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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Further, Laird said user agreements for learning technologies were outdated and did not take into account the changes caused by the coronavirus.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).


American Library Association Concerned With Burdensome Infrastructure Bill Reporting Requirements

The organization is concerned that access to federal money will come with burdensome reporting.



Screenshot from the SHLB event on Thursday.

WASHINGTON, February 28, 2022 – Michelle Frisque, a consultant for the American Library Association, said at a webinar on Thursday that reporting requirements required for access to federal broadband infrastructure funds should not be burdensome or else it will harm the success of the program.

“While libraries understand and appreciate the need to gather data for assessment, to measure for impact, and promote accountability, we also ask that it’s not overburdening stakeholders with the intrusive and burdensome reporting requirements,” Frisque said at an event hosted by the Schools, Health, Libraries and Broadband Coalition, a nonprofit organization that aims to close the digital divide through the help of anchor institutions.

The ALA is concerned that it will be forced to breach privacy policy if it is required to report the effectiveness of money coming from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act. Because of this fear, the ALA has requested that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration ensure their reporting requirements don’t call for things like specific searches citizens may have used while on a federal computer funded by the IIJA, as that act would be unconstitutional.

The NTIA has fielded hundreds of comments since it released a request for input from the public about how it should implement the $42.5-billion purse allocated for broadband infrastructure under the IIJA.

One formal question, which drew Frisque’s response, was, “What types of data should NTIA require funding recipients to collect and maintain to facilitate assessment of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law programs’ impact, evaluate targets, promote accountability, and/or coordinate with other federal Start and state programs?”

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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.



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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FCC Commits Another $603 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Money

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



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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