Digital Beat Blog

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Rural Broadband Takes Center Stage During Tech Week

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The Supreme Court Establishes A First Amendment Framework For Social Media

This week’s Supreme Court opinion is likely to serve as an important guidepost as courts assess the First Amendment implications of efforts to restrict access to the Internet.

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Rosenworcel Renomination, Take 3 (updated)

Jessica Rosenworcel has been nominated for a new term to be a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission -- take 3. President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Rosenworcel to return to the FCC on June 13. She served on the Commission from 2012-2017, leaving because the Senate failed to bring her renomination to a vote, due to larger political battles. Democrat Rosenworcel’s confirmation will likely be paired with a nomination of a Republican by President Trump, subsequently filling all seats on the Commission. Below we unpack the long trip it has been to get to Rosenworcel’s (third) renomination and what it will mean for the FCC -- and some pending legislation -- going forward.

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The BROWSER Act

On May 18, House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the BROWSER Act (H.R. 2520), legislation that would apply privacy regulations to both Internet service providers (ISPs) and edge providers (e.g., Netflix and Facebook). Most notably, the bill would require companies to obtain users' permission before sharing their sensitive information, including web-browsing history, with advertisers. The legislation is surprising, as it comes just weeks after Blackburn led the vote to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s privacy protections for broadband subscribers. Below we unpack the BROWSER Act and take a look at what to expect in the weeks ahead.

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Innovators in Digital Inclusion: Free Geek

Free Geek is simple. It is tackling two problems in Portland: an excess of e-waste and the substantial digital divide. Ingeniously, it is using one to impact the other.

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Improving the Practice of Public Policy

Public policy is so frenetic nowadays that it is hard to focus beyond the latest proposal or… tweet. But talking strategically was my assignment as a plenary speaker at the recent Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide (PPDD) conference in San Diego. Admittedly, I appreciated the challenge to think about effective public policy development, the bigger picture and the long term—perspectives that have become scarce here in Washington. An examination of public policy addressing the digital divide is especially timely as it expands in new dimensions. In particular, advancing economic opportunity, such as enabled through the sharing economy and entrepreneurship, depends on the ability to integrate and leverage digital tools and services with the physical world—and ameliorating this digital divide is a major new focus here at the American Library Association.

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Should Two Trump Two Million?

On May 18, I had the privilege of joining a people’s protest outside Federal Communications Commission (FCC) headquarters in Washington, DC. Inside on that same morning, two intransigent and backward-looking commissioners (they constitute the FCC majority) announced their intention to dismantle the good and court-approved network neutrality rules put in place by the previous FCC. Their intention is to close the open internet. Meanwhile more than 2,000,000 Americans had already contacted the Commission directly, the overwhelming majority seeking to keep the net neutrality rules and guarantee an internet that serves us all rather than kowtow to big cable and bloated telecom. In the May 18 match-up, 2 trumped 2,000,000, and the semi-final proposal was circulated, with final approval likely late this summer or early fall. Unless even more of us get involved.

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FCC Reopens Net Neutrality Debate, Seeking “Substantive” Public Comment

On May 18, 2017, the Republican commissioners on the Federal Communications Commission voted to reopen the debate over how to best preserve an Open Internet. Launching a proceeding seeking “substantive” public comment, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed undoing the only legal basis for network neutrality rules that has survived court challenge. The unreleased Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes to reverse the FCC’s 2015 ruling that the transmission component of broadband Internet access service (BIAS) is a telecommunications service. The NPRM also proposes to 1) return to the FCC’s original classification of mobile broadband Internet access service as a private mobile service; and 2) eliminate the Internet conduct standard created by the 2015 Order. Finally, the NPRM questions the need for the FCC’s so-called “bright-line rules” which prohibit broadband providers from a) blocking access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; b) impairing or degrading lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; and c) favoring some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—in other words, no "fast lanes." (This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.)

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Presentation of Charles Benton Digital Equity Award to Emy Tseng

I am so honored today to present the second annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. Charles’ life was a testament to the principle that real change is the result of sustained effort. He saw in communications a tool that can and should be employed to make communities better, to help people thrive, and to improve our democracy. He was a consistent champion for digital inclusion and the idea that every member of a community should have affordable access, and the required skills, to make use of the latest communications technologies.

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Digital Inclusion and Outcomes-Based Evaluation

In recent years, government agencies, private foundations, and community-based organizations have increasingly sought to understand how programs that promote digital inclusion lead to social and economic outcomes for individuals, programs, and communities. This push to measure outcomes has been driven, in part, by a larger trend to ensure that dollars are being used efficiently to improve lives rather than simply to deliver services. A new report, published by Benton Foundation, describes the challenges facing community-based organizations and other key stakeholders in using outcomes-based evaluation to measure the success of their digital inclusion programs and offers recommendations toward addressing these shared barriers. This new research builds off Dr. Colin Rhinesmith’s Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives, released in early 2016.

