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

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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

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.

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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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Education

FCC Commits Another $603 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Money

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

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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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Education

Texas High School Students Enter the Fight for Better Connectivity

Students in a Houston-area school district hosted a panel on connecting schools and libraries as part of a national event on bridging the digital divide.

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John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2021 – Generation Z students are making their mark at a Houston-area school district by adding broadband access to the list of issues they are actively working on.

The high school students in the Fort Bend Independent School District organized a panel conversation on internet access in education as part of Connected Nation’s national event titled “20 Years of Connecting the Nation,” and were able to host some high-profile guests in the world of telecommunications.

The November 17 panel included John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, Chris Martinez, division director of information technology for the Harris County Public Library, Heather Gate, vice president of digital inclusion for Connected Nation, and Meredith Watassek, director of career and technical education for Fort Bend ISD.

Nine percent of residents in Harris County, where Houston is located, reports that they do not have a connected device at home and 18 percent say they do not have access to an internet connection. These gaps in access are the focus of the panelists’ digital equity efforts.

With Windhausen and Martinez present on the panel, a key point of discussion was the importance of helping libraries to act as anchor institutions – institutions which help enable universal broadband access.

Watassek pointed out that she has been helping oversee distance learning in Fort Bend ISD for six years, starting such a program to enable teachers to teach students in several of the district’s buildings without having to drive to each one, and has seen that with time and learned experience it is possible to work through distance learning logistical issues that school districts around the nation are currently facing.

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