Category: Opinion

ViewPoint: Accurate data essential to improving broadband access in rural areas

By Johnathan Hladik, Center for Rural Affairs
The Pew Research Center finds that only 63 percent of rural Americans have a broadband internet connection at home, and 24 percent of rural adults consider access to high speed internet a major problem in their community.
Recent policy developments are designed to address this. But, will they be enough?
In July, the Federal Communications Commission established the Digital Opportunity Data Collection program. This program will collect broadband access data at the address level, and use those results to direct funding meant to fill “gaps” in coverage. This is a big improvement over the current Census block approach, which causes dramatic overstatements of coverage.
While the commission has agreed to collect better data, they are leaving it up to the states to make sure that data is accurate. This is where you come in.
The most cost effective way to verify broadband access data is through crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing allows citizens to run their own internet speed tests, measure provider performance, and file formal complaints. But, right now, there are dozens of speed tests available, and no clear way to measure and report performance.
This problem is easy to solve. Each state should develop a data improvement program that helps citizens participate in the verification process. This simple, low-cost solution can pay big dividends in rural homes and businesses.
Many states already feature robust programs. Others must get started. As legislative sessions begin around the country, we encourage lawmakers to take seriously their role in improving broadband in rural areas.

Consumer Counselor – January 22, 2020

How to extend the life of your smartphone
Smartphones have become an essential part of everyday life for millions of people across the globe, and the cost of these devices reflects just how integral they have become. Consumer survey data from the market research and consulting firm Parks Associates found that, between 2014 and 2018, the average price paid by United States broadband households for their most recently purchased smartphone more than doubled, increasing from $258 in 2014 to $528 in 2018.
As smartphones have become more expensive, it’s understandable that their owners have become more concerned with extending the life expectancies of their phones. Extending the life of a smartphone can be tricky, as routine operating system updates can affect device performance. Avoiding software updates can help users overcome that problem, and there are many additional strategies to extend the life of a smartphone.
Remove unused apps. Many smartphones come with built-in apps, some of which users may never open. These apps, even if they are not being used, still take up valuable storage space on a phone. As storage space dwindles, phones may experience lag times that compromise performance and frustrate users. By removing apps they don’t use, users can reduce the likelihood of lag times and keep their phones running more effectively for longer periods of time. In addition, users can improve performance by removing apps they use sparingly and simply reinstalling them when the need arises.
Protect the phone’s exterior. Damage is another factor that can shorten the life expectancy of a phone. Broken screens can render phones useless or very difficult to use, and few users want to pay the cost of replacing a screen, especially when their phones are more than a year old. Tempered glass protectors can reduce the likelihood of cracked or damaged screens, and such items are inexpensive, especially when compared to the cost of a new phone or new screen.
Use cloud storage. Many smartphones and/or phone plans now include cloud storage as part of the package users pay for. Cloud storage can be useful for users who take lots of photos, allowing them to save their photos onto the cloud and remove them from the phone’s memory, thereby making the phone run more smoothly and efficiently, regardless of its age. If a plan does not include cloud storage, users can purchase their own for as little as a couple of dollars per month.
Protect the charging port. Dust in phone charging ports is a common problem for many smartphone users. A dust-filled charging port can make it hard to charge the phone, essentially rendering it useless. Compressed air can be used to clean ports of dust. Users can be proactive and clean the ports routinely with compressed air, or even cover charging ports with small pieces of tape when the phones aren’t being charged.
Smartphones are significant investments. A few simple strategies can help users protect their smartphone investments so the devices last longer.

District 72 Update

By Representative Dean Fisher
Newsletter for January 7, 2020
The 2020 session will begin on Monday, January 13. This is the second year of the 88th General Assembly in Iowa.
The Iowa House will be electing new leadership this coming session. Speaker Select Pat Grassley will officially be elected Speaker on the first day of session and Rep. Matt Windschitl will be taking over as the new Majority Leader for the House Republicans. I have worked with Rep. Grassley and Rep. Windschitl over the years and I have the utmost confidence in their leadership abilities.
The Iowa House will be convening with a Republican majority of 53, and 47 Democrats. With a requirement of 51 votes to pass any piece of legislation, it is therefore imperative that the House Republicans stand together on every bill we bring forward.
I will be continuing on as Chair of the House Environmental Protection Committee, and will also continue on as a member of the Public Safety, Commerce, and Natural Resources committees. A change for this year is that I will now be a member of the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee.
Some of the issues that are already being discussed include the budget, education, pro-life legislation, and of course much more. The budget is always a major effort. There are seven budget subcommittees that develop their portion of the budget using targets set by the overall Appropriations Committee. We finished the 2019 fiscal year with a surplus, and anticipate a surplus at the end of 2020 also. The budget estimates are on target to show some modest growth in revenue. However, we anticipate that Medicaid will gobble up a significant portion of that growth.
One of the key issues for me this session will be the passage of a constitutional amendment that specifies that the right to an abortion does not exist in the Iowa Constitution. The Iowa Supreme Court, using seriously flawed legal arguments, determined that the Iowa Constitution guarantees a right to an abortion, even though it clearly does not. They then used this flawed argument to strike down the three day waiting period for an abortion and the Heartbeat bill that prevented an abortion after a baby’s heartbeat is detected.
The issue of Mental Health has also been a hot topic at meetings I’ve had with school administrators, county supervisors, and Farm Bureau boards. The Legislature over the last two sessions has addressed this issue by providing for Mental Health Access Centers and by initiating the creation of a statewide framework for children’s mental health. Currently, much of our mental health system is funded through property taxes at the county level via a per person assessment that is capped at $47.28 per person. This funding mechanism is likely to be reviewed this session.
Education funding for our public k-12 schools has also been discussed. There are those that are claiming that education funding has been cut over the last few years. These claims are completely false. Education funding has risen by $864 million since 2011, a significant increase. And most importantly, the Legislature has kept its promise by not only approving the increase in spending authority, but also provided the promised increase in the actual budget. Prior to 2011 when the Democrats controlled the Legislature this was not the case, they frequently passed spending authority increases while cutting the actual funds sent to the schools. Additional discussions this year will likely center around transportation funding assistance for our rural schools and equalization of the per student amount schools receive.
This is just a sample of what is before us in the weeks and months ahead as the session gets underway.

