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Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Will Close Digital Divide if States Are Prepared, Says Alan Davidson

Money coming from the IIJA must be flexible and include extensive private contributions, Davidson said at Broadband Breakfast event.

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WASHINGTON, April 14, 2022 — The head of the Commerce Department agency responsible for more than $43 billion in federal broadband infrastructure funding said that the Biden administration wouldn’t be satisfied until every American had access to low-cost and broadband internet at 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 20 Mpbs upload.

Speaking at a Broadband Breakfast Club event on Wednesday, National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief Alan Davidson said that in order to truly eliminate the digital divide, state engagement and leadership was necessary to maximize federal funding.

Money coming down from the from the NTIA through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act must be flexible, including extensive private contributions to projects.

Photo of Alan Davidson and Drew Clark (right) at Broadband Breakfast for Lunch on Wednesday by Megan Boswell

“We expect there will be flexibility,” Davidson said about how much private communications companies and state funding should go toward projects. “The statute gives them that flexibility. It’s not a one-size-fits-all at all,”

The IIJA – which gives the NTIA $42.5 billion to distribute among states – requires network operators to match at least 25 percent of project costs funded by the Commerce agency’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program. But states could require more than a 25 percent match, Davidson said.

“There are a lot of folks out there that – if you just give them little bit more support – would be willing to do that next deployment,” Davidson said. A lot of the funding won in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction will go to companies that committed to covering at least 50% of project costs, he noted.

“We’ve been talking about closing the digital divide in this country for over twenty years,” he said, recommending states “reach out” to the NTIA for guidance.

“When this project is done, everyone in America will have access to high-speed, affordable broadband” said Davidson, referring specifically to the 100 Mbps x 20 Mbps definition of high-speed broadband in IIJA.

Davidson also said that “there’s a need for political leadership to be engaging [and] to understand the importance of [the IIJA].

“One of the biggest areas that we’re investing in is in the folks we’re going to be working with in the states,” he said. “The broadband offices in the states are going to be the key front line for a lot of this work.”

The NTIA requested comments on the IIJA, with the due date being February 4. It is planning on requesting additional comments later on for the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program and the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program.

See the questions for Alan Davidson at the Broadband.Money community

Wednesday, April 13, 2022, 12 Noon ET — Preparing for Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act: A Fireside Chat

Join the broadband grants community in welcoming special guest Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Broadband Breakfast’s Drew Clark will host Alan for a fireside chat. Broadband.money will also preview its platform for broadband grant application research, development, reporting and compliance. Hear Alan’s vision for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, as well as $1 billion for middle mile funding, $3 billion tribal funding programs, and the interaction of BEAD and the Affordable Connectivity Program. Get his perspective on important matters, such as:

  • What does success look like?
  • What is the timeline from here?
  • Will states view the 25% match requirement as a ceiling, or a floor?
  • How should local governments, providers, and infrastructure builders – public and private – prepare while waiting on maps and state plans?

And more. If you have questions for Alan in advance of the event, please post them in the Broadband.Money community. We’ll try our best to get them into the discussion.

REGISTER TO ATTEND IN PERSON

Guests for this Broadband Breakfast for Lunch session:

  • Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and NTIA Administrator
  • Drew Clark (host), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Alan Davidson is an Internet policy expert with over 20 years of experience as an executive, public interest advocate, technologist, and attorney. He was most recently a Senior Advisor at the Mozilla Foundation, a global nonprofit that promotes openness, innovation, and participation on the Internet. He was previously Mozilla’s Vice President of Global Policy, Trust and Security, where he led public policy and privacy teams promoting an open Internet and a healthy web. Alan served in the Obama-Biden Administration as the first Director of Digital Economy at the U.S. Department of Commerce. He started Google’s public policy office in Washington, D.C., leading government relations and policy in North and South America for seven years until 2012. Alan has been a long-time leader in the Internet nonprofit community, serving as Director of New America’s Open Technology Institute where he worked to promote equitable broadband access and adoption. As Associate Director of the Center for Democracy and Technology, Alan was an advocate for civil liberties and human rights online in some of the earliest Internet policy debates. Alan currently resides with his family in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Yale Law School, and is a member of the District of Columbia Bar.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, he served as head of a State Broadband Initiative, the Partnership for a Connected Illinois. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

This Broadband Breakfast for Lunch event is co-hosted with:

Photo by Commuter Benefits used with permission

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provides a number of program that, all told, provide $65 billion for broadband infrastructure investment. A part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed 69-30 last year, the measure has the promise of promoting an “infrastructure decade” for the United States, President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union Address. We are excited that National Telecommunications and Information Administration chief Alan Davidson, the Assistant Secretary of Commerce, has accepted our invitation to speak about the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. In this second session of this Broadband Breakfast for Lunch series, Broadband Breakfast and Broadband.Money will explore what the federal government, states and infrastructure builders – public and private – should be doing to prepare for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

Education

Closing Digital Divide for Students Requires Community Involvement, Workforce Training, Event Hears

Barriers to closing the divide including awareness of programs, resources and increasing digital literacy.

