Press Release Archives

Benton Foundation Welcomes Administration's Broadband Action Plan

On September 21, 2015, the Broadband Opportunity Council released a report and recommendations on how Federal agencies can work to expand broadband deployment and adoption by addressing regulatory barriers and encouraging investment and training. The following may be attributed to Benton Foundation Director of Policy Amina Fazlullah:

At a time when more than 25 percent of U.S. households still do not subscribe to broadband, the Benton Foundation welcomes the Obama Administration’s full-court press approach to narrowing digital divides based on geography, income and other demographics factors. Seniors, people with disabilities, those with less than a high school degree, and people with low income levels are missing out on the unprecendent growth and innovation that broadband enables in the economy, healthcare and education. We look forward to working with the Administration over the coming months in implementing the Council’s recommendations and reaching our shared goals of universally available, affordable, and accessible broadband.

Benton Foundation Celebrates the Life of Reverend Everett C. Parker

Reverend Everett C. Parker, director of the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ from 1954 until 1983, died on September 17, 2015. Parker played a critical role in the development of public interest of American television. His leadership led to the development of an influential media reform and citizen action movement in broadcasting; and his activism directed at improved broadcast employment prospects for women and minorities. The following statement may be attributed to Benton Foundation Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss:

“All of us at the Benton Foundation are saddened by the news of Rev Parker’s passing. His work inspires us, the public interest community, and all advocates for a better world. His mission, shared by the Benton Foundation, is to give help to people who are voiceless, so that they may be heard. In 2012, our founder, Charles Benton, received the Everett C. Parker Award in recognition of his many years of leadership and support for promoting the public interest in traditional and digital media. In accepting the award, Charles highlighted three lessons from Rev Parker’s life that serve for a model for us at the foundation: 1) The work has to be driven by an ethic. 2) You need patience; it takes a while to accomplish things. 3) Don’t be afraid of difficult challenges. We are thankful for these lessons today and embrace them as we endeavor to carry on Rev Parker’s work for years to come.”

Please also see:

Finding Your Voice” by Charles Benton (30th Annual Everett C. Parker Ethics in Telecommunications Award)
Reform: The Everett Parker Way” by former FCC Chairman Michael Copps

Benton Tells FCC: Use Lifeline to Make Broadband More Affordable

In comments filed at the Federal Communications Commission on August 31, the Benton Foundation said that broadband service is crucial to full participation in our society and economy which are increasingly dependent upon the rapid exchange of information. In its filing, Benton focuses on the potential benefits of broadband for low-income consumers, especially ones that have: a) schoolchildren, b) unemployed or underemployed adults, c) people with disabilities, and d) people affected by illnesses.

“By making broadband more affordable for low-income consumers through its Lifeline program,” said Benton’s Director of Policy, Amina Fazlullah, “the FCC will help facilitate better connections within these people’s communities, and to the world.”

Benton asks the FCC to establish minimum service standards for Lifeline voice, text messaging and broadband services with two main goals: 1) to ensure Lifeline recipients receive services that facilitate meaningful, functional use, and 2) to afford adaptability for the different needs of Lifeline-eligible populations in different geographical areas and markets. In setting the standards, Benton says, the FCC should encourage competition and consumer choice for both voice and broadband service wherever possible. When setting minimum service standards for broadband, the FCC must discourage providers from rolling out wired or wireless services that include data caps, Benton says, due to their pernicious effects on low-income households. Data caps often come with hidden financial costs that confuse consumers and potentially bump up their bills in unforeseen ways.

Benton also suggests that the FCC allow non-traditional providers -- such as small and community-based broadband providers, wireless Internet service providers (WISPs), and anchor institutions like schools and libraries -- to participate in Lifeline to increase competition and innovation in the market. And, as recommended in the National Broadband Plan, the FCC should consider free or very low-cost wireless broadband as a means to address the affordability barrier to adoption.

