How COVID-19 Has Impacted Communities of Color, Tribal Communities & Students Nationwide
4:10PM Jan 27, 2021
Just right around the damage, like, you know, there are no appropriate comments. So we're just going to be using q&a. So when I share information I will be sharing this on the firstname.lastname@example.org slash s OT and slack but if you don't have Slack, you can always email me I'm easy to find. Feel free. So, let me just continue on now. Now obviously, Matt and Nick, were talking about, you know, performance of the network which was really fascinating, you know, given the surge in traffic, resulting from the lockdown and COVID-19. Well, we also wanted to do is kind of talk about how COVID-19 has impacted communities of color, tribal communities and students nationwide. And we wanted to get a few different perspectives on that particular issue and from those communities. So we asked three really great experts to come and join us and talk about, you know, the experience of COVID-19. Among those compute communities and how they fared and the challenges and, you know, and some of the successes in that that area so with us we have Morita Kohli, who is president and CEO of the multicultural media telecom and internet Council, very well known here in Washington. And we also have Mr wall who's the founder and CEO of education superhighway, and we're thrilled to have Evan, and also I'm really thrilled to have Matthew rantanen, and I hope I pronounced that correctly, who is the director of technology for the Southern California tribal chairman's Association. So, I think we wanted to kind of get your perspective on how how these communities are experiencing the internet. Let me just go first and Morita. You know broadband Internet access is obviously essential for a significant number of Americans particularly people of color and low income, are you know are having challenges can you explain how, you know, lack of broadband access is is unique to that particular community.
I'm not actually sure that Merida made it across I don't see her name on the list.
Okay, well let me, um, let me just rephrase that in terms of you know folks and tribal lands, Matt. While we wait on Marina to kind of. Join us I apologize.
Okay. Yeah. Can you repeat again sorry I was
i mean right you know broadband access is super important. The network generally for folks that had it perform very well, you know, according to Nick beemster and Matt Tooley, but you know, other communities are, you know, have different experiences. And you know what's been the experience for folks in tribal lands. Well,
I think one of the biggest things that COVID-19 did for the, for the tribal communities is help everybody else in the United States realize how disconnected they are. It was a it was a great illustration on on. I mean that there is not a better marketing tool than COVID-19 on why you need broadband in your home, and the understanding of how many people actually don't have broadband in their home was was very apparent when, when the stay at home orders came into effect and the tribes went on lockdown. And then again when, when the school, school districts and stuff decided to have, you know, a virtual learning space instead of a physical learning space at the school, you know the the institutions were realizing that, you know, large percentages of their of their tribal students didn't have access to enough capacity of broadband. Sometimes they were accessing it on their mom's cell phone, and doing things like that and not being able to perform their school functions so where the broadband existed. You know, it was, it was functioning well and it did say up and run and it was very effective. Where, where it was lacking. It was very apparent in, you know, became one of the biggest focuses I think during COVID-19 is like how disconnected are tribes. What are the solutions. What are the band aids we can do during COVID and then how do we solve this as we come out of COVID.
You know in did did do you think that the community, the communities themselves, understood how, whether they had good broadband or not. Until this actually happened. I mean, because a lot of folks, you know have really good you know, good wireless and feel like that's good enough. But when you have to do things like you know participating in conference or, you know, watch Netflix or do other types of things like high, you know, low latency gaming, you know becomes really apparent.
Yeah, those of us that are all suffering from zoom fatigue as they call it now, definitely know that you know that your broadband connection is as good as it is and can it perform the functions like we are doing today. Very, very few people in the reservation space that were operating off of a cellular connection or, you know, a non, a non broadband connection to the internet were able to perform these functions in school education, and then telecommuting were the most descriptive of that. And you always have a, you know, lack of a take rate for one reason or another in any community, but in the tribal community. We did see a lack of take rate on on buying broadband services from networks that did exist and could serve their homes, until COVID. When, when they realized that the functions that they now needed to perform over their broadband connection or over their connection needed to be more stable and more, more of a broadband connection to be able to function. So, so I think they did realize that I need to step up into that next level I need that always on connectivity, and a certain speed and throughput that allows me to function in the world as it is today.