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Sinclair’s Tribune Purchase, Path Paved By Trump

During the same week that President Donald Trump fired the man in charge of the investigation into the Trump Administration’s ties to Russia, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner of local television stations in the United States, agreed to buy Tribune Media for $3.9 billion. Sinclair is set to acquire Tribune Media’s 42 stations and a prized asset, WGN America, a basic cable and satellite television channel. With the deal, Sinclair will reach more than 70 percent of American households with stations in many major markets, including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. The proposed deal was made possible by a deregulatory vote by the Federal Communications Commission last month. It seems as though the Trump Administration is paving the way for this conservative-leaning group to have greater influence over our civic discourse as it allows increasing ownership consolidation in the industry.

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Showcasing the Inaugural Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award Winners

Local governments are leading the way to implement innovative, forward-looking civic technology programs that narrow the digital divide and make cities more livable. But for all the impressive initiatives out there, many brilliant ideas never get off the ground for lack of resources. So last year, with support from the Democracy Fund and the Benton Foundation, Next Century Cities launched the Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award. The competitive civic innovation prize invited cities to propose out-of-the-box solutions to local challenges.

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For Now, Net Neutrality's Future Is At The FCC

In the week since Federal Communications Commission Chairman Pai benton logoopened a new chapter in the ongoing network neutrality debate, the courts and Congress have confirmed that the ball is squarely in the FCC's court. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected a request to further review the net neutrality rules it upheld in 2016, citing the Chairman’s upcoming Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) as the reason. In the legislative branch, Republican Senators introduced a bill that would nullify the FCC’s net neutrality rules and prevent any future action by the FCC. But Senate Democrats claim a bipartisan compromise is highly unlikely. For now, net neutrality's future is at the FCC.

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Looking Ahead to the Connect America Fund Phase II Auction

Under the new Trump Administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) moved quickly to take concrete steps to advance parts of Chairman Pai’s digital empowerment agenda to advance broadband across America. In February, the FCC voted to adopt rules for the upcoming Mobility Fund Phase II auction and the Connect America Fund Phase II auction. More recently, the Chairman established a Task Force to oversee the two auctions, signaling that these auctions are a priority for the agency. That’s progress – but the real question is – what needs to happen next to have successful auctions for these universal service subsidies?

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Net Neutrality’s New Chapter

Stop me if you’ve heard this before. News leaked that the Federal Communications Commission Chairman will propose new network neutrality rules to ensure a free and open Internet. People freaked out. FCC Chairman outlines his plan for net neutrality. People freak out more. FCC Chairman releases full net neutrality proposal. All Hell breaks loose. Although there’s generally been bipartisan agreement that broadband subscribers deserve consumer protection, there’s never been political consensus on how to ensure those protections. For anyone scoring at home, here's how we arrived at where we are this week. And here's what to expect in the weeks ahead.

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Innovators in Digital Inclusion: Multnomah County Library

Like most public libraries across the United States, Multnomah County Library (MCL) has long provided access to public computers, the Internet (through Wi-Fi), and personalized training to the community it serves. MCL has leveraged grants and partnerships to provide tailored services to community members with low technology literacy and few resources. The library is a primary partner in a collaborative, regional digital inclusion effort that includes:1) documenting community needs, 2) increasing access to low-cost devices and broadband service, and 3) delivering training where it’s needed most. In recent years, the library has focused increasingly on technology-related service in languages other than English, including Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese and Chinese.

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Beware: The UHF Discount Is Rising From The Dead

The ultra high frequency (UHF) Discount is the zombie of media policy, likely to rise from the dead this week at the Federal Communications Commission’s April 20, 2017 meeting. The likely restoration of the UHF Discount raises interesting legal issues, since no one disputes that there the policy rationale for its adoption has long since disappeared. Those arguments will play out at the Federal Communications Commission and, perhaps, in the courts, but this post is about the colorful history of the UHF Discount and why restoring it would likely lead to vastly increased concentration of control of TV stations in this country.

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Net Neutrality Repeal Begins

Last week, news broke that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has developed plans for a fast-track repeal of the FCC’s Open Internet rules. While the plans have only been shared in meetings with broadband industry lobbyists, network neutrality advocates have been quick to criticize the early reports. The always-transparent Chairman Pai has not revealed the plans to the public, but there’s already speculation that a preliminary vote on the proposal could come as early as the FCC’s May meeting.

Pew: Americans have mixed views on policies encouraging broadband adoption

As the Federal Communications Commission continues to address broadband infrastructure and access, Americans have mixed views on two policies designed to encourage broadband adoption, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

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The FCC Should Preserve Broadband Access for All Schools

Former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler discusses the E-rate program, and poses four questions for the current FCC to consider as it works to preserve broadband access for all schools. This article originally appeared on the blog of the Aspen Institute, where Wheeler serves as a senior fellow in the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program.

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