Press Release Archives

Benton Supports Lawmakers' Letter to FCC about Lifeline Program

Congressman Gregory W. Meeks and Congresswoman Gwen S. Moore led a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai expressing concern with recent changes to the Lifeline Program, which provides a modest monthly subsidy of $9.25 to connect low-income Americans to phone and internet service. Representatives Meeks and Moore issued the following statement regarding the letter, which was signed by 56 other House Democrats and supported by groups such as the Benton Foundation, the NAACP, Communications Workers of America, Public Knowledge, and many others.

Pai Lifeline Proposal is Sad for Anyone Who Believes in Truly Universal Service

Contact: Adrianne B. Furniss Pai Lifeline Proposal is Sad for Anyone Who Believes in Truly Universal Service Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed changes to the Lifeline program, which makes telecommunications services, including internet access, more affordable for low-income households. The following may be attributed to Benton Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss: Intended initially as a mechanism to reduce the cost of phone service for low-income customers, the bipartisan Lifeline program has worked in lockstep with telephone providers and consumers to increase the uptake in phone service throughout the country and has kept pace with changes in technology as the U.S. moved from a wireline world to one where the number of mobile devices and services now exceeds the population to a recognition that broadband internet is an essential communications service. Unfortunately, Chairman Pai’s proposal turns America’s back on our commitment, enshrined in law, to make sure world-class telecommunications are available and affordable for all. By nick and hack, Pai is gutting the only Universal Service Fund program that directly benefits consumers instead of carriers. His changes will mean fewer low-income households are served by fewer competitive options. At the very least, we hope that the FCC will take the time to do an economic analysis around the impact of the proposed changes. Many, many Lifeline recipients are U.S. veterans who fought for our flag. Chairman Pai appears to be waiving the white flag of surrender for their connected future. This is a sad day for anyone who believes in truly universal service.

Benton Asks FCC to Walk the First Amendment Talk When Considering Broadcast Ownership Rules

From the earliest days of broadcasting, federal regulation has sought to foster the provision of programming that meets local communities' needs and interests. The FCC’s rules have been rooted in the core values of localism, competition, and diversity. Any changes in FCC rules should be aimed at expanding the multiplicity of voices and choices that support our marketplace of ideas and that sustain American democracy and creativity.

Benton Foundation Saddened U.S. is Leaving UNESCO

Contact:
Adrianne B. Furniss
847-328-3040
[email protected]

Benton Foundation Saddened U.S. is Leaving UNESCO

The U.S. Department of State announced on October 12, 2017 that the United States will withdraw from the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The following statement may be attributed to Benton Foundation Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss:

Assistant Secretary of State William Benton, my grandfather, played an instrumental role in the creation of UNESCO in the wake of World War II and later served as United States Ambassador to UNESCO from 1963 to 1968. Benton realized that increased international understanding demanded that all people have access to modern means of mass communication, which, at the time, meant newspapers, radio, and motion pictures. The Benton-led American delegation to UNESCO’s charter conference wove Benton’s ideas into the fabric of UNESCO which aimed to facilitate continuous and close international contacts among scientists, teachers, and societies. UNESCO continues to work to ensure every child and citizen has access to quality education, lives in a cultural environment rich in diversity and dialogue, benefits from scientific advances, and enjoys full freedom of expression.

These aims are as important now as they were in 1945. The Benton Foundation and I are saddened that the U.S. is backing away from our ideals and international commitments.

Benton, a non-profit, operating foundation, believes that communications policy—rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity—has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities to bridge our divides.

Benton Welcomes New Fellows Jonathan Sallet and Denise Linn Riedl

Contact:
Adrianne B. Furniss
847-328-3040
[email protected]

Benton Welcomes New Fellows Jonathan Sallet and Denise Linn Riedl

Adrianne B. Furniss named two new Benton Fellows: former Federal Communications Commission General Counsel Jonathan Sallet and Denise Linn Riedl, Program Analyst for Smart Chicago Collaborative.

Furniss said, “Since 1981, Benton has supported legal and policy experts who preserve and strengthen the public benefits of America’s communications environment, who can nourish and protect democratic values, and who can communicate to the public why this all matters. Denise and Jon will help ensure that more people will participate in the network revolution that is transforming society – and that traditional American values like access, diversity, and equity are upheld in the Digital Age.”