See Benton's filing

Benton Responds to Latest Tech Transitions Actions by FCC

On August 6, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules aimed at protecting consumers through the transitions from legacy copper networks. The following may be attributed to Benton Foundation Policy Director Amina Fazlullah:

The Benton Foundation salutes the FCC’s progress on protecting consumers as the networks they have relied upon for phone service have transitioned from traditional copper to fiber broadband. And we are pleased the FCC is moving forward to clarify reporting requirements. Giving consumers notice and information about network transitions helps consumers prepare for the change in service. We are also pleased that the FCC has opened up a FNPRM on the issue of functionality and metrics to assess changes or losses in functionality.

But we are concerned about the FCC's approach to battery backup. Merely providing consumers information and an option to purchase a battery is a significant shift in burden. In the past, consumers have never had to think about maintaining a backup system and now both the cost and the maintenance have been shifted to the individual consumer. For vulnerable populations – especially seniors and low income households -- the cost of battery backup may be out of reach, putting these households in danger of losing access to emergency responders during a power outage. We urge the FCC to develop a stronger, consumer-focused approach to the issue of battery backup.

Benton Welcomes New Benton Faculty Research Fellow Dr. Colin Rhinesmith

The Benton Foundation named Dr. Colin Rhinesmith the new Benton Faculty Research Fellow. In this role, Dr Rhinesmith will conduct original Benton research as well as advise the foundation on new research opportunities. In his first project for Benton, Dr Rhinesmith is conducting a study of low-cost Internet and digital literacy training programs in low-income communities across the U.S. The goal of the study is to provide data and outcomes-based measures that can be useful to policymakers, Internet service providers, and other digital inclusion stakeholders, particularly as the Federal Communications Commission and Congress seek to reform the Universal Service Fund.

"At a time when federal regulators are considering addressing the digital divide by refocusing the FCC’s Lifeline program," said Benton Foundation Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss, "Benton is investing in research to support data-driven policy decisions rather than divisive ‘Obamaphone’-type rhetoric. We need the best thinking to reach and connect those who have yet to embrace the Internet."

Dr. Rhinesmith is also working with Benton Fellow Raphael Leung to compile research resources on the impact effects of broadband availability on vulnerable communities. A fall 2015 report will look at the need for robust broadband among low-income communities and address what the minimum services standards should be for low-income telecommunications programs.

"I am honored to be affiliated with the Benton Foundation as a Faculty Research Fellow," said Dr. Rhinesmith. "For the past 13 years, I have followed the Foundation’s tireless efforts to create more equitable access to information and communication in the digital age. I look forward to working with the Benton Foundation as a researcher to help inform how policymakers and practitioners design, implement, and evaluate digital inclusion and broadband adoption strategies."

Dr. Rhinesmith is an Assistant Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Rhinesmith’s research investigates digital inclusion and broadband adoption. Recent research looks at how community anchor institutions, such as public libraries and community technology centers, promote digital inclusion through public access computing, home broadband access, and digital literacy training. Rhinesmith’s work has been published in the following journals and peer-reviewed conference proceedings: Government Information Quarterly; International Journal of Communication; Journal of Education for Library and Information Science; Community Informatics Research Network Conference Proceedings; and the Proceedings of the Association for Information Science and Technology.

Rhinesmith received his Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was an Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS)-funded Information in Society Fellow. He received his B.A. and M.A. in Media Studies from Emerson College in Boston, MA. Previously, Rhinesmith was a Google Policy Fellow and an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.

The Benton Foundation is a private operating foundation that works to ensure that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance our democracy. We pursue this mission by: 1) seeking policy solutions that support the values of access, diversity and equity; 2) demonstrating the value of media and telecommunications for improving the quality of life for all; and 3) providing information resources to policymakers and advocates to inform communications policy debates.

Benton Named Recipient of 2015 Community Broadband Award

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA) Board of Directors named Charles Benton the recipient of NATOA's 2015 Community Broadband Visionary Award to recognize Benton's lifetime of extraordinary support and advocacy for the development and proliferation of local community broadband systems.