And later man I'm gonna come back and ask all of you guys whether you know that realization on behalf of, of your stakeholders in your community have made them realize in speaking to all the communities that they need to, they need to become more engaged in their broadband experience and and how they kind of advocate for that I'll ask you guys just hold on Hold that thought for a second. But Morita, let me just go quickly to you I had a brilliant question that I teed up which I can't remember.
I heard you I guess I was in the waiting room but I did hear you and thank you very much Tim and thank you for inviting mmtc to be there to be here to talk about some of the things that uniquely impact communities of color and low income communities, and similar to I'm glad that Matt got a chance to kick off with tribal communities, because he really laid the framework for what some of the challenges are, with some of our more marginalized community so I'd like to give a couple of statistics on what's going on. Overall, so the recent study from Pew indicated that more than 34% of black and Latin x adults lacked home broadband as of December of 2019 john Horgan who's a very popular researcher in the broadband space has reported that nationwide over 31% of black Latin x and indigenous families lacked high speed home internet as of last summer. And as Matt reported nearly one in five indigenous persons living on reservations lacked home broadband last summer. And it's also there's also an income element to this because nearly half of families that earn less than $25,000 annually, and over a third of families earning between 25 and 50,000. Lack of high school, high speed internet access. Are we have a US Census Bureau reports that since the pandemic nine out of 10 households with school aged children have had to participate in some sort of distance learning. And then as we talked about, you know, previously lower income households tend to be tend to be less capable of making that transition. In fact, mmtc new policy chief dr Fallon Wilson report she's in Nashville, and is very involved in bridging the digital divide there she reported that in. During the pandemic and the transition of children from in the classroom to remote learning 13,000 students disappeared, just in that whole transition from being there in person to being there at home, and a nearly 17 million children are unable to participate in remote learning, because their families don't have broadband access and 9 million of those children are black and Latinx children so you know just some of the things with the pandemic have shed a light on these disparities, but the disparities were here all along.
Going Thank you Marina I'm going to go into Evan, obviously, President Biden, one of the things he first did was try to put together a plan of getting students back into school. There's obviously challenges about that, you know, teachers are concerned, but there is a desperate need to get them back into the classroom. In, I only mentioned that because it shows that we really have a problem with students having a diminished experience for long term in the importance of actually having, you know, really good online learning when it comes to when it comes to school. Can you talk about you know how you've been working in your experience with connecting schools and students with teachers.
Yeah, well thanks, thanks for having us here today. So I think there's a lot of lessons to be learned from the work that we've done over the last eight years to bring high speed broadband to every public school in America. So back in 2013 only 10% of students had good internet access in their classrooms and as of the start of the last school year that number had risen to 99.7%. And the reason that was able to happen was because you had a couple of key elements so first you had a goal. You had a goal that had been set at the highest level by President Obama to bring high speed broadband to 99% of classrooms. And so I think, you know, we've lacked a similar goal today. You know, school districts have been trying to do things states have been trying to do things, but we haven't had a national goal of, you know, either connecting every student or, frankly, making sure that we close the digital divide and connect the 29 million households that don't have home internet access today so I think the first thing is you know somebody needs to step up and that somebody probably needs to be President Biden and set a national goal of connecting all all of our, our households or our students. The second thing that we've learned from our previous experience and what we've been spending a lot of time working on is you need data you need data about who isn't isn't connected, it's really hard to solve a problem like this. If you don't know where the problem is. And historically we've not had good data on how which students aren't connected which households aren't connected. We've had surveys we've had estimates etc etc But we, we haven't known the specifics and so we need to solve that problem. And then the third thing is we need funding, you know, connecting the schools. We had the E rate program to connect students and teachers at home and more broadly to connect the 29 million families that don't have internet access at home. We need funding. You know all the dialogue about the digital divide in DC and elsewhere has historically been focused on infrastructure. Oh, we need to build infrastructure to people who don't have it. And, and that's true we do need to still build infrastructure, but by our estimates, something like 60 to 60% or maybe two thirds of the people who are not on the internet are not on the internet, not because they don't have internet available at their home, but because they can't afford it, some of the things that Rita was talking about and so we need a funding source to pay for that because we don't have one today.
