Digital Beat Blog

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Room for Journalists in Facebook's 'Global Community'?

Tech giants disrupted the business model for digital news; can they save journalism? Should they?

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First Lifeline, Now Broadband Program for Schools and Libraries in the FCC’s Crosshairs

First the new Federal Communications Commission majority revoked the approval of nine companies to become Lifeline providers, a move that will weaken the Lifeline program and widen the digital divide. Now it appears that the E-Rate program, which makes broadband services more affordable for America’s schools and libraries, is in the FCC majority’s crosshairs. And much like in the case of Lifeline, the majority is using procedural steps and administrative tools to weaken the E-Rate program.

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The FCC Is Sucking The Life Out Of Lifeline

Here at Benton, we work to make sure communications policy strengthen communities and democracy. We believe that expanding access, adoption, and use of communications technologies is essential for democratic participation -- so naturally, closing the digital divide is a key priority. The Federal Communications Commission, charged with making communication service available “to all the people of the United States" -- has a number of programs to ensure universal service. The E-rate program, created by Congress in 1996, makes broadband and Wi-Fi services more affordable for schools and libraries. The Lifeline program makes telecommunications services more affordable for low-income households. But recent FCC activity has indicated that these programs are at risk -- odd behavior from new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai who said, “I believe one of our core priorities going forward should be to close [the digital divide].”

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Is This What Transparency Looks Like?

On February 2, new Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said, "I want this Commission to be as open and accessible as possible to the American people. I want us to do a better job of communicating with those we are here to serve." The next day, Chairman Pai decided to rescind and hide facts previously released by the Commission.

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Defending the Indefensible: Chairman Pai’s Lifeline Reversal Will Widen the Digital Divide

To my great surprise and delight, the recent move by the Federal Communications Commission's new Republican majority to revoke the designations of nine companies as Lifeline providers has provoked a firestorm in the press, on social media, and on the Hill. The furor has been so intense that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai felt moved to defend the decision on Medium this week. But the Chairman doth protest too much. His thin arguments fail to mask two clear truths. 1) His actions will make the market for Lifeline broadband services less competitive, limiting choice and keeping prices high. As a result, fewer low income Americans will be able to afford broadband. And 2) He (and fellow FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly) fundamentally disagrees with the structure and goals of the Lifeline program and will seek to undermine it in word and deed.

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When the Pai FCC Abandons the Public Interest, Who You Gonna Call?

On February 6, 2017, Andrew Jay Schwartzman – the Benton Senior Counselor at the Public Interest Communications Law Project at Georgetown University Law Center's Institute for Public Representation – appeared before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in an unusual role. The Federal Communications Commission was scheduled to defend its rules to lower the predatory prices inmates and their families pay to make prison phone calls. But with new FCC leadership in place, the FCC decided to not defend the rules, thus abdicating to Schwartzman the protection of the public interest.

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Community Anchor Institutions and Residential Broadband Adoption

The Internet is driving innovation in community and economic development, education, health care, and government services. But residential broadband adoption1 has stalled. Community anchor institutions (CAIs) are improving residential broadband adoption in several ways: providing digital literacy training, educating consumers about government programs to promote broadband adoption, leading community planning efforts, lending wireless “hot spots,” and, in some cases, providing wireless broadband services directly to consumers. For these efforts to have the greatest impact, however, policymakers must provide CAIs and their community partners with the right resources and incentives. Solutions should be locally customized to meet the needs of specific populations.

Broadband Over Power Lines -- We Really Mean It This Time

When telecom engineers are shooting the breeze, they often use the phrase "Project Angel" as a punchline. For almost 20 years, AT&T (and its predecessor company, also called AT&T) periodically announced that it was going to use revolutionary and exotic technologies to deliver high-speed wireless service that could replace (at first) copper phone lines and, later, to deliver ultra-fast broadband service. Despite big press announcements (such as these in 1997, 2000 and 2002), Project Angel never happened. At least until now.

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Making the FCC Transparent Again

Since the 2016 elections, we have been looking at the people who will have the greatest impact on telecommunications and media policy in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission. This week, we got a glimpse at changes we’ll be seeing in how the FCC operates.

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Make America First in Broadband Again

To make America greater, we need better broadband. We need a plan to a Make America First in Broadband Again.