As a Benton Fellow and a civic-driven technology professional with diverse experiences in telecommunications policy and planning, Denise Linn Riedl will write and speak about broadband, digital inclusion, and emerging smart city technologies. She is the co-author, with Blair Levin (the architect of the National Broadband Plan), of The Next Generation Network Connectivity Handbook: A Guide for Community Leaders Seeking Affordable, Abundant Bandwidth, published by the Benton in December 2016.

"I am honored to be selected as a Benton Fellow and help forward important conversations at the intersection of technology, infrastructure, and inclusion," said Riedl. "While the Internet of Things, advanced wireless networks, and other smart city technologies hold so much promise, their deployment also comes with equity and civic engagement challenges. I look forward to highlighting the work of innovative institutions across the country tackling these timely challenges."

As a Benton Senior Fellow, Jon Sallet will write, speak and focus on policies to preserve and protect internet openness, to advance competition more broadly, including through antitrust, and to support FCC actions to protect privacy, security, and broadband deployment. Sallet is a former FCC General Counsel/Acting General Counsel (2013-2016), and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Litigation, Antitrust Division, US Department of Justice (2016-2017). He is currently a partner at Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington, DC.

"Consumers rely on communications networks every day, all day long. The Benton Foundation has long emphasized the importance of broadband in the public interest and I'm honored to be able to contribute to that work," said Sallet.

Benton Welcomes Full FCC

Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr were sworn in today as commissioners at the Federal Communications Commission. The following may be attributed to Benton Foundation Executive Director Adrianne B. Furniss:

The Benton Foundation congratulates Commissioners Rosenworcel and Carr as they begin their terms on the Federal Communications Commission. They both bring a wealth of experience to the challenges and opportunities facing the FCC.

Although the ways we communicate appear to change daily, the public interest principles enshrined in our communications laws remain paramount – robust and affordable wired and wireless service available to everyone, everywhere in the United States. As we embrace Internet-based communications and all the innovation it delivers, Benton looks forward to working with Commissioners Rosenworcel and Carr to promote broadband deployment and close the Digital Divide, while protecting consumers, innovation, and competition.

Trumping Academic Legitimacy in Push for Telecom Deregulation

Professors Jeff Pooley and Dwayne Winseck examine claims that the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission failed to ground its regulations in economic reasoning – and find the idea preposterous. What they unearth instead is AT&T-sponsored ‘research’ -- and Pooley and Winseck show how the FCC has been working in earnest to bolster, not sideline, economic analysis.

Instead of a rebuttal, Pooley and Winseck, the University of Southern California, and the International Journal of Communication have received legal threats from AT&T-backed CALinnovates.

See Information Laundering, Economists and Ajit Pai’s Race to Roll-Back the Obama-era FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules at https://www.benton.org/blog/information-laundering-economists-and-ajit-pais-race-roll-back-obama-era-fccs-net-neutrality

Lifeline Advocates Urge FCC Chairman Pai to Stand by his First Statements as Chairman and Safeguard the only Federal Program Targeting the Digital Divide

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, June 29, 2017
Contact: Jackeline Stewart at [email protected] or Karley Kranich at [email protected], 202-448-0239

The Lifeline program gives affordable access to broadband and telephone services in rural and urban areas alike. It provides a lifeline for working families to employment opportunities, elderly people to health care, veterans to critical services, children to education and everyone to 911. Low-income households across the country should not be punished for recently discovered discrepancies that do not reflect the behavior of the vast majority of program participants. The following are statements from advocates in support of the Lifeline program:

Michael Copps, Former FCC Commissioner; Special Adviser, Common Cause:
“The bottom line is the FCC must fix what little needs repair and get on with the job of making broadband accessible to those who cannot afford the high prices providers charge for something everyone must have.”

Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights:
“In today’s America, broadband is as essential as electricity was during the last century. But cost remains a serious barrier to internet access for millions of Americans. The Lifeline program has helped alleviate this burden for the most vulnerable and chronically underserved communities, bridging the digital divide by supporting low-income households’ access to high speed broadband Internet. We welcome efforts to root out fraud in the Lifeline program, but urge that any changes do not take away this vital program from the people who need it the most. Indeed, we encourage more carriers to participate, so that more low-income families can tap into the job opportunities, health care, social services, and education that access to broadband enables.”

