institutions, 102 historically Black colleges and universities, 66 Alaska native-serving institutions and native Hawaiian-serving institutions, 37 Tribal colleges and universities, and 32 native American-serving non-Tribal institutions.

The deadline to submit applications is December 1, 2021.

“Communities of color have faced systemic barriers to affordable broadband access since the beginning of the digital age,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a press release.

“The investments we make as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program will help communities that are struggling with access, adoption and connectivity, and will inform our path forward as we seek to finally close the digital divide across the country,” she added.

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