FCC to Improve Broadband Data Amid Calls for Ed Tech Funding

Ed tech policy advocates have asked the FCC to address several key issues related to the digital divide in education, including how it's being measured.

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Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel announced a new task force Wednesday to improve how the agency conducts data mapping to gauge broadband access throughout the country. The move comes as ed tech policy advocates continue looking for additional FCC funding to help close the digital divide in public education.

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, policy advocates across the country have recommended an increase in broadband funding through the FCC’s E-rate program to connect rural and low-income families in need of reliable access to virtual education.
 
Digital equity has remained a key area of concern as up to 12 million K-12 students remain digitally underserved, despite state and federal efforts to provide devices and broadband to students since school closures began in March 2020.
 
The Consortium of School Networking (CoSN) notes that federal policymakers would need to provide at least $7.6 billion in emergency funding in order for all students to have broadband for virtual learning, in addition to recurrent funds to maintain connectivity. The CoSN is asking the FCC to invest an additional $2.389 billion to fund “all layers of cybersecurity” for schools resuming remote courses. 
 
But officials still need to get a clearer picture of the divide to solve ed tech inequities.
 
Since last year, school districts and education advocacy groups such as CoSN and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, have called on the commission to “gather and display more accurate and more granular broadband information."
 
The FCC considers an area as having access if a service provider reports one location within a block has reliable Internet. Critics say this method of data mapping is flawed and overstates broadband access.
 
Rosenworcel said the new Broadband Task Force will help officials gain a detailed picture of the digital divide. The new task force, announced at an Open Commission Meeting, will be chaired by Jean Kiddoo, who also leads the FCC Incentive Auction Task Force.
 
The team will include Chelsea Fallon as senior implementation officer and Sean Spivey as senior counsel. Fallon currently serves as chief of the Data Division in the FCC’s Office of Economics and Analytics and led the development of the Broadband DATA Act. Spivey serves as an assistant bureau chief in the agency’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau.
 
They will coordinate FCC data collection efforts across the Office of Economics and Analytics, Wireless Telecommunications Bureau, Wireline Competition Bureau, Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, International Bureau, Office of Engineering and Technology, and Office of the Managing Director.