Webinar tonight (7pm) #SaveLifeline: a digital briefing about the Lifeline program and how to save it.

If you’re reading this now, you may be free tonight – and this is a good opportunity to learn more about lifeline at a time when the digital divide may be narrowing, but also deepening.

#SaveLifeline: a digital briefing about the Lifeline program and how to save it.
Description

Lifeline is the only federal program that helps people living below the poverty line stay connected to phone and at-home internet service. This essential program allows people to access life-saving medical information, search for jobs, pursue educational opportunities and so much more.

The FCC wants to destroy Lifeline — but we’re here to fight back. Join a digital briefing hosted by Free Press and the Center for Media Justice to learn more about this program and how you can get involved in the fight to save it.

Time

Apr 16, 2019 8:00 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Senate Democrats Introduce New Legislation to Tackle Nationwide Digital Equity (including Sen Klobuchar)

From the US Senate Press Release…

Led by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today a group of Senate Democrats introduced new legislation aimed at closing the growing digital divide in communities across the country. The Digital Equity Act of 2019 creates new federal investments targeted toward a diverse array of projects at the state and local level that promote “digital equity”— a concept defined by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance as the “condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.” The legislation was cosponsored by Senators Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jack Reed (D-RI), and a companion bill will also be introduced in the House of Representatives.

 

“For so many of us, having a reliable broadband connection is a given—we use the internet to pay bills, do our taxes, book travel, do homework, and much more. We can do it on our own time, in our own homes—even from our phones. But for far too many individuals and families—including those from communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income households, and rural communities—getting online isn’t so easy to do, and I strongly believe that in 2019, we shouldn’t be a country of haves and have-nots when it comes to using the internet,” said Senator Murray. “That’s why I’m proud to join with my Democratic colleagues to introduce the Digital Equity Act, which will direct significant new federal investments to help ensure people in our communities have the tools, support, and technologies necessary to take full advantage of a broadband connection when they have access to one. Congress can and should help states, counties, tribes, and others do more to close the growing digital divide, and the Digital Equity Act is a major step in the right direction. It’s the right thing to do for families, and it’s the right thing to do for our economy to make sure everyone is reaching their full potential.”

 

“The internet impacts every aspect of our day-to-day lives, from conducting business to pursuing an education to connecting with friends and loved ones. Put simply: it is the most important tool for anyone trying to participate in 21st century life,” said Senator King. “And it’s not enough to simply have access to the internet; you also need to know how to use it. By making these investments in digital equity and digital inclusion, we can ensure Americans of all ages and backgrounds are fluent in the technology that will drive so much of our nation’s future.”

 

“The Internet is a powerful tool that has become instrumental in economic and social mobility and civic engagement. In 2009, Hawaii capitalized on funds made available under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to expand broadband to schools and public computer centers, making it one of the most-connected states in the country. But physical infrastructure is only part of the equation,” said Senator Hirono. “The Digital Equity Act will provide grants for things like digital literacy and digital skills education to low-income populations and improving the online accessibility of social services for individuals with disabilities that will allow the people of Hawaii to make full use of what broadband has to offer. Only then can they fully participate in our society, democracy, and economy.”

 

“More and more, we rely on the internet to help us participate in our democracy and take part in the global economy. Expanding access to the digital world will help combat inequality, increase transparency in our institutions, and help citizens hold their government accountable. That’s why I’m pleased to support the Digital Equity Act,” said Senator Whitehouse.

 

“As we rely more on technology in our everyday lives, we have to make sure that every family has access to broadband, regardless of their zip code. This legislation will help close the digital divide and bring high-speed internet to communities across the county,” said Senator Klobuchar.

 

“Access to broadband internet service is literally transformative. With broadband, students can access vast educational resources, families remain connected, citizens engage their representatives, and businesses reach new customers,” said Senator Blumenthal. “For far too long, the digital divide has left behind those overlooked and underserved communities that would benefit most from broadband. Our bill would invest much-needed resources in our broadband infrastructure – spurring growth and development, and helping to level the playing field for all Americans.”

 

“Broadband is the infrastructure of the 21st Century—it isn’t just nice, it’s necessary if we’re going to build an economy that works for everyone,” said Senator Smith. “This bill represents a positive step forward in that direction, ensuring that traditionally overlooked communities are not left behind in our efforts to provide affordable and reliable internet service to all Minnesotans and other Americans.”

