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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A Victory for Everyone Who Uses the Internet

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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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.”

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Better Communities through Better Broadband: A Coalition of Public and Private Interests Affirms the Need for Local Internet Choice

For true believers in the power of broadband, it has been quite a week in Washington. Consider that the President came out in favor of local decision-making on broadband. Or that Sen. Cory Booker and some of his Senate colleagues have just introduced a strong bill (the Community Broadband Act) affirming the right of local governments to undertake broadband projects. Or that the FCC has the issue of local Internet choice on its agenda—and is poised to take a significant stand in February.

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What We Learned About Network Neutrality This Week

“I intend to protect a free and open Internet,” President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 20. For many that was a clear, albeit truncated, reiteration of his statement in November 2014 calling on the Federal Communications Commission to “create a new set of rules protecting net neutrality and ensuring that neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online.” In November, the President asked the FCC to “reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services.”

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the State of the Union

President Barack Obama will deliver the State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 20. But a funny thing happened in the run up to the speech: the President delivered all the punchlines. Well, maybe not all the punchlines and, for thems that watch telecommunications policy, it wasn’t all that funny. You see, as the New York Times pointed out, presidents typically keep State of the Union proposals secret until the last minute, hoping to maximize the political power of the speech. But the White House decided to reverse that strategy, rolling out proposals in the hope of building momentum for the address. And, as it turned out, a key issue the White House decided to focus on this week is the future of the Internet.

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From the Early Adopter’s Dilemma to the Game of Gigs: Building the Information Rich Commons

It is an honor to kick off this First Gigabit City Summit. The arc of history is long but every now and then, its curve steepens and you can see the actual moment, not just the gradual sweep, of change. We are at such a moment. It entails the creation of a new commons—an information rich commons—that will define a generation of cities.

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Say Hello to the New Boss

Happy 114th Congress! On January 6th, the new Congress was sworn into office. Just who are these people are what will they do to impact our communications future? Well, we’re glad you asked.

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Chairman’s Year End Message 2014

I believe deeply that our media and telecommunications can and must serve the public interest and enhance our democracy. On this bedrock faith, the Benton Foundation seeks policy solutions that support the values of access, diversity and equity; demonstrates the value of media and telecommunications for improving the quality of life for all; and provides informational resources to policymakers and advocates to inform communications policy debates. Our overarching goal is to close the digital divide and support digital inclusion, so the most vulnerable populations can participate fully in a diverse media system and in our democracy. With this goal in mind, here are the areas the foundation devoted ourselves to this year.

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The Biggest FCC Vote Ever

We start off the new year with the good news that the Federal Communications will likely vote on net neutrality at its late February meeting. So we might—just might—be on the cusp of a decision to reverse the disastrous misclassification of broadband that the FCC made in 2002 for cable modem and a couple of years later for the rest of telecommunications.

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The Sale of the Century? How the FCC Plans to Sell Off Part of the TV Band

In the Public Safety and Spectrum Act of 2012 (enacted as Title VI of the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2012, Public Law 112-96), Congress authorized the Federal Communications Commission to recover and auction a significant portion of the spectrum currently used by television broadcasters. This will be - by far - the most complex auction process ever undertaken anywhere, for any commodity, and poses unprecedented legal, political, engineering and technological questions. The auction is currently scheduled to take place in early 2016.

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A Year in Review (and a Look Ahead): Time for Lifeline Reform

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has been on the job for just over a year. And with 2014 coming to a close, we look back at the accomplishments of the FCC in his first year. Today we look at the FCC’s Lifeline program which provides discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible low-income subscribers.

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A Year in Review: Bringing Big Broadband to Better Education

On December 11, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission completed a comprehensive reform of the E-rate program, the nation’s largest program supporting education technology. Mandated by Congress in 1996 and implemented by the FCC in 1997, the E-rate provides discounted telecommunications, Internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries, funded by the Universal Service Fund (USF). Over the past year and a half, the FCC has been reviewing the program to ensure that our nation’s students and communities have access to high-capacity broadband connections that support digital learning while making sure that the program remains fiscally responsible and fair to the consumers and businesses that pay into the USF. The real work of modernizing the E-rate reaches back to the earliest days of the Obama Administration.

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