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The First Casualty is the Truth: Trump's Running War With the Media

In a democracy, the key role for citizens is to participate in public life. Voting, of course, is a key aspect of this participation, but, in a vital democracy, citizens’ participation is not limited to occasional trips to the voting booth: they are well-informed about public issues, watch carefully how their political leaders and representatives use their powers, and express their own opinions and interests. To be well-informed, many citizens must rely on journalists who can attend public events, question public officials, and report back to the general public. So important is this function in our democracy, citizens demanded protections for a free press and mass communication in the Bill of Rights. Since President Donald Trump’s Inauguration on January 20, 2017, many people are anxiously looking for clues as to how the Administration will interact with the press. Trump’s first week in office demonstrates that the relationship will be combative. Will the people be the losers in this fight?

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The Selling of Ajit Pai, FCC Chairman and Folk Hero

On January 23, Ajit Pai thanked President Donald Trump for naming Pai the next Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Many believe Chairman Pai is qualified to run the agency, but there is concern in the public interest community that his appointment will mean the end of network neutrality. Conservative policy insiders, on the other hand, paint a different picture of Chairman Pai. In a Presidential transition marked by the President’s promise to “drain the swamp” and challenge the Washington establishment, some have tried to sell Washington insider Ajit Pai as something else.

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No Time To Waste

Word on the street is that the Trump Federal Communications Commission transition team has submitted its report to Administration higher-ups and that it has been largely or wholly accepted. What we know of its recommendations, which have not and may never be released as such, makes for awful news. It sounds like an always-on green light for more mergers and acquisitions than ever and for such a deregulatory approach that our media and telecommunications conglomerates will be encouraged to build out monopoly markets across the land. That means one-sixth of our economy will lack meaningful oversight to protect the common good, a.k.a. the public interest.

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Chairman Wheeler’s Farewell Message (in Two Parts)

With President Barack Obama’s second term ending on January 20, a number of Administration officials are delivering final addresses capsulizing the advances their departments or agencies led over the last eight years. Last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler offered a two-part farewell highlighting the challenges we face dealing with technology-driven upheaval and cautioning policymakers not to reverse policies that ensure that broadband Internet access service is ubiquitous, competitive, affordable, open, and fair.

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The Creation Orientation = Better Community Broadband

There are two ways to approach community broadband networks and “owning the business of broadband”: the problem-solving approach and the creation orientation approach. In creation orientation, you go about the process of creating something that didn’t before exist. This orientation is a different way of thinking about the task at hand, and leads to more effective broadband projects. Hybrid wireless/wired infrastructure facilitates the creation orientation.

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Who's Who in Telecommunications Policy -- Part 1: The 115th Congress

As we await the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump on January 20, the 115th Congress is back at work. In a week that contained a flurry of nomination hearings, a late-night vote-a-rama, and an interesting press conference, the key Congressional communications policy committees announced their membership. Below we take a look at the new committee rosters, as well as what to expect for the new Federal Communications Commission.

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Stingray 101: How Law Enforcement Agencies And, Perhaps, Anyone Else, Can And Do Intercept Cell Phone Calls

Cell-site simulators, often referred to as “Stingrays,” pose important legal and policy issues for a democratic society, especially in light of evidence that these devices have disproportionately been used to target communities of color.

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Globalstar's Christmas Present

On December 22, the Federal Communications Commission gave a satellite operator named Globalstar a Christmas present of sorts, along with a lump of coal. The events leading up to this action present a case study that offers insights into the physical, economic, legal, and political forces that shape telecommunications policy.

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Partnerships, Sharing, and Community Anchor Institution Broadband

Joint procurement, aggregated purchasing, and coordinated planning can significantly reduce the costs of providing high-quality broadband to anchor institutions.

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The Trump FCC’s Toolkit For Deregulating Media and Telecommunications

Although there are many articles and blog posts discussing likely policy changes in the media and telecommunications space, it is far too early to know exactly when and what will happen at the Federal Communications Commission under the forthcoming Trump Administration. However, it is not too soon to identify the legal mechanisms available to Congress and the FCC to unwind many of the Obama era accomplishments. In light of the Democrats’ loss of the White House and failure to take control of the Senate, public interest advocates will have a very hard time protecting these and earlier regulatory requirements given the breadth of the power conferred by these statutes. From the moment he took office in late 2013, outgoing FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler operated from the premise that his tenure might not extend beyond January 2017. Even though he undertook an ambitious agenda as soon as he arrived, a number of his major initiatives were not completed until the latter part of 2016. As a practical matter, it is reasonably easy for Congressional Republicans and the incoming Republican majority at the FCC to derail at least some of these recently adopted regulations. Here’s how.

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