 

“From students completing homework to people of all ages applying online for jobs, broadband internet plays a crucial role in a community’s growth and economy. Expanding access to broadband will help create more opportunity for Marylanders, and will move our state forward on closing the digital divide. I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this common-sense legislation, and I will continue working to expand economic opportunity for all,” said Senator Van Hollen.

 

According to the Pew Research Center, nearly one in five teenagers in the U.S. say they have been unable to complete homework assignments due to lack of a reliable internet connection. The digital divide, also sometimes referred to as the “homework gap” as it applies to students, exacerbates existing wealth and income gaps in our communities; subsequently, many people—including those from communities of color, people with disabilities, low-income households, and rural communities, overwhelmingly impacted by the digital skills gap—are at risk of being left behind in an increasingly technology-driven world, absent intervention. To that end, the Digital Equity Act of 2019 strengthens federal support for efforts to help ensure students, families, and workers have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in society by creating an annual $125 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State, as well as an additional annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, or communities of interest. Finally, the legislation tasks the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with evaluating digital equity projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.

 

“I believe the future belongs to the connected. No matter who you are or where you live in this country, you need access to modern communications to have a fair shot at 21st century success. But today millions of American lack the broadband access that they need to meaningfully participate in the digital age. That means too many students fall into the Homework Gap, unable to complete school assignments that require high-speed internet service. It means that too many small businesses will not have the work force with the skills necessary to compete in the global economy. It means that too many communities will go without the civic and commercial infrastructure that is needed to thrive and grow. So thank you to Senator Murray for this legislation which thoughtfully addresses digital equity and seeks to expand technology opportunity for all,” said Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.

 

“Local and state leadership drive most efforts to bring people online with affordable Internet access and training.  On the one hand, this is fabulous because trusted community relationships are essential to effective digital inclusion work. On the other hand, financial support of local digital inclusion work is sorely lacking. The Digital Equity Act recognizes the value of local trusted institutions while allocating financial support. NDIA and our 350 affiliates in 41 states fully support the Digital Equity Act and look forward to its passage,” said National Digital Inclusion Alliance Executive Director Angela Siefer.

 

The Digital Equity Act of 2019 is endorsed by: Alliance for Community Media, American Library Association, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Broadband Connects America, Center for Law and Social Policy, Center for Media Justice, Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, Coalition on Adult Basic Education, Common Cause, Consortium for School Networking, Competitive Carriers Association, Free Press Action Fund, International Society for Technology in Education, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, National Coalition for Literacy, National Collaborative for Digital Equity, National Congress of American Indians, National Consumer Law Center on behalf of their low-income clients, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Hispanic Media Coalition, National League of Cities, National Parent Teacher Association, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Next Century Cities, NTEN, Public Knowledge, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the Urban Libraries Council.

 

Read the bill text HERE.

 

Find more background on the Digital Equity Act HERE.

 

Find a section-by-section breakdown of the Digital Equity Act HERE.

The push to equity recognizes that people need the infrastructure but they also need the skills to use it.

NDIA names Casey Sorensen and Munirih Jester the 2019 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champions

Big news from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance conference. Delighted to see that Minnesota’s own Casey Sorenson recognized for his work at PCs for People…

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) announced the 2019 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award winners: PCs for People CEO Casey Sorensen and San Antonio Housing Authority Digital Inclusion Program Manager Munirih Jester.

Sorensen has headed PCs for People for over 11 years and crafted a self-sustainable, scalable social enterprise that is a national leader in digital inclusion. Under Sorensen’s leadership, PCs for People has grown from concept to a network of 300 nonprofits, 12 affiliates, and physical offices in three states that are working together to solve the digital divide. As a result of Sorensen’s efforts, over 250,000 people now have home computers and 128,000 people can access the internet in their home. PCs for People is based in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Munirih Jester serves as the Digital Inclusion ConnectHome Coordinator for the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA). Originally from Brazil, Munirih’s professional background is in Public Policy, Nonprofit Management, and Urban and Regional Planning. In her role as ConnectHome Coordinator, she has been able to deliver digital literacy skills training to nearly 2,000 participants, award nearly 900 free computers, and help connect 1,069 homes to the internet.

