Digital Beat Blog

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Questioning Federal Broadband Spending

Millions of Americans still are not online – many in rural areas. Did the broadband stimulus fail them?

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Celebrating 20 Years at the Benton Foundation

It was 20 years ago today...

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Net Neutrality – An Update

The Federal Communications Commission’s Network Neutrality rules became effective on June 12. Since then, contrary to the warnings of some opponents, the digital world has not stopped turning. On the other hand, while Net Neutrality supporters were jubilant, there has been little visible change for the good, either. That should not be surprising, since the most important impact of the new rules is in shaping future conduct. Even so, for those interested in preserving an open Internet, there are a number of developments worth noting.

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Taking Care of America: Whose Job Is It?

We live in an exceptional country, we like to tell ourselves. If that’s really so, why are we letting it crumble around us? Let’s take a quick and random look around.

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The Next Generation Network Connectivity Handbook: Top Ten Overall Lessons

On July 21, 2015, Gig. U and the Benton Foundation published a comprehensive guide for communities who want better broadband for their residents and businesses. The Next Generation Connectivity Handbook: a Guide for Community Leaders Seeking Affordable Abundant Bandwidth is an indispensable tool in lowering the initial, daunting information barrier for cities just beginning to navigate critical Internet infrastructure issues. Today we share the Handbook’s Top Ten Overall Lessons drawing on the experiences of 25 Gig.U communities who have worked on this issue for many years.

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U.S. Addresses the Digital Divide Where it Lives

The biggest news of the week was, of course, the historic accord reached by Iran and a group of six nations led by the United States to significantly limit Tehran’s nuclear ability for more than a decade in return for lifting international oil and financial sanctions. But there was big news in telecommunications, too, as President Barack Obama and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro announced ConnectHome, an initiative to extend affordable broadband access to families living in HUD-assisted housing. Through ConnectHome, Internet service providers, non-profits and the private sector will offer broadband access, technical training, digital literacy programs, and devices for residents in assisted housing units in 28 communities across the nation.

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A Human Rights Debate Reaches the FCC

Over the past two weeks, a debate at least three years old has reached the Federal Communications Commission: Does everyone have a fundamental right to access the Internet? That is – Is Internet access a human right?

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FCC Moves Toward Making Broadband More Affordable Through Its Lifeline Program

On June 18, 2015, the Federal Communications Commission proposed to again reform modernize its Lifeline program, seeking public input on restructuring the program to better support 21st Century communications while building on existing reforms to continue strengthening protections against waste, fraud and abuse. Established in 1985, the Lifeline program has made phone service – first landline service and now supporting wireless service as an option -- affordable for low-income Americans. Last year, Lifeline some 12 million people. Now, a majority of the five FCC commissioners believe it is time for a fundamental, comprehensive restructuring of the program to meet today’s most pressing communications needs: access to broadband.

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Tom Wheeler - The Halftime Report

Tom Wheeler’s tenure as Federal Communications Commission Chairman is at the halfway point. This is a good time to assess what he has accomplished and what is to come.

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What Just Happened to NSA Reform?

On June 2, 2015, the Senate passed and President Barack Obama signed into law the USA Freedom Act of 2015. This week’s actions been both celebrated and damned by all points, it seems, along the political spectrum. Is it time to celebrate? Or move to Canada?

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Federal Funding Fosters Senior Digital Learning

Concern about seniors being left behind in the digital divide is not a recent phenomenon. Some efforts date back to the mid-1990s. Others emerged when the federal government began to pay serious attention about a decade ago. A small number of BTOP projects focused on seniors. Here are a few highlights.

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A Most Unvirtuous Circle

It’s shaping up as a great political year ahead—if you are a billionaire with an axe to grind or a broadcast or cable operator. In recent years, special interests and ideologues of both the right and the left have dumped billions of dollars of unaccountable advertising onto the airwaves and cables that we rely on for our news and information. In fact, by most estimates, the majority of campaign money nowadays goes into advertising. It’s great for broadcast and cable. When I was a Commissioner at the FCC and I would ask these industry execs how business was doing, they always had an extra-wide grin as we were entering a new election cycle. For many of them, these ads comprised their largest revenue stream. It’s a virtuous circle for them and the billionaires, but not so virtuous for the rest of us—or for our democracy.

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FCC Moves to Make Broadband More Affordable

Cost. Literacy. Relevance. Time and again research identifies these three barriers to broadband adoption. On May 28, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed to modernize the FCC’s Lifeline program to address the first great barrier: cost. Here’s what the proposal looks like.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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