Digital Beat Blog

How do we define “in the public interest” in the Digital Age? Here’s unique perspectives on communications policy debates. We invite you to comment on these original posts; start by registering for a benton.org account. Interested in sharing your own article? Contact our Executive Editor, Kevin Taglang at [email protected]

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What More Do We Know About Ajit Pai’s Agenda?

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai delivered his first major policy speech as Chairman on March 15th, in remarks titled, “Bringing the Benefits of the Digital Age to All Americans.” At Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pai discussed his guiding principles for his regulatory approach as FCC Chairman, and concluded with practical policies he will be championing to expand broadband access nationwide.

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"Deconstruction"

It’s a challenge to pick the worst of the furnace-hot verbiage spewing forth from the new Administration; there is just so much to choose from. But to me, one completely frightening statement stands out. It is “deconstructing the administrative state” as the stated purpose of the Trump team. If this statement doesn’t motivate citizens to action, what will? Translated into everyday English, the President, Steve Bannon, and their billionaire cabinet of corporate minions are telling us that their goal is to axe as much government as possible—except, of course, for the already-bloated military-industrial complex which would receive $54 billion more to entrench itself. A seemingly soothing “deconstruction” bromide cannot mask that the destruction of government as we have known it for more than a century is their real objective.

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Why Radical Deregulation Is Happening So Fast At The FCC

President Donald Trump has moved quickly to use Executive Orders and other plenary powers to deliver on some of his major campaign promises on issues such as immigration, the Dakota Access pipeline and appointment of a conservative Supreme Court Justice. For the most part, however, his promised deregulatory assault on what his chief strategist Steven Bannon calls the “Administrative State” has not advanced as quickly. Hundreds of top level positions at Executive Branch agencies remain vacant, and the process of rescinding regulatory policies can be cumbersome and time consuming. There is at least one important exception - media and telecommunications regulation at the Federal Communications Commission.

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Benton Stands With Toby to Say "Don't Delete Big Bird"

A couple weeks ago, an adorable seven-year-old boy named Toby complained that President Donald Trump is “deleting PBS kids” just to pay for the wall. Toby told U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), “he shouldn’t do that.” The young boy received massive applause for standing up to his Senator, the President, and for what’s right. At this town hall, Senator Cotton said you could have both – a Mexican wall and PBS. But today it turns out that Toby was right. President Donald Trump unveiled his budget proposal, titled, “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” Disturbingly, the plan calls for the elimination of federal support for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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Chairman Pai, Tell Us What You're Thinking About Freedom of the Press

Concerned with a “lack of full transparency,” all of the Democrats on the Senate Commerce Committee wrote a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on March 10 asking him six questions on his views on the media and whether he will uphold the First Amendment rights of journalists and media outlets. Senate Democrats have asked Chairman Pai for a reply by Friday, March 17. As the nation's lead communications regulator, it is imperative Chairman Pai affirm his commitment to free speech and freedom of the press and publicly post his answers to the senators this week. He should also address EPIC's request and release any information related to the March meeting with President Trump. The American people have a right to know what the FCC Chairman believes about freedom of the press – if he will stand up and speak out -- and we deserve to know now.

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A Little Part of the First Amendment Dies at FCC Oversight Hearing

The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on oversight of the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday, March 8. A good time was had by all. The committee’s senators highlighted a wide range of issues during the 2+ hour hearing. Here we focus on the First Amendment, broadband deployment, network neutrality, privacy, and the future makeup of the FCC.

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Blame It On The Barcelona (Or Alternative Titles To Celebrate Alternative Facts)

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai delivered his first major address on the global stage at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Chairman Pai outlined a policy agenda aimed at bringing faster and cheaper broadband to all Americans: promoting infrastructure investment, fostering innovation, and expanding next-generation networks. The key ingredient, from Pai’s perspective, is a light-touch regulatory approach.

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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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