Data-Driven Modernization of E-rate for Wi-Fi in Schools

By: Sarah Oh

Around the time of the modernization order of the E-rate program in 2014, I published an empirical study[1] on distribution effects of program rules between 1998 and 2012.  I found that the old rules, particularly the discount rate matrix, had distribution effects that perhaps needed reform.  Since the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) abides by administrative order to run the E-rate program, it was a natural question to ask whether the rules were causing particular outcomes.

My data analysis showed that per-student and per-school estimates of cumulative internal connection funds were higher in New York, California and Texas than the other 48 states, including Washington D.C.  I chose to study “internal connection funds” which supports payments for new Wi-Fi equipment.  I found that large school districts in major cities benefited more than the smaller districts in suburb, town, and rural schools.

For instance, my estimates showed that funds to New York, California and Texas recipients amounted to an estimated $826 per student enrolled in the National School Lunch Program.  In the other 48 states, students in the same lunch program received less than half, at an estimated $302 per student.  The rules created disparities at the per-school level as well.  In New York, California, and Texas, schools received an average of $251,399 in cumulative funds, while the other 48 states received an average of $75,340 each.  These three states enroll approximately 14 million children in over 27,000 schools each year, which is less than half of the 38 million children in over 91,000 schools in the other 48 states.

There is greater need in New York, California and Texas than the other 48 jurisdictions.  For those familiar with the E-rate rules, an average discount rate of 80 in those states shows a higher level of need compared to 76 in the rest of the country.  However, New York students with a discount rate of 77 reaped far more funds than students in the other 48 states with a slightly better discount rate of 76.  For every pupil enrolled in the school lunch program in New York, an estimated $1,285 has been spent, while an estimated $302 has been spent per student enrolled in the same national school lunch program in the other 48 jurisdictions.

Funding discrepancies do not disappear by simply increasing E-rate funds.  The rules created distribution effects even though the discount matrix carefully incorporated school lunch program demographics and urban and rural locations.  Perhaps administrative resources at the school district level contributed to these outcomes.  The New York City Department of Education applied for and received $1.7 billion in E-rate internal connection funds over fifteen years, Los Angeles Unified School District $738 million, San Diego Unified $114 million, Dallas, Houston, and Laredo Independent School Districts $145, $141, and $89 million each.  School districts with larger operations perhaps benefited from greater administrative know-how and organizational resources able to navigate a complicated process.  Perhaps smaller school districts in other states are limited by smaller economies of scale.  Might an intermediary be created to help these smaller schools?

The FCC’s data-driven modernization order of December 2014 will improve broadband connectivity in schools and libraries.  A recent annual target by the FCC to distribute $1 billion for Wi-Fi internal connections infrastructure will connect more schools and school districts around the country.  Continued scrutiny could increase the effectiveness of Universal Service Funds by making sure funds are sent to smaller school districts around the country.

Sarah Oh is a graduate student at George Mason University, where she studies economics.   

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the view of the Aspen Institute.



Apple, the FBI, and Unintended Consequences

Apple’s resistance to the FBI in the San Bernardino iPhone case highlights a number of tensions in American values. It has good and significant equities on both sides. As FBI Chief James Comey admits, it’s the toughest issue he’s faced in Washington. It is not at all the same as the earlier controversy o

Apple’s resistance to the FBI in the San Bernardino iPhone case highlights a number of tensions in American values. It has good and significant equities on both sides. As FBI Chief James Comey admits, it’s the toughest issue he’s faced in Washington. It is not at all the same as the earlier controversy over NSA surveillance of civilians without warrants: it involves law enforcement under judicial supervision, for one thing. On the other side, it forces a company to code against its will, which could be a violation of Apple’s engineers’ freedom of expression or a due process issue in itself.

At the same time authorities are considering this issue, we hear news of a Brazilian submarine cable to Europe being built and marketed for operation next year to avoid having its communications travel through US cables or servers. This comes in the wake of the revelation that the US was spying on Brazil’s president. The juxtaposition of the Apple-FBI case and this one demonstrates both the law of unintended consequences and gives further credence to Tom Friedman’s assertion that we live in a globally interconnected “flat world.” Brazil can connect South America directly to Europe for much of its communications, which is exactly what it is about to do. And at a capital cost of about $250 million it will likely make money in the process. Even American behemoths Google and Facebook are prospective customers.

