Connect with us

Digital Inclusion

In the Context of the Global Digital Divide, Language and Gender Differences Need Attention

Published

on

Screenshot from the webinar

November 3, 2020 – The digital divides of language and gender are too often overlooked in considering matters associated with the digital divide, particularly globally, said panelists at a Wilson Center event on Friday.

“The biggest internet barrier to entry is translation,” said University of California at Berkey Professor Steven Weber, who is currently working on a paper to determine to what extent language is a digital barrier.

Weber, while acknowledging the benefits of language diversity, referenced the biblical Tower of Babel story, saying that when God confounded the people’s languages, he did so for the express purpose of creating transaction costs and economic friction.

Although we have many machine translation devices, the quality of translations across languages is not universal, Weber said. Some machine translation devices have excellent algorithms because they come from high-resource languages, which essentially are languages that are well-documented.

Machine learning systems drive this machine translation. Most are supervised machine learning systems that use training data sets labeled by human beings, or existing translations. This means that low-resource languages like Swahili or Urdu end up with poor algorithms because they lack documentation—in fact, Weber said, a five order of magnitude difference exists between the best and the worst algorithms.

Weber is concerned that language documentation and translation is going to map onto areas of privilege versus areas without privilege, creating a “flat world” for high resource driven languages and a greater barriers for low resource languages.

United Nations social affairs expert Sukaina Al-Nasrawi is concerned about the digital divide in Arab regions. She said the numbers show a significant difference in developing and using digital tech between developing and developed countries.

While Arab regions are performing comparatively better in the information communication technology development, she said they are still behind the world average in basically every category except mobile tech.

The digital gender divide is even worse. Worldwide, the gap is 31 percent and is the worst in the Arab region. The gender gap for mobile ownership is 9 percent and for mobile ownership with internet access its 21 percent.

Al-Nasrawi urged a focus on economic and political participation, and stressed that connectivity provides opportunities that can “steer the wheel of women’s empowerment,” even if only by changing attitudes.

Weber pointed out that throughout history whenever a new technology is introduced, the first few iterations do not always benefit people. He offered the railroad, which helped those living at crossroads and devastated the towns it passed by, and shipping containers, which benefitted people living in places like Los Angeles, but increased shipping expenses in places that were “on the grid.”

Though the Arab region may eventually be able to close all their digital divides, Al-Nasrawi said that if development continues at this pace the region will need more than 140 years to bridge this gap, “which is alarming.”

Zena Kebede, technical program manager of Microsoft’s Airband initiative, advocated for more innovation in the private sector and government partnerships to bridge this gap. He stressed that government involvement was key because in many countries they are usually the first stakeholders to invest in connectivity because others are unable to do so.

Melissa Griffith, non-resident research fellow at UC Berkeley and adjunct assistant professor at Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies, moderated this event.

Reporter Liana Sowa grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut. She studied editing and publishing as a writing fellow at Brigham Young University, where she mentored upperclassmen on neuroscience research papers. She enjoys reading and journaling, and marathon-runnning and stilt-walking.

Digital Inclusion

Infrastructure Bill Supports Digital Inclusion, Says Advocacy Group

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes billions for states to expand digital inclusion efforts.

Published

on

Screenshot of Amy Huffman

WASHINGTON, December 10, 2021 – National Digital Inclusion Association Policy Director Amy Huffman explicated the role of the recent federal infrastructure legislation – and its support for digital inclusion and digital equity – in a Tuesday webinar.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocates $42.5 billion in the Broadband Equity and Deployment program. IIJA also allocates $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Act.

The Digital Equity Act funds are designed to help improve states and local governments’ digital inclusion efforts. The federal government recognizes that states, local governments, and practitioners “who already are embedded in your communities are the trusted resources in your communities that you all are the best ones to do digital inclusion,” Huffman said.

“You’ll see that ethos has made its way throughout all of the both the Digital Equity Act and the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program” of the broader legislation.

The Digital Equity Act codifies the definitions of “digital equity” and “digital inclusion.” Digital equity is our “goal,” said Huffman.

“That’s what we’re trying to achieve, we want to make sure that we live in a nation where everyone, every individual and community has the capacity for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy,” she said. Digital inclusion involves the programs, policies and tools that help the nation achieve a digitally equitable state.

Indeed, the Digital Equity Act contains two programs: the State Digital Equity program and the Competitive Grant program.

The Act also creates three grant funds. Administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department, the digital equity competitive grant program will supply money for states to do digital equity work.

The program is split into planning grants and capacity grants: Planning grants help states create digital equity plans, while capacity grants give money to states to implement those plans.

The Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program gives block grants to states for broadband infrastructure deployment and other digital inclusion activities.

