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Pre-Pandemic Survey of Internet Use by Commerce Department’s NTIA Finds Almost All College Students Online

Liana Sowa

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Photo of Rafi Goldberg from Serve Public

November 28, 2020 – The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and its Broadband USA program continues to track data about broadband usage, as well as provide resources surrounding state broadband initiatives.

The agency recently released initial results from its latest internet use survey. Although the data comes from November of 2019, before the start of the coronavirus pandemic, it provides important baseline information about how prepared Americans were to work and learn online, including the fact that the elderly, those in rural areas and those with manual jobs were least likely to use the internet, while the experience of almost all college students makes online classes very likely.

According to the survey, about one third of Americans used the internet to work remotely, and a little less than a third used the internet to complete job trainings or take online classes. “That represents about 20 percent of Internet users ages 15 or older,” According to a blog post by Rafi Goldberg, policy analyst in the NTIA”s Office of Policy Analysis and Development. The agency had released some of the results in June 2020.

Past NTIA surveys have shown disparities in teleworking by race: there were less teleworkers reported to be African American or Hispanic. This trend was consistent in 2019.

“Part of this gap is due to lower rates of Internet use among African American and Hispanic employees, but Internet users in these groups were also less likely to telework,” said Goldberg.

There was a 10 percent difference in telework when looking at population density, with 32 percent teleworking in urban areas. However, people in rural areas were generally less likely to telework compared to those in urban areas, despite those in rural areas still using the internet.

Workers in professional fields, including scientific, legal, and finance fields were the most likely to telework, the NTIA reports. Indeed, more than half of those employees said they worked remotely in 2019.

At the other end of the spectrum were those who worked in transportation, agriculture, food preparation, manufacturing, and other fields where employees were both less likely to report teleworking. In these fields, they were more likely than most to say they did not use the internet at all.

People ages 15-24 were more likely to take online classes than those 65 and older.

“For example, 30 percent of internet users between the ages of 15 and 24 reported taking online classes or job training in 2019, compared with just 6 percent of those 65 and older,” said Goldberg.

Since the NTIA first started asking users if they took online classes, the number of Americans taking online classes has increased from 4 percent in 2004 to 20 percent in 2019.

For Americans with an internet connection, there was little racial difference in who did or did not take online classes. Internet-using college students who took online classes with some college experience, or a college degree, comprised 22 or 27 percent respectively of college students who used the internet. Those holding or lacking a high school diploma comprised 10 or 14 percent respectively of high school students using the internet.

Of internet-using college students, 53 percent reported to have participated in online classes or job training. Of this demographic, 60 percent of part-time students took online classes, compared with 50 percent of their full-time counterparts.

One final conclusion from this pre-pandemic survey: “In addition, 88 percent of all college students were Internet users, which is a significantly higher adoption rate than the country overall.”

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.

Education

Libraries Must Be Vigilant To Ensure Adequate Broadband, Consultants Say

Derek Shumway

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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.

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Education

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

Derek Shumway

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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.

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Education

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

Derek Shumway

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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.

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