The workaround is more and more common in many areas of the information and communications world. If something doesn’t work, for whatever reason, let’s find a way around it. Already Apple is devising encryption that even it won’t be able to break at a later time. And if the FBI and Justice Department prevail, whatever the merits, it is likely those whose information they most want to retrieve in the future will find other providers who give them security. It’s happened with Tor, (The [anonymous] Onion Router) on the Internet, it’s happened with new submarine cables to bypass the US, and will very likely happen with smartphones.

Underlying this debate is the issue of trust. Prior to the revelations of NSA spying, the US government and American companies had based their arguments against foreign governmental interference in Internet governance on a simple and compelling rubric: you can trust us. Trust the US Government not to be intrusive, as many other governments are or want to be. Trust American companies, who act independently of the government, more than companies in most other countries. The NSA’s actions (and arguably actions of certain companies who exploited gathered information) pulled the rug out from that argument.

Apple has also pushed the “trust us” button as an important element of its brand. The Justice Department calls it a marketing ploy. As an element of Apple’s brand, it is indeed something they can market. But this hits upon something deeper: trust in a brand goes to the company’s ultimate identity.

Having said all that, other countries can be expected to act in the same way the US Department of Justice has. There are few countries in the world that one would expect to protect individual liberties over the desire to track down criminals, terrorists, subversives, and in some parts of the world, dissidents. I can’t name any, frankly. In the end, though, even when the courts yield to that governmental push, there will increasingly be new ways to submarine around it.

Charlie Firestone is executive director of the Aspen Institute Communications & Society Program.

Expanding the Telecommons: TV Neutrality After Net Neutrality

By:  Farid Ben Amor

Some commons, like roads and parks, deal in scarce tangible resources.  Cultural commons however deal in information scarcity and the national Zeitgeist.  In defense of a commons that uniquely straddles these two realms, many Americans vigorously embraced the Internet in 2014-15.  That embrace was brash, filled with passionate reactions supporting net neutrality (including unfortunate friendly fire like “dingo” namecalling,) but understandable for a significant public and cultural resource thought to be at risk.  As we know, the FCC followed suit with a fundamental change rather than an incremental one, reclassifying Internet service providers as common carriers.  This distinction codified a business model separation between the transmission and content provider elements almost a decade after much of the market did, when the most popular ISP-cum-content provider AOL tore down the remnants of its walled garden to compete on the open Internet.  Similarly, another commons – TV – recently under threat of commodification due to the attempted walling up of gardens along with increased M&A activity, will be pried open to competition with two recent FCC proposals.

Like the Internet, many Americans have also embraced the liberation of TV content from its platform shackles, beginning coincidentally about a decade ago with the launch of YouTube, Netflix’s online video service, and Hulu.  These services expanded access to popular programming, but consumers still can’t access top shows as they premiere through them.  Ten years later, we still need a traditional TV subscription to watch day-and-date primetime shows (like my favorite: the new X-Files) or major live events (for me, the Super Bowl… halftime show.)  Following suit again, Chairman Wheeler and his office proposed two rulemakings to grow a neutral TV marketplace which will make it easier for new online content providers to offer top broadcast and cable shows.  These rules would 1) reclassify facilities-based pay TV services (known as MVPDs) to include qualifying Internet video services, and 2) reform MVPD set top box requirements to switch from current hardware-based security to IP-based security.  If enacted, the FCC would not only preserve the TV commons, (otherwise at risk due to consolidation,) but permit unlimited additions to it through competitive and innovative video platforms.

