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At NATOA Conference, 5 Municipalities Highlight Broadband Efforts During Coronavirus Pandemic

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September 5, 2020 – Telecommunications officials and advisors from five municipalities described how they have approached broadband during the time of a pandemic.

Speaking at the virtual conference of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors on “Leveraging Smart Communities Beyond a Crisis” on Monday, these cities shared stories about rising above technological challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic.

Michael Sherwood, chief innovation officer for Las Vegas

In Las Vegas, for example, city officials described using Citizen Broadband Radio Service spectrum for public Wi-Fi infrastructure across the city. Chief Innovation Officer Michael Sherwood, said that CBRS is “a mix of Wi-Fi and a mix of cellular wrapped into each other.”

As in Las Vegas, Boston’s Mike Lynch, director of broadband and cable for the city, explained how Boston has worked closely with its network providers to bridge the digital divide. He said this was manifest in lower broadband prices from Comcast, Verizon, and RGN Boston.

He also said the city was working to create more hotspots as well as digital literacy programs.

Since 2014, New Orleans’ broadband initiative has collected data on populations that need it, which has helped the city with targeted community projects.

Kimberly LaGrue, the city’s chief information officer, said that broadband has helped with workforce development programs, getting fiber connections to public housing and churches, hosting free device repair clinics, and providing additional educational opportunities in the community.

Doug McCollough, chief information officer for Dublin, Ohio

Dublin, Ohio, has done similar activities. “When COVID hit, the separation between private and public sectors changed,” said Doug McCollough, chief information officer.“Schools and communities have had to work together to provide broadband everyone.”

Preexisting broadband infrastructure and mapping has helped communities respond to COVID-19. Dublin’s fiber network, installed in 1996, has been invaluable, said McCollough. For Cobb County, Georgia,  use of geographic information systems enabled them to use data effectively in responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

The panel agreed that the internet is a human right, and New Orleans and Dublin officials were the most vocal about this.

“Fiber broadband is paramount,” said LaGrue. “Any supportive plan for a city has to provide municipal fiber. It is the only way to bridge the digital divide.”

Boston’s Lynch agreed that “all of our citizens to be connected,” but acknowledged it was problematic to make broadband a utility.

“It should have been back in 1996” when the Telecom Act was passed, he said. “We are faced with the dilemma of taking the responsibility upon up to provide services to those who cannot afford them. We can’t make it a utility but we have to find the dollars to make it affordable.”

Health

Providers Call for More FCC Telehealth Funding as Demand Grows

‘I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.’

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, July 26, 2022 – Health care providers in parts of America say they are struggling to deliver telehealth due to a lack of broadband connectivity in underserved communities, and recommended there be more funding from the Federal Communications Commission.

While the FCC has a $200-million COVID-19 Telehealth program, which emerged from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, some providers say more money is needed as demand for telehealth services increases.

“The need for broadband connectivity in underserved communities exceeds current availability,” said Jennifer Stoll from the Oregon Community Health Information Network.

The OCHIN was one of the largest recipients of the FCC’s Rural Health Care Pilot program in 2009. Stoll advocated for the need for more funding with the non-profit SHLB Coalition during the event last week. Panelists didn’t specify how much more funding is needed.

Stoll noted that moving forward, states need sustainable funding in this sector. “I am hoping Congress will be mindful of telehealth,” said Stoll.

“The need for telehealth and other virtual modalities will continue to grow in rural and underserved communities,” she added.

Brian Scarpelli, senior global policy counsel at ACT, the App Association, echoed the call for FCC funding from the Universal Service Fund, which subsidizes basic telecommunications services to rural areas and low-income Americans. “I think obtaining funding from the Universal Service Fund would go a long way.”

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Artificial Intelligence in Healthcare Has Benefits, But Also Challenges That Must Be Rectified: Experts

The technology needs to be examined to ensure it doesn’t create inequities in healthcare, panel hears.

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Screenshot of the Atlantic event in late June

WASHINGTON, July 11, 2022 – While the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare has been lauded by some, experts said at an Atlantic event late last month they are concerned that inaccurate data can also hamper progress in the field.

Artificial intelligence has been used widely across the medical field to analyze relationships between medical providers and patients to improve equality of care, including providing patient risk identification, diagnostics, drug discovery and development, transcribing medical documents, and remotely treating patients.

Carol Horowitz, founder of the Mt. Sinai Institute of Health and Equity Research, argued that while AI plays a substantial role in diagnosing health problems at earlier stages, diagnosing patients more quickly, providing second opinions in diagnoses, enhancing scheduling abilities, stimulating hospital workflow, and finding drug availability for a patient as in dermatology, therapeutics, or population health, it’s not a golden ticket.

She reasoned that it “can reflect and really exaggerate inequities in our system,” negatively affecting healthcare equity among patients.

She stated that AI tools have led to inaccurate measurements in data that have proved harmful to individuals’ health. Horowitz shared the example of faulty AI technology during March 2020 meant to allow individuals to self-monitor their own oxygen levels as a precautionary method to the COVID-19 pandemic but led to inaccurate pulse readings for those with darker skin, and inaccurate data gathering, resulting in delayed treatment for many in need.

Michael Crawford, associate dean for strategy of outreach and innovation at Howard University, added that if these certain mismeasurements and flaws in the technology are not addressed, “AI could increase disparities in health care.”

Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said when it comes to assessing AI technology innovation for the future, there are both cost and benefits, but we must find “where can we move forward in ways that don’t harm human society but that maximize human benefits.”

As we grapple with how to implement this technology, “we must do science and technology policy that always has equity at the center” for future innovation, said Nelson.

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States Lagging on Bills to Implement 988 Suicide Hotline Mandate as Deadline Approaches

As of June 7, 20 states have passed legislation to implement the 988 suicide hotline mandate, according to FCC data.

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Screenshot from the FCBA event on June 8

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2022 – Only 20 out of the 35 states that have introduced legislation for a new suicide hotline have made the legislation law as of June 7, according to information from the Federal Communications Commission, as the July 16 implementation deadline nears.

States are required to implement the infrastructure and the funding for a 988 number that will go to the National Suicide Hotline, but only four states have passed bills to finance it, Emily Caditz, attorney advisor of the Wireline Competition Bureau under the FCC, said at a Federal Communication Bar Association event last week. Those states – Colorado, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington – fund the implementation from fees on cellphone lines.

James Wright, chief of crisis center operations at the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, suggested that “key partnerships between state and local governments” will be necessary to help states meet this deadline.

Laura Evans, director of national and state policy at Vibrant Emotional Health, said this funding will “make sure we have robust capacity for the anticipated 9-12 million contacts we expect to come in that first year.”

The commission ordered the adoption of the nationwide line nearly two years ago, on July 16, 2020.

According to the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act of 2020, “988 is designated as the universal telephone number within the United States for the purpose of the national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline system operated through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.”

“America’s suicide rate is at its highest since World War II,” said former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at an FCC event in December of 2019. “A simple three-digit code for a suicide hotline can reduce the mental stigma surrounding mental health and ultimately save lives.

Caditz said the implementation of text messaging “is especially popular with groups that are at heightened risk of suicide or mental health crises, including teenagers and young adults and individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or speech disabled.”

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