Technology Gets A Covid 19 Push!

Bonnie Sutton

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All of a sudden , the internet is important for distant education!!

Online !!!

Students without reliable in-home internet are already at an educational deficit, and many of the remote learning tools the pandemic has ushered in are here to stay. Experts and advocates worry that unconnected students could permanently fall behind their more wired peers if they don’t get assistance now. 

Schools scrambling to ensure that students can get online at home have tapped public and private resources to connect an estimated 3 million kids since the pandemic began, according to a tally from EducationSuperHighway, a nonprofit focused on school connectivity.


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 But another 12 million kids still don’t have the connections they need for distance learning, according to a January report from Common Sense Media and the Boston Consulting Group. And that analysis found that 75% of pandemic-related efforts to close the digital divide will expire in three years. What could help:


Internet access isn’t just an option, it’s a necessity!!!

The Common Sense Census 2020

The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight 2020 highlights the trends in young kids’ media and technology consumption.

It’s indisputable that broadband Internet is an essential tool for participation in our society, our economy, and our culture. Many job applications and government services are only available online. 70% of teachers assign homework that must be submitted online. Numerous TV shows and movies are exclusively online.

Broadband Internet access has fundamentally changed the nature of commerce, education, and healthcare. It enables unprecedented flexibility for Americans to choose where they live, how they work, and how they care for their families.

However, 141 million people in the U.S. don’t have fixed home Internet at the FCC’s outdated 25 down, 3 up broadband definition. That’s nearly 43% of Americans. What’s more alarming is that home broadband adoption rates aren’t increasing: they’ve remained stable for the past 3 years. That makes this hearing even more important.
The digital divide affects every region of our country, although communities of color and low-income Americans are far more likely not to have broadband. A recent study by the Pew Research Center showed 79% of white U.S. adults have home broadband, while the same is true of only 66% of black adults and 61% of Hispanics. The study showed that 92% of Americans making $75,000 or more annually have home broadband, while only 56% making less than $30,000 do. 

The racial component of the digital divide is a by-product not only of income inequality, but of structural inequality like discriminatory housing and lending practices. This divide persists because of the high cost of broadband and computers in the U.S. Study after study shows this.

Current research suggests that low-income people can only afford to pay about $10  monthly for broadband. Anything more competes with other utility bills and the cost of food. Meeting the goal of universal connectivity and providing fixed broadband at about $10 per month requires a multi-pronged strategy - what my Benton colleague Jonathan Sallet calls an “Affordability Agenda.” It includes:
Price Transparency:  Carriers should be required to submit non-promotional pricing information including equipment and other fees to the FCC, which should make that information public. The FCC or Congress should also restore the Fixed Broadband Consumer Disclosure Label. Both will help consumers make informed choices about the price, quality, and value of their broadband service.

More Competition: More competition means lower broadband prices. Even under the FCC’s overly optimistic data, nearly 30% of the country has access to no more than 2 providers at 25/3 speeds, and 95% has access to no more than 2 at speeds of 100/10. Congress should prohibit states from blocking communities that wish to build their own broadband networks and also give a bidding preference to “open access networks” when allocating deployment subsidies. These networks allow any broadband provider to provide last-mile service. An open-access network in Utah gives residents of 15 cities a choice of 10 ISPs. Most Americans can’t fathom that.

A Strong Lifeline Program: Congress should strengthen Lifeline and make it easier for the most vulnerable in society to access the program. It should make clear that Lifeline can support broadband service; restore the Lifeline Broadband Provider designation to bring new competition to the program; and give USAC the resources it needs to expedite the hard launch of the National Eligibility Verifier, which will make eligibility determinations automatic for many applicants. Policymakers should also consider providing an additional subsidy so Lifeline recipients can purchase fixed broadband. The $9.25 subsidy doesn’t go very far for the broadband needed to do research papers, apply for jobs and access telehealth services.

Low-Cost Broadband for Federally Subsidized Networks. The FCC disburses billions of dollars annually to mobile and fixed providers to build out their networks. It should require those carriers to provide a $10 a month high-speed broadband plan to low-income Americans.

Support for Access “To and Through” Community Anchor Institutions
Some community anchor institutions have adopted programs that extend learning beyond their walls. Libraries have been experimenting with mobile wireless hotspot programs, which allow people to “check-out” broadband hotspots for home use. Schools have been providing buses equipped with Wi-Fi for students to use after hours. Congress or the FCC should clarify that these programs are eligible for E-Rate funds.

Finally, Congress and the FCC should assist local communities’ digital inclusion efforts. Local advocates are doing the hard work of educating residents about low-cost broadband options, providing digital literacy and job skills training, and distributing low-cost computers. Congress should pass the Digital Equity Act of 2019, which establishes grant programs to support state and local digital equity efforts. These funds will incentivize more states and localities to develop digital inclusion plans and will provide sorely needed funds to the small nonprofits doing the hard work of connecting their communities.

Gigi Sohn

Digital Learning
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