Digital Beat Blog

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.”

benton logo

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.

benton logo

Reports From the Day of Action for #NetNeutrality

On July 12, 2017, some of the world's largest companies, activists, and citizens protested the Federal Communications Commission's proposal to rollback (well, gut, really) network neutrality protections adopted in 2017. Here's a look at the news of the day.

benton logo

Information Laundering, Economists and Ajit Pai’s Race to Roll-Back the Obama-era FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules

The now-raging battle over the fate of landmark network neutrality rules adopted by the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission just two years ago is, at the same time, a war of ideas. On the front lines is a subterranean network of think tanks and hired-gun economists, lawyers, and others mobilizing their credentials to justify FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s sprint to reverse not just the net neutrality rules, but also a raft of measures on concentration in the broadband, mobile wireless, cable TV and broadcasting markets, broadband privacy and pricing, and on and on. If the rollback is successful, Pai’s FCC will deliver a regulatory agenda beyond the biggest telecom-ISP and media companies’ wildest dreams. Each step of the way, industry-friendly think tanks and front groups have commissioned academics to flood the ‘marketplace of ideas’ with corroborating ideas and ‘white papers,’ often without disclosure. What they’re paying for is the veneer of academic legitimacy.

benton logo

FCC: Brendan Carr, You Complete Me

On June 28, 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to nominate Brendan Carr for the last remaining open seat on the Federal Communications Commission. Actually, you might call it a “double nomination”: Carr is being put forth to complete the remaining term of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler which expires June 30, 2018, AND a second full term beginning the next day. The nomination, officially sent to the Senate on June 29, will likely be paired with that of former FCC Jessica Rosenworcel. The two are likely to get a confirmation hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee in July. Here’s a short introduction to Brendan Carr and a look at what his nomination might mean for the FCC moving forward.

benton logo

Rural Broadband Takes Center Stage During Tech Week

This week, the White House hosted a series of meetings, dubbed “Tech Week”, between leaders of the technology sector and Trump administration officials. Broadband was a key topic there, although discussions about getting everyone access to high-speed Internet service were held outside the White House, too – in Iowa, at Congress, and at the Department of Commerce. The discussions revealed how hard it is to get a handle on the rural broadband divide, and the complexity of bridging it.

benton logo

The Supreme Court Establishes A First Amendment Framework For Social Media

This week’s Supreme Court opinion is likely to serve as an important guidepost as courts assess the First Amendment implications of efforts to restrict access to the Internet.

benton logo

Rosenworcel Renomination, Take 3 (updated)

Jessica Rosenworcel has been nominated for a new term to be a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission -- take 3. President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Rosenworcel to return to the FCC on June 13. She served on the Commission from 2012-2017, leaving because the Senate failed to bring her renomination to a vote, due to larger political battles. Democrat Rosenworcel’s confirmation will likely be paired with a nomination of a Republican by President Trump, subsequently filling all seats on the Commission. Below we unpack the long trip it has been to get to Rosenworcel’s (third) renomination and what it will mean for the FCC -- and some pending legislation -- going forward.

benton logo

The BROWSER Act

On May 18, House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the BROWSER Act (H.R. 2520), legislation that would apply privacy regulations to both Internet service providers (ISPs) and edge providers (e.g., Netflix and Facebook). Most notably, the bill would require companies to obtain users' permission before sharing their sensitive information, including web-browsing history, with advertisers. The legislation is surprising, as it comes just weeks after Blackburn led the vote to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s privacy protections for broadband subscribers. Below we unpack the BROWSER Act and take a look at what to expect in the weeks ahead.

benton logo

Innovators in Digital Inclusion: Free Geek

Free Geek is simple. It is tackling two problems in Portland: an excess of e-waste and the substantial digital divide. Ingeniously, it is using one to impact the other.

benton logo

Improving the Practice of Public Policy

Public policy is so frenetic nowadays that it is hard to focus beyond the latest proposal or… tweet. But talking strategically was my assignment as a plenary speaker at the recent Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide (PPDD) conference in San Diego. Admittedly, I appreciated the challenge to think about effective public policy development, the bigger picture and the long term—perspectives that have become scarce here in Washington. An examination of public policy addressing the digital divide is especially timely as it expands in new dimensions. In particular, advancing economic opportunity, such as enabled through the sharing economy and entrepreneurship, depends on the ability to integrate and leverage digital tools and services with the physical world—and ameliorating this digital divide is a major new focus here at the American Library Association.

benton logo

Should Two Trump Two Million?

