Access, Diversity, and Equity are More Important Now Than Ever

If I learned anything during this election, it is that opposing sides are not speaking with each other. And because we are more disconnected, we need to focus on ways to connect. We should be thinking about the fundamental power of communication as a way to bring us together, not further divide us.

The benefits of broadband-enabled communication are well-documented. Broadband use helps people find and apply for jobs, gives them access to better health care and alleviates the “homework gap” for children who currently have no home Internet. Broadband has been proven to increase economic growth and foster participation in our democracy.

Now that the election is over, we must return to fixing the challenges the entire nation faces together.

Both President-elect Trump and Secretary Clinton identified rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure as a priority – and they both included telecommunications as part of that critical need. We can’t make America greater without great broadband; we can’t make America greater if we fall behind internationally and leave too many Americans behind. The working-class who spoke loudly in this election need to be heard – not just on Election Day. They need the kinds of connectivity – at work, at home, and on their commute -- that ensure they can contribute to the global economy and their kids have the same access to the same universe of knowledge as kids in the most affluent areas here and abroad. We need pragmatic infrastructure solutions and initiatives that can extend broadband opportunity to the very Americans who feel they are being left behind, and help connect us as Americans in a closer way.

As we prepare for a new Congress and new Administration, we at Benton are recommitting ourselves to providing the tools that policymakers and advocates need to keep abreast of developments in our field – and a platform for debating what “in the public interest” means in the Digital Age.

At Benton, we aim to connect policymakers, researchers, and community practitioners working to help get everyone online. We will both publish and highlight research that we believe can inform debates about how best to bring the benefits of broadband to every community and every household.

We believe that communities must play an active role in deciding their broadband futures. And we are developing tools to help them facilitate smart discussions and decisions about improving their telecommunications infrastructure. We see great potential in public-private partnerships to build and maintain next-generation broadband networks.

Benton will work tirelessly to ensure Federal programs that make broadband service available and affordable in rural areas, in schools, libraries, rural health care facilities, and low-income households are adequately funded.

Benton will defend policies that ensure Internet users’ rights to employ any legal applications, content, devices, and services of their choosing on the broadband networks they rely on. The Internet must remain a platform for all consumers, content creators, and innovators, regardless of their ability to pay infrastructure owners special fees for special access.

Finally, Benton will work to ensure that the First Amendment is respected in the Digital Age. Freedom of religion, of speech, of the press, of assembly, and the right to petition our government should not be abridged.

Sticking up for what’s right, choosing facts over fear, being a voice for good and for solutions that can make America even greater

Sixty-five years ago, my grandfather, William Benton, rose on the Senate floor to denounce Senator Joe McCarthy who was known for reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character and patriotism of political adversaries. Sticking up for what’s right, choosing facts over fear, being a voice for good and for solutions that can make America even greater -- this is a family legacy I am proud to be a part of. Unfortunately, 2016 echoed with McCarthy-esque rhetoric. Talk of discriminating against people based on the color of their skin, the God they worship, where they were born, or who they love has some feeling they have license to act out their worst instincts.

I have heard the call from our Federal leaders, old and new, who say it is time to come together. I heard Hillary Clinton say, “Our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years but all the time.” She asked that we keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear. Benton stands ready to shape a broadband future that increases opportunities for all Americans.

Access, diversity, and equity are more important now than ever.

Adrianne Furniss is Executive Director of the Benton Foundation. She's spent her professional career in the media business, specializing in distribution and marketing strategies, management, strategic planning and acquisitions. (Additional editorials by Adrianne)

By Adrianne B. Furniss.