Digital Beat Blog

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Community Anchor Institutions Served by Government and Non-Profit Fiber Networks

State and local governments have been providing anchor institutions with high-speed data connections using fiber-optic networks for several decades. Indeed, tens of thousands of schools, libraries, community centers, and public health and safety providers obtain their broadband connectivity from local government and state non-profit networks, including state research and education networks. Policymakers should strongly consider developing or augmenting their municipal or statewide governmental or non-profit networks to ensure that their anchor institutions have the highest-quality broadband connectivity, to establish a foundation for economic growth, and to meet fundamental societal needs. Government and non-profit anchor networks generally do not require short-term profits and, in most cases, can focus on long-term and community-based goals. These networks enable anchors to benefit from high bandwidth and reliability at reasonable per-unit pricing. These networks also benefit the private sector; many anchor networks lease excess capacity to and from commercial providers. While some criticize municipal broadband providers that serve residential customers, there are very few objections to networks that focus on serving anchor institutions.

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FCC Acts to Increase Consumer Privacy Choice

In today's digital world, consumers deserve the ability to make informed choices about their online privacy. On October 27, 2016, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules to ensure that broadband customers have meaningful choice, greater transparency, and strong security protections for their personal information collected by Internet service providers (ISPs). The rules give consumers greater control over their ISPs’ use and sharing of their personal information, and provide them with ways to easily adjust their privacy preferences over time. The rules are designed to evolve with changing technologies and encourage innovation.

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What Do We Mean When We Say ‘Digital Equity’ and ‘Digital Inclusion’?

In May 2016, digital inclusion practitioners, advocates, academics, Internet service providers, and policymakers gathered in Kansas City at Net Inclusion: The National Digital Inclusion Summit and a funny thing happened on our way to the library: we discovered we were speaking different languages. We were gathered to discuss current and potential local, state, and federal policies aimed at increasing digital equity. But we realized there were a number of working definitions of ‘digital equity’ and ‘digital inclusion’ being used by summit attendees. In the weeks since meeting face-to-face in KC, a working group of us affiliated with the National Digital Inclusion Alliance began meeting online in an attempt to reach consensus definitions for these terms.

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A Telecom/Broadband/TV/Wireless/(and now) Entertainment Behemoth: AT&T Buys Time Warner

On October 22, 2016, AT&T and Time Warner announced they have entered into a definitive agreement under which AT&T will acquire Time Warner for $85.4 billion. If the deal is approved, AT&T would become the second-largest wireless carrier, the largest pay-TV provider, and the largest U.S. entertainment company. This blockbuster deal has huge implications for telecommunication, broadband, television, wireless, and the entertainment marketplaces. Concerns over market consolidation, vertical integration, and privacy will all be discussed in the months ahead. We give an overview of the deal and what to expect going forward.

The Future of Local Internet Choice

It’s been an amazing three years at the FCC, and with the election just three weeks away, it’s a good time to reflect on what we’ve accomplished. So in keeping with the theme of the day, I’d like to talk about how far the movement for local Internet choice has come and where I see it going in the future. It is indisputable that during these three years, enormous progress has been made. But even so, we have a long way to go to until all local communities have the authority to make their own broadband Internet choices.

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The FCC’s Important Move for Online Privacy

The postal service is not allowed to open your letters to read what you’ve written inside. It’s also not permitted to develop a list of your correspondents to sell to advertisers. Your telephone company is forbidden from listening in on your phone calls or selling the list of numbers you dial to marketers, at least not without your permission. It may surprise you to learn that these common sense privacy rules may not yet apply to your Internet service provider (ISP). The good news is that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to vote in a few weeks on sensible, modest rules of the road to give you the kind of privacy protections you probably already assume you have.

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Broadband Infrastructure Policy and Community Anchor Institutions

Federal, state and local government policies concerning access to rights-of-way, pole attachments, tower siting, and other issues can have a significant impact on the pace of broadband network deployment. The National Broadband Plan, the federal Broadband Opportunity Council report, and numerous state and local broadband plans have found that streamlining these decisions can dramatically lower the cost of broadband investment.

