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25 Years After Passage, Architects of the Telecom Act Say Congress Should Revisit the Law



Photo of Larry Irving from May 2007 by Ed Kohler used with permission

February 8, 2021—On the 25th anniversary of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said that Congress should revisit the law to address modern demands for broadband and bringing service to underserved communities.

The Telecom Act had many authors, one of whom was then-Rep. Markey. Speaking during a pre-recorded video released Monday by the Federal Communications Commission, he said that the law was designed to improve the quality of service and range of coverage of broadband by promoting competition and reducing regulation. The 1996 law was the most significant revision of the Communications Act since its passage in 1934.

During the FCC video, titled “Commemorating 25 Years of the Telecom Act,” Markey urged that the next 25 years should be defined by “bold action” to establish consumer-friendly policies to protect users and grow the economy, much like the 1996 law.

Also speaking in the video were FCC Acting Chairwoman of the FCC Jessica Rosenworcel, plus a bevy of past and present policy-makers, including House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Rep. Fred Upton, D-Mich., former Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator Larry Irving, and Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt.

Hundt said the act was crafted with two primary considerations: Enhancing productivity and improving technological benefits. He paid special attention to the Schools and Libraries Program of the Universal Service Fund, commonly known as the E-Rate.

The E-Rate provides discounts to schools and libraries to assist them in obtaining broadband access, “Since [1996], more than $100 billion dollars has been donated to internet access in classrooms and libraries,” Hundt explained, “It was really important that the internet be the first innovation in education since chalk that was distributed equally to everybody in the country regardless of where they lived.”

Following the release of the video, Rosenworcel participated in a Twitter chat with educator and Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., who said the pandemic highlighted and exacerbated the situation surrounding broadband coverage.

“We need connections now more than ever,” she said in a Tweet. “We need to expand [the E-Rate] beyond schools and into the homes of students as so many kinds are learning remotely during this pandemic.”

New legislation introduced Monday by Markey and Eshoo, dubbed the National Broadband Plan for the Future Act, aims to address these inequities.

“The lack of universal access to affordable and high-speed internet worsens the existing inequities in society,” said Eshoo. Telehealth, remote working, and remote learning during the ongoing pandemic are prime examples of why broadband coverage and quality must be improved, she said.

Markey, who spoke live earlier in the day about the Telecom Act at an INCOMPAS event, said he was proud of his record in co-authoring the law. But, he said, “we still have a way to go before we finish the job. We are seeing more than ever how necessary robust and affordable broadband is to the future of American life, education, jobs, and medical care.”

See “Telecom Act Boosters at INCOMPAS Summit Urge Broadband Boost and Net Neutrality Revival,” Broadband Breakfast, February 8, 2021


Closing Digital Divide for Students Requires Community Involvement, Workforce Training, Event Hears

Barriers to closing the divide including awareness of programs, resources and increasing digital literacy.



Screenshot of Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Experts in education technology said Monday that to close the digital divide for students, the nation must eliminate barriers at the community level, including raising awareness of programs and resources and increasing digital literacy.

“We are hearing from schools and district leaders that it’s not enough to make just broadband available and affordable, although those are critical steps,” said Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said at an event hosted by trade group the Self-Insurance Institute of America. “We also have to make sure that we’re solving for the human barriers that often inhibit adoption.”

Song highlighted four “initial barriers” that students are facing. First, a lack of awareness and understanding of programs and resources. Second, signing up for programs is often confusing regarding eligibility requirements, application status, and installment. Third, there may be a lack of trust between communities and services. Fourth, a lack of digital literacy among students can prevent them from succeeding.

Song said he believes that with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, states have an “incredible opportunity to address adoption barriers.”

Workforce shortages still a problem, but funding may help

Rosemary Lahasky, senior director for government affairs at Cengage, a maker of educational content, added that current data suggests that 16 million students lack access to a broadband connection. While this disparity in American homes remained, tech job posts nearly doubled in 2021, but the average number of applicants shrunk by 25 percent.

But panelists said they are hopeful that funding will address these shortages. “Almost every single agency that received funding…received either direct funding for workforce training or were given the flexibility to spend some of their money on workforce training,” said Lahasky of the IIJA, which carves out funding for workforce training.

This money is also, according to Lahasky, funding apprenticeship programs, which have been recommended by many as a solution to workforce shortages.

Student connectivity has been a long-held concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students themselves are stepping up to fight against the digital inequity in their schools as technology becomes increasingly essential for success. Texas students organized a panel to discuss internet access in education just last year.

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FTC Approves Policy Statement on Guiding Review of Children’s Online Protection

The policy statement provides the guiding principles for which the FTC will review the collection and use of children’s data online.



FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2022 – The Federal Trade Commission last week unanimously approved a policy statement guiding how it will enforce the collection and use of children’s online data gathered by education technology companies.

The policy statement outlines four provisions in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, including ones related to limiting the amount of data collected for children’s access to educational tools; restricting types of data collected and requiring reasons for why they are being collected; prohibiting ed tech companies from holding on to data for speculative purposes; and prohibiting the use of the data for targeted advertising purposes.

“Today’s statement underscores how the protections of the COPPA rule ensure children can do their schoolwork without having to surrender to commercial surveillance practices,” said FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan at an open meeting on Thursday.

Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter added Thursday that although COPPA provides the strongest data minimization rule in US law, it’s enforcement may not be as strong, saying that “this policy statement is timely and necessary.”

Slaughter, who was the acting FTC chairwoman before Khan was approved to lead the agency, said last year that the commission was taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to tackling privacy and data collection practices of ed tech companies, which has seen a boom in interest since the start of the pandemic.

Thursday’s statement comes after lawmakers have clamored for big technology companies to do more to prevent the unnecessary collection of children’s data online. It also comes after President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address earlier this year that companies must be held accountable for the “national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.”

Lawmakers have already pushed legislation that would reform COPPA – originally published in 1998 to limit the amount of information that operators could collect from children without parental consent – to raise the age for online protections for children.

Thursday’s FTC statement also seeks to scrutinize unwarranted surveillance practices in education technology, such as geographic locating or data profiling. Khan added that though endless tracking and expansive use of data have become increasingly common practices, companies cannot extend these practices into schools.

Review is nothing new

“Today’s policy statement is nothing particularly new,” said Commissioner Noah Phillips, saying that the review started in July 2019.

Commissioner Christine Wilson, while supporting the statement, was also more withdrawn about its impact. “I am concerned that issuing policy statements gives the illusion of taking action, especially when these policy statements break no new ground.”

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Digital Literacy Training Needed for Optimal Telehealth Outcomes, Healthcare Reps Say

Digital literacy should be a priority to unlock telehealth’s potential, a telehealth event heard.



Photo of telehealth consultation from Healthcare IT News

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – Digital literacy training should be a priority for providers and consumers to improve telehealth outcomes, experts said at a conference Tuesday.

Digital literacy training will unlock telehealth’s potential to improve health outcomes, according to the event’s experts, including improving treatment for chronic diseases, improving patient-doctor relationships, and providing easier medical access for those without access to transportation.

Julia Skapik of the National Association of Community Health Centers said at the National Telehealth Conference on Tuesday that both patients and clinicians need to be trained on how to use tools that allow both parties to communicate remotely.

Skapik said her association has plans to implement training for providers to utilize tech opportunities, such as patient portals to best engage patients.

Ann Mond Johnson from the American Telemedicine Association agreed that telehealth will improve health outcomes by giving proper training to utilize the technology to offer the services.

The Federal Communications Commission announced its telehealth program in April 2021, which set aside $200 million for health institutions to provide remote care for patients.

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