Here Benton Foundation Chairman and CEO Charles Benton and others offer their unique perspective on communications policy. We invite you to read and comment on these original posts, start by registering for a benton.org account.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Andrew Jay Schwartzman on March 31, 2015 - 3:51pm
Our telecommunications networks are only part way through the transition from traditional “time-division multiplexing” (“TDM”) to “Internet Protocol” (“IP) based digital technology. In some industries, technological transition is relatively easy; as new technology develops, the economy assimilates it. However, when it comes to telecommunications, the transition of our traditional networks, originally deployed for voice telephony, is fraught with complicated regulatory and legal questions.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Kevin Taglang on March 27, 2015 - 12:06pm
Back in January we reported on a series of speeches by President Barack Obama in the run up to the State of the Union address. In those speeches, the President indicated that the Internet would play a central role in his 2015 policies. This week, the Administration offered an update on its progress since January and outlined the next steps in “promoting investment and rewarding competition.” Although the Federal Communications Commission’s network neutrality order is still the headliner-grabber, this week we review the Administration’s most recent announcements.
Submitted by Kevin Taglang on March 20, 2015 - 12:50pm
Three weeks after the Federal Communications Commission’s controversial vote on network neutrality, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and his fellow commissioners faced a series of oversight hearings organized by a number of Congressional committees. Discussions of the merits of the FCC’s decision – and the process by which the independent agency reached it -- are garnering much of the attention in the press. But for the leadership of two key Congressional panels, this week’s hearings seem to be kicking off a long-term plan to reshape the FCC and how it does its business.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Blair Levin on March 16, 2015 - 6:04am
Government actions fit into five buckets: responding to a crisis (9/11, Katrina), delivering on recent campaign promises (Reagan, Bush tax cuts), routine operations, generally responding to petitioning bureaucratic or judicial actions; long debated issues that reach a critical juncture and are, momentarily, resolved (Selma and the Voting Rights Act, the Affordable Care Act, last month’s FCC reclassification decision); and small group charged with evaluating strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats related to a mission, and successfully building a path and political capital for achieving the mission. The fourth is rare, and therefore historic. The fifth is seen only slightly more than unicorns. Yet, this week we will see examples of both playing out. Of course, most media attention will focus on the Congressional hearings on the FCC’s recent reclassification decision. But there will also be several events commemorating the fifth anniversary of the National Broadband Plan. The first, on Tuesday, will focus on the impact of the plan on Anchor Institutions. The second, sponsored by Georgetown, will consider the wide range of issues covered by the Plan, looking back but more importantly, looking forward to the agenda ahead.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Kevin Taglang on March 13, 2015 - 5:49am
Over the past five years, the Federal Communications Commission has taken action to reform each of its universal service distribution programs to refocus them on broadband. With the fifth anniversary of the release of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan approaching, we focus today on what could be the next major item on the FCC’s implementation agenda: reform and modernization of its Lifeline program.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Kevin Werbach on March 12, 2015 - 4:01pm
On March 12, the Federal Communications Commission released its much-anticipated network neutrality report and order. Kevin Werbach, an Associate Professor of Legal Studies and Business Ethics at The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, quickly distilled the 400 page release to the 305 words that matter most. We thank him for allowing us to reprint it here.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Kevin Taglang on March 6, 2015 - 7:20am
On Friday, February 27, as many contemplated the Federal Communications Commission’s votes on network neutrality and municipal broadband, the White House released a discussion draft of the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights Act of 2015. The bill, not yet introduced in Congress, aims to establish baseline protections for individual privacy in the commercial arena and to foster timely, flexible implementations of these protections through enforceable codes of conduct developed by diverse stakeholders. Back in January, in the lead up to his State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama promised this legislation as a follow up to the Administration’s 2012 Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights. Although prospects for the draft bill seem minimal in a Republican-controlled Congress, the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights – coupled with the net neutrality decision – mark a new commitment to both discuss privacy protections and enforce them.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Michael Copps on March 2, 2015 - 3:38pm
Chairman Tom Wheeler said it best at last week’s historic FCC meeting: “The Internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules.” Amen. All the fog-it and smog-it rhetoric of the big Internet Service Providers since last Thursday’s vote cannot cloud the core issue. The question at the heart of this vote was simply whether the public agency charged since the 1920s with protecting consumers, competition, and innovation in telecommunications still retains these vital responsibilities in the advanced telecommunications world of the twenty-first century. Will there be some place to turn when a few too-powerful Internet gatekeepers try to short-circuit the most dynamic communications tool in all of history? When they block, throttle, or degrade online sites they might not like? Or limit our ability to get the news and information we need in order to maintain our democracy? Are we to stand helplessly by as Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T favor their friends with express lanes on the Internet autobahn while consigning the rest of us to the bumpy dirt roads of yesterday’s technology?
