Introducing the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Introducing the Benton Institute for
Broadband & Society
Broadband has quickly emerged as the most transformative technology of our generation — delivering opportunities and strengthening communities. As broadband’s capability to transform lives and society has grown, so too has it become the driving mission of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.
Connecting our entire nation through High-Performance Broadband will bring remarkable economic, social, cultural, and personal benefits. In the Digital Age, open, affordable, robust broadband is the key to all of us reaching for — and achieving — the American Dream.
Since the mid-1990s, the U.S. has struggled with a persistent dilemma called the digital divide — the unfortunate reality that for too many people, meaningful connectivity is out of reach. As we enter a new decade, America encounters three inter-locking challenges:
Closing the Geographic Divide. In both rural and urban areas, millions of Americans are waiting for the deployment of robust broadband networks. Broadband is advancing in some places, which is good, but the fact is we don’t have an accurate count of how many people are on the wrong side of the digital divide and where they live. What we know is that places without robust broadband are falling further and further behind. We cannot let where we live determine our potential to connect.
Harnessing Competition. Even in areas that are served by adequate broadband networks, consumers lack choice of providers. Without competition, consumers are threatened with artificially high prices, lower-quality service, and little innovation. We cannot let lack of choice harm consumers.
Boosting Affordability & Adoption. For too many people, the cost of broadband is too high and the digital skills needed to use broadband effectively are absent. The result is people disconnected from continuing their education, gaining new job skills, and finding employment. We cannot let high prices divide people from opportunity.
Confronting these divides requires bold leadership and informed solutions.
Seventy-five years ago, in October 1944, my grandfather, William Benton, delivered a clarion call in the pages of Fortune magazine by articulating a forward-looking agenda on behalf of a coalition of business leaders (“the capitalists who cared enough about the system to save it”) to deliver a more peaceful and prosperous American future in the (then-expected) wake of winning World War II.
William Benton recognized that American progress rested on the connection between economic opportunity and democracy. “[A] free market open to the development of new, independent enterprises will continue to provide an economic basis for political freedom.” Such competitive businesses “provide an element of balance that counteracts potential dangers to our democratic institutions.” In other words, Benton explained, distortions of the free-enterprise system don’t just harm competition; they “can pull the democratic government down on top of them.”
Among Benton’s proposed principles were:
Enabling Innovation and Experimentation: “Essential to a system of free enterprise is a climate in which new, small and independent businesses can be conceived and born, can grow and prosper,”
Fostering Competition: “Lack of competition stifles the free market.” Thus, businesses do “not [have] the right to monopolize (which impedes or prevents the establishment of new businesses, creates scarcity, and imperils the spirit of enterprise),” and
Boosting Jobs and Economic Opportunity: America “can provide the maximum economic opportunity for the largest number of individuals of the community” with “the maintenance of high levels of production and employment in the U.S.”
My grandfather created the Benton Foundation to address tough and seemingly unsolvable problems in the field of communications — with a focus on the projects that would have the greatest impact on democracy. It is in this tradition that now the Benton Foundation becomes the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, which continues to work to bring open, affordable, High-Performance Broadband to all people in the United States — to ensure a thriving democracy and lift our free society.
In the coming weeks, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society will offer a new vision and agenda for action, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s. Over the past year, we've collected the lessons of communities, public-interest advocates, government officials, and industry experts who are working to extend broadband's reach. Our aim is to combine these lessons into a national broadband agenda for the next decade. Over the next year, we will be enlisting leaders from around the country in an ongoing discussion on how public policy can close the digital divide and extend digital opportunity everywhere.
Please join us in this conversation.
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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