Connect with us

Education

Children Are Being ‘Locked Out of Their Classrooms’ Without E-Rate Action, Says Jessica Rosenworsel

Jericho Casper

Published

on

Screenshot from the webinar

October 15, 2020 — Millions of Americans remain unconnected today, even as broadband connectivity remains vital to countless aspects of our daily lives, including health, work, and education.

At a “fireside chat” hosted by ALLvanza, a Latino advancement group, panelists asserted that tackling the digital divide was more important than ever. Persistant homework gaps disproportionately affect students coming from low-income, minority, and rural communities. That is likely to turn into a long-term education and opportunity gap.

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel began the conversation detailing a scene that has become all too normal around the country today: A photograph that went viral of two young girls, sitting back-to-back, with laptops in hand, attempting to complete their schoolwork outside using the Wi-Fi from a Taco Bell in California.

According to Future Ready statistics, 16.9 million American children currently remain locked out of virtual classrooms because their households lack the internet access necessary to support online learning. The study found that the homework gap disproportionately effects Black, Latinos, American Indians and Alaska Native households.

“We have tools to help fix this issue and we could use them right now,” said Rosenworcel.

She called for upgrading the FCC’s E-Rate program to meet the moment of extreme desperation created by the pandemic. Further, Rosenworcel said the agency should reorient the FCC’s Lifeline program, traditionally created to make voice services more affordable for qualifying low-income consumers, around broadband accessibility.

“We need to stop the homework gap from becoming an education gap,” championed Rosenworcel.

“There is real opportunity for the FCC to be leaning on the E-rate program right now,” said Doug Brake, director of broadband and spectrum policy at ITIF, during the panel discussion following Rosenworcel. “There is a good size pot of money that could be getting into the hands of teachers,” he said, adding “it’s shameful we’re not doing more to address that.”

“We are essentially deciding who gets to participate in the digital ecosystem and who gets to receive the opportunities provided by it,” said Francella Ochillo, executive director of Next Century Cities. According to Ochillo, “76 percent of African Americans and Hispanics could be shut out from jobs projected to be available in 2045.”

Federal resources currently being filtered towards increasing broadband access at schools and libraries can help solve the gap, said Ochillo, but she contended that this is still not enough.

“Currently local and state governments are relying heavily on the generosity of private sector stakeholders,” said Ochillo. She advised “you have to get broadband to the home. Winter is coming and I don’t want to see ‘Susie Q’ out in the cold.”

The session was moderated by ALLvanza’s Rosa Mendoza.

Education

Libraries Must Be Vigilant To Ensure Adequate Broadband, Consultants Say

Derek Shumway

Published

on

Photo of Stephanie Stenberg via Internet2

April 7, 2021 – Libraries should monitor their broadband speeds and ensure they are getting quality connections, according to library consultants.

Carson Block from Carson Block Consulting and Stephanie Stenberg of the Internet2 Community Anchor program told a virtual conference hosted by the American Library Association on Tuesday that it’s time libraries take a closer look at how they are getting broadband and if they are getting the speeds they are paying for. If not, they said they should re-negotiate.

Block and Stenberg shared details about the “Towards Gigabit Libraries” (TGL) toolkit, a free, self-service guide for rural and tribal libraries to better understand and improve their broadband. The new toolkit helps libraries prepare for E-Rate internet subsidy requests to aid their budget cycles.

It also has tips about communicating effectively between library and tech people since there is a gap in knowledge between those two groups. The TGL is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Gigabit Libraries and Beyond (GLG) to improve the toolkit and expand throughout the United States. In addition to focusing on rural and tribal libraries, now urban libraries will be included for support.

During the event, a live poll showed all participating attendees said they “very infrequently” had technical IT support available in their home libraries. Stenberg said this confirmed TGL’s findings that libraries need more tech and IT support, as the majority of respondents in previous surveys gave similar concerning results.

To really emphasize the need for adequate broadband and support at libraries, another question was asked to live attendees about their current level of expertise around procuring and delivering access to broadband as a service in their library, assuming that the majority of attendees worked for libraries. All participants said they possess “no experience” trying to get broadband in the library.

Common issues that are to blame include libraries with insufficient bandwidth, data wiring or poorly set-up networks. Old and obsolete equipment also contributed to bad Wi-Fi coverage.

