Digital Beat Blog

benton logo

Lifeline – Where Is It Going? A Community Perspective

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance is comprised of local community organizations, public libraries and other institutions that are working hard to increase broadband access and digital skills among our neighbors. To improve the daily lives of all community members, we call for public policies for digital inclusion that reflect what we've learned from experience. We offer this expertise to the Federal Communications Commission to aid the reform and modernization of Lifeline.

benton logo

Lifeline - Where Did It Come From?

Lifeline telecommunications services have long generated controversy, but over the last few years, critics have been especially vociferous, railing against what they have termed “Obamaphones,” wireless phones with modest free service allotments provided to low income users. (As discussed below, and as this snopes.com explainer says, the term is a misnomer in that the Lifeline program dates to the 1980's and it was expanded to wireless during the George W. Bush Administration.) In the coming weeks, the Federal Communications Commission will likely launch a proceeding considering a number of changes to its Lifeline Assistance program (Lifeline), including an expansion of its coverage to broadband services. Therefore, this is a good time to review the history and legal underpinnings of Lifeline, and how the “Obamaphone” came into being.

benton logo

Verizon-AOL: You've Got Privacy Issues

On May 12, Verizon announced an agreement to purchase AOL, “a leader in the digital content and advertising platforms space,” for approximately $4.4 billion. Some may question how the sounds of “You’ve Got Mail” and dial-up modems can command billions in our increasingly always-connected world. But today’s AOL is a reinvention of the early online trailblazer and purchaser of Time Warner. In today’s wireless environment, this deal is about attracting – and tracking – customers and, so, may have huge privacy implications.

GAO Report Bolsters Need for Lifeline Broadband Expansion

The Lifeline program allows our nation’s most vulnerable communities to maintain telephone service that would otherwise be unaffordable – service that is essential for connecting with loved ones, searching for employment, pursuing further education goals, engaging fully as citizens, and calling 911. But a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, commissioned by Sen. John Thune (R-SD) to evaluate the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) reforms to the Lifeline program, quickly drew fire from some Republican leaders. They allege that the FCC should not work on expanding the program to broadband until it addresses points raised in the GAO report. But to call to a halt the FCC’s planned reform efforts based on this report would be to ignore its findings.

benton logo

Disadvantaged elders: Least likely to be online

Our previous article noted that only 57-59% of seniors currently use the Internet or go online, compared to 86-88% of all adults age 18+ (Pew Research Center, 2014). This age-based disparity has lessened recently, due in part to 1) efforts throughout the nation to promote senior digital literacy and 2) the initial “cohort effect” of tech-savvy baby boomers who began entering the age 65+ category in 2011.

benton logo

What a Difference a Year Makes in the Network Neutrality Debate

At this time in 2014, we reported on the controversy surrounding the Federal Communications Commission’s imminent release of proposed rules to ensure an Open Internet. Many feared the rules FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would propose could allow Internet service providers to charge for faster, better access to consumers. Our question on May 9, 2014: “Will the uprising of opposition be enough to convince Chairman Wheeler to change course?” Well, what a difference a year makes. History was made by unprecedented, grassroots activistism and a FCC leader willing to listen and the courage to change his mind. Today our weekly round-up takes us back to where we were one year ago.

benton logo

Missing Charles

Charles Benton has been gone less than a week, but I miss him already. I miss him as friend, as a thoroughly delightful person, and—apropos to this testimonial—a dauntless and effective champion of the public interest. I could not have admired this good man more. Charming and gentle, yes, but tenacious and indefatigable too, he left this world much better than he found it.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

benton logo

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.

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.

Syndicate content