Well, Evan. So you're saying that, you know, for the past decade or so, and you know say the net this year it's almost like a retrospective of the past decade, you know, our focus past 20 years actually since he raised 25 years since the rate. The the focus was connecting schools and libraries. And COVID has shown us that we have to connect students wherever they are. And that's been that's been a challenge you mentioned broadband mapping. I mentioned the last panel to Nick and Matt that we could have an entire day on broadband mapping and I'm not going to go too deep into it there but let me go back to Matt. With regard to, you know, Matt. Matt brought up. I mean I'm Evan brought up the kind of emergency broadband funding that came out in the last round of congressional appropriations, and Senate or Congress and president, President Biden is looking to do something more. How do you, how do you view, you know what's needed in that particular area for your community.
So I mean, we just saw, you know, a billion dollars identified for tribal broadband connectivity. In the last round. And we see, you know, some focus on on money and opportunity moving forward. We just need to make sure that you know there's a complicated scenario where a lot of people and funders don't understand or don't respect that the tribes have a federal tribal government relationship. And so a lot of the funding mechanisms point money at a state and then try to trickle it through the state to the tribe which is not where the relationship lies, or the or the trust responsibility. So, we need to make sure that when they are devising the plan on distribution and deployment of these funds that it doesn't somehow get caught in those traps where it becomes very awkward and complicated for tribes to get access to the funding so we're also making sure you know as much as possible that when they develop these programs and deployment methods and disbursement methods that they aren't. Adding interpretation or misinterpretation to to the intent of that funding, and they're allowing tribes to do what needs to get done, and not putting restrictions on it that you know that that would hinder them from being able to build their networks. You know missing middle mile is one of the biggest components in Indian country when I, when I was working with Obama administration and the CTO of the United States at the time Megan Smith, we had done and and gentleman named Erica snappy as we identified 8000 missing middle mile connector models right to the, to the, just the lower 48, the tribal reservations the lower 48 states. You know 8000 miles is a pretty big deficit. When you think about the funding and the availability that you see come across all the time. It's typically to build last mile or what we'd like to turn around and call first mile, which is the connectivity to the tribal home and the tribal municipalities. But if you can't connect to the, to the rest of the world with a proper amount of drain and affordability to that to that connection, then you're not going to be able to function in this space anyway so you know middle mile will be one of the, one of the key factors that needs to be included in the ability to spend that money.
You know, I think, over the past decade since you know the the recession in 2008 2009, and obviously during the COVID pandemic. You know, we've seen really quick disbursements of funds and there have been successes and, you know, maybe some failures. I'd ask all of you like how you know what's the, what are the lessons learned from those previous disbursements as we go forward to kind of solve. You know this huge issue of folks that don't have access to suitable broadband to, to be able to weather a pandemic like this.
I can take that I think the lesson learned is to deprive provide to the neediest first. I am active in the poor people's campaign with Reverend William Barber, and he has an interesting approach where he says we've tried, you know, focusing on the middle class. We've done the trickle down approach, why don't we and this is not just in broadband but in all policies, why don't we focus on the areas and the people who are the most in need because if you take care of them, then everything else, you know, I guess maybe you could call it trickle up or something but the emergency broadband benefit, mmtc and National Urban League just filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission, supporting you know this $3.2 billion program that the Biden administration is championing that will provide subsidies for both very low income people eligible fant low income families, and also people been recently unemployed, to help them to have a credit of either up to $50. And then up to $75 a month for tribal communities. And we think that that is the kind of targeted assistance that's needed. And that's a short term solution but I also saw that this morning the Business Roundtable appealed to the Biden administration to, to not just support the emergency broadband benefit but to make it permanent, because now you have the top CEOs that are getting involved and saying it's absolutely essential that everyone have access to broadband, not just during the pandemic. But, but thereafter.
