Digital Beat Blog

How do we define “in the public interest” in the Digital Age? Here’s unique perspectives on communications policy debates. We invite you to comment on these original posts; start by registering for a benton.org account. Interested in sharing your own article? Contact our Executive Editor, Kevin Taglang at [email protected]

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A New Salvo in President Trump’s Offensive on the Free Press

Back in January, I wrote about the Trump Administration's first days and its combative relationship with the press. I asked then, "Will the people be the losers in this fight?" In the last two weeks, we're seeing signs that this Administration interprets the First Amendment as a responsibility of the press to report accurately -- or, at the very least, favorably -- on the president. I am left to wonder when Republican Commissioners on the FCC, who took an oath to uphold the Constitution, will speak out to protect the First Amendment.

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The Sputnik Lesson: We Can’t Win the Broadband Race by Slowing Down

Ten years ago, Charles Benton harkened back to the chilly night of October 4, 1957 – when Russia’s Sputnik first flew overhead – to warn us that we faced a generational challenge to ensure America’s scientific leadership in the world. The goal, articulated by President George W. Bush in 2004, was achieving universal, affordable broadband access by 2007. Sadly, ten years later, we’ve failed to reach the goal – and instead of rising to the challenge, policymakers are proposing to lower the bar in order to declare “mission accomplished.”

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Together, Sallet, Riedl, and Benton Working for Fast, Fair, and Open Broadband for All

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 all this matters. So, it is with great pleasure that I announce two new experts joining the Benton team today.

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What Does 'Effective Competition' Mean for Sprint/T-Mobile -- And You?

Mentioning the public interest just once, the Federal Communications Commission adopted its 20th wireless competition report this week. This week, for the first time in eight years, the FCC concluded that there IS “effective competition.”

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The Worst Merger Yet

The more people learn about the frenzied Big Media-Wall Street rush to consolidate our communications ecosystem into a playground for monopolists-on-the-make, the more they dislike what they see. For example, a recent poll shows two-thirds of us are opposed to competition-busting transactions like AT&T and Time Warner, almost equally divided among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.

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Taking Away an Open Internet

We gather today at a critical moment in the history of an Open Internet; in the fight for Net Neutrality. So, right here at the outset, let’s make clear something that will bear repeating throughout these remarks: An Open Internet is the law of the land and any change to that policy would take away from consumers, innovators and the competitive marketplace something they have today. The proof point that opponents to an Open Internet must hurdle is the factual basis for why it is necessary to remove existing protections? Those protections can be boiled down to one simple principle: Consumers must be in charge of how they use their broadband connections, free from manipulation by their broadband providers.

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The Public’s Advocate

We’re here to celebrate Tom Wheeler’s public service, and discuss protecting the Open Internet, the most critical communications issue of our time.

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Our Broadband Divides -- And How to Bridge Them

Where is broadband? And where is it ain’t? Since encouragement of universal broadband is the law of the land, these aren’t trivial questions. This week we saw new evidence about where broadband is reaching -- and new clues about how policymakers will approach making sure this critical telecommunications infrastructure reaches everyone.

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Tapping Technology to Enhance Civic Engagement

City leaders often struggle to engage citizens in the civic arena. How can we encourage busy people with limited time to become active participants in the public process? How can municipalities hear from a wider range of constituents, particularly those who have not traditionally engaged? And how can technology be used to enhance and improve civic engagement?

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Presenting the Initial Charles Benton Junior Scholar Award

I am thrilled to be back at TPRC and must say that somewhere my father is beaming with pride that we are honoring him by creating the Charles Benton Junior Scholar Award.

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Lifeline: Continue Reform, Or Throw It Out With the Wastewater?

The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on waste, fraud, and abuse in the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program, which provides discounts on telecommunications services for eligible low-income consumers. In 2016, Lifeline disbursed about $1.5 billion in subsidies, making crucial communications services more affordable for 12.3 million households. In June, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report, based on 2014 subscriber data, that pointed to fraud and inefficiencies in the program, leading to this week's hearing.

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Gigabit Citizenship

What does gigabit civic engagement look like? The initial winners of the Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award demonstrate not just what “could be” but what “is”. Civic engagement is about working to make a positive difference in the life of our communities. It is about developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means improving the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.

