Digital Beat Blog

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Libraries Support Lifeline as Important Step on the Path to Digital Equity

When Benjamin Franklin created the first lending library in America almost three hundred years ago, he established an institution committed to letting loose the transformational power of knowledge. To this day, public libraries stand committed to the principle that information should be available to all, regardless of where you live, how much you earn, or when you were born. Increasingly libraries provide some of that information online, through free access to ebooks, original documents like the New York Public Library’s high-definition scan of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and even software that you can borrow virtually through the Kansas City Public Library. All of these efforts depend on affordable, accessible Internet service.

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Will Lifeline Modernization Be CURB-ed?

On April 19, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology marked up several telecommunications bills including the Controlling the Unchecked and Reckless Ballooning of Lifeline Act (or the Lifeline CURB Act (H.R.4884), if you’re scoring at home). The subcommittee approved the bill by a final vote of 17-11 along party lines, with Republican members of the subcommittee supporting the measure.

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Unlocking Potential: Internet and Prisons

Researchers and policymakers have largely forgotten prisoners when considering universal Internet access and the Digital Divide. These inmates are, by default, digitally excluded during their incarcerations, denying them access to a potentially potent tool for improving rehabilitation and decreasing recidivism.

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CURB Your Enthusiasm: House Considers Capping Lifeline Program and Passes Ban on Broadband Rate Regulation

Two important communication bills are winding their way through the House: On April 13, the House Communications Subcommittee held a hearing on seven (seven!) communications bills. One of those bills, The Controlling the Unchecked and Reckless Ballooning of the Lifeline Fund Act (CURB Lifeline) (HR 4884) seeks to impose a hard budget cap on the Lifeline program. Separately, the full House this week considered The No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act (HR 2666), which would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from imposing rate regulations on broadband service. But some fear the bill would go far beyond blocking telephone-style rate regulations, gutting the FCC’s authority to enforce its Open Internet rules.

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FCC Connects Low-Income Consumers to the Internet

Although the Federal Communications Commission has not yet released a report and order on its decision to modernize the Lifeline program, we wanted to share a quick summary of the decision. Below, please find a great summary from Anthony L. Butler, a Consumer Education & Outreach Specialist in the Consumer Affairs & Outreach Division of the FCC's Consumer Governmental Affairs Bureau. The Benton Foundation will share a more detailed summary of the historic decision after the report and order is released.

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Can The FCC Protect Internet Subscribers’ Online Privacy?

On March 31, on a party-line 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission proposed to adopt new rules designed to provide privacy protections for customers of Internet service providers. The FCC’s wide-ranging Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asks hundreds of questions as to how it should shape these requirements. There has already been considerable news coverage concerning the scope and details of these rules, and there will be much more debate as the Commission’s inquiry proceeds over the coming months. However, there has been less discussion about the underlying legal issues which made it necessary for the FCC to initiate this proceeding and the questions about whether the FCC can, indeed, adopt the rules it has proposed.

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The Lifeline from Digital Desert to Digital Opportunity

This week, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on a proposal that will make broadband Internet service more affordable for millions of low-income consumers. For these people who are some of the most vulnerable in our society, the FCC will be providing a lifeline to opportunity.

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Lifeline Enters Final Stages of Debate

NTIA finds gain in Internet use, but as we know, especially for broadband, cost of service remains the major barrier to adoption. As the FCC considers how to employ its Lifeline program to address this barrier, we’ve entered the final stage of the debate.

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“What do you mean, you don’t use the Internet? Do you live under a rock?!”

In a time and society in which Internet use and Internet skills are expected of everyone—especially those under retirement age—affordable access to broadband infrastructures is a first, key step. But additional barriers to broadband adoption—digital skills and the motivation to use digital technologies and the Internet in the first place—must also be addressed. Recent studies have shown that cost and access remain critical barriers for going (and staying) online. But my research shows that non-users increasingly mention other issues such as a lack of skills and interest as well. At the same time, other studies found that negative attitudes to technologies and the Internet may be holding non-users back from becoming Internet users as much as socio-demographic factors, such as income and education. It is thus important that we pay attention not only to the “hard factors” of being offline, but also the “soft factors” like attitudes and perceptions that could potentially increase the motivation to go online. At the same time, it is critical that we do not patronize non-users by stigmatizing them as being stuck in the 20th century or making them feel like outsiders.

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Your Right to Know and Choose: Wheeler’s Broadband Privacy Proposal

The Federal Communications Commission Open Meeting on March 31 is shaping up to be one of high importance. Last week, I wrote about the FCC’s proposal to modernize the Lifeline program in order to make the Internet more accessible for communities of lower-income. (See: “A Historic Moment for Broadband Adoption”) This week, I take a look at FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to protect the online privacy of broadband consumers.

