Digital Beat Blog

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.


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What Can the Government Do to Expand Broadband’s Reach (in 30 Questions)?

These are the overarching questions asked by President Barack Obama’s Broadband Opportunity Council in a Public Notice released this week. The Council, created in a March 2015 Presidential Memorandum, is made up of 25 federal agencies and charged with developing a framework of recommendations to explore ways to remove unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers, incentivize investment, and align funding polices and decisions to support broadband access and adoption. In the Memorandum, the President made it the official policy of the Federal Government to: identify and address regulatory barriers that may unduly impede either wired broadband deployment or the infrastructure to augment wireless broadband deployment; encourage further public and private investment in broadband networks and services; promote the adoption and meaningful use of broadband technology; and otherwise encourage or support broadband deployment, competition, and adoption in ways that promote the public interest. The Departments of Agriculture and Commerce -- which are co-chairing the Council -- are asking the public for input in helping to identify regulations and other barriers that are hampering deployment of broadband. The Council also is seeking recommendations on ways to promote public and private investment in broadband and get a better understanding of the challenges facing areas that lack access to broadband.

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Charles Benton 1931-2015

Charles Benton, the founder and chairman of the Benton Foundation, was a determined, passionate, and agile businessman and philanthropist who, over many decades, pursued a vision of empowering people to use the latest communications tools to improve the lives of all. We regret to report that on April 29, 2015, Mr Benton, 84, died at his home in Evanston from complications from renal cancer. He is survived by his loving wife, Marjorie, daughter Adrianne Furniss, son, Craig, and five grandchildren. Family, friends, and colleagues remember Charles Benton not just for his many accomplishments, but his passion and enthusiasm; his values and persistent vision; his positive attitude, indomitable spirit and continuous optimism.

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The Week The Comcast-Time Warner Cable Deal Died

"Once you get through the hysteria, [this transaction] is pro-consumer, pro-competitive and strongly in the public interest," Comcast Executive Vice President David Cohen told reporters in February 2014 when the nation’s biggest cable TV and broadband service provider announced it would purchase Time Warner Cable, the number 2 provider. Fourteen months later – hysteria duly subsided – and it appears regulators may not agree. On the morning of April 24, 2015, Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts said, “Today, we move on. Of course, we would have liked to bring our great products to new cities, but we structured this deal so that if the government didn’t agree, we could walk away.” And, with that, the deal was dead. How'd we get here? Here's a recap of what we learned this week.

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Comcast-Time Warner Cable and the Open Internet: One Issue, Not Two

It’s now a two-front people’s crusade to prevent gatekeepers from wresting control of our nation’s communications ecosystem. One front is preserving and protecting the Federal Communications Commission’s historic passage of real net neutrality rules two months ago. The other is stopping the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger in its tracks. Victory on both these fronts is essential if we are to have media that serve the needs of our diverse democracy.

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Does The Net Neutrality Decision Impose Rate Regulation?

Few issues before the Federal Communications Commission have generated as much controversy and partisan debate as Network Neutrality. As opposing sides have jockeyed for position, their goal has not always been clarity. Perhaps the most contentious and confusing aspect of the debate since the FCC voted on February 26 is the question of whether the FCC’s Net Neutrality decision imposes rate regulation. That seems like a yes/no question, but it isn’t.

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Literacy and Access Roles Help Libraries Remain Vital Community Anchors

Perhaps we all grew up thinking of libraries as buildings or rooms within a building with stores of books, magazines, recorded music and video waiting for us to browse and maybe even take home. But for anyone who thinks that in the Digital Age, when so much information is available through our computers and other devices, that libraries are any less relevant than they’ve ever been, new research released this week confirm how vital these institutions remain today.

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Pew Identifies the “Smartphone-Dependent” – What Could It Mean For Lifeline?

Is all broadband created equal? Just last month, the White House announced that 98 percent of Americans nationwide live in areas served with 4G, high-speed wireless Internet. Does that mean the U.S. can afford to give up on efforts to bring broadband everywhere? Mission accomplished? Some recent research indicates that wireless Internet access is a distinctly different service than wireline broadband -- and one that offers a distinctly different experience for users.

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The Legal Underpinnings Of The IP Transition

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.

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Is U.S. Broadband Working? The Administration Is Working On It

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.

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Does the FCC Need to be Reauthorized?

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.

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The National Broadband Plan at Five: The Work Done and the Work Ahead

Over the last five years, the Benton Foundation has been tracking the progress made on implementing the six core goals and over 200 recommendations in the National Broadband Plan. Our tracking is fueled by our daily Headlines service which is the most comprehensive, free chronicle of developments in telecommunications policy. Benton's National Broadband Plan Tracker captures the links between today's Headlines and events, bills moving through Congress, dockets at the FCC, and the week's key events.

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Celebrating a Fifth O’Planniversary

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.

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Is It Time For Lifeline To Include Broadband?

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.

The FCC’s 305 (Not So Dirty) Words

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.

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What Do the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights and Net Neutrality Have in Common?

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.

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Victory

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?

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What's Not To Like About Open Internet Rules?

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.

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A Victory for Everyone Who Uses the Internet

February 26, 2015 marks the greatest commitment ever made to preserve and protect an open and free Internet. On this day, the Federal Communications Commission has acted decisively to protect the rights of Internet users to employ any legal applications, content, devices, and services of their choosing on the broadband networks they rely on. Today, the FCC has made sure that the Internet remains a platform for all consumers, content creators, and innovators, regardless of their ability to pay infrastructure owners special fees for special access.

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Benton Salutes FCC’s Move to Bring More Fiber to More Communities, Sooner

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.

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So They’re Voting On Network Neutrality, But What Happens Next?

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.

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