The cost is a big factor I think Ivan mentioned that as well as well as Merida so
yeah and and if I could add in on that so you know the broadband benefit is is a great opportunity to make progress in. In, you know tackling the digital divide. But I think the reality is that if the FCC doesn't reserve a portion of the fund for the unconnected all the money is simply going to go to people who already have broadband today it's going to be used by providers to subsidize their current customers and that's because it's really hard to find new customers, and it's you know really easy to go to the customers that you already have. And so I think that's a really critical issue that the FCC needs to address, I couldn't agree more with Merida, we need to make this benefit permanent. I'm not sure the format it's currently in is the right format for a permanent benefit because there are some, some challenges and one of the most important things I think that, you know, Congress did that is going to be a challenge again in connecting the unconnected is what we've learned over the last, you know, during the pandemic but frankly over the last 10 years is that the families that don't have broadband, they struggle to advocate for themselves they struggle to figure out what to do. They struggle to figure out how to sign up for these things they struggle to have the credit ratings and the documentation that they need to be able to sign up for these programs, and what's worked, as we've seen 3 million kids during the pandemic. Get Connected to broadband and the reason those 3 million kids have been connected, is because school districts and states stepped up as the buyers and and they aggregated procurement and. And I think if we're going to solve this problem that needs to be a core element of what we do, it's giving the aggregated purchasers whether it's cities or counties, or school districts or housing authorities, the ability to go out and buy on the behalf of these people who don't have internet access today,
but can you can you comment on that.
Yeah, one of the things I was gonna say, and haven't mentioned this is like how do you find the customer that doesn't have broadband, that won't benefit from this emergency fund work where there's a subsidy to help pay for your bill. So we're dealing with a system that, and I'm just gonna call it like it is it's flawed so the FCC releases this 706 report, which is based on 477 data which is essentially the marketing and potential connectivity tool that that carriers, use to identify you know their service area and who who can be served by their services, however they're not necessarily served yet. So, in a census block, if a carrier is able to perform a connection to a household in that service block, whether it's done or not, it can be counted so there's a very false sense of connectivity or coverage in the United States. And we continue to run on this system, that, that looks at that data provided by the companies that are building these networks, and it's not actual so the actual connectivity on the ground the actual homes connected in a census block is it's a far different number. So, you know, there's a deficit in the thought process of of a lot of folks. A lot of folks think about, you know, those communities are covered in the last 706 report that just came out this month is is very misleading so you know we're, we're working with a system that doesn't truly identify the missing households in those communities and the missing the missing participants in those census blocks. So, until we until we can shift focus on the actual on on the on the ground the actual numbers on the ground. We're gonna have a tough time, aligning funds and and making sure that everybody is included in this process.
And if I can just add to that, you know that the mapping stuff that Congress did in the broadband data act and that they funded as part of the stimulus. That's great for understanding where the infrastructure is, but as Matt saying it's only half the question. Right. It's one thing to know where the infrastructure is but we also need to know who is and isn't subscribing. And if we don't know that subsidy programs are not going to be able to be effectively deployed.
They also get limited in the fact that if a census block could be served by a carrier that got federal funding to do so. They're no longer no longer eligible for federal funding to support that census block and they may never get served from that. From that perspective.
Let me, let me just ask, kind of a tricky question, as, as the Biden administration tries to put together. You know its administration, and also figure out how to work with Congress on certain things. What do you do you have any recommendations for structuring the federal government to better deal with these issues. You know, we, the Federal Communications Commission we had Jeffrey Starks keynote last night he was our was our closing keynote, and we raised a lot of great issues, but you also have, you know, fun NTIA which is in the department commerce that has a role in this, particularly when it comes to a lot of spectrum issues. And they did the last broadband stimulus in 2019. You also have the Department of Agriculture, which also doles out, you know, funds and resources, and the FCC right now is in a bit of a problem with regard to its functioning over the next couple of years. Do you have any recommendations for the vitamin stration and where they go from here.
I think that, Oh, go ahead.
