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Digital Inclusion

Report Highlights Importance Of Satellite Technologies, Secure Data and Communications

The report on new technologies and data lays out importance of data security and satellite communications.

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Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington

June 1, 2021—Federal leadership and global collaboration will be key if the United States hopes to remain at the forefront of technological innovation and compete globally in the coming decade, finds the Report of the Commission of Geopolitical Impacts of New Technologies and Data.

Lawmakers and technology experts gathered on May 26 at an online conference hosted by the Atlantic Council to acknowledge the report’s importance and highlight the need for a national strategy to implement the report’s findings.

“The advancing speed, scale, and sophistication of new technologies and data capabilities that aid or disrupt our interconnected world are unprecedented,” the executive summary of the report says.

“As a result, governments, industries, and other stakeholders must work together to remain economically competitive, sustain social welfare and public safety, protect human rights and democratic processes, and preserve global peace and stability.”

The report lists seven specific areas of focus that it recommends the United States government invest in and plan for.

Global scientific and technology leadership

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, says that collaborating with other democracies on establishing critical technological infrastructure will be necessary if we hope to compete with China’s growing economy, which is bolstered by its technological investments. He says that democracies worldwide must come together and establish common rules for technology regulation that compliment democratic ideals.

Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Washington, says that no significant federal standard exists that regulates or consolidates technological enterprise. She believes that we must build private and public relationships that ensure technologies “are used equitably [and] That they protect civil rights, human rights, civil liberties, reach all types of communities and still promote innovation.”

Space operations for the public benefit

The report says the government should help foster the growth of the space industry in order to “leverage the increasing capabilities of large commercial satellite constellations.” The United States has offered subsidies and grants to both Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. In December, SpaceX’s Starlink broadband project received nearly $900 million from the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

Secure data and communications

The report emphasizes the need for network and data security, calling for new and innovative methods in both the public and private sectors to secure digital environments. It encourages investment in new computing and software designs that strengthen cyber defense.

Enhanced trust and confidence in the digital economy

The report says that governments and private industries should establish new frameworks for data that incorporate “security, accountability, auditability, transparency, and ethics,” in order to maintain credibility in the digital ecosystem. Consumer confidence and trust will be an essential element to building a sustained measure of public investment that will allow the technology industry to continue to thrive in the coming decade.

Secure supply chains

Currently, much of the supply that sustains America’s technological industry originates overseas, which, while good for foreign trade, poses a potential threat. Foreign governments could potentially weaponize the supply chains that grow America’s industry, and stunt both our economic and technological progress.

To prevent this, the report argues, “the government should develop procedures and allocate resources to achieve sufficient resiliency,” in order to ensure the economic security of the United States.

In March, FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said diversifying the country’s networks, including the use of open radio access networks, would not only help with cost-savings but also with security.

Future of work

The report claims that all of the infrastructure investment and planning the United States can undertake will be useless if it fails to invest in its own people. To meet the challenges we’ll face as a Nation in the coming decade, the private and public sectors must come together to help educate and create a digitally fluent workforce that can help implement, maintain, and develop the growing digital infrastructure.

Continuous global health protection

In order to protect the country from further health and climate disasters, the report says that the government should utilize available technology to create models that act as an early warning strategy against future health catastrophes.

Reporter Tyler Perkins studied rhetoric and English literature, and also economics and mathematics, at the University of Utah. Although he grew up in and never left the West (both Oregon and Utah) until recently, he intends to study law and build a career on the East Coast. In his free time, he enjoys reading excellent literature and playing poor golf.

Digital Inclusion

Digital Inclusion Leaders a Critical Step to Closing Digital Divide: National League of Cities

The National League of Cities said government leaders need to have ‘multiple points of engagement’ with communities.

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Lena Geraghty, National League of Cities director of urban innovation

WASHINGTON, January 20, 2022 – To understand the digital divide, cities need to include digital equity leaders in their broadband needs assessment programs, the National League of Cities said at an event on community connectivity challenges Wednesday.

A broadband needs assessment would allow city leaders to explore the extent of the digital divide in their communities, said Lena Geraghty, the National League of Cities’ director of urban innovation.

“[A needs assessment] enable city leaders to dig into who’s being excluded, what’s currently available in your city, and what solutions city leaders can use” to close the digital divide, she said.

“The community is going to know best about where access exists, where gaps exist, and the needs that will make connectivity better,” Geraghty said. To get the best picture of a community’s need, stakeholders must find and include the community’s digital equity leaders in the data-gathering process, she added.

“These could be people that are knowledgeable about digital equity or people that are experiencing the digital divide,” she said. “Think really broadly about what it means to be a leader and the type of information these folks can bring to bear in solving the digital divide in your communities.”

Geraghty said it may be useful to formalize the leaders’ work by creating a broadband working group or ad hoc committee led by the city’s government. “Giving some roles and responsibilities can help everyone move in the same in direction, there’s agreement, and really clear goals and outcomes.”

Geraghty added that it’s important for government leaders to establish multiple points of engagement for the community. “It’s not enough to gather data or information from people once,” she said. “The state of access to the internet and devices is always changing,” so leaders should create multiple touch points for community input.

