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A New Broadband Policy Agenda for Schools, Health and Library ‘Anchor Institutions’

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Photo of students using computers at the Howard-Tilton Library of Tulane University, used with permission from Tulane Public Relations.

January 22, 2021—The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition released its 2021 Policy Roadmap on Thursday—an agenda to promote open, affordable, high-quality broadband to anchor institutions—as these establishments are key to connecting the estimated 42 million Americans without internet access today. The report, released one day after President Joe Biden’s inauguration, makes nine broadband policy recommendations to the incoming administration.

Many at the SHLB Coalition see the presidential transition as a new opportunity to close existing broadband gaps, including Executive Director John Windhausen, who said “the Biden Administration gives us all a fresh opportunity to rectify the inequities revealed by the coronavirus pandemic, especially the ever-present digital divide.”

In an interview with Broadband Breakfast, SHLB’s Communications Manager Alicja Johnson said SHLB and its strong community of allies share the same broadband goal: to make it far easier to enact change in broadband policy, at a time when all require its use.

The SHLB Coalition recognizes nine top priorities in the 2021 report. “Of the nine SHLB initiatives, each one feeds into the other,” said Johnson. “All are connected by the realization that people are increasingly aware of the need for broadband,” she added.

Underlying each recommendation is the need for reliable broadband “to-and-through” Community Anchor Institutions: nonprofit community organizations, such as schools, libraries, hospitals, community centers, higher education institutions, public housing facilities, and more, which facilitate greater use of broadband by vulnerable populations.

SHLB recommends the Biden administration consider policy to increase affordable residential broadband and adoption through CAIs, develop more accurate broadband maps that include CAIs, strengthen and broaden the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate Program, increase funding for and streamline operations of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program, include higher education institutions in broadband access initiatives, reform the Universal Service Fund contribution mechanism, promote greater spectrum availability for CAIs, streamline pole attachments and rights-of-way access, and fund broadband infrastructure deployment “to-and-through” CAIs to residential consumers.

The SHLB Coalition report recognizes broadband as key to education

In point three of the nine initiatives, which calls for strengthening the FCC’s E-Rate Program, the SHLB Coalition urges the agency to practice making more accurate funding decisions.

School districts need ways to extend broadband to their students, including Wi-Fi and broadband capabilities on school buses backed with strong security to prevent cyberattacks. In the report, SHLB recommends allowing E-Rate funding to cover fiber broadband to help bridge connection gaps between students’ homes and schools.

Farmington Municipal Schools, a large public school district in northern New Mexico, has successfully deployed a Kajeet broadband system on its now Wi-Fi-equipped school buses. Many students in Farmington come from rural, farming families. Being able to work on homework on the school bus has allowed students to spend more time with family, helping around the home in the evenings.

SHLB’s report recognizes that it’s not just K-12 students who need broadband. Higher education institutions contain many students who have inadequate or no access to broadband beyond the college campus.

When the pandemic caused school campuses to shut down, many students had to stay in their apartments with nowhere else to go. College students often lack the money needed to pay for internet beyond standard utilities and depend heavily on campus-strength broadband.

Sometimes up to eight college students are cooped inside one small apartment unit. When considering the bandwidth requirements across an entire student housing unit, it is easy to see why broadband is such a basic need.

In priority five, SHLB states broadband policy should prioritize the inclusion of higher education institutions in broadband access initiatives, and that the Coalition wants to work with policymakers to implement COVID-19 relief legislation that provides funding to connect recipients of Pell grants and minority-serving institutions and their surrounding communities to broadband.

The Connecting Minority Communities Act, introduced by Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and Senator Tim Scott, R-South Carolina, would create a pilot program to provide grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic-serving Institutions, and other Minority Serving Institutions, to expand access to broadband and digital opportunity in their communities.

Education

National Non-Profit to Launch Joint Initiative to Close Broadband Affordability and Homework Gap

EducationSuperHighway is signing up partners and will launch November 4.

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Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of Education Super Highway.

WASHINGTON, October 18, 2021 – National non-profit Education Super Highway is set to launch a campaign next month that will work with internet service providers to identify students without broadband and expand programs that will help connect the unconnected.

On November 4, the No Home Left Offline initiative will launch to close the digital divide for 18 million American households that “have access to the Internet but can’t afford to connect,” according to a Monday press release.