ViewPoint: AEA Scout provides students, families peace of mind in researching online information

By Cari Teske, Central Rivers Area Education Agency
A new online research tool, known as AEA Scout, has been launched by Iowa’s Area Education Agencies (AEAs) and ensures that students and families have access to trusted online resources in one location.
AEA Scout is an online portal that provides access to many of the digital resources provided by Iowa’s AEAs including AEA Digital Library, American History in Video, Encyclopedia Britannica, Gale, Learn 360, Mackin VIA, PBS Learning Media, SIRS Researcher, and Teen Health & Wellness. Initially, fifth through twelfth grade students will benefit from a one-stop-shop for their research needs, and teachers and parents can rest easy knowing their students are searching the quality content they’ve come to know and trust.
With AEA Scout, students have the ability to dig deeper in their quest for information. A wide variety of sources of information in multiple formats will be at their fingertips. This new way of information gathering also encourages students’ curiosity and builds a foundation for lifelong learning.
All of the searchable content found within AEA Scout is recognized by reputable publishers and producers and includes access to videos, articles, documents, ebooks, audiobooks, photos, charts, graphs and more. The more students search, the smarter and more customized the results become. The system also suggests materials based on usage and interest and allows students to create a folder for each class or assignment. Teachers can share resources and notes with specific students and both students and teachers can highlight, underline, take and share notes in one place. The system will also translate text to different languages, read aloud most digital text, and provide closed-captioned.
Individual access is still available for the following digital resources that currently aren’t integrated into AEA Scout. Visit your AEA’s website or Iowa’s AEAs website at iowaaea.org for these great resources:
CultureGrams
iClipArt for Schools
Soundzabound
BookFLIX
TrueFLIX
FreedomFLIX
ScienceFLIX
TeachingBooks.net
To learn more about AEA Scout, including how to access it for your K-12 student, please reach out to one of your Central Rivers AEA teacher librarians:
Cari Teske
cteske@centralriversaea.org
Cheryl Roberson
croberson@centralriversaea.org

Consumer Counselor – January 15, 2020

The different types of bird feeders
Birds are big business. That may come as a surprise to people who have never given much thought to the warm-blooded vertebrates who fly over their heads every day, but tens of millions of people have a passion for birds.
A 2016 survey from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service found that more than 45 million people in the United States watch birds around their homes and away from home every year. While statistics aren’t as current in Canada as they are in the United States, past studies have indicated birding is wildly popular among Canadians, with roughly 30 percent going wildlife-viewing while on out-of-town trips of one or more nights. That positively affects the economy, contributing billions of dollars to the tourism industry in both the U.S. and Canada every year.
While birding trips can help birdwatching enthusiasts see birds they otherwise may never see in person, bird feeders can be a great way to bring more birds into your own backyard. Choice of bird feeder can affect just which birds come to your back yard, and the following are some bird feeder options for birding enthusiasts to consider.
Window feeders: Small and easily attached to windows with suction cups, window feeders are easy to maintain and bring birds right to your window. Birds that visit window feeders stand in the seed while feeding, so they must be cleaned and refilled on a daily basis.
Tray or platform feeders: The online birding resource All About Birds (allaboutbirds.org) notes that tray feeders attract the widest variety of seed-eating feeder birds. That makes them ideal for birding enthusiasts who want to attract a variety of birds to their properties. Tray feeders are simply platforms that hold seed and provide a place for birds to stand while they eat. All About Birds recommends tray feeders with screened, rather than solid, bottoms, as these trays promote complete drainage. Frequent cleaning is necessary with tray feeders, as bird droppings can quickly soil seed.
Hopper or house feeders: These feeders are enclosed and feed seed out through the bottom. Hopper feeders are great for people who don’t want to be bother with daily maintenance, as they can hold several pounds of food at one time, greatly reducing the number of times homeowners will need to refill them. In addition, hopper feeders don’t need to be cleaned as often as other feeders. However, All About Birds notes that hopper feeders, which need to be thoroughly cleaned roughly once per month, are harder to clean than other feeders.
Tube feeders: Tube feeders deliver seeds to birds through screens or ports. Small perches attract birds to tube feeders, making these ideal for small birds. Some tube feeders contain perches designed for birds that can feed upside down, potentially attracting a greater variety of birds to your backyard. But All About Birds notes that seed can collect on bottom-most feeding ports, providing a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. As a result, tube feeders should be inspected and cleaned regularly.
Bird feeders can draw an array of birds to your backyard.

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