The first – MVPD reclassification – significantly reduces the commercial and practical barriers that limit online video services from carrying major network programming.  Here’s why:  applying the same regulatory status to online TV platforms would enable them to a) choose to carry popular cable networks on commercially feasible terms, with the help of the program access rules; b) choose to carry broadcast networks under the long established retransmission consent regime, subject to the Copyright Office acceding in kind (which it has indicated it would likely do) and; c) neuter anticompetitive restrictions in existing affiliate agreements, which MVPDs routinely demand as a condition of network carriage and lock in for many years at a time.  These would effectively render the TV delivery platform a technology-neutral commons, freeing popular shows to appear on many more products.  And it’s important to note that these three benefits are in service of the network programmers as well, who suffer from the monopsony effect of having limited buyers to negotiate among – which further strengthens the similarity between TV neutrality and net neutrality.

The second – set top box reform – would open up choices not just for physical set top box devices, but virtual ones as well, regardless of which MVPD is provisioning the programming.  This means the technology in CableCARD, which is the current government standard for securing content, would now be replaced with an updated security standard that can go over-the-top, thereby also liberating content in a different way, from the set top box itself.  This would open the TV guide to allow new hardware and software entrants to compete in an otherwise oligarchic MVPD set top box marketplace, without disturbing the MVPDs’ content agreements.  Naturally, the incumbents are sweating about this, afraid that tech companies such as Apple would get an easy “in” to their content agreements.  But competition can also benefit the MVPDs by steering their energies for this content navigation layer away from protectionism and toward innovation to retain its customers.  And for them, this separates the platform (the guide interface) from the content.  The platform market will transition into a “replaceable parts” system, which adds more choice to the TV commons.

Even though the tech sector often instinctively views government intervention skeptically as a negative consequence to disruption, it should back these FCC rules.  They are field-leveling exercises to correct for the market failures that have permitted facilities-based incumbents to fortify against competition.  Indeed, the “virtue” of self-interest will always motivate this anti-competitive behavior in incumbents unless government prevents them from blocking new entrants and incentivize innovation instead.  History proves this.  In 1992, the US government enabled satellite TV to successfully compete against cable TV using the same MVPD “fair playing field” expansion under consideration now.  Competition was also the emphasis of the 1996 Telecom Act, in which Congress gave a clear directive to “let anyone enter any communications business.”  Given the resultant expansion of TV in the late 90s and 2000s, we know that such regulatory neutrality only grows our telecommons, advancing our society toward digital equity and decreased censorship.  The Fairness Doctrine may have been a necessity when there were only a few choices for programming, but not when there are many.  Truly, more regulation ensuring fair competition on the platform level encourages deregulation over the content flowing down the pipe.

In other words, the more the TV commons are expanded, the less need for content regulation.  These two FCC rulemakings would accomplish just that.  Moreover, in the long run, the first proposal (MVPD reclassification) may even obviate the need for set top box reform.  But programming deals run long and can take time to negotiate.  Therefore the second proposal (set top box reform) is still compelling in that it enables consumers to sample competitive TV services easily over the short term.  The best case with the passage of both set top box reform and MVPD reclassification would enable competition to develop rapidly as programming rights wouldn’t slow down new TV guide competitors, while online video services efficiently transform the TV experience from the ground up.  Having both rules would help rapidly reduce costs by increasing competition among both MVPDs and set top box manufacturers.  The enactment of these two FCC rulemakings together ensures neutrality of the TV commons for Americans at its two greatest chokepoints today, enhancing commercial opportunities for businesses and innovative products for consumers, and setting the stage for the development of TV into the Internet age.

Farid Ben Amor is a graduate student at the University of Southern California, where he researches media and telecommunication policy, and is director of business development at Pluto TV.  His views do not necessarily represent the views of his employer, however, Pluto filed comments with the FCC in favor of MVPD reclassification as discussed in this piece.

The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the view of the Aspen Institute.

Why Can’t Our Cities Be More Like Video Games?

Originally posted on Medium.

By: Susan Crawford

Smart mayors will enrich the next version of 311 by augmented reality

In the 2007 best-seller “Spook Country,” William Gibson foresaw “the locative”: virtual fantasies layered over the real-world grid, visible to anyone with the right geo-aware gear. In the book, the charismatic Bobby Chombo is the only guy around with the technical chops needed to make the locative work. So when an artist wants to, say, digitally re-create the death of River Phoenix on Sunset Strip, he or she needs Chombo’s help.