Broadband affordability report – rural areas are paying more

Telecompetitor reports…

Nearly half of the U.S. population (45%) lacks access to a low-price wired broadband offering, according to a new broadband affordability report from BroadbandNow, the organization that maintains a detailed database of broadband offerings throughout the U.S. The research also showed that people in rural areas pay higher prices and that, ironically, people in areas with higher average income pay less for service.

One of the big findings is that rural areas – or at least areas with lower population density – pay more for broadband, as you can see from the chart below…

Other key findings from the BroadbandNow research:

  • Across the 50 states, fiber has the lowest average price per megabit per second – 48 cents, compared with 65 cents for cable and $1.53 for DSL
  • States with median household income of at least $60,000 have 78% low-priced plan coverage, on average, compared to only 37% for states with average incomes below $60,000

How Technology Can Balance Urban/Rural Development

There was a panel at SXSW (South by Southwest) on – How Technology Can Balance Urban/Rural Development. The panelists spoke from an international perspective but there were some lessons that we could learn in Minnesota. And I think there’s something they could learn from us.

The talked about two ways to fix the rural broadband issue…

The most obvious lines of thinking are that there are perhaps two main ways to solve this: influencing market forces in a way that incentivizes private companies to build more rural broadband infrastructure; or creating a government-owned high-speed Internet network.

That is where I think the “Minnesota model” of encouraging public-private partnership with state grants could be a big boost to many areas.

They noted some other tactics, such as digital inclusion. I think most of Minnesota is beyond needing to learn why to use technology but the how can still be a barrier. Whether that’s how to use email or how to run an online business.

They talked about extending smart city ideas to the village…

This work must now be translated to what the panelists called “smart village” technologies. So whereas the parks department in San Francisco can — and is — use sensors to tell when garbage cans in their parks are too full, farmers in Modesto, Calif., can similarly use sensors to tell if their pigs are getting sick.

And one very practical idea is to ask new developers about their plans for broadband…

Schweiger described one particularly effective means of supporting broadband in her city, which has been offering a questionnaire to property developers asking how they will incorporate broadband infrastructure into their new construction. Schweiger described it as “a behavior nudging mechanism.”

PCs for People distribute 53 computers in Rock County

Rock County Star Herald reports…

Rock County Library moved forward with its broadband education initiative by giving away computers.

Library director Calla Jarvie, along with members of the broadband education steering committee, unloaded 53 personal computers.

Distribution took place Tuesday, Jan 15, at the law enforcement center with extras being delivered to the library on Main Street Luverne where they are being stored.

Twenty-five families in the Luverne and Hills-Beaver Creek school districts received personal computer for home use.

“Nowadays so many things you have to do, you have to do online,” she said. …

The computer deliver from LCs for People was the first major event completed with the $75,000 grant.

Fun to hear about programs that puts computers in the hands that need them. Blandin Foundation is the source of the grant.

FCC says the digital divide is narrowing – but is it getting deeper?

According to a press release from the FCC

The Chairman’s draft of the annual FCC report to Congress shows that since last year’s report, the number of Americans lacking access to a fixed broadband connection meeting the FCC’s benchmark speed of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps has dropped by over 25%, from 26.1 million Americans at the end of 2016 to 19.4 million at the end of 2017.  Moreover, the majority of those gaining access to such high-speed connections, approximately 5.6 million, live in rural America, where broadband deployment has traditionally lagged.

The private sector has responded to FCC reforms by deploying fiber to 5.9 million new homes in 2018, the largest number ever recorded.  And overall, capital expenditures by broadband providers increased in 2017, reversing declines that occurred in both 2015 and 2016.

Other key findings of the report include the following, based on data through the end of 2017:

  • The number of Americans with access to 100 Mbps/10Mpbs fixed broadband increased by nearly 20%, from 244.3 million to 290.9 million.

  • The number of Americans with access to 250 Mbps/50 Mbps fixed broadband grew by over 45%, to 205.2 million, and the number of rural Americans with access to such service more than doubled

Based on these and other data, the report concludes that advanced telecommunications services – broadband – is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.   The Commission is expected to vote on the report in the coming weeks.

It strikes me that 19.4 million people don’t have access to 25/3 broadband while 290.9 million have access to 100/10 and 205.2 million have access to 250/50. There may be fewer people on the far end of the digital divide but the chasm between the haves and have-nots is deepening.