Digital Beat Blog

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At CCA Convention, FCC Commissioners Discuss Competition and the Future of Mobile Broadband

This week, three members of the Federal Communications Commission spoke to the Competitive Carriers Association, an advocacy organization for competitive wireless carriers.

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Setting the Communications Policy Agenda for the Next Administration

For the past thirty years, the Aspen Institute has convened an annual conference that has focused on topics related to communications policy. Each year, participants, including regulators and other policymakers, scholars, and representatives of telecommunications companies and public interest groups, have met to address a specific issue and develop recommendations for constructive action around that issue. The 31st annual Aspen conference took place several months before the Presidential election that will bring a new administration to power. Given this timing, it seemed appropriate for the 2016 conference to explore the key communications issues that will face the incoming administration and develop an agenda for action on these issues. Of course, the two candidates have sharply differing views on a wide range of topics, and even though communications policy has not been the focus of much discussion during the campaign, their approach to this topic is likely to differ as well. Still, it was possible to identify some big issues that will demand attention in the near future no matter who wins the election, and to propose promising approaches for dealing with them.

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Wi-Fi and Wireless Networking for Community Anchor Institutions

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Setting the (Post-Election) Broadband Agenda

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission were hard at work this week in advance of the November elections. Numerous Congressional hearings were held relating to telecommunications policy, such as Wednesday’s on the Internet domain name system transition and Thursday’s FCC oversight hearing in the Senate. But I thought I’d focus on long term broadband policy (you know, after November 8). The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) released a public notice seeking comment on crafting a National Broadband Research Agenda. And FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai delivered his proposal for reducing the digital divide; he calls it his “Digital Empowerment Agenda.”

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Laboring Away: FCC Proposes TV Set-Top Rules and Lawmakers Feud Over Internet Transition

Washington is back in full-swing after the Labor Day holiday. Congress is in session, elections are heating up, and the Federal Communications Commission released its “robust and diverse agenda” for its September 29 open meeting. Headling the FCC meeting are proposed rules to unlock the TV set-top box marketplace, rules that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled in an op-ed on Thursday. In Congress, several lawmakers called for a reconsideration of the ICANN Internet transition, and one even launched a website with a countdown until “Obama gives away the Internet.” It’s good to be back, right?

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Broadband Needs Assessment and Planning for Community Anchor Institutions

Broadband needs assessment and planning for community anchor institutions (CAIs) is one of the most critical steps that state and local governments can take to improve broadband connectivity and promote economic growth in their regions. Conducting an inventory of the locations and speeds of existing broadband services for CAIs – and identifying the gaps in broadband coverage – can help attract new funding and target investments to the areas with the most need. Conducting an inventory among all CAIs can also facilitate meaningful partnerships and strategies to ensure that the entire community has adequate broadband connectivity.

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AT&T v. FTC Decision and Media Ownership Rules Review

On August 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit announced its decision in AT&T Mobility v. The Federal Trade Commission. On August 25, the Federal Communications Commission released a report and order closing its review of broadcast ownership rules which dates back to 2009.

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The Facebook Election Machine

As the 2016 Presidential primaries were starting in February, we looked at the digital tools offered by Facebook and Google to help voters gain information -- and be reached by candidates. Then, we were worried about people who don’t have Internet access or, God forbid, don’t use Facebook. A few articles we read this week now makes us more concerned for Facebook users.

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Back Azimuth: Revisiting the Network Compact

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler was in Aspen (CO) this week addressing the 30th Annual Conference on Communications Policy. He returned to a familiar subject: the Network Compact. His aim was to offer a perspective on what lies ahead for the FCC by first looking back. Chairman Wheeler is known for his love of history. In his eyes, we are living through a network revolution driven by ever-evolving technology which is changing the patterns of commerce and culture. The lessons of how people dealt with past network revolutions are a “’back azimuth’,” Wheeler said, “a concept familiar to navigators in which a landmark in the rear is used to inform the path forward.”

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The Most Important Part of the Telecommunications Business You Probably Don't Know About

A hallmark of Tom Wheeler’s tenure as Federal Communications Commission Chairman has been his willingness to take on difficult challenges and push them to completion. Surely one of the most difficult of these undertakings has been to reform “special access,” which the Wheeler FCC has wisely, and more appropriately, renamed “Business Data Services." Reform advocates argue that BDS prices are grossly excessive and unjustly enrich the former AT&T local phone companies. They maintain that this has stifled competition and dissuaded new entrants into the market. Since these overcharges are passed through to all consumers, the overcharges have arguably increased the prices that we pay for all manner of services seemingly unrelated to telecommunications. If they are right, the changes under consideration should generate more competition and lower prices.

