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Libraries Can Be a Resource for Algorithm Governance and Data Technology 

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Photo of Don Means of the Gigabit Library Network

June 7, 2021- Librarians and broadband enthusiasts affiliated with the Gigabit Libraries Network discussed the benefits of connectivity from new satellite broadband services.

Soon after the beginning of the pandemic, the group has been hosting sessions around the theme of “what is a library when a physical building itself is closed.”

Friday’s session focused on Elon Musk’s Starlink system of 60 low earth orbit satellites offering connectivity. 

See also “Broadband Breakfast Live Online on Wednesday, August 26, 2020 — Champions of Broadband: Don Means,” founder of the Gigabit Libraries Network

Individuals and institutions receiving early access to Starlink are finding that the service can perform at higher speeds than traditional satellite services because of a shorter round trip from earth to satellite. And the service priced the same, whether the customer is in south Chicago or inner Mongolia.

The Torréon Community Navajo Library in New Mexico was an early beta customer. Participants in the webinar said that Starlink may do for rural broadband what libraries did for early internet access in the 1990s.

The goal is to connect everybody to the internet

The other focus of the Gig Libraries meeting was around the role libraries play in promoting “smart cities.” Libraries, panelists said, are among the last institutions that enjoy widespread public trust.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Smart City Collaboration has used the resources of its technology corridor to help close the homework gap. Some families are receiving 100 gigabits per second (Gbps) for free for the next 10 years.

Debra Socia, current CEO of the Enterprise Center and former CEO of Next Century Cities, discussed a $150 million technology grant involving data analytics. 

“How we collect information and what we do with it is important” says Debra Socia. The lack of transparency and trust is a main concern for communities, many even worry that the technology could be used to spy on them. 

Libraries don’t want to jeopardize their trusted position in the community by failing to disclose the way they use data about individual library patrons.

As public algorithms become more apparent in our everyday life, libraries in particular must assume greater responsibility to inform the public on how technology and data use impacts people, panelists said.

“I don’t think libraries should be in the role of marketing, but rather [should] inform the public whether a decision that is being made with the use of technology is right for them,” said Ellen Goodman, law professor at Rutgers University.

Libraries serve a public function when they share information, including information about audit procedures, policy developments and workshops around the real-world implications of technology usage.

Reporter Mike Ogunji is from Columbus, Ohio, and studied public relations and information technology at the University of Cincinnati. He has been involved in the Model United Nations and We The People. Mike enjoys books, basketball, broadband and exploring the backwoods.

Education

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.

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John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

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.

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Education

FCC Commits Another $603 Million in Emergency Connectivity Fund Money

The agency has now committed $3.8 billion from the $7.17-billion program.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

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.

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Education

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.

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John Windhausen Jr., founder and executive director of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition

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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