Continue Reading

Education

Schools And Libraries Look For Solutions With $7 Billion In Federal Help

Derek Shumway

Published

on

Screenshot from SHLB event

April 6, 2021 – In a webinar last week hosted by the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition (SHLB), panelists discussed opportunities schools and libraries have to better serve their communities with the recent $7 billion provided through the American Rescue Plan, a $1.98 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Biden on last month.

Laura Cole, director at the BiblioTech public library, shared how a successful pilot program with Southwest Independent School District made a goal to provide digital access to 100 students. To date, 62 students had broadband installed with the remaining still being worked on. The project was done to act as a proof-of-concept for digital connection expansion in Bexar County, Texas, where broadband access rates are low. Though the program’s success has caused it to be extended through December 31, 2021, Cole said she recognizes that there needs to be a more permanent solution to close the digital divide in all areas where people lack internet.

At the Brooklyn Public Library in New York City, Selvon Smith, president of information technology and chief information officer at the library, said that collaborative programs with the New York Public Library, Queens Public Library, and the New York City Department of Education were able to provide thousands of free hotspot devices for the entire school year to under-connected people. The organizations created a “Bookmobile Wi-Fi” program that was comprised of three vans and one truck stocked with laptops and outfitted with Wi-Fi antennas.

And it’s not just libraries that benefitted from the $7 billion provided through the American Rescue Plan. Rajesh Adusumilli, assistant superintendent for information services at Arlington County public schools (APS), said his organization worked to address student connectivity needs throughout the pandemic. The rollout of the 1-2-3 Connect Me pilot program was a core part along with maintaining Comcast’s Internet Essentials Program sponsorship and continuing to provide devices and wireless access hotspots at Arlington’s public schools.

This pilot program was financed by the Virginia governor’s Fasttrack Broadband Funding program, and is an extension of broadband services off of the APS and county-owned fiber network.

It uses technology on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum band, which has allowed private networks solely meant for students. It allows for students to connect to the APS network from home so they can continue distance learning instruction and access APS resources. It also can save money as it does not require the county to build additional fiber to create the extension.

Now, all Arlington Public Schools are set up with wireless access, with 99.2 percent of all APS students having participated successfully in synchronous learning activities.

Continue Reading

Education

Lack of Awareness Sees Michigan Schools And Libraries Miss Out on E-Rate Funding: State Coordinator

Derek Shumway

Published

on

Photo of Joe Polasek taken from his LinkedIn page

March 30, 2021 – Despite expanded funding for the E-Rate internet subsidy program for schools and libraries, the Michigan State program coordinator said there’s an awareness problem that is causing those institutions to miss out on money in the state.

“I don’t know any school or library that feels they have enough funding,” Joe Polasek said at the “Connecting Michigan Communities: Digital Education in Michigan” event, hosted by Connected Nation Michigan.

The E-Rate program is based on free and reduced lunch eligibility reported by schools and can support schools’ recurring or one-time service costs for internet. In some cases, the program can cover up to 90 percent of an internet service bill, something Polasek would like to see more schools and libraries take advantage of in his state.

There have been recent legislative proposals to extend the E-Rate to cover internet subsidies to the home.

If a school or library qualifies for E-Rate funding, it can then use money that would have gone toward paying the internet bill for other needs like technology or education improvements.

While a growing number of schools are eligible in the program, the need to push libraries to qualify is even greater. Three years ago, 50 percent of Michigan libraries were participating in the E-Rate program, said Polasek. Libraries need to be aware of the benefits and help available to them in accessing much-needed funds and filing proper paperwork to qualify.

To date, Polasek said efforts to raise awareness of E-Rate funding have grown steadily, which has culminated in nearly 65 percent of libraries now receiving E-Rate funding.

Polasek’s role as a state coordinator is to facilitate the application process for prospective schools and libraries. He made it clear that he cannot actually file the paperwork on behalf of the applicant, but he is there to answer any questions and educate.

The verification process for E-Rate can be tricky to handle, he said. Confirming that the student count and discount rate are accurate is important because money is on the line.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said that the E-Rate program was recently expanded to cover subsidies to the home. The story has been corrected to say that various legislative proposals have been introduced to achieve that. As it is, the E-Rate program is based on free and reduced lunch eligibility reported by schools and can support schools’ recurring or one-time service costs for the internet.

Continue Reading

Recent

Signup for Broadband Breakfast

Get twice-weekly Breakfast Media news alerts.
* = required field

Trending