Oh no, go ahead. Oh,
I was just gonna say that whatever whatever they do they've got to eliminate the size. And as you say you know you got, you know, NTIA has no jurisdiction and terms of, it's the White House, you know, that white house is representative you've got FCC and then with the regulatory area you've also now got the Federal Trade Commission. So I think that it's almost like there needs to be a coordinating entity in the past NTIA has, you know, kind of played that role to make sure that agriculture FCC, know that everybody coordinates on these things so whoever whoever they decide it needs to be coordinated so that it's not so siloed so that's, that's just my way and
so you feel like it's been siloed over the past,
yeah I think he's been siloed not just in terms of, you know, the funding, um, you know opportunities and you know where they go but just in terms of the agencies communicating, you know, with one another and really fully understanding their jurisdiction I think it could definitely be be much better when
that siloing gets transferred to the communities that they serve as well so if you have USDA funding under the ru s program, you operate in those parameters, and those that fund doesn't you know you can't kind of really commingle those funds with with another departments funding efforts to get a better a better result by kind of aggregating things and working together with two different programs to solve a problem you actually have to solve this problem independent of solving this problem, because of the way this stuff is siloed. Now I know that that they've been requested or mandated maybe even to to communicate between the departments I know NTIA is working to set up a structure with USDA to be able to coordinate on these issues. And I think that is. It is a key. So, but for the, for the administration itself, moving forward and how to better solve these problems. You know, I think the mapping system, and, you know, the FCC will own this the mapping system is flawed and failed to be a successful event, and the maps need to be, you know, better, better tool to to understand these issues. The, the biggest concern with the rollout of the rural digital opportunities fund. In that first round, is that they're, they know where they don't have service. So their map is accurate to that level, but they don't know that in that pocket where there is no service where they intend to reach out and serve, they're going to pass several communities that also don't have service but they're not building those communities so when they build out to that end point. They're not exactly, incorporating the same type of thought process around infrastructure to be able to serve the entire pathway to that, that endpoint. So we were hoping that we could have them take a better look at and mapping before they rolled out our dolphin hopefully mapping will come into play before the second round of art funding, so that we can better assess who's along the route that you're building to at the endpoint. To be able to serve them as well.
Jim. The thing that I would say is I'd come back to what I was saying in the beginning, the bagni administration needs a clear measurable goal that all of the different departments and agencies and we have to remember the FCC is an independent agency that the administration does not control, but they need a clear goal that everyone is working towards that is measurable and they need to track progress against it. And number two, they need a strategy and implementation strategy, you know, is historically the federal government has been good on you know let's create funding sources let's, you know, create policies that enable people to do things, but they haven't really focused on okay what is our clear measurable goal and what is our strategy from an execution point of view on how we're going to get there, given the, the resources that we, we have available. So I would say that's the most important thing for the Biden administration to do but completely agree with what both Maria and Matt have said as well. Well,
let me just, let me just let Marina finish because I'm going to go to our next keynote, right after that, I did notice that not many of you guys mentioned Congress itself, which obviously is a monster role to play here but Merida let me just, let me just give you the final word.
Congress is essential in all of this and you know we're, we're because they tend to be slower to act i think we know we advocate before the FCC and other agencies so we tend to focus on them but underlying all this Congress could solve all of these issues. And, in addition to the communities that we've talked about because we've talked about black and Latin x communities. I also want it to make sure that we make provision for senior citizens, because that's another community that's often getting left out you know we talked about tribal and talking about no racial minorities but senior citizens are also another community that we have to make sure that we don't forget about, because it's essential that they be connected and support it, in every respect.
Absolutely. During COVID they've suffered some of the hardest times because of the lack of connectivity and lack of access to health resources and telemedicine and such. on the tribal communities especially
right and I'm coming from my grandmother's attic specifically for that, you know, reason that people can't really come in here because of COVID, and so they, you know, a lot of seniors have become isolated, and so it's we really do need to put some energy on seniors.
Well I mean I think you have pretty good broadband from the attic, not, you know, and really a shout out to Matt who's who's zooming in from the Millennium Falcon which is incredible broadband.
I need hyperspace at my disposal to get all this stuff done and.
But I wanted to thank you for joining us today to talk about that and leading up to our next keynote so I really appreciate all your perspectives, I should I should have done much more, and I apologize that we limited time. But, but, you know, the next keynote wakes and lunch. After that, so let me thank you and introduce our next keynote.