In announcing the award, NATOA's board wrote: "Charles was an early and consistent champion for digital inclusion and municipal participation in broadband and he encouraged cities, many for the first time, to examine their role in promoting broadband."

"The Benton Foundation is honored to receive the 2015 Community Broadband Visionary Award on behalf of our founder, Charles Benton, who fervently believed that wise telecommunications policy can improve the quality of life for all," said Benton Foundation Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss. "We are carrying on his work, most recently through the publication of The Next Generation Connectivity Handbook: a Guide for Community Leaders Seeking Affordable Abundant Bandwidth, a comprehensive guide for communities who want better broadband for their residents and businesses. We trust this handbook will empower local leadership to improve broadband deployment and adoption in local communities nationwide."

The National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors is the premier local government professional association that provides support to our members on the many local, state, and federal communications laws, administrative rulings, judicial decisions, and technology issues impacting the interests of local governments.

The Benton Foundation works to ensure that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance our democracy. We pursue this mission by: 1) seeking policy solutions that support the values of access, diversity and equity; 2) demonstrating the value of media and telecommunications for improving the quality of life for all; and 3) providing information resources to policymakers and advocates to inform communications policy debates.

Contacts:
Steve Traylor
Executive Director/General Counsel
NATOA
703.519.8035

Adrianne Furniss
Executive Director
Benton Foundation
847.328.3049

Gig.U, Benton Foundation Give Community Leaders Roapmap for Getting Better, Faster, Cheaper Broadband


Groups release The Next Generation Connectivity Handbook: a guide for community leaders

Washington, DC - Gig. U and the Benton Foundation today published a comprehensive guide for communities who want better broadband for their residents and businesses. The Next Generation Connectivity Handbook: a Guide for Community Leaders Seeking Affordable Abundant Bandwidth builds on the experience of 25 Gig.U communities who have worked on this issue for many years and is an indispensable tool in lowering the initial, daunting information barrier for cities just beginning to navigate these critical Internet infrastructure issues.

“When we started Gig.U four years ago, there were few models for communities who wished to assure that bandwidth would not be a constraint to economic growth and social progress for their homes and enterprises,” said Blair Levin, a founder of Gig.U and one of the Handbook’s co-authors. “Thanks to the heroic efforts of leaders in a number of Gig.U and other communities, there are now numerous examples that create a map for those who wish to seek a similar advantage for their own community.”

The Handbook addresses the most common questions Gig.U received throughout its work with a wide variety of communities. It includes resources on topics such as economic impact, legal and financing issues, the trade-offs of different approaches, political challenges, and the core equation underlying the negotiating strategy with private parties.

“At the heart of the Handbook are two critical and related tasks for the city. First is understanding how a community’s practices affect the economics of deploying and operating next generation networks. Second is the task of organizing assets, practices and people to improve a community’s ability to negotiate with providers or build a network itself,” said Denise Linn, Gig.U’s former Harvard Ash Center Summer Fellow and a co-author of the Handbook.

“The wisdom Gig.U has gleaned by working with these communities, often in light of difficult odds, holds great promise for all who see affordable, abundant bandwidth as a necessity for communities to thrive in the global economy,” said Adrianne B. Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Foundation. “Here Gig.U provides a roadmap for community leaders who realize they must act now to stimulate new investments in 21st century information infrastructure. We thank Blair and Denise for dedicating the Handbook, in part, to our late founder, Charles Benton, who fervently believed that wise telecommunications policy can improve the quality of life for all.”

The book can be accessed online for free at www.benton.org/NextGenConnectivity or www.gig-u.org/NextGenConnectivity. Hard copies can be ordered through the Benton Foundation at https://www.benton.org/NextGenConnectivity.

About Gig.U and the Benton Foundation

Gig.U is a coalition of research university communities seeking to accelerate the deployment of next generation broadband networks to support economic growth and educational innovation. Information about the project, as well as links to resources in this handbook, can be found at gig-u.org.

