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.


benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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?

benton logo

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.

benton logo

A Victory for Everyone Who Uses the Internet

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

A Deeper Dive into the Data: Seniors and the Internet

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.

benton logo

Could These 25 Conditions Derail Comcast’s Acquisition of Time Warner Cable?

On February 13, 2014, Comcast announced it had entered into an agreement to buy Time Warner Cable for approximately $45 billion. A transaction of that size requires, by law, approval by federal regulators. In the Comcast-Time Warner Case, both the Department of Justice and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and reviewing the acquisition in a process outlined by Andrew Jay Schwartzman in the Digital Beat last year. With the lobbying power of Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, helping to drive the review, one might suspect relatively easy approval for the deal. But as the one-year anniversary of Comcast’s announcement passed, we saw instead headlines like “A year later, is the huge Comcast-Time Warner Cable deal doomed?”, “One year later, Comcast’s megamerger faces unknown fate, dubious public”, “Skies darken over Comcast merger”, and “Comcast's customer service incidents jeopardizing $45 billion deal”. Clearly, it is time to check in on the merger review. But California regulators -- not the Department of Justice or the FCC -- are the first to show their hand on the prospects of the deal gaining approval.

benton logo

What Section 706 Means for Net Neutrality, Municipal Networks, and Universal Broadband

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.

benton logo

From the Worst FCC Vote to the Best

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.

benton logo

From Death to Resurrection in 377 Days

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!

benton logo

Will The FCC Zero-out Zero-ratings in Net Neutrality Decision?

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.

benton logo

This Week's Wireless Warnings

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.”

Syndicate content