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A Historic Moment for Broadband Adoption

President Barack Obama and the Federal Communications Commission unveiled significant proposals to increase broadband adoption in the U.S. Their efforts are aimed at reducing the digital divide, paving the way for people with lower-incomes to seize the opportunities that digital technologies and connectivity provide. A look at the White House's ConnectALL initiative and the Lifeline proposed order.

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting Lifeline Reform: A Public Interest Perspective on Making Broadband Service Affordable for All

This month, the Federal Communications Commission will vote to revamp a federal telephone support program, called Lifeline, to include subsidies for broadband Internet service for low-income households. This primer should get you up to speed on the key issues at play in the docket while highlighting a public interest perspective on the ongoing discussions. Academic research increasingly points to cost being the biggest barrier to broadband adoption. A healthy, competitive Lifeline program that offers robust, meaningful broadband access to low-income Americans is one of the federal government’s most powerful tools to chip away at the cost barrier.

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The Internet Discussion We're Not Having

Our media are letting us down. From their mostly vapid coverage of the 2016 Presidential campaign on television to the paucity of new information on the Internet’s major “news” sites, the communications ecosystem is failing our democracy. It’s a failure that has already cost us dearly and a breakdown that will only get worse until we recognize and confront the damage that has been done. Sadly, amid the incessant hurling of personal broadsides and character assassination from many of the candidates, and the ubiquitous replay of sordid electioneering masquerading as “breaking news” on just about every channel, real coverage of issues gets the hindmost.

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Decreasing numbers, increasing problems: Non-users have more barriers to Internet adoption to overcome than ever before

Over the past 20 years, the proportion of Internet users has continuously increased. According to the latest Pew Research Center data, 84 percent of US citizens were online in 2015. Only 16 percent of the respondents identified themselves as non-users, i.e. people who do not use the Internet. This stands in stark contrast to the numbers of non-users only 10 years ago (around 30 percent in 2006) and 20 years ago (77 percent in 1996). This trend leads many people to assume that non-users are a phenomenon of the past and that soon everyone will be online in some way or another. However, looking at the shrinking group of non-users more closely, it becomes apparent quickly that those who have not made the move online are facing increasing problems and barriers to overcome.

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Telecom Policy Roars Into March

The Senate Commerce Committee convened a Federal Communications Commission oversight hearing on March 2 which included testimony from each of the five FCC commissioners. On Monday, American and European officials released details on the new trans-Atlantic data transfer agreement, known as the E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield. On March 3, the Senate Commerce Committee marked up and approved the MOBILE Now Act (S. 2555), a bill aimed to free up up more valuable spectrum for wireless devices.

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Lifeline Reform Reaches the Home Stretch

The Federal Communications Commission is likely to vote on its Lifeline reform proceeding at its March 31 public meeting, including its plans to expand Lifeline from supporting only voice telephone service to include broadband Internet access. Because I previously delved into the history of the Lifeline program since its inception during the Reagan Administration, this post will review the policy justification for Lifeline and then focus on some of the specific issues the FCC is likely to consider.

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A New Era of Broadband Deployment

The city of Huntsville, Alabama became the next Google Fiber city. Huntsville will own the fiber network and will lease it to Google. For most other Google Fiber cities, Google has built the fiber network from scratch. With the Huntsville partnership, Google is demonstrating its willingness to offer its services over a network it doesn’t own -- and that’s a game changer.

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Digital Literacy and Inclusion: “We Are All In It Together”

All of the organizations I studied for my recent Benton Foundation report recognize that digital literacy, the ability to navigate the Internet, is key to meaningful broadband adoption. But they took different approaches to ensuring their clients have the skills needed to make use of broadband. Computer classes have traditionally been a popular way to provide digital literacy training. More recently, digital inclusion organizations have embraced one-on-one, personalized training approaches for community members in order to be relevant to each person’s everyday life experiences. In addition, several organizations noted that digital literacy is needed and requested by all, regardless of income.

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How Technology Is Influencing Your Vote

Communications technology is playing a tremendous role in the 2016 election, from debate coverage and the influence of social media to “voter surveillance” in campaigning. What voices are being amplified in this environment? And what does this mean to those who have not adopted these technologies?

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Love is in the Air: President Obama Proposes (a Budget) and a Sentimental Anniversary

President Barack Obama released the final budget proposal of his presidency on February 9, a $4 trillion plan for the 2017 fiscal year, which starts October 1. Just over one-quarter of the $4 trillion budget is so-called discretionary spending for domestic and military programs that the President and Congress dicker over each year. The rest is for mandatory spending, chiefly interest on the federal debt and the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits that are expanding automatically as the population ages. So how does the budget proposal affect communications policy? Here’s a breakdown.

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