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Five Lessons for Tech-Powered Civic Engagement: The Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award Playbook

Municipalities across the country are increasingly using technology to ensure government is accessible and responsive to citizens, while simultaneously creating forward-looking programs to increase internet access so more residents can experience the benefits of connectivity. These initiatives can be used to create civic technology programs, which draw on the power of technology to promote digital inclusion and civic engagement. The best civic-technology initiatives facilitate unprecedented levels of public involvement in community governance, narrow the digital divide, and improve communities. As a result, governance is more democratic and more individuals can enjoy the educational and economic benefits of internet access. Empowering citizens to make informed decisions and offer direction about who governs them – and how – is essential to improving our democracy.

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How Hurricane Harvey Highlights Need to Modernize Wireless Emergency Alerts

Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast on August 25. The Category 4 storm brought massive rainfall and unprecedented flooding to the Houston area and emergency procedures are underway for what may be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. One critical component of rescue operations is maintaining reliable communications networks, a key mission of the Federal Communications Commission. Large-scale crises often reveal the difficulties governments and residents have communicating critical information when networks are at peak use. For years, wireless carriers and policymakers have been debating updates to the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, trying to craft policy that would better enable mobile devices to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting people of imminent threats to safety in their area. Even as first responders are working to rescue people at risk in South Texas, the disaster is returning attention to the WEA debate.

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Can Communications Unite Us? Lessons from Charlottesville

This week, a white supremacist terrorist killed counter-protester Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia. In his initial response, the President of the United States condemned violence “on many sides.” Three days later, President Donald Trump spoke with reporters, again assigning “blame on both sides” in remarks that, according to the New York Times, “buoyed the white nationalist movement...as no president has done in generations.” Much has been written, and will be written, about the President’s choice of words, the timing of his remarks, and the effects all of this will have on our Republic. The incidents this past weekend will be an indelible, dark mark in our nation’s history. At Benton, we believe 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. These values are vital in a political climate swelling with hate and intolerance.

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Got a Smartphone? Then You've Got Broadband!

It’s that time of year again. The Federal Communications Commission launched its annual inquiry into whether broadband (or, more formally, “advanced telecommunications capability”) is being deployed to all Americans in a “reasonable and timely fashion.” Although the FCC launched a proceeding in August 2016, asking a number of questions about broadband deployment, the commission did not issue a subsequent report. Under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC is updating the inquiry and asking different questions. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, in response, raised some concerns over how the inquiry is being framed, and how this may lead to a particular outcome. The results of this inquiry will be significant, as they dictate future FCC broadband policy.

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Senate Confirms Two FCC Nominees, Chairman Pai's Confirmation Waits

On August 3, 2017, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nominations of Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr to be members of the Federal Communications Commission. The commissioners join FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O'Rielly to implement and enforce America’s communications law and regulations. Rosenworcel and Carr were confirmed without debate -- sorta. The full Senate confirmed 63 presidential nominees by unanimous consent. But both Rosenworcel and Carr faced a bit of drama. And Chairman Pai -- who President Donald Trump has nominated for a new, five-year term -- will have to wait on his confirmation.

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We All Agree on Net Neutrality, Except When We Don’t

The House Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing on July 25, 2017. It was advertised to be a Federal Communications Commission oversight hearing, meant to focus on agency actions and processes and to discuss draft legislation that would reauthorize the FCC, a step that has not been taken since 1990. But, as with most telecommunications policy discussions theses days, it quickly turned into a debate over network neutrality. Notably, this debate made public the tactics of those in Congress and at the FCC who would repeal the rules barring broadband internet access service providers from web content blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. Throwing out those rules, especially the latter preventing providers from making deals with popular websites like Netflix to reach subscribers faster than competitors, opens the door for broadband service packages that copy the cable TV model.

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Independence, Net Neutrality, and E-rate are Thorny Issues at FCC Confirmation Hearing

On July 19, 2017, the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing to examine the nominations of Ajit Pai, Jessica Rosenworcel, and Brendan Carr for seats on the Federal Communications Commission. Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) characterized the hearing as both an examination of the nominees and a FCC oversight hearing, “fulfilling a commitment I’ve made to hold regular, biannual oversight hearings of the Commission.” His opinions of the nominees: “In my view, the FCC will be in very good hands when all three of these nominees are confirmed.”

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The People Speak

The people’s verdict is in. A slew of recent polls make clear that most Americans, nearly 80%, support keeping the network neutrality rules that are the foundation of an open internet. These are the rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015, under the leadership of then-chairman Tom Wheeler, that keep the big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon from determining your internet experience, because they’d rather do that themselves than let you do it. Net neutrality rules prohibit blocking or throttling content. And they keep ISPs from favoring their affiliates, corporate friends, and those who can afford sky-high broadband prices with fast lanes on the net, while the rest of us are told to travel in the slow lane.

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