Adrianne Furniss

Celebrating Chairman Wheeler’s Gift to the American People

[Commentary] In reviewing the successes of the last year, but, more broadly, the last three years, the person I keep returning to is Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler. Chairman Wheeler has upheld the public interest, recognized the power of communications to strengthen communities, and acted to modernize and reform programs that bring open, affordable, high-capacity broadband to all Americans. His legacy is the opportunities for all Americans to connect to jobs, education, healthcare, and family. As we enter this holiday season, I am thankful for Chairman Tom Wheeler’s gifts to the American people. To me, what is amazing about his many accomplishments can’t always be measured by the dockets he opened, the votes he won, or the initiatives he proposed. The day-to-day impacts of his actions can often be more readily seen in the child who can now reach a hand across a keyboard to access a whole new universe of knowledge thanks to gigabit connections to the school and Wi-Fi in the classroom. Or in the young mother who can now coordinate work and her child’s medical care thanks to her Lifeline connection. Or the small business owner who can now compete on a level playing field with its bigger business competitors thanks to a free and open Internet. Or the community that was once left behind, that is able to get ahead with new broadband options. In other words, it’s not the orders he voted or the computers he connected, but the lives he touched in ways both big and small. I expect they will be felt not just for a year, or a chairman’s term, but in the case of that little girl … it just may change her life.

Access, Diversity, and Equity are More Important Than Ever

[Commentary] If I learned anything during this election, it is that opposing sides are not speaking with each other. And because we are more disconnected, we need to focus on ways to connect. We should be thinking about the fundamental power of communication as a way to bring us together, not further divide us. As we prepare for a new Congress and new Administration, we at Benton are recommitting ourselves to providing the tools that policymakers and advocates need to keep abreast of developments in our field – and a platform for debating what “in the public interest” means in the Digital Age.

At Benton, we aim to connect policymakers, researchers, and community practitioners working to help get everyone online. We will both publish and highlight research that we believe can inform debates about how best to bring the benefits of broadband to every community and every household. We believe that communities must play an active role in deciding their broadband futures. And we are developing tools to help them facilitate smart discussions and decisions about improving their telecommunications infrastructure. We see great potential in public-private partnerships to build and maintain next-generation broadband networks. Benton will work tirelessly to ensure Federal programs that make broadband service available and affordable in rural areas, in schools, libraries, rural health care facilities, and low-income households are adequately funded. Benton will defend policies that ensure Internet users’ rights to employ any legal applications, content, devices, and services of their choosing on the broadband networks they rely on. The Internet must remain a platform for all consumers, content creators, and innovators, regardless of their ability to pay infrastructure owners special fees for special access. Finally, Benton will work to ensure that the First Amendment is respected in the Digital Age. Freedom of religion, of speech, of the press, of assembly, and the right to petition our government should not be abridged. Sticking up for what’s right, choosing facts over fear, being a voice for good and for solutions that can make America even greater -- this is a family legacy I am proud to be a part of.

Innovators in Digital Inclusion

Sept 28 we're launching a series of articles that explore the origins, strategies, challenges and funding mechanisms for successful digital inclusion organizations. In research released early in 2016, Benton Faculty Research Fellow Dr Colin Rhinesmith explored the critical work being done in communities across the United States to address gaps in broadband adoption. He found that the efforts that emphasize human-to-human interactions are the most helpful to individuals and families. To help deepen Rhinesmith’s original research, the Benton Foundation and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) are now publishing a series of articles that explore the origins, strategies, challenges and funding mechanisms for successful digital inclusion organizations. We’d like to inject the experiences of each organization into ongoing policy discussions that affect federal, state and local digital inclusion efforts -- and to highlight best practices for other organizations working in this space. PCs for People (St. Paul, Minnesota), Axiom Education and Training Center (Machias, Maine), Ashbury Senior Computer Community Center (Cleveland, Ohio), Connecting for Good (Kansas City, Kansas), Free Geek (Portland, Oregon), Youth Policy Institute (Los Angeles, California), Austin Free-Net (Austin, Texas), and Multnomah County Library (Portland, Oregon). Each of these organizations are doing phenomenal work to bridge the digital divide and promote digital inclusion. But each one has a unique approach to meeting this challenge.

Benton and Rhinesmith Continue Digital Inclusion Research Partnership

Just one year ago, Dr. Colin Rhinesmith joined the Benton Foundation as our Faculty Research Fellow. We want to aid both policymakers and practitioners in the design, implementation, and evaluation of digital inclusion and broadband adoption strategies. The goal is open, affordable, high-capacity broadband access, adoption and use for all Americans. Our partnership has produced important research and, we’re happy to announce, will continue for the next year. To date, Dr. Rhinesmith’s research has delved much deeper into broadband adoption barriers than large, national surveys have. Although many of these surveys have identified non-adopters’ belief that the Internet and broadband aren’t relevant to their lives as a major barrier, Colin’s interviews with low-income individuals and families revealed that they did indeed understand the value of broadband connectivity. Many people explained to Colin that cost remained the most significant barrier to their full adoption of broadband in the home. Consumers, you see, consider broadband service to be relevant if other barriers -- and, most notably price -- are overcome. Dr. Rhinesmith’s research showed that policymakers needed to address low-income consumers ability to pay for broadband rather than their willingness to pay. Frankly, the people Colin spoke with were making choices between broadband service and having enough money to feed their families.

Benton Partners With SHLB to Nourish Communities With Broadband

[Commentary] The Benton Foundation is publishing the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition’s Connecting Anchor Institutions: A Broadband Action Plan because our top priority for 2016 and beyond is affordable broadband access and adoption for all Americans. As the Federal Communications Commission has determined, broadband Internet access service is, unquestionably, essential to education, public health, and public safety. And broadband has an important economic impact. It creates efficiencies, improves productivity, and accelerates innovation. In a global, competitive economy, we need every American contributing to our prosperity, to educating today and tomorrow’s workers and entrepreneurs, to improving our civic dialogue, and to enriching our culture. But if we want every American to be able to make these contributions and take full advantage of the vast opportunities that broadband can deliver, we need to focus on bridging the critical gaps in our digital infrastructure and close the nagging, persistent divides in broadband deployment and adoption. I call the places these divides exist ‘digital desserts.’ To realize universal broadband adoption, I can think of no better partner than the SHLB Coalition and its diverse members. Community anchor institutions, as is so well-articulated in the report released today, are on the front lines ensuring that the benefits of the Internet are widely available to everyone, promoting equity for all.