Cities are real-world grids: you can see that instantly on a Google map. But it’s not so easy to see the city as a civic entity. The stuff that counts — the interaction between people and city services — is hidden in plain view, invisible to almost everyone. That may be about to change. The opportunity: make it possible for cities to show their work and engage with citizens in a meaningful way, using the existing idea of 311. And make everyone who’s interested a Bobby Chombo.

Today, 311 services in American cities have the potential to become platforms for citizen engagement — places for genuine back-and-forth among people who care about the streets where they live, as well as channels for interaction between citizens and the city. Although 311 is now thought of as the channel for complaining about city services, it could be the true realization of “the locative.” But more in the spirit of Ben Franklin than the quasi-dystopic Gibson.

If you’re already sold on the idea of civic technology, 311 is pretty nifty. New York City’s version, for example, is essentially the landing strip for everything the city does, and the city’s 311 page and app describe themselves as “The Official Website of the City of New York” as well as the city’s “main source of government information and non-emergency services.”

Los Angeles’s version of 311 is at the top of every website across the city (check out,,, etc.). LA is about to launch a new 311 in the next couple of weeks that will connect callers to drivers in sanitation trucks (and vice versa). (Yes, the Internet is for trash — in a good way!)

I celebrate this civic activity. But it’s all quite primitive so far. Plenty of maps filled with plenty of dots characterize this early stage of 311 development, and the notion of citizen-city “co-creation” of information and services is more talked about than real.

311 could be much, much neater. What if Bobby Chombo-like help were available to anyone so that she or he could digitally paint special places in the city with arresting puzzles and and insights that, along the way, were joined to civic information made visible to anyone nearby?

In other words, what if something like Ingress and 311 worked together? The idea of adding playful and hip to earnest and helpful seems like a potentially winning civic combination that could make people look at their cities in new ways.

More than 15 million people around the globe have already downloaded Ingress, which uses a smartphone’s GPS tracking and camera to assist players in opening and claiming “portals” — any interesting place in their city, as long as it is accessible by foot — for their team. The idea is that a mysterious alien energy force, the Shapers, is coming into the world through these portals; you can play for the “Enlightened,” who “embrace the power this energy may bestow upon us,” or the “Resistance,” who want to stop it.

Along the way, though, if you’re at all serious you’ll have to walk dozens of miles to get to many portals — you physically have to be within 90 feet of a portal in order to interact with it. (There are a zillion YouTube videos about Ingress; here’s one in which a user patiently walks through the process with his bored son and not-so-bored dog along for the experience. A Monterey County Weekly reporter, Kera Abraham, recently engagingly documentedher experience leveling-up in Ingress.)

So playing Ingress is a physically-demanding undertaking that gives Google, the host for a startup called Niantic Labs that launched the game, access to (even more) boatloads of data about everything people around the world think is cool in their environments. Millions of people play every day.

When I look at Ingress, I see the next phase of civic interaction — locative back-and-forth. Cities today routinely use the social-network platforms of Web 2.0 (Twitter, Facebook, blogs) as additional channels for communication with constituents, and that conversation is more two-way than it used to be. With fiber and ubiquitous free public WiFi, cities could use augmented reality apps as yet another means of communication: 311 plus all the future flavors of Ingress-like interfaces.

Ingress near LA City Hall

(Without fiber and free WiFi, users will hit data caps from their mobile carriers that will dim their enthusiasm for interaction with truly engaging augmented reality. And there’s certainly going to be itchiness about favoring the Google-supported Ingress as a channel, so 311 data should be open and fed to anyone who promises to send data back to the city. A good early example of this practice: Los Angeles shares data about its construction zones with Waze, also part of Google, in exchange for Waze’s real-time data about traffic patterns and driver experiences.)

Adding a locative element can enhance the civic experience in countless ways, bounded only by imagination. Are you in love with a particular statue in a park or a street crossing? (This is not nuts. In Melbourne, people who love their trees wrote appreciative notes to them when each tree was given an email address.) Use augmented reality to see it reimagined as a living, speaking being, telling you a story about the city. And talk back, complaining about the trash at the statue’s foot or suggesting that the park around that statue be reprogrammed to better serve the neighborhood. Build your own visualization for the next user to see.

