On Democracy, Unity, & Broadband
Wednesday, January 27, 2021
On Democracy, Unity, & Broadband
Probably like you, I made sure to make time to watch the Inauguration on January 20. Whenever a President is sworn in, his Inauguration speech sets the tone for his entire Administration.
On January 20, I heard a celebration of democracy – and a call that, in the midst of the pandemic, economic disparity, racial inequity, and a climate in crisis, “unity is our path forward.” In our American democracy, we are called upon to inform ourselves, form our own opinions, and contribute to the debate so we can decide together what is best for our communities and our nation. The call for unity requires us to accept that there are differences, to reach the end of a debate, and to accept the decisions made in our democratic process. E pluribus unum. Although we have many voices, we remain one. Without that commitment to each other, our democracy dies, our nation fails.
At the Benton Institute, we are not for broadband for broadband’s sake. We see it as the infrastructure of opportunity—an essential tool to ensure a thriving democracy.
Inspired by the Inaugural and with Benton’s overarching goal in mind, I offer today our recommendations to ensure that everyone in the U.S. can use High-Performance Broadband.
Reaching everyone, including everyone, may seem to some too ambitious a goal, a dream perhaps. Obviously wishing it will not make it so. But in an ever-growing, ever-more diverse society, we need a platform over which we may all speak and hear, debate, learn, decide, and move forward, together.
Our new President’s whole soul is in bringing America together. But in a free society, one cannot unify by acting alone. We must all be open to seeing, hearing, and reaching out to our neighbors across the way, and recognize each other’s common humanity.
For those who follow Benton, these recommendations are not new. You’ve seen them discussed in our newsletters and on our website, at our public-speaking events, and in our reports, particularly Broadband for America Now and Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, which were spearheaded by Benton Senior Fellow, Jonathan Sallet. What I emphasize today is our purpose – to tap into the power of broadband to deliver new opportunities and strengthen our communities.
In the spirit of community, we share today not just Benton’s recommendations to bring broadband to all, but the great suggestions from groups around the country that have informed our thinking.
In our field, the catchphrase for unity in recent years has been digital inclusion or digital equity. We know that to become a more equitable society, everyone must be part of the conversations that decide our futures. Everyone must have access to open, affordable broadband (and the skills to make use of it) if we are to be the best we can be.
Part of the solution means building broadband networks. No area of America should have second-rate broadband (or worse, no access at all).
We must foster competition and unleash innovation. This will make broadband more affordable and encourage better service.
Finally, we look to local leaders and community institutions to lead the way. The greatest symbols of our democracy are in Washington, but its heart is in local communities where solutions are vastly more important than partisanship. Communities must be empowered to lead the way.
“Access to the Internet … is the civil rights issue of the 21st century,” Congressman John Lewis told us as we formulated these recommendations for a comprehensive national broadband agenda.
There is no greater cause than the guarantee of equal opportunity and equal protection under the law. This guarantee allows us the liberty to make the most of our lives, lifting the entire nation.
At Benton, we believe broadband is an essential pathway to full, equitable participation in our society, our economy, and our democracy. The time to fulfill that promise is now.
Adrianne B. Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Foundation.
Broadband for America Now | Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s
Recommendations for a National Broadband Agenda | Contributions to a National Broadband Agenda
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.
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