Digital Beat Blog

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Digital Inclusion Heroes

We all fully expect the FCC’s decision to impact millions of lives, extending the benefits of broadband to people who, frankly, have faced the very real choice between an Internet connection or being able to put food on the table. I don’t discount that; I ask that, just for a moment, we consider the policy impact of the FCC’s Lifeline order.

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Cities, Technology, the Next Generation of Urban Development, and the Next Administration

My topic today is Cities, Technology, the Next Generation of Urban Development and the Next Administration. It’s a challenge, as we cannot know who will be the next President. One could look to prediction markets or polls but this campaign is as predictable as a game of basketball pitting the best offense in baseball versus the best defense in football. Both major party candidates will be playing in a different game than the one that got them to the final round. Further, not in my lifetime has there been an election in which the political variation is so great. The Presidency, Congress and the Courts could all shift, with a wide ideological delta. Nonetheless we can know some things about the next four years related to this conference.

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A New Charter

Nearly a year after the deal was announced, Charter Communications this week won final regulatory approval to buy Time Warner Cable and Advance/Newhouse Partnership (the parent of Bright House Networks, LLC). The resulting company will be named “New Charter,” which will be the second-largest cable company (after Comcast), and third-largest pay-TV company (after AT&T/DirecTV and Comcast), with over 17 million video subscribers.

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FCC's Lifeline Reform Makes Digital Inclusion A National Priority

The Federal Communications Commission recently voted to modernize its Lifeline program, beginning to shift the program, which has traditionally made telephone service more affordable, to focus on increasing broadband adoption among low-income consumers. The key purpose of the FCC's actions is to increase the affordability of broadband service, which remains the chief impediment to broadband adoption among low-income consumers. In its Lifeline decision, the FCC concluded that low-cost broadband -- coupled with strategic, effective digital inclusion efforts -- will significantly impact the lives of millions of consumers, particularly those with lower incomes and in key demographic groups, such as seniors, veterans, persons with disabilities, rural communities, and those living on Tribal lands, many of which may also have an increased need for access to educational, public health and /or public safety services. The FCC encourages Lifeline providers to work with schools, libraries, community centers and other organizations, such as food banks and senior citizen centers, that serve low-income consumers to increase broadband adoption and address non-price barriers to adoption. The FCC's decision marks the beginning of an ongoing campaign at the agency to build its digital literacy capacity and to keep apprised and abreast of the state of digital inclusion across the country. The FCC's Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB) is charged with developing, within six months, a comprehensive plan for the FCC to better understand the non-price barriers to digital inclusion and to propose how the FCC can facilitate efforts to address those barriers. This plan will address promoting digital inclusion generally and also as it particularly relates to the new Lifeline program.

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Tom Wheeler In The Home Stretch

Last June, this blog noted that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler was at the halfway point of his tenure and that he understood that “[t]he template for an effective chairmanship is to identify major priorities and get them underway as quickly as possible.” The Wheeler era is nearing its end. [Even if a Democrat is elected President, she will appoint her own Chair soon after Inauguration Day.] Although the verdict of history will depend to a considerable degree on whether the courts uphold his decisions, Chairman Wheeler has successfully completed FCC action on several of his major priorities. And, far from letting up, Chairman Wheeler continues to press existing and new initiatives on a schedule that might allow action on them before the end of the year. As has been the case all along, he faces powerful opposition to almost everything he wants to accomplish. And, as the sand empties out of Wheeler’s hour glass, opponents are increasingly resorting to delay tactics in the hope that Wheeler’s successor may not wish to pursue the same goals – or may not do so as effectively.

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Telecom Policy Potpourri

It was a busy week for telecommunications policy. The Federal Communications Commission held its April Open Meeting, and Congress had some legislation move along, including the E-mail Privacy Act. Below, we take a sampling of this week’s potpourri.

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What a Difference a Year Makes

Today marks the first anniversary of Charles Benton’s death. You may have known Charles because you met him at a conference or you spoke on the phone or you read one of his articles. Tall, large of voice, possessed of dazzling grin and intractable hair, Charles naturally drew considerable attention. He was the Benton Foundation for many people. Over the past 12 months, there has been an incredible outpouring of love, support, and fond memories of Charles. My colleagues and I have had the pleasure of traveling around the country to be part of many celebrations of Charles’ – and the foundation’s – contributions. Although one might be tempted to call all this the Charles Benton Memorial Tour, for me, it has actually been a listening tour – hearing not just about what various people and groups admired about Charles, but also about their concerns and priorities as the country considers who will be leading us in the years to come. This year, I’ve been thinking about "Digital Deserts." Despite great gains in achieving universal broadband, a number of “Digital Deserts” persist in the U.S. Many communities and households still do not have broadband service. We want to offer policy recommendations that will transform these deserts into oases of opportunity, and connect them to affordable, reliable, high-capacity broadband. I’m so encouraged by the Federal Communications Commission’s decision to expand Lifeline support to include broadband service, making sure that millions of American families will no longer have to choose between buying groceries or paying for the connectivity that, for instance, allows their children to complete their homework assignments. But much more work needs to be done. I believe that broadband is a key instrument in addressing economic insecurity.

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Libraries Support Lifeline as Important Step on the Path to Digital Equity

When Benjamin Franklin created the first lending library in America almost three hundred years ago, he established an institution committed to letting loose the transformational power of knowledge. To this day, public libraries stand committed to the principle that information should be available to all, regardless of where you live, how much you earn, or when you were born. Increasingly libraries provide some of that information online, through free access to ebooks, original documents like the New York Public Library’s high-definition scan of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, and even software that you can borrow virtually through the Kansas City Public Library. All of these efforts depend on affordable, accessible Internet service.

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Will Lifeline Modernization Be CURB-ed?