Look, making things fun is part of civic purpose. Art and music often come first in the process of revitalizing a dead downtown or cheering up a public space. Mayors want people to think “My city is really cool,” because those people will stay. And that has to be good — people with deepened ties to their cities are more likely to support the bold initiatives that will be needed for metros to thrive in an era of economic dislocation, global warming and ever-narrowing resources.

Augmented reality is going to happen anyway. As long as people are running around celebrating the awesome places in their cities with apps, cities themselves should make clear that they had a lot to do with generating that awesomeness — and that they’re here (really “here”) to stay.

No Bobby Chombo required.


The Endless Possibilities of the Whitewater World

By: John Seely Brown

The following essay was adapted from a commencement address delivered earlier this month to the students of Arizona State University and is posted on the Aspen Institute Journal of Ideas.

Let me start by speaking very personally. I envy you all.

You are graduating and starting the next phase of your life at an amazing time.

The tools you have been exposed to, the knowledge and skills you have picked up through hard work and play, and the networks you have woven empower you to do amazing things. If, that is, you are willing to exercise your imagination within the social networks you have built, you will truly find ways to forge exciting futures for yourselves, for your families, for Arizona and for the world.

You are transitioning from being a student to being an entrepreneurial learner: a learner who is skilled at learning with and from your interactions with the world and with others. You will be engaged in quests where you will draw not only on the known resources all around you but also on hidden resources you must discover to do what others might think impossible. Indeed, that you yourself might think impossible at first.

You live in the networked age powered by digital technologies that drive an exponentially expanding knowledge base and connect a diverse, globalized world. These are amazing times.

I also started my career at an amazing time: I undertook my Ph.D. at the beginning of the digital revolution, a few decades ago. I found my way to Xerox PARC, the legendary Palo Alto Research Center

At PARC we imagined new ways to build and design, new ways to communicate and new ways to collaborate — all focused on inventing the emerging future of work that was supercharged by new information-based technologies.

Our mantra was simple: “Invent what you need but always use what you invent.” No paper tigers were allowed.

I felt like a kid in a candy store. Imagination and collaborative invention were the coins of the realm. We invented much of what we, today, take for granted:

Spellcheck — without which I would have died; the personal computer and distributed workstations;
the graphical user interface and the world of icons, point, click and drag brilliantly commercialized by Apple; Smalltalk, a major advance in object-oriented programing; the Ethernet for local, distributed computing; laser printing (which paid for practically everything else); social computing; ubiquitous computing; And, less well known, we radically expanded the role of ethnography as a scientific basis for user-centered design. Yes, in a way, it felt like a Cambrian Explosion where new life forms were starting to emerge.

I say all this today because you are at the threshold of yet another Cambrian Explosion. Part of this is technical, but more critically, we’re also seeing the emergence of major new social and institutional forms and practices.

On the technical side you know the litany: social media, big data, mobile first, information visualization, machine learning and, of course, cloud computing.

In fact, the computational powers you have at your fingertips are now literally more than 10,000 times the power of what I first experienced.

And just consider that 3D-printing, a foreign concept just a few years ago, can now save the life of a baby whose trachea and bronchial passages have collapsed. To me, that is simply amazing.

On the social and institutional side of this new Cambrian Explosion you are probably the first class to have experienced the full potential of uniquely personalized learning trajectories. Through the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, some of your courses changed while you were taking them to optimally select and present new learning experiences and challenges. In your labs and maker spaces you have had the chance to learn by doing — knowledge in action engaging both head and hands!

You have experienced here the New American University. This is a new kind of university aimed at creating a new kind of transdisciplinary learning environment and knowledge creation space that cultivated your imagination as entrepreneurial learners in the network age.

But what career trajectories will you, today, embark on?

For my parents, the typical career trajectory was like a steamship. They set course, fired up the engines, and powered ahead. Useful, in the industrial age, but probably not useful today.