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Kevin Taglang on March 2, 2015 - 1:35am
In an historic decision on February 26, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission voted to adopt rules to protect the Open Internet. The FCC’s order has not been released yet, so we can’t offer you a detailed summary of the new network neutrality rules. As Andrew Jay Schwartzman noted in Benton's Digital Beat this week, the vote marks the end of a long debate, but it is only the start of what will be a multi-pronged fight over whether the FCC could, or should, enact these new rules. Today we take a closer look at the opposition to the new rules as voiced by FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly who both voted against the FCC order. Their dissents may offer a preview of the arguments opponents of the new rules will make to Congress and the courts.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Amina Fazlullah, Charles Benton on February 26, 2015 - 11:30am
Today, the Federal Communications Commission sided with community-based solutions. Today, the FCC sided with choice. Today, the FCC sided with bringing better broadband everywhere. The FCC today voted to approve the petitions of community broadband providers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina, which asked that the FCC to pre-empt provisions of state laws preventing expansion of their very successful networks. The Benton Foundation thanks the FCC for this action.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Andrew Jay Schwartzman on February 24, 2015 - 10:22am
It is doubtful that anyone reading this post doesn’t know that, barring an inch or two of snow (which is generally enough to shut down Washington, D.C.), on Thursday, February 26, the Federal Communications Commission will finally vote to reclassify broadband under Title II of the Communications Act and adopt strong Network Neutrality rules covering both wired and wireless Internet service providers (ISPs). That vote will mark the end of a long debate, but it is only the start of what will be a multi-pronged fight over whether the FCC could, or should, have done what it is about to do. This is a necessarily oversimplified guide to what happens next.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Cecilia Garcia, Bob Harootyan on February 23, 2015 - 1:54am
At a time when communications technology is evolving at a frantic pace and the Internet is fast becoming the primary conveyor of information and services, a significant segment of our population remains offline. National survey data for 2014 show that 41-43% of persons age 65+ do not use the Internet, compared to only 13-14% of all adults age 18+ (Pew Research Center, 2000-2014). The reasons for this continuing digital divide involve seniors’ concerns about affordability, a belief that the Internet holds no relevance for them, and a fear that computers are too difficult to learn.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Kevin Taglang on February 13, 2015 - 11:12am
In 2014, when the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down key elements of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet rules, the court actually sided with the Commission’s arguments that Section 706 of the Communications Act (1), title 'Advanced Telecommunications Incentives', gives the FCC authority to regulate broadband networks, including imposing net neutrality rules on Internet service providers. The court ruled that the law “vests [the FCC] with affirmative authority to enact measures encouraging the deployment of broadband infrastructure.” As Andrew Jay Schwartzman wrote in Benton’s Digital Beat blog a year ago, the court gave the FCC a “powerful weapon” with “extremely wide latitude to address threats to broadband deployment and the open Internet.” Since Section 706 authority only kicks in when the FCC finds that “advanced telecommunications capability” is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion, we focus today on the Commission’s latest findings on broadband deployment in the U.S. These findings will have a huge impact on major, controversial decisions before the FCC this month -- and the months ahead.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Michael Copps on February 9, 2015 - 1:41am
It was March 2002 and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was on a tear to give the nation’s broadband providers the freedom from government oversight for which they were clamoring. The idea was simple: Pluck advanced telecommunications out of the telecommunications obligations of Title II of the statute, label broadband an information service, and deny the public interest in favor of the special interests. This particular vote applied to cable modem broadband, but the Commission had already issued a notice that it was preparing the same statutory surgery for wireline broadband, which, of course, it subsequently performed. I dissented from the majority’s approval. As I said at the time, this ill-advised decision “places these [cable broadband] services outside any viable and predictable regulatory framework.” Little surprise, then, that the Commission tied itself in knots ever since, trying -- unsuccessfully -- to defend the indefensible. So intent was the Chairman Powell-led majority to ensure that broadband would be forever deregulated that the ruling included a provision saying that even if the courts disagreed and found that broadband services were subject to regulation, the Commission would forbear from enforcing such obligations.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Kevin Taglang on February 6, 2015 - 11:54am
The Federal Communications Commission released a “tentative agenda” for its February 26 open meeting, but, frankly, there’s nothing tentative about it. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler this week declared that the Internet must remain “fast, fair and open” and he proposed two major, related actions to make it so. On January 14, 2014, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down key elements of the FCC’s Open Internet rules (commonly known as net or network neutrality) which required broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic equally. At the time, in these pages, we wrote “Net Neutrality is Dead. Long Live Net Neutrality”. 377 tumultuous days later, the FCC is poised to declare, “It’s alive!”
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Andrew Jay Schwartzman on February 3, 2015 - 3:35pm
As the debate over Network Neutrality nears its climax with the Federal Communications Commission’s scheduled vote on February 26, there has been increasing attention on one relatively small sub-issue, so-called “zero rating” of certain mobile wireless digital services. Zero rating is currently the subject of intense debate in Europe as well, and has long been controversial in the developing world.
Submitted by Benton Foundation on behalf of Kevin Taglang on January 30, 2015 - 12:51pm
The Federal Communications Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the United Kingdom’s Ofcom all weighed in on wireless Internet issues this week. The three big takeaways: 1) Wi-Fi is important; 2) the Internet of Things has some trust issues to work out; and 3) throttled Internet is not unlimited Internet. As Warner Wolf used to say, “Let’s go to the tape.”