On May 18, I had the privilege of joining a people’s protest outside Federal Communications Commission (FCC) headquarters in Washington, DC. Inside on that same morning, two intransigent and backward-looking commissioners (they constitute the FCC majority) announced their intention to dismantle the good and court-approved network neutrality rules put in place by the previous FCC. Their intention is to close the open internet. Meanwhile more than 2,000,000 Americans had already contacted the Commission directly, the overwhelming majority seeking to keep the net neutrality rules and guarantee an internet that serves us all rather than kowtow to big cable and bloated telecom. In the May 18 match-up, 2 trumped 2,000,000, and the semi-final proposal was circulated, with final approval likely late this summer or early fall. Unless even more of us get involved.

benton logo

FCC Reopens Net Neutrality Debate, Seeking “Substantive” Public Comment

On May 18, 2017, the Republican commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission voted to reopen the debate over how to best preserve an Open Internet. Launching a proceeding seeking “substantive” public comment, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed undoing the only legal basis for network neutrality rules that has survived court challenge. The unreleased Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes to reverse the FCC’s 2015 ruling that the transmission component of broadband Internet access service (BIAS) is a telecommunications service. The NPRM also proposes to 1) return to the FCC’s original classification of mobile broadband Internet access service as a private mobile service; and 2) eliminate the Internet conduct standard created by the 2015 Order. Finally, the NPRM questions the need for the FCC’s so-called “bright-line rules” which prohibit broadband providers from a) blocking access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; b) impairing or degrading lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; and c) favoring some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—in other words, no "fast lanes." (This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.)

benton logo

Presentation of Charles Benton Digital Equity Award to Emy Tseng

I am so honored today to present the second annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. Charles’ life was a testament to the principle that real change is the result of sustained effort. He saw in communications a tool that can and should be employed to make communities better, to help people thrive, and to improve our democracy. He was a consistent champion for digital inclusion and the idea that every member of a community should have affordable access, and the required skills, to make use of the latest communications technologies.

benton logo

Digital Inclusion and Outcomes-Based Evaluation

In recent years, government agencies, private foundations, and community-based organizations have increasingly sought to understand how programs that promote digital inclusion lead to social and economic outcomes for individuals, programs, and communities. This push to measure outcomes has been driven, in part, by a larger trend to ensure that dollars are being used efficiently to improve lives rather than simply to deliver services. A new report, published by Benton Foundation, describes the challenges facing community-based organizations and other key stakeholders in using outcomes-based evaluation to measure the success of their digital inclusion programs and offers recommendations toward addressing these shared barriers. This new research builds off Dr. Colin Rhinesmith’s Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives, released in early 2016.

benton logo

Sinclair’s Tribune Purchase, Path Paved By Trump

During the same week that President Donald Trump fired the man in charge of the investigation into the Trump Administration’s ties to Russia, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner of local television stations in the United States, agreed to buy Tribune Media for $3.9 billion. Sinclair is set to acquire Tribune Media’s 42 stations and a prized asset, WGN America, a basic cable and satellite television channel. With the deal, Sinclair will reach more than 70 percent of American households with stations in many major markets, including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. The proposed deal was made possible by a deregulatory vote by the Federal Communications Commission last month. It seems as though the Trump Administration is paving the way for this conservative-leaning group to have greater influence over our civic discourse as it allows increasing ownership consolidation in the industry.

Syndicate content