Digital Beat Blog

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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Digital Denied: The Impact of Systemic Racial Discrimination on Home-Internet Adoption

Internet access is a necessity for engaging in our communities, searching for employment and seeking out educational opportunities — but too many people are still stuck on the wrong side of the digital divide. And that divide disproportionately impacts people of color. Indeed, the racial divide in home-internet adoption — including both wired and wireless service — leaves people of color behind the digital curve. People of color comprise 32 million of the 69 million people in the United States who lack any form of home-internet access. Free Press research exposes this undeniable gap and explains how structural racial discrimination contributes to it. Systemic discrimination creates serious income inequality in this country. Whites have far higher average incomes than Blacks or Latinos. Low-income families are less able and willing to buy internet subscriptions. And many families who are willing to pay for service find they can’t due to racially biased barriers like credit scoring. Given how stark racial and ethnic income discrepancies are, it’s no surprise that people of color lag behind in internet adoption.

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Celebrating Chairman Wheeler’s Gift to the American People

In reviewing the successes of the last year, but, more broadly, the last three years, the person I keep returning to is Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler. Chairman Wheeler has upheld the public interest, recognized the power of communications to strengthen communities, and acted to modernize and reform programs that bring open, affordable, high-capacity broadband to all Americans. His legacy is the opportunities for all Americans to connect to jobs, education, healthcare, and family. As we enter this holiday season, I am thankful for Chairman Tom Wheeler’s gifts to the American people. To me, what is amazing about his many accomplishments can’t always be measured by the dockets he opened, the votes he won, or the initiatives he proposed. The day-to-day impacts of his actions can often be more readily seen in the child who can now reach a hand across a keyboard to access a whole new universe of knowledge thanks to gigabit connections to the school and Wi-Fi in the classroom. Or in the young mother who can now coordinate work and her child’s medical care thanks to her Lifeline connection. Or the small business owner who can now compete on a level playing field with its bigger business competitors thanks to a free and open Internet. Or the community that was once left behind, that is able to get ahead with new broadband options. In other words, it’s not the orders he voted or the computers he connected, but the lives he touched in ways both big and small. I expect they will be felt not just for a year, or a chairman’s term, but in the case of that little girl … it just may change her life.

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Innovators in Digital Inclusion: Ashbury Senior Community Computer Center

ASC3 serves four Cleveland neighborhoods (Glenville, Forest Hills, South Collinwood and East Cleveland) -- and anyone else who requests their services. These neighborhoods are economically-diverse and family-oriented with a strong representation of older, African-American adults and Case Western Reserve University students. The draw of important churches in these neighborhoods brings in traffic from elsewhere in Cleveland. All four neighborhoods have low home broadband adoption rates.

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Rural Broadband Programs and Community Anchor Institutions

In thinly-populated rural and tribal areas, community anchor institutions (CAIs) can be vitally important to connecting residents to the rest of the world. Schools, libraries, health clinics, and many other anchor institutions rely upon high-capacity broadband to provide education, health, and information services to rural consumers. Unfortunately, because of the economic factors described below, anchor institutions in rural and tribal areas have an especially difficult time obtaining high-capacity broadband connections at affordable rates. Ensuring every rural community has access to high-capacity Internet access through their anchor institutions will often require financial support and other government initiatives to stimulate deployment and promote competition. Connecting rural CAIs to high-capacity broadband can be a catalyst for further investment; when CAIs serve as the “anchor tenant” on a rural network, they improve the business case for community-wide network upgrades or further network expansion. When implementing programs designed to increase access to broadband service in rural areas, federal, state, and local efforts should give high priority to the broadband needs of rural community anchor institutions.

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AT&T-Time Warner: Is Bigger Badder?

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary’s Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy & Consumer Rights held a hearing on AT&T’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner, a deal that would combine one of the nation’s largest phone and internet providers with a media entertainment titan that among other things, owns HBO, CNN, TBS, TNT and Warner Brothers studios. A fun time was had by all.

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Community-Led Broadband Agendas and Issues to Watch in the Next Administration

Although Donald Trump will be our next President, we are not sure who will occupy key positions in broadband policy. We can, however, know what some of the agendas and issues will be and their potential direction. As discussed below, several can impact the economics and options related to network deployments.

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The Next Generation Connectivity Handbook

This is a handbook for city officials seeking the affordable, abundant bandwidth their communities will need to thrive in the decades ahead. Designed for local decision makers, it reviews the current landscape of broadband networks, including next generation, gigabit capable networks, outlines best practices, summarizes existing models, and presents a framework through which community leaders might begin preliminary project steps given their city’s specific strengths and circumstances. Our purpose is to lower the initial, daunting information barrier that exists between cities already immersed in these Internet infrastructure issues and those just beginning to navigate them.

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