Aspen Tech Policy Hub Demo Day: Equipping Vulnerable Communities for 21st Century Needs

March 15, 2022  • Aspen Tech Policy Hub

Households across the country are facing more complex digital needs than ever before. As schools make greater use of educational technology tools, students are exposed to widespread data collection without adequate protection. As remote learning becomes increasingly common, access to reliable home internet connection is a necessity. As cities move towards more sustainable energy models, citizens will be left with higher electric bills. How can we ensure that vulnerable communities are prepared for these modern challenges? 

Three Fall 2021 Hub Fellows presented their innovative policy ideas focused on “Equipping Vulnerable Communities for 21st Century Needs.” Following the presentations of the projects, Nick Sinai, Senior Advisor at Insight Partners and former US Deputy Chief Technology Officer, gave further remarks.

The projects presented were: 

Advancing Students’ Digital Rights Today, more students are online than ever before, with digital footprints being created for them as early as the prenatal stage of their lives. Without comprehensive student data protections, educational technology increasingly exposes students to data mining practices that could limit their access to future opportunities. School-issued device monitoring softwares and edtech data collection practices disproportionately impact students of color and students from low-income communities. To redress these harms, Fellow Alija Blackwell recommended a cross-sector plan for building more comprehensive student data protections.

Edtech Access for All Students Students are in dire need of a broadband infrastructure upgrade. As the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare, access to quality broadband service at home is a baseline necessity for education. While several industry programs have emerged to help disconnected households get online, Fellow Sage Salvo recommended the creation of a new position within public school systems, the Community Youth Broadband Technicians, to offer dedicated tech support. 

Energy Storage for Low-Income Communities Low-income Angelenos struggle with financial and energy insecurity. As Los Angeles pushes to decarbonize its power grid by 2035, these residents will contend with higher electricity rates as well. While the City has many tools at its disposal to tackle affordability, one tool is relatively unexplored: energy storage. Deploying energy storage within communities can reduce monthly bills, protect residents during blackouts, and eliminate expensive grid upgrades. In light of these benefits, Fellow Dillon Cruz presented key recommendations for the the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to reduce the energy burden on disadvantaged communities.

This conversation was part of our Demo Day Series running in February and March 2022. Please see below for other events in this series.