The National League of Cities released its Digital Equity Playbook for cities in December, walking readers through how they can promote digital equity in their cities. The playbook has a four-step process on how to get started with digital equity.

By walking readers through the process of connecting with the community, evaluating the connectivity landscape, gathering foundational information and reporting on findings, city leaders will be prepared to target broadband funding to unserved and underserved areas in their communities.

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Digital Inclusion

Infrastructure Bill Supports Digital Inclusion, Says Advocacy Group

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act includes billions for states to expand digital inclusion efforts.

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Screenshot of Amy Huffman

WASHINGTON, December 10, 2021 – National Digital Inclusion Association Policy Director Amy Huffman explicated the role of the recent federal infrastructure legislation – and its support for digital inclusion and digital equity – in a Tuesday webinar.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocates $42.5 billion in the Broadband Equity and Deployment program. IIJA also allocates $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Act.

The Digital Equity Act funds are designed to help improve states and local governments’ digital inclusion efforts. The federal government recognizes that states, local governments, and practitioners “who already are embedded in your communities are the trusted resources in your communities that you all are the best ones to do digital inclusion,” Huffman said.

“You’ll see that ethos has made its way throughout all of the both the Digital Equity Act and the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program” of the broader legislation.

The Digital Equity Act codifies the definitions of “digital equity” and “digital inclusion.” Digital equity is our “goal,” said Huffman.

“That’s what we’re trying to achieve, we want to make sure that we live in a nation where everyone, every individual and community has the capacity for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy,” she said. Digital inclusion involves the programs, policies and tools that help the nation achieve a digitally equitable state.

Indeed, the Digital Equity Act contains two programs: the State Digital Equity program and the Competitive Grant program.

The Act also creates three grant funds. Administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the Commerce Department, the digital equity competitive grant program will supply money for states to do digital equity work.

The program is split into planning grants and capacity grants: Planning grants help states create digital equity plans, while capacity grants give money to states to implement those plans.

The Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program gives block grants to states for broadband infrastructure deployment and other digital inclusion activities.

Each state will receive at least $100 million, and use an additional formula for determining how much additional funding states receive. Eligible grantees are all U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and U.S. territories. Subgrantees can be cooperatives such as telephone or electric member cooperatives, non-profit organizations, and public-private partnerships.

Each state’s plan funded by these grant programs must create “measurable objectives for documenting and promoting various digital inclusion activities that will advance the covered populations pursuit of digital equity and closing of these barriers,” Huffman said.

“The states are already in charge of so economic development workforce development health outcomes, etc. so they want the state to think holistically, about how they’re doing around digital equity will help them achieve their other goals.”

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Digital Inclusion

Despite General Satisfaction with E-rate Program, Tribal Libraries Are Being Left Behind

Tribal community leaders are concerned over the effectiveness of outreach methods the FCC uses to fund broadband in tribal libraries.

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Miriam Jorgensen, research director of the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona

WASHINGTON, November 1, 2021 – Leaders of efforts to expand broadband in Indigenous communities are sounding the alarm to the Federal Communications Commission, saying that its E-rate program to supply libraries with funding for internet infrastructure is not effectively aiding tribal libraries despite extensive use of the program by non-tribal libraries.

Separate events held Wednesday heard this contrasting experience, when in the morning, E-rate compliance service firm Funds for Learning held a session to share generally positive experiences from a survey it conducted of what E-rate applicants thought of the program, and specifically its application portal. The program, which is supported by the Universal Service Fund, provides schools and libraries with broadband subsidies to keep students connected.

Hours later that day, the FCC held a virtual listening session for tribal leaders and staff to address a lack of E-rate broadband funding requests from tribal libraries.

“Nearly 40 percent of respondents had never heard of e-rate,” chat messaged meeting attendee Miriam Jorgensen, research director of the Native Nations Institute at the University of Arizona, referencing an Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, & Museums (ATALM) survey of tribal libraries.

“Many of those who had felt that the program was too complicated to apply for,” she said.

Susan Feller, president and CEO of the ATALM, said that tribal libraries do not see relevance for themselves in E-rate funds.

Low staff numbers causing fewer tribal applicants

Also brought up in the meeting as a possible explanation for the rarity of E-rate applications from tribal libraries was that the libraries often have a low staff capacity and seldom employ grant writers or part time employees who could assist in applying to funding opportunities.

According to Jim Dunstan, founder of Mobius Legal Group and lawyer for the Navajo Nation, many tribes are both E-rate providers and applicants for E-rate funds, causing technical problems during application for E-rate funds.

The Funds for Learning’s survey found that 73 percent of respondents planned on submitting an E-rate broadband funding application in 2022, with 46 percent saying they felt “strongly” that they would apply. Connectivity results for Indigenous nations are still low, as FCC Emergency Connectivity Fund money has gone to tribes in just nine states, while strong digital infrastructure remains rare in many Native American communities.

The response rate for the survey was higher than the response rate in each of the last four years of the survey’s administration from 2018 to 2020.

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