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Datacasting Helping Bridge Education Gap Where Broadband Is Limited



Screenshot from the webinar

February 23, 2021—During the COVID-19 pandemic, television broadcasting stations have implemented datacasting technology to assist in the distance learning that many American children now face, though issues persist.

Datacasting refers to the practice of using radiofrequency spectrum currently occupied by broadcast television, instead of using typical broadband connections over fiber or other wireless transmissions, to replicate internet features.

These services only allow for downloading homework, tests, and learning material that their instructors send to them, but they may be unable to submit homework or tests via the same process.

Mark Newman, executive director of Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations, was a panelist at America’s Public Television Stations 2021 Public Media Summit Monday. He acknowledged that though datacasting is not a new technology, it has played a pivotal role in bridging the digital divide during the pandemic.

“Our motivation was simple: to do our part to make sure kids didn’t fall behind in school,” Newman said.

He outlined how, at the Indiana Department of Education’s request, IPBS was able to deploy a rapid response program designed to allow TV stations to deploy scheduled content that linked students to learning resources published by PBS Learning Media. This was an attempt to replicate the classroom learning experience, providing students lesson plans with goals and objectives.

Newman explained that data casting techniques would be able to be extended beyond the pandemic and assist families without or with limited broadband access. He said this vision is what contributed to IPBS being awarded $6.7 million in CARES Act funding. Newman added that datacasting could be an affordable component to closing the digital divide, as it only costs a fraction of what broadband services cost.

Datacasting for download, limited broadband for upload

Madeleine Noland is also a proponent of data casting. Noland is the president of the Advanced Television Systems Committee, and though she recognizes the promise in datacasting, she also pointed out that it falls short of broadband in some crucial areas.

Noland noted that at its best, datacasting is paired with limited broadband capabilities. In this scenario, though a family might not have high speed internet access, they would ideally have at least a limited ability to upload a student’s homework.

With no access to broadband at home, students would still be able to receive their classwork, but would likely be required to travel to a secondary location with access to broadband to upload their assignments.

Noland unpacked what she described as a likely situation where multiple students in the same household can download large quantities of data via their set-top-box or other hardware, and then upload their assignments at a library with broadband access.

Even though this is less ideal than the convenience of high-speed internet from within the home, this cost-effective method of schooling children is far better than simply losing a year of school.

“My hope is that the leadership that [Mark Newman] is showing is strong—contagious,” Noland said. “I hope that we will find lots of others who are getting on the bandwagon and coming up with their own new ways to use the system and bring value to their communities.”

As a child of American parents working abroad, Reporter Ben Kahn was raised as a third culture kid, growing up in five different countries, including the U.S.. He is a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore, where he majored in Policy, Politics, and International Affairs. He enjoys learning about foreign languages and cultures and can now speak poorly in more than one language.


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.



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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NTIA Releases Details on Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Project

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



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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Broadband Breakfast CEO Drew Clark and BroadbandNow’s John Busby Speak on Libraries and Broadband

Friday’s Gigabit Libraries Network conversation will feature Drew Clark of Broadband Breakfast and John Busby of BroadbandNow.



July 16, 2021—Friday’s Gigabit Libraries Network conversation will feature Drew Clark, Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, joined by John Busby, Managing Director of BroadbandNow. The event will take place on July 16, 2021, at 11 a.m. ET.

Registration for the event is available on Eventbrite. The session will also be available on Zoom.

Beginning in March of 2020, the Gigabit Libraries Network has hosted a series of conversations called the “Libraries in Recovery.”

The series is ambitious in its scope, and poses the question “What is a library if the building is closed?” Over the course of its more than 50 episodes, the the series has tackled myriad topics, ranging from equity, access, and inclusion to smart cities, social infrastructure, and the future of libraries.

The series recorded its first episode on March 26, 2020—only 15 days after the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The episode discussed the importance of internet access during a time when many questions about the pandemic were still swirling, and many of the ramifications had yet to be felt—only a week prior had the first states begun issuing lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.

Broadband Breakfast also launched its webcast series, Broadband Breakfast Live Online, around the same time. The first session of the Broadband Breakfast series was on “Coronavirus and Education – Getting Ready for Online Education.”

Broadband Breakfast Live Online Archives provides links to all events in the Broadband Breakfast series.

Many of the Gigabit Libraries conversations and initiatives surrounding digital inclusion and the digital divide have only drifted into mainstream conversation in the wake of the pandemic.

During a time when many Americans had no idea how long they would have to remain indoors, “Libraries in Recovery” was discussing methods of boosting Wi-Fi signals to make internet available in library parking lots and the importance of remote access in anticipation of a surge in demand.

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