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States Again Can Restrict Community Broadband's Growth

On August 11, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of two states that opposed the Federal Communications Commission’s attempt to preempt state laws that restrict the growth of municipal broadband networks. The decision is a victory to cable and telephone companies that oppose community broadband.

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Can We Get Better Wi-Fi Without Jeopardizing Traffic Safety?

It might not be surprising that major industries would mount a big fight over how to deploy a swathe of currently unused spectrum. However, a dispute over a chunk of spectrum located in the 5.9 gigahertz (GHz) band also pits different parts of the federal government against each other and, even in Washington’s ever-more partisan environment, has Republicans and Democrats on both sides. As such, the dispute offers some important insights into the political gamesmanship surrounding spectrum allocation.

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A Tour of Kansas City’s Digital Divide

a guest article by Casey De La Torre, a student at Florida International University. In May, Casey attended the 2016 Net Inclusion Summit at the Kansas City Public Library. In the post below, she discusses key insights from a tour of Kansas City organizations addressing the digital divide, and how it connects to her digital literacy work in Miami-Dade County, Florida. In June, the Benton Foundation published “Net Inclusion 2016: Addressing the Digital Divide From Miami to Kansas City” by Casey’s classmate, Romina Angelelli.

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Progress for Prison Phone Rates and Accessibility

The Federal Communications Commission held its monthly meeting on August 4, covering prison phone rates, the FCC’s program for providing affordable communications equipment for people with hearing and vision loss, and new rules to create a pathway for 100% compatibility with wireless hearing aid devices.

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Benton and Rhinesmith Continue Digital Inclusion Research Partnership

Dr. Colin Rhinesmith joined the Benton Foundation as our Faculty Research Fellow. We want to aid both policymakers and practitioners in the design, implementation, and evaluation of digital inclusion and broadband adoption strategies. The goal is open, affordable, high-capacity broadband access, adoption and use for all Americans. Our partnership has produced important research and, we’re happy to announce, will continue for the next year.

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DNC 2016: Broadband Platform and Leaked E-mails

This week, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party swept into Philadelphia (PA) for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. The party unveiled its platform, which contains a plan for universal broadband, a commitment to an open Internet both here and abroad, and -- ironically, it turns out -- cybersecurity promises. Just prior to the convention, Wikileaks released e-mails from top Democratic National Committee staffers, resulting in the resignation of party Chairwoman Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). The shadow cast by the leaks was the backdrop to a convention that featured Clinton making history as the first woman nominated by a major political party in the U.S. to be President. Let’s unpack some of the most important parts of DNC 2016.

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RNC 2016: GOP Platform, Media Coverage, and Notable Moments

This week, Donald Trump and the Republican Party rolled into Cleveland, Ohio for the 2016 Republican National Convention. In a spectacle of full of cheers, jeers, and fears, Donald Trump officially accepted the Republican nomination. Importantly, the GOP unveiled the party platform, which addresses universal broadband, Internet governance, and EdTech. The convention itself was a high-tech affair, with social media and live-streaming used as popular tools. The press, some of which had been previously blacklisted by the Trump campaign, was in full force, as reporters streamed and tweeted their way through the four-day convention. Let’s unpack some of the most important parts of RNC 2016.

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An Action Plan to Connect Community Anchor Institutions and Close the Digital Divide

On July 13, 2016, the Benton Foundation published the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition's Connecting Anchor Institutions: A Broadband Action Plan.

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Benton Partners With SHLB to Nourish Communities With Broadband

The Benton Foundation is publishing the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition’s Connecting Anchor Institutions: A Broadband Action Plan because our top priority for 2016 and beyond is affordable broadband access and adoption for all Americans.

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Platforms Without Media?

Party platforms can be sleepy affairs. In recent years, platform writing too often became an exercise of box-checking to “reach out and touch” as many interest groups as possible so everyone felt involved, with an anodyne sentence or two thrown in so these interests felt included. Long on generalities and short on specifics, platforms in recent years were routinely adopted at the party’s convention—and then promptly forgotten. So far 2016 has defied conventional wisdom and political history on many fronts. There are signs that even platform drafting might be affected. Just last week, Mrs. Clinton came forward with a technology agenda strongly promoting universal, affordable broadband and an open internet. We in the public interest community have been fighting for support on both these issues for years, so it is gratifying to see one of the major parties responding. But so far we haven’t heard much on media policy. We ignore media policy at our own peril. An informed electorate is the essential foundation for successful self-government, and media are responsible for providing us with the news and information we need to make intelligent decisions for the country’s future. Media are a public good, as necessary to democracy’s life as oxygen is to an individual’s life.

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