For your parents here today — and for me — our career trajectories have been navigated more like a sailboat. We set course, and hopefully through skillful tacking and maneuvering, we’ve played the winds and currents to get where we thought we wanted to go. Blown off course sometimes, sure, but overall still a well-crafted trajectory.

But for you all, today, the environment is radically different. You are in the living in a whitewater world.

You must be more like a whitewater kayaker who skillfully reads the currents and disruptions of the context around you.

You must interpret the flows, the ripples, the rapids, and understand what they reveal about what lies beneath the surface. You must operate with both body and mind, living totally in the moment, experiencing the immediate at-hand circumstances and quickly analyzing information from all your senses — sight, sound, touch and force feedback from the paddles — to understand the environment and how it is responding to you.

To survive in this radically different environment, you need to live in an ongoing conversation with the flow. You need to feel, gauge, and interact with the flow of information passing all around you.

What keeps the whitewater kayaker afloat? What keeps him right-side-up for the run? What helps him roll right when he flips over? It’s the way he uses his center of gravity in terms of the line of balance. It is the axis of balance that gives him the confidence to take on the whitewater and increase his levels of risk-taking. In this metaphor, this line of balance is analogous to authenticity and integrity. Authenticity is simply the capacity to know yourself, your core strengths, weaknesses, values and motivations, and to work from them and for them. In a radically contingent whitewater world, decisions and actions need critically an authentic place to work from. That is your base of operation.

This is a different world — a world where skills matter, tools matter, but expertise and authenticity are also required. It’s a world with powerful tools galore and immense opportunities available only if you are willing to unleash your imagination and invoke your skills.

Indeed, for me, the whitewater kayaking metaphor calls forth a set of quotes that help orient me in these whitewater times.

The first is from Arthur Schopenhauer and concerns the key to innovation: “Thus, the task is not so much to see what no one yet has seen, but to think what nobody yet has thought about that which everybody sees.” Schopenhauer died in 1860 but that thought is perhaps even more important today than it was 150 years ago. Just consider, for example Uber, a company that was just valued at $50 billion.

The second thought I want to share concerns the authentic role of technology: “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” Technology in service of life and woven into it: this is a powerful image.

That’s from my friend Mark Weiser, the founder of the ubiquitous computing movement who died of cancer at too early an age.

And from the Imitation Game, the recent film about Alan Turing: “Sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of who will do the things that no one can imagine.” Beautifully said by Turing (or at least by Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie). Turing lived a turbulent but authentic life. He did the things that no one could imagine because of his ability to see and sense something no one else could, and because of his authenticity and uncompromising nature.

And finally, let me share a quote I try to live by in today’s world of extreme information overload:

John Ruskin, in On Seeing Clearly, wrote:

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw in a plain way. Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see! To see clearly is poetry, prophecy and possibility — all in one.

I would encourage you to look deeply at the world around you as you engage in your future. Look deeply in the flows, the ripples and the rapids. Look deeply and see clearly. I encourage you to find, nurture and strive for the authentic version of yourself. Because it is that authentic version that something will continue to evolve from. Embrace the endless possibilities within the whitewater world. Thank you, and may you have a prosperous life.

John Seely Brown is a frequent participant in Communications and Society Program roundtables and other activities at the Aspen Institute. To read more on Innovation, and whitewater learning environments, see and He would like to acknowledge poetic and editorial help from Ann Pendelton-Jullian, his co-author on the forthcoming book “Design Unbound: Designing for Emergence in a Whitewater World.”

WATCH: Healing the Racial Divide

This post originally appeared on the Aspen Institute Blog. Written by Mary Cappabianca.

Above, watch a playlist of videos from each panel from the Community Dialogue on Healing the Racial Divide.

The Aspen Institute Community Dialogue on Healing the Racial Divide gathered this week in St. Louis, MO, in the aftermath of conflicts in nearby Ferguson to talk about the relationship between local communities and the police, methods to close the achievement gap between white and black students, and the role of new media during periods of racial unrest. Following three compelling panel discussions, participants created action items to tackle these significant issues and help close the racial divide.

Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson opened the day, marking it as a watershed moment for the city. He said, looking back, we’ll say, “St. Louis saw Ferguson as an opportunity to figure out how we can work together and overcome this problem. I think St. Louis could possibly become the model for how we get ourselves out of [the segregation and racial unrest] that has been happening over the last few centuries.”

“The police profession is to be a guardian of community,” said high school student and activist Clifton Kinnie. “But there’s been a divide between them and the youth. When race, power, and ego collide, that’s when you have people abusing their power.”

Kinnie joined a panel about law enforcement with NPR’s Michel Martin, Missouri Fraternal Order of Police’s Kevin Ahlbrand , and former St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief Daniel Isom. Kinnie proposed one solution to bridging the divide between black youth and police: a voluntary youth board to work together with police in the community.

A panel about reporting on Ferguson brought together viewpoints from traditional and new media.

“In social media, we got to be the storytellers and express the pain we had been feeling for a long time,” explained DeRay Mckesson, founder and co-editor of the Ferguson Protester newsletter. The panel also featured St. Louis Post-Dispatch editor Gilbert Bailon, St. Louis Public Radio host Don Marsh, and CNN national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

Dr. Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of the Jennings School District, shared a story about leading her students in a sit-in. One of her recommendations for helping schools close the racial divide is to engage students in discussions about race. “Social justice and dismantling racism should be talked about all the time in the classroom,” she said.

Another local superintendent, Dr. Kelvin Adams of the St. Louis Public School District, said his dream to solve inequalities in education is to automatically enroll high school graduates in higher education. “You automatically go to middle school and high school; what if every kid was pre-enrolled in college?”

Watch the full discussions from the day in the video playlist above to get the full story about these ideas and more. And tell us in the comments below, what’s your proposal for a way to heal the racial divide?

Libraries of the Digital Future

Post originally appeared on the Aspen Institute Blog. Written by Reed Hundt.


This morning the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vastly expanded and re-defined the purpose of the E-Rate — the name of the funding program used by the FCC to guarantee that every student and teacher in every classroom and every user of every library can enjoy free Internet access with the reliability and speed available to businesses and residential consumers.

The FCC increased five-year spending from $12 billion to more than $20 billion. This increase was long overdue. Even as the entire society and economy has come to depend on broadband access, the FCC has not raised its E-Rate funding since the Clinton Administration.

Special attention for libraries under the E-Rate got a rocket boost at the Aspen Institute Dialogue on the Future of Libraries, convened in Aspen, CO, in August 2013. After a year and a half of thought, study, and action, the result is that the FCC has approximately tripled the amount of funding for free Internet access for desktop computers and any mobile device brought into public libraries.

If libraries take advantage of the new funding, which exceeds $1 billion over five years, they will bolster their role as the number one free public access point for the Internet in civic society. For after-school children, seniors, people on tight budgets, Americans with and without citizenship — in short, for everyone in our country — libraries now can provide robust, high-speed, safe, reliable access to the digital world.

The largest library systems, those that serve more than two-thirds of all library patrons, have been awarded an enhanced funding level for wireless access. This bump up reflects the importance of library Wi-Fi networks for the millions of Americans who bring their own smartphones, tablets, and notebooks to libraries to get unlimited high speed Internet access. The Urban Libraries Council, the nonprofit that the law firm of Skadden, Arpsand I represented pro bono at the FCC, is especially delighted that the FCC carved out this bonus funding opportunity.

The libraries of America will need to rise to the occasion presented by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and his colleagues. They will need to adopt the most efficient contracting processes. They need to act on a vision of connection among all library and school buildings. They will want to expedite the great transition from analog book lending to digital information creation and sharing. They must find local and state government leaders to give them the matching grants required by the FCC.

But the FCC’s bold, far-sighted reform beckons libraries, as well as schools, into a major step toward creating digital opportunity equally available to everyone in society.

Many thanks to the Aspen Institute for instigating this conversation two summers ago; many kudos to all who have pursued the cause since then.

Reed Hundt is a member of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries Working Group. Hundt oversaw the creation of the E-rate program during his tenure as chairman of the FCC from 1993-1997.