February 16, 2021 – As the educational technology industry sees an explosion of interest as more kids are schooled at home, the Federal Trade Commission’s acting chairwoman said the agency is prioritizing the privacy implications of that.
Rebecca Kelly Slaughter said the FTC is taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to hold market players responsible over privacy protection and consumer data.
Speaking on Feb. 10, she noted that it’s been almost a year since Americans stopped going to work in person due to the pandemic, and that some 27 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19. This has caused an explosion in the educational tech industry, as parents and children are relying on the internet more than ever.
She said the FTC has published guidance for parents on how best they can protect their children’s privacy as they navigate online schooling for their children. The federal Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act is under close review to see how it will adapt to the new digital norm.
“Nearly a quarter of kids lack internet access,” she said, alluding to the fact COPPA applies to the online educational space.
It’s not just companies providing educational tech services to kids that should concern parents, she said, but the advertisers who obtain data on children.
The data of our children is especially valuable, and advertisers like to form brand loyalty early, said Amy Cyphert, a law professor at the West Virginia University College of Law. Much of this technology is supplied to students for free. But again, we need to be careful of the true cost of free technology being provided to kids, said Cyphert.
But it’s not just ed tech that should concern families. A rise in health and telehealth apps in particular are under scrutiny for data protection issues, and Slaughter said the FTC should pursue more cases similar to the FLO health app with which it agreed to a settlement. FLO was a popular women’s fertility-tracking app that was accused of misleading consumers about the disclosure of their health data.
Slaughter also touched on racial equity. Prioritizing consumer protection law is key to fighting systemic racism, as she warned of digital services targeting vulnerable communities with unwanted content.
Slaughter also cautioned against allowing lower income communities to pay for services with their data when they could not otherwise afford the services. To bolster her concerns, she cited an op-ed published in The New York Times by Kate Crawford called “Artificial Intelligence’s White Guy Problem,” which claims that “Sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination are being built into the machine-learning algorithms that underlie the technology behind many “intelligent” systems that shape how we are categorized and advertised to.”
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.
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.
FCC Commits Another $603 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Money
The agency has now committed $3.8 billion from the $7.17-billion program.
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.
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.
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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