Digital Beat Blog

Here Benton Foundation Chairman and CEO Charles Benton and others offer their unique perspective on communications policy. We invite you to read and comment on these original posts, start by registering for a benton.org account.


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Better Communities through Better Broadband: A Coalition of Public and Private Interests Affirms the Need for Local Internet Choice

For true believers in the power of broadband, it has been quite a week in Washington. Consider that the President came out in favor of local decision-making on broadband. Or that Sen. Cory Booker and some of his Senate colleagues have just introduced a strong bill (the Community Broadband Act) affirming the right of local governments to undertake broadband projects. Or that the FCC has the issue of local Internet choice on its agenda—and is poised to take a significant stand in February.

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What We Learned About Network Neutrality This Week

“I intend to protect a free and open Internet,” President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 20. For many that was a clear, albeit truncated, reiteration of his statement in November 2014 calling on the Federal Communications Commission to “create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online.” In November, the President asked the FCC to “reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.”

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the State of the Union

President Barack Obama will deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 20. But a funny thing happened in the run up to the speech: the President delivered all the punchlines. Well, maybe not all the punchlines and, for thems that watch telecommunications policy, it wasn’t all that funny. You see, as the New York Times pointed out, presidents typically keep State of the Union proposals secret until the last minute, hoping to maximize the political power of the speech. But the White House decided to reverse that strategy, rolling out proposals in the hope of building momentum for the address. And, as it turned out, a key issue the White House decided to focus on this week is the future of the Internet.

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From the Early Adopter’s Dilemma to the Game of Gigs: Building the Information Rich Commons

It is an honor to kick off this First Gigabit City Summit. The arc of history is long but every now and then, its curve steepens and you can see the actual moment, not just the gradual sweep, of change. We are at such a moment. It entails the creation of a new commons—an information rich commons—that will define a generation of cities.

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Say Hello to the New Boss

Happy 114th Congress! On January 6th, the new Congress was sworn into office. Just who are these people are what will they do to impact our communications future? Well, we’re glad you asked.

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Chairman’s Year End Message 2014

I believe deeply that our media and telecommunications can and must serve the public interest and enhance our democracy. On this bedrock faith, the Benton Foundation seeks policy solutions that support the values of access, diversity and equity; demonstrates the value of media and telecommunications for improving the quality of life for all; and provides informational resources to policymakers and advocates to inform communications policy debates. Our overarching goal is to close the digital divide and support digital inclusion, so the most vulnerable populations can participate fully in a diverse media system and in our democracy. With this goal in mind, here are the areas the foundation devoted ourselves to this year.

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The Biggest FCC Vote Ever

We start off the new year with the good news that the Federal Communications will likely vote on net neutrality at its late February meeting. So we might—just might—be on the cusp of a decision to reverse the disastrous misclassification of broadband that the FCC made in 2002 for cable modem and a couple of years later for the rest of telecommunications.

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The Sale of the Century? How the FCC Plans to Sell Off Part of the TV Band

In the Public Safety and Spectrum Act of 2012 (enacted as Title VI of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, Public Law 112-96), Congress authorized the Federal Communications Commission to recover and auction a significant portion of the spectrum currently used by television broadcasters. This will be - by far - the most complex auction process ever undertaken anywhere, for any commodity, and poses unprecedented legal, political, engineering and technological questions. The auction is currently scheduled to take place in early 2016.

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A Year in Review (and a Look Ahead): Time for Lifeline Reform

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has been on the job for just over a year. And with 2014 coming to a close, we look back at the accomplishments of the FCC in his first year. Today we look at the FCC’s Lifeline program which provides discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible low-income subscribers.

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A Year in Review: Bringing Big Broadband to Better Education

On December 11, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission completed a comprehensive reform of the E-rate program, the nation’s largest program supporting education technology. Mandated by Congress in 1996 and implemented by the FCC in 1997, the E-rate provides discounted telecommunications, Internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries, funded by the Universal Service Fund (USF). Over the past year and a half, the FCC has been reviewing the program to ensure that our nation’s students and communities have access to high-capacity broadband connections that support digital learning while making sure that the program remains fiscally responsible and fair to the consumers and businesses that pay into the USF. The real work of modernizing the E-rate reaches back to the earliest days of the Obama Administration.