Each state will receive at least $100 million, and use an additional formula for determining how much additional funding states receive. Eligible grantees are all U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and U.S. territories. Subgrantees can be cooperatives such as telephone or electric member cooperatives, non-profit organizations, and public-private partnerships.

Each state’s plan funded by these grant programs must create “measurable objectives for documenting and promoting various digital inclusion activities that will advance the covered populations pursuit of digital equity and closing of these barriers,” Huffman said.

“The states are already in charge of so economic development workforce development health outcomes, etc. so they want the state to think holistically, about how they’re doing around digital equity will help them achieve their other goals.”

Continue Reading

Digital Inclusion

Despite General Satisfaction with E-rate Program, Tribal Libraries Are Being Left Behind

Tribal community leaders are concerned over the effectiveness of outreach methods the FCC uses to fund broadband in tribal libraries.

Published

on

Miriam Jorgensen, research director of the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona

WASHINGTON, November 1, 2021 – Leaders of efforts to expand broadband in Indigenous communities are sounding the alarm to the Federal Communications Commission, saying that its E-rate program to supply libraries with funding for internet infrastructure is not effectively aiding tribal libraries despite extensive use of the program by non-tribal libraries.

Separate events held Wednesday heard this contrasting experience, when in the morning, E-rate compliance service firm Funds for Learning held a session to share generally positive experiences from a survey it conducted of what E-rate applicants thought of the program, and specifically its application portal. The program, which is supported by the Universal Service Fund, provides schools and libraries with broadband subsidies to keep students connected.

Hours later that day, the FCC held a virtual listening session for tribal leaders and staff to address a lack of E-rate broadband funding requests from tribal libraries.

“Nearly 40 percent of respondents had never heard of e-rate,” chat messaged meeting attendee Miriam Jorgensen, research director of the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona, referencing an Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, & Museums (ATALM) survey of tribal libraries.

“Many of those who had felt that the program was too complicated to apply for,” she said.

Susan Feller, president and CEO of the ATALM, said that tribal libraries do not see relevance for themselves in E-rate funds.

Low staff numbers causing fewer tribal applicants

Also brought up in the meeting as a possible explanation for the rarity of E-rate applications from tribal libraries was that the libraries often have a low staff capacity and seldom employ grant writers or part time employees who could assist in applying to funding opportunities.

According to Jim Dunstan, founder of Mobius Legal Group and lawyer for the Navajo Nation, many tribes are both E-rate providers and applicants for E-rate funds, causing technical problems during application for E-rate funds.

The Funds for Learning’s survey found that 73 percent of respondents planned on submitting an E-rate broadband funding application in 2022, with 46 percent saying they felt “strongly” that they would apply. Connectivity results for Indigenous nations are still low, as FCC Emergency Connectivity Fund money has gone to tribes in just nine states, while strong digital infrastructure remains rare in many Native American communities.

The response rate for the survey was higher than the response rate in each of the last four years of the survey’s administration from 2018 to 2020.

Continue Reading

Digital Inclusion

Rosenworcel Hails FCC’s Efforts on Mapping, Said Country Needs More Wi-Fi Access

Rosenworcel also emphasized spectrum policy and getting connectivity to low-income Americans.

Published

on

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

WASHINGTON, October 27, 2021 ­– Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said Friday she is optimistic about the agency’s direction on new broadband mapping efforts and said the testing of the project has produced the best wireless coverage map in the country.

Speaking at the Marconi Society Symposium Friday, Rosenworcel said the mapping efforts are part driven by crowdsourced methods that she credited as a valuable way to ensure the maps are as accurate as possible.

The new maps are a product of the Broadband DATA Act, which is set to expand mapping efforts to make them more precise. The current mapping method, which uses Form 477 data, has led some companies to bid for federal funding in areas that are already served. The FCC is currently cleaning up the results of the $9.2 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund due to those errors.

Rosenworcel emphasizes spectrum policy

Additionally, Rosenworcel emphasized the need to improve spectrum policy. She suggested that this take place by making sure consumers benefit from competitive FCC auctions and placing more Wi-Fi access in locations where licensed airwaves see low usage.

Industry experts at the event stressed challenges that must be addressed in order to expand broadband access, such as the fact that low-income individuals will often reject offers to receive free internet. This happens because the individuals think that a free service will be low quality or that they will be tricked into paying for the service in the future.

During one panel, professor Margaret Martonosi of Princeton University explained the importance of realizing that utility functions present in rich and poor service markets are different, meaning that the appetite for internet service in richer communities is different from the appetite in poorer ones.

Continue Reading

Recent

Signup for Broadband Breakfast

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

Trending