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Reforming the Most Important Part of the Telecommunications Business You Probably Don't Know About

Last week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler circulated a proposed update of the FCC’s Business Data Services (BDS) rules. BDS, traditionally referred to as “special access,” are dedicated network connections that support services like ATMs, credit-card readers, and mobile phone service. BDS carry the massive flows of data exchanged by small businesses, industry, and institutions like hospitals, schools and universities, and provide essential infrastructure to support wireless innovation, including the next generation of mobile services called 5G. The new proposal would, if adopted, would reform the $45 billion-a-year market, update legacy rules governing incumbent telephone companies (ILECs) designed to address the artificially high prices charged to small businesses, schools, libraries, and, ultimately, consumers.

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Broadband Privacy Enters the Home Stretch

On October 6, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler announced the agenda for the FCC’s October open meeting and circulated a proposal to give broadband consumers increased choice over their personal information. Wheeler’s broadband privacy proposal requires broadband Internet access service providers (ISPs) to get consumer's' explicit consent before using or sharing personal data such as their Web browsing history, app usage history, geolocation information and the content of their e-mails and online messages. But the current proposal is a little weaker than the one offered for public comment in March, having been water-ed down after industry complaint. Let’s take a look.

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Digital Equity Planning in U.S. Cities

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently tasked its Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau with the development of a plan to identify and work to address non-price related barriers to digital inclusion.(1) Here, we share strategies that local/regional governments can implement in their digital equity planning process. We are currently investigating the digital equity planning processes in Austin, Portland (OR), and Seattle -- three U.S. cities with their own established stand-alone plans. We have interviewed local government officials and other key stakeholders as well as reviewed city-level policy and planning documents. We have several preliminary findings which we suggest the FCC and cities can pursue in efforts to promote digital equity.

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Promoting Competition for Community Anchor Institution Broadband Services

Many studies show that competition breeds greater investment in broadband networks, more jobs, innovation, lower prices and higher quality customer service. Yet many anchor institutions still have only one choice for their broadband provider, and the lack of competitive choices hampers anchor institutions’ ability to acquire high-capacity broadband at affordable prices.

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A Communications Act Update? In 2016?

In the flurry of news surrounding the first Presidential debate for the 2016 election (the most watched ever), it may have been hard to keep an eye on the legislative action happening on The Hill. The House passed the Communications Act Update of 2016 (S. 253), which contains a host of legislation affecting the Federal Communications Commission. The bill now heads back to the Senate for final consideration.

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Innovators in Digital Inclusion: PCs for People

Functional broadband access and adoption are essential for full participation in our society, for education, for public health, and for public safety. But nagging gaps in broadband adoption exist for too many U.S. communities. In Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives,(1) Dr. Colin Rhinesmith explored successful, local efforts to help low-income individuals and families overcome the barriers to broadband adoption. Dr. Rhinesmith finds that successful digital inclusion organizations focus on: 1) Providing low-cost broadband, 2) Connecting digital literacy training with relevant content and services, 3) Making low-cost computers available, and 4) Operating public access computing centers. In this new series, the Benton Foundation and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) explore the origins, strategies, challenges and funding mechanisms for successful digital inclusion organizations. In this first article, we examine PCs for People, an organization which refurbishes recycled computers and provides affordable technology and broadband service to low-income individuals and families. PCs for People’s work is touching many lives, helping to improve educational and economic outcomes.

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Innovators in Digital Inclusion

The Benton Foundation and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) are publishing a series of articles that explore the origins, strategies, challenges and funding mechanisms for successful digital inclusion organizations. We’d like to inject the experiences of each organization into ongoing policy discussions that affect federal, state and local digital inclusion efforts -- and to highlight best practices for other organizations working in this space.

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A Campaign Of, By, and For Big Media

We are on the verge of three televised debates that will play a huge role in the election’s outcome. I put this to the debate moderators: will you pledge to ask even one question about the future of our news and communications ecosystem? Will you ask these nominees how they will ensure media diversity and genuine issues coverage? Will you ask them how they will keep the internet free and open?

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At