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Internet Access, Affordability Issues Creating Educational Disparities, Federal Reserve Panelist Say

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Screenshot taken from San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank event

March 24, 2021 – The lack of available and quality broadband access is worsening the disparity between low- and high-income demographics, educators say.

A panel, hosted by the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank and discussing the “new future of work” on Monday, said those who are in an “elite” category are getting ahead on education because they benefit from good quality internet. Poorer households, who don’t have good quality internet – either due to where they live or how much it costs – are getting left behind, they said.

The pandemic has forced schools to close, stressing broadband access at home for remote learning. While lawmakers and parents want kids back in school, some educators say students should be able to choose between in-person and virtual learning.

Salman Khan, founder and CEO of Khan Academy, a nonprofit education organization, said he believes the country has done a good job in the last 10 years in closing the digital divide. However, the pandemic has virtually undone that progress as many schools remain shuttered. Internet access is inequitable and has turned into an economics issue, not just an educational problem, he noted.

Khan said people need opportunities and incentives to learn at their own pace and to not be sorted wrongfully in the education system.

Not everyone is given those opportunities. Astrid Tuminez, president of the Utah Valley University, was born in a farming village in the Philippine province of Iloilo, and grew up in a hut with bamboo walls.

Her desire for education led her to the United States where she later became educated at Harvard and MIT and joined the corporate ranks of Microsoft before becoming UVU’s first female President.

Tuminez said UVU is an open admission, dual-mission institution, which means it has a community college embedded in a teaching university. She said that UVU’s faculty also needs to have the right training and resources to help close the digital divide, and has since seen 40 percent of the faculty certified to teach online.

With dual-mission purposed institutions like UVU, more support can be given to more students than if it were an elite institution. She said 37 percent of the school’s enrollment is first generation college students. “We don’t care about your past and we see you as you are and we want to support you,” said Tuminez.

Learning opportunities need to be abundant and accessible, she said. Khan said people must be given as much support as possible to learn and stay current on their skills to be competitive.

Peter Blair, who is on the faculty in the graduate school of education at Harvard University, where he co-directs the Project on Workforce, said “similar to Astrid,” he too grew up in a small island nation, the Bahamas, and was able to be educated at private universities and has since taught at public universities.

Blair said lifelong learning is important, and that “we need to meet folks where they are,” meaning educational institutions need to support and see through to the success of students.

Blair said that fewer than 40 percent of workers have college degrees, yet more than two-thirds of new jobs created in America require college degrees—a confusing finding as it is not obvious in many cases why a college degree is required for jobs that shouldn’t require a degree.

Born in China and adopted to American Fork, Utah, Reporter Derek Shumway graduated from Brigham Young University with a bachelor's degree in political science and a minor in international strategy and diplomacy. At college, he started an LED lightbulb company. word

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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Education

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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