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Screenshot of Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education

WASHINGTON, May 24, 2022 – Experts in education technology said Monday that to close the digital divide for students, the nation must eliminate barriers at the community level, including raising awareness of programs and resources and increasing digital literacy.

“We are hearing from schools and district leaders that it’s not enough to make just broadband available and affordable, although those are critical steps,” said Ji Soo Song, broadband advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, said at an event hosted by trade group the Self-Insurance Institute of America. “We also have to make sure that we’re solving for the human barriers that often inhibit adoption.”

Song highlighted four “initial barriers” that students are facing. First, a lack of awareness and understanding of programs and resources. Second, signing up for programs is often confusing regarding eligibility requirements, application status, and installment. Third, there may be a lack of trust between communities and services. Fourth, a lack of digital literacy among students can prevent them from succeeding.

Song said he believes that with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, states have an “incredible opportunity to address adoption barriers.”

Workforce shortages still a problem, but funding may help

Rosemary Lahasky, senior director for government affairs at Cengage, a maker of educational content, added that current data suggests that 16 million students lack access to a broadband connection. While this disparity in American homes remained, tech job posts nearly doubled in 2021, but the average number of applicants shrunk by 25 percent.

But panelists said they are hopeful that funding will address these shortages. “Almost every single agency that received funding…received either direct funding for workforce training or were given the flexibility to spend some of their money on workforce training,” said Lahasky of the IIJA, which carves out funding for workforce training.

This money is also, according to Lahasky, funding apprenticeship programs, which have been recommended by many as a solution to workforce shortages.

Student connectivity has been a long-held concern following the COVID-19 pandemic. Students themselves are stepping up to fight against the digital inequity in their schools as technology becomes increasingly essential for success. Texas students organized a panel to discuss internet access in education just last year.

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Education

FTC Approves Policy Statement on Guiding Review of Children’s Online Protection

The policy statement provides the guiding principles for which the FTC will review the collection and use of children’s data online.

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FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan

WASHINGTON, May 23, 2022 – The Federal Trade Commission last week unanimously approved a policy statement guiding how it will enforce the collection and use of children’s online data gathered by education technology companies.

The policy statement outlines four provisions in the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, including ones related to limiting the amount of data collected for children’s access to educational tools; restricting types of data collected and requiring reasons for why they are being collected; prohibiting ed tech companies from holding on to data for speculative purposes; and prohibiting the use of the data for targeted advertising purposes.

“Today’s statement underscores how the protections of the COPPA rule ensure children can do their schoolwork without having to surrender to commercial surveillance practices,” said FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan at an open meeting on Thursday.

Commissioner Rebecca Slaughter added Thursday that although COPPA provides the strongest data minimization rule in US law, it’s enforcement may not be as strong, saying that “this policy statement is timely and necessary.”

Slaughter, who was the acting FTC chairwoman before Khan was approved to lead the agency, said last year that the commission was taking an all-hands-on-deck approach to tackling privacy and data collection practices of ed tech companies, which has seen a boom in interest since the start of the pandemic.

Thursday’s statement comes after lawmakers have clamored for big technology companies to do more to prevent the unnecessary collection of children’s data online. It also comes after President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address earlier this year that companies must be held accountable for the “national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit.”

Lawmakers have already pushed legislation that would reform COPPA – originally published in 1998 to limit the amount of information that operators could collect from children without parental consent – to raise the age for online protections for children.

Thursday’s FTC statement also seeks to scrutinize unwarranted surveillance practices in education technology, such as geographic locating or data profiling. Khan added that though endless tracking and expansive use of data have become increasingly common practices, companies cannot extend these practices into schools.

Review is nothing new

“Today’s policy statement is nothing particularly new,” said Commissioner Noah Phillips, saying that the review started in July 2019.

Commissioner Christine Wilson, while supporting the statement, was also more withdrawn about its impact. “I am concerned that issuing policy statements gives the illusion of taking action, especially when these policy statements break no new ground.”

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Health

Digital Literacy Training Needed for Optimal Telehealth Outcomes, Healthcare Reps Say

Digital literacy should be a priority to unlock telehealth’s potential, a telehealth event heard.

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Photo of telehealth consultation from Healthcare IT News

WASHINGTON, May 18, 2022 – Digital literacy training should be a priority for providers and consumers to improve telehealth outcomes, experts said at a conference Tuesday.

Digital literacy training will unlock telehealth’s potential to improve health outcomes, according to the event’s experts, including improving treatment for chronic diseases, improving patient-doctor relationships, and providing easier medical access for those without access to transportation.

Julia Skapik of the National Association of Community Health Centers said at the National Telehealth Conference on Tuesday that both patients and clinicians need to be trained on how to use tools that allow both parties to communicate remotely.

Skapik said her association has plans to implement training for providers to utilize tech opportunities, such as patient portals to best engage patients.

Ann Mond Johnson from the American Telemedicine Association agreed that telehealth will improve health outcomes by giving proper training to utilize the technology to offer the services.

The Federal Communications Commission announced its telehealth program in April 2021, which set aside $200 million for health institutions to provide remote care for patients.

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