On April 19, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology marked up several telecommunications bills including the Controlling the Unchecked and Reckless Ballooning of Lifeline Act (or the Lifeline CURB Act (H.R.4884), if you’re scoring at home). The subcommittee approved the bill by a final vote of 17-11 along party lines, with Republican members of the subcommittee supporting the measure.

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Unlocking Potential: Internet and Prisons

Researchers and policymakers have largely forgotten prisoners when considering universal Internet access and the Digital Divide. These inmates are, by default, digitally excluded during their incarcerations, denying them access to a potentially potent tool for improving rehabilitation and decreasing recidivism.

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CURB Your Enthusiasm: House Considers Capping Lifeline Program and Passes Ban on Broadband Rate Regulation

Two important communication bills are winding their way through the House: On April 13, the House Communications Subcommittee held a hearing on seven (seven!) communications bills. One of those bills, The Controlling the Unchecked and Reckless Ballooning of the Lifeline Fund Act (CURB Lifeline) (HR 4884) seeks to impose a hard budget cap on the Lifeline program. Separately, the full House this week considered The No Rate Regulation of Broadband Internet Access Act (HR 2666), which would prevent the Federal Communications Commission from imposing rate regulations on broadband service. But some fear the bill would go far beyond blocking telephone-style rate regulations, gutting the FCC’s authority to enforce its Open Internet rules.

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FCC Connects Low-Income Consumers to the Internet

Although the Federal Communications Commission has not yet released a report and order on its decision to modernize the Lifeline program, we wanted to share a quick summary of the decision. Below, please find a great summary from Anthony L. Butler, a Consumer Education & Outreach Specialist in the Consumer Affairs & Outreach Division of the FCC's Consumer Governmental Affairs Bureau. The Benton Foundation will share a more detailed summary of the historic decision after the report and order is released.

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Can The FCC Protect Internet Subscribers’ Online Privacy?

On March 31, on a party-line 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission proposed to adopt new rules designed to provide privacy protections for customers of Internet service providers. The FCC’s wide-ranging Notice of Proposed Rulemaking asks hundreds of questions as to how it should shape these requirements. There has already been considerable news coverage concerning the scope and details of these rules, and there will be much more debate as the Commission’s inquiry proceeds over the coming months. However, there has been less discussion about the underlying legal issues which made it necessary for the FCC to initiate this proceeding and the questions about whether the FCC can, indeed, adopt the rules it has proposed.

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The Lifeline from Digital Desert to Digital Opportunity

This week, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on a proposal that will make broadband Internet service more affordable for millions of low-income consumers. For these people who are some of the most vulnerable in our society, the FCC will be providing a lifeline to opportunity.

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Lifeline Enters Final Stages of Debate

NTIA finds gain in Internet use, but as we know, especially for broadband, cost of service remains the major barrier to adoption. As the FCC considers how to employ its Lifeline program to address this barrier, we’ve entered the final stage of the debate.

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“What do you mean, you don’t use the Internet? Do you live under a rock?!”

In a time and society in which Internet use and Internet skills are expected of everyone—especially those under retirement age—affordable access to broadband infrastructures is a first, key step. But additional barriers to broadband adoption—digital skills and the motivation to use digital technologies and the Internet in the first place—must also be addressed. Recent studies have shown that cost and access remain critical barriers for going (and staying) online. But my research shows that non-users increasingly mention other issues such as a lack of skills and interest as well. At the same time, other studies found that negative attitudes to technologies and the Internet may be holding non-users back from becoming Internet users as much as socio-demographic factors, such as income and education. It is thus important that we pay attention not only to the “hard factors” of being offline, but also the “soft factors” like attitudes and perceptions that could potentially increase the motivation to go online. At the same time, it is critical that we do not patronize non-users by stigmatizing them as being stuck in the 20th century or making them feel like outsiders.

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Your Right to Know and Choose: Wheeler’s Broadband Privacy Proposal

The Federal Communications Commission Open Meeting on March 31 is shaping up to be one of high importance. Last week, I wrote about the FCC’s proposal to modernize the Lifeline program in order to make the Internet more accessible for communities of lower-income. (See: “A Historic Moment for Broadband Adoption”) This week, I take a look at FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to protect the online privacy of broadband consumers.

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A Historic Moment for Broadband Adoption

President Barack Obama and the Federal Communications Commission unveiled significant proposals to increase broadband adoption in the U.S. Their efforts are aimed at reducing the digital divide, paving the way for people with lower-incomes to seize the opportunities that digital technologies and connectivity provide. A look at the White House's ConnectALL initiative and the Lifeline proposed order.

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What to Expect When You’re Expecting Lifeline Reform: A Public Interest Perspective on Making Broadband Service Affordable for All

This month, the Federal Communications Commission will vote to revamp a federal telephone support program, called Lifeline, to include subsidies for broadband Internet service for low-income households. This primer should get you up to speed on the key issues at play in the docket while highlighting a public interest perspective on the ongoing discussions. Academic research increasingly points to cost being the biggest barrier to broadband adoption. A healthy, competitive Lifeline program that offers robust, meaningful broadband access to low-income Americans is one of the federal government’s most powerful tools to chip away at the cost barrier.

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The Internet Discussion We're Not Having

Our media are letting us down. From their mostly vapid coverage of the 2016 Presidential campaign on television to the paucity of new information on the Internet’s major “news” sites, the communications ecosystem is failing our democracy. It’s a failure that has already cost us dearly and a breakdown that will only get worse until we recognize and confront the damage that has been done. Sadly, amid the incessant hurling of personal broadsides and character assassination from many of the candidates, and the ubiquitous replay of sordid electioneering masquerading as “breaking news” on just about every channel, real coverage of issues gets the hindmost.

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