The campaign will publish a detailed report with “crucial data insights into the broadband affordability gap and the opportunities that exist to close it,” use data to identify unconnected households and students, and launch broadband adoption and free apartment Wi-Fi programs in Washington D.C.

The non-profit and ISPs will share information confidentially to identify students without broadband at home and “enable states and school districts to purchase Internet service for families through sponsored service agreements,” the website said.

The initiative will run on five principles: identify student need, have ISPs create sponsored service offerings for school districts or other entities, set eligibility standards, minimize the amount of information necessary to sign up families, and protect privacy.

The non-profit said 82 percent of Washington D.C.’s total unconnected households – a total of just over 100,000 people – have access to the internet but can’t afford to connect.

“This ‘broadband affordability gap’ keeps 47 million Americans offline, is present in every state, and disproportionately impacts low-income, Black, and Latinx communities,” the release said. “Without high-speed Internet access at home, families in Washington DC can’t send their children to school, work remotely, or access healthcare, job training, the social safety net, or critical government services.”

Over 120 regional and national carriers have signed up for the initiative.

The initiative is another in a national effort to close the “homework gap.” The Federal Communications Commission is connected schools, libraries and students using money from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which is subsidizing devices and connections. It has received $5 billion in requested funds in just round one.

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Federal Communications Commission Says $5 Billion Requested for Emergency Connectivity Fund — in Just Round One!

The program is designed to help schools, libraries and students.

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Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 25, 2021—Two months after launching the first round of applications, the Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that the Emergency Connectivity Fund has received more than $5 billion in funding requests.

The requests, which came from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, are for 9.1 million connected devices and 5.4 million broadband connections.

The $7-billion program, whose first round closed August 13, provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and general connectivity is expected to help students stay connected at school and off school premises, addressing the “homework gap” made paramount during the pandemic.

The money is to be used for said services and devices purchased between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. The program will open a second round for applications due to a spike in new coronavirus cases, which will run from September 28 to October 13.

“The Emergency Connectivity Fund is the single largest effort to bring connectivity and devices to students who lack them – and this robust response from applicants shows the tremendous need in our communities,” FCC acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a Wednesday press release.

“This funding is an important down payment in closing the Homework Gap so that all children, regardless of their circumstances or where they live, have access to the tools they need to succeed,” she added.

Congress authorized the program as part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The FCC has previously noted that the Emergency Broadband Benefit had proved out that there is demand for such a program and that the ECF would help fill the gap.

Breakdown by state

The FCC included a breakdown of the first-round requests by state. California was the top requester at roughly $812 million, followed by New York with $559 million, Texas with $496 million, Florida with $264 million, New Jersey with $225 million, Arizona with $200 million, Illinois at $197 million, Georgia $183 million, North Carolina with $149 million, Michigan with $108 million, Ohio with $103 million, and Puerto Rico with $102 million, and Washington rounding out the 9-digit requesters with $101 million.

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Education

NTIA Releases Details on Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Project

The $285-million program will help connect minority educational institutions.

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Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo

August 4, 2021–The agency managing telecommunications policy for the commerce department has released details Tuesday on eligibility for its $285-million grant program for broadband access for minority educational institutions.

The Connecting Minority Communities pilot program, announced in June, will address the lack of broadband access, connectivity and equity at historically Black colleges or universities, Tribal colleges or universities, and minority-serving institutions.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration released a notice of funding opportunity for the program, established via the Consolidated Appropriations Act 2021, which will grant funds to eligible recipients to purchase broadband service or equipment, hire IT personnel, operate a minority business enterprise or a tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organization, and facilitate educational instruction, including remote instruction.

Eligible institutions include 501 Hispanic-serving institutions, 336 Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-serving institutions, 104 predominantly Black institutions, 102 historically Black colleges and universities, 66 Alaska native-serving institutions and native Hawaiian-serving institutions, 37 Tribal colleges and universities, and 32 native American-serving non-Tribal institutions.

The deadline to submit applications is December 1, 2021.

“Communities of color have faced systemic barriers to affordable broadband access since the beginning of the digital age,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a press release.

“The investments we make as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program will help communities that are struggling with access, adoption and connectivity, and will inform our path forward as we seek to finally close the digital divide across the country,” she added.

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