The Benton Foundation works to ensure that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance our democracy. It pursues this mission by: 1) seeking policy solutions that support the values of access, diversity and equity; 2) demonstrating the value of media and telecommunications for improving the quality of life for all; and 3) providing information resources to policymakers and advocates to inform communications policy debates. For more information, visit benton.org.

Benton Foundation Elects Leonard J. Schrager New Chairman

On June 22, 2015, the Benton Foundation Board of Directors elected Leonard J. Schrager as the Foundation’s new chairman, succeeding founder Charles Benton who died earlier this year. Schrager has been a Benton Foundation trustee since its inception in 1981.

“I am honored that the Benton Foundation Board of Directors has selected me to oversee the legacy of my great friend, Charles Benton,” said Schrager. “I look forward to furthering Charles’ vision that media and telecommunications serve the public interest and enhance our democracy.”

Schrager has been a leader in the Chicago legal community for more than 30 years. He is a founder and former senior managing partner in the Chicago law firm of Sachnoff, Schrager, Jones, Weaver and Rubenstein, Ltd., now known as Reed Smith LLP. He has served as a hearing panel member for the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, and most recently has chaired the Judicial Performance Commission of Cook County, evaluating judges running for retention. Schrager was a Professor and Dean at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School and is now Dean Emeritus.

Throughout his career, Schrager has served the legal community and received many awards for promoting public interest law, and the values of pro-bono and public service in the legal profession. He is a past president of the Chicago Bar Association, the Chicago Bar Foundation, and the Center for Conflict Resolution, a past board member of the Lawyer’s Trust Fund, and has served on many other panels, commissions and committees, including the Special Commission to Study the Administration of Justice in the aftermath of the federal Greylord investigation. In 2011, he received the Ralph A. Gabric Lifetime Achievement Award from Coordinated Advice and Referral Program for Legal Services (CARPLS). The honor was presented to Schrager for his outstanding legal career and his many contributions to public interest law, legal education and mediation.

The Chicago Bar Foundation presents annually the Leonard Jay Schrager Award of Excellence, which recognizes exemplary attorneys in academia who have made significant and lasting contributions to improving access to justice for people who are challenged by poverty, abuse and discrimination.
Benton Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss welcomed Schrager’s new role with the Foundation. “Leonard’s long history with the Foundation and the Benton family makes him the ideal successor to my father, Charles. He has been a staunch supporter of the Foundation’s mission and agenda throughout his 34 years of service as Trustee.”

Benton Foundation Welcomes FCC Proceeding to Update Lifeline Program

On Thursday, June 18, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) launched a new proceeding to reform and modernize its Lifeline program with a refocus on broadband. The following statement can be attributed to Amina Fazlullah, the Director of Policy of the Benton Foundation:

The Benton Foundation applauds the FCC's move today to modernize its Lifeline program. This is an important step to provide low-income Americans with meaningful access to robust broadband.

Now, more so than ever before, broadband is a necessary requisite to partake in our democratic society. Vulnerable communities, many of which are already lagging behind in broadband adoption, need this support to meet their vital and basic communication needs. Only 48% of households making less than $25,000 income have broadband access. With substantial support for broadband services, a modernized Lifeline program will be great news for low-income consumers.

We look forward to engaging in the Lifeline debate and commend FCC Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel for their leadership on this issue.

Benton Welcomes Court Backing of FCC's Open Internet Order

On June 11, 2015, U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied a motion for stay filed by several broadband providers who oppose the Federal Communications Commission's Open Internet Order passed earlier this year. The following statement can be attributed to Benton Foundation Director of Policy Amina Fazlullah:

“The Benton Foundation welcomes the D.C. Circuit’s decision to decline staying the Open Internet Order passed by the FCC in February 2015. June 12 marks the first day the FCC’s rules -- the nation’s most strenuous network neutrality protections -- come into effect. Chairman Wheeler’s efforts to protect and promote an Open Internet are now officially grounded in the strongest legal foundation. The Internet facilitates the exercising of many indispensable civil liberties in the digital era. It must remain free and open. The D.C. Circuit’s ruling on the motion for stay is a victory for all consumers, content creators, and innovators.”