Phillip Berenbroick, Senior Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge:
“The Lifeline program was established during the Reagan-era and has helped make critical communications services more affordable for low-income families for more than thirty years.

“In 2016 the FCC recognized that the internet is the essential communications service of the 21st century, and that families rely on broadband access for communicating with loved ones, as well as education, employment, health care, news, and civic engagement. As a result, the FCC modernized the Lifeline program to meet the needs of low-income families that could not afford broadband services -- to help close the affordability gap that limits the economic and educational opportunities for millions of families.

“Historically, the improper payment rate of the Lifeline program has been significantly lower than the corresponding rate across the federal government. Since 2012, the Commission has repeatedly taken action to protect the integrity of the Lifeline program. As GAO reported in 2015, the FCC has demonstrated significant progress implementing its reforms to address problems with duplicates and ineligible participants.

“Today’s GAO’s report reflects the need for the FCC and USAC to fully build out the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier established by the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order. The National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier will help ensure that subscribers are eligible to participate in the Lifeline program; that service providers can focus their resources on serving consumers; and that ratepayers to the Universal Service Fund have confidence their contributions are increasing the affordability of broadband access for low-income households and promoting universal service.”

Adrianne B. Furniss, Executive Director, Benton Foundation:
“Although there has been great progress extending broadband’s reach to more and more Americans, there remain too many households and communities that are not enjoying the benefits of broadband. Research shows, for example, that families earning under $25,000 a year are about half as likely to have the Internet at home as families that are the most well-off. The FCC’s Lifeline program brings the many benefits of reliable, robust Internet access to low-income households. That means better access to job listings and workforce training, to education and healthcare, and allows people to fully engage in today’s society.

“In 2016, the FCC outlined plans for a Lifeline National Eligibility Verifier that would relieve from carriers the responsibility of checking on households’ Lifeline eligibility. We urge the FCC to move swiftly to implement those plans and ensure the program’s financial health.”

Debbie Goldman, Telecommunications Policy Director Communications Workers of America:
“The Communications Workers of America has long supported Lifeline, a vital program that reduces the economic barriers to modern communications services. The FCC’s recent Lifeline modernization order shifts program eligibility verification away from service providers to the new National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier. This significant change will ensure program integrity moving forward. What’s important now is to implement the modernization order and encourage robust participation – from customers and carriers – in the Lifeline program. Too many families across the country remain without access to modern communications services like broadband. Closing the digital divide by providing affordable broadband is essential to achieving the full social and economic participation of all Americans.”

Paul Goodman, Telecommunications Senior Legal Counsel, The Greenlining Institute:
“The Lifeline program helps low-income households of color can stay connected to the services they need, the friends and family they love, and critical employment, education and civic engagement opportunities. Lifeline helps ensure that every child can do their homework, every adult can search for a job and every family can stay in touch no matter how far apart they are. In California, which has implemented a robust statewide eligibility verification system, the Lifeline program has been an unqualified success.”

Cheryl Leanza, Policy Advisor, United Church of Christ, OC Inc.:
“Since 1997, the United Church of Christ has formally recognized we risk becoming a society of "information rich" and "information poor" -- with dramatic consequences for exacerbating inequities that already exist in our midst. Communications is a human right -- a tool that connects us to our communities, helps to disclose injustice, and facilitates innumerable aspects of modern life. Lifeline is the only program that assists households with the cost of broadband internet. Fortunately, last year the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) modernized the Lifeline program and established new, more rigorous safeguards. We insist that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai move ahead swiftly to ensure the new eligibility verification process will be implemented as quickly as possible.”

John C. Yang, President and Executive Director, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC):
“Lifeline and similar programs provide a critical service to families that could not otherwise afford broadband access. This includes many Asian Americans who live at or below the poverty line. Lifeline's broadband access helps to level the playing field and is a critical piece of the policy puzzle to close the digital divide. We need programs like Lifeline in the fight to ensure no community is marginalized because access to technology is lacking.”