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Benton Foundation Applauds FCC’s Big Broadband Boost for Education

On December 11, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission improved education for all our young people by providing the tools to connect every school and library to high-capacity broadband -- and Wi-Fi connectivity that delivers critical education tools right to students’ desks. This is a huge win for U.S. education.

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A Book for Now

There is a great new book, just published, that I hope Chairman Tom Wheeler and his FCC colleagues will read before they vote on “net neutrality” early in the new year. The book is America’s Battle for Media Democracy: The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform. Victor Pickard, one of the brightest young media scholars in the communications firmament, is its author. He has mined a veritable mountain of records to compile an eye-opening story of the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the ongoing battle between media gatekeepers and public interest reformers. This is usable history—the best kind of history—showing that we have been at communications inflection points like this before and documenting what happens when we allow ourselves to get suckered down the wrong road. The wrong road is the one too often taken, Pickard shows, in spite of reformers and, occasionally, even a heroic FCC.

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A Year in Review: The FCC and the U.S. Phone Transition (Part II)

In part I of this article, we looked at the Federal Communications Commission's fast start under Chairman Tom Wheeler to address the transition of the phone system from traditional, landline service over copper wires to a broadband- and wireless-based system. With other issues pressing for attention at the FCC, momentum slowed during the summer of 2014.

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A Year in Review: The FCC and the U.S. Phone Transition

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has been on the job for just over a year. And with 2014 coming to a close, we look back at the accomplishments of the FCC in his first year. One of the great challenges the FCC faces in coming months and years -- and which Wheeler recognized during his confirmation -- is guiding the transformation of the U.S. telephone system. This is no small task. The U.S. system is, perhaps, the best in the world, encompasses 1.5 billion miles of wire and some 120 million phones. And despite its great complexity, it has operated with near-perfect reliability for some 125 years through snow and rain and heat and gloom of night. The challenge now is to ensure the phone system can work just as well as it moves from an analog, circuit-switched network to a digital, packet-switched network.

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Congress and the FCC: An Uneasy Relationship

President Barack Obama’s recent statement urging Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to “reclassify” broadband Internet services has exposed many people to something they haven’t had reason to think about: the FCC is an independent agency, not truly part of the Executive Branch. Actually, the FCC is in some ways more nearly akin to an arm of the Congress, and exercises quasi-legislative powers when it adopts rules implementing the Communications Act. The relationship between the FCC and the Executive Branch is a worthy topic to explore, but in light of the recent Republican takeover of the Senate, this post will address the relationship between the FCC and Congress. Apart from the power to legislate, Congress has several means of influencing actions of the FCC.

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The Internet's Future is Now

So 2014 will pass into history without the Federal Communications Commission stepping up to the plate to ensure an Open Internet. Think of the good history the Commission could have made for itself. Instead we got more delay and more uncertainty about whether Title II net neutrality will ever see the light of day.

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Bringing Lifeline into the 21st Century

Last week, Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn outlined five principles to bring the Lifeline program, which subsidizes phone service for low-income Americans, into the broadband age. The principles focus on two things we all care about. First, they call for the FCC to improve how the program functions so that more funds go to those who need it, while lessening administrative burden on the companies that provide the benefit to eligible consumers. Second, the principles provide a vision of what consumers and taxpayers get in return. In Commissioner Clyburn’s words: “Broadband is the greatest equalizer of our time.”

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Who Will We Leave Behind?

One of the most important challenges of our generation is to ensure that every child in every classroom has a chance to succeed and win in the global economy. Poverty, discrimination, isolation and ignorance hold our country back. But investments in education, infrastructure and technology spur economic growth, creating more good jobs and wealth for all of us. It is in our national interest to ensure that every child — no matter who they are, no matter what they look like, no matter where they come from — has the opportunity to succeed. New research finds that just 34% of K-12 students in public schools attend schools where Internet speeds are 100 Mbps or more. One in five (20%) students attends schools with Internet speeds of only 10 Mbps or less.

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President Obama's Plan for a Free and Open Internet

Normally on Fridays, Kevin Taglang wraps up the top news of the week. But Kevin’s away so we thought we’d give you the you the big news straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. On Monday, President Barack Obama laid out his plan to ensure a free and open Internet through the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality. As Sen Ed Markey tweeted, “When the leader of the free world says the #Internet should remain free, that’s a game changer.”

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Yes, Elections Matter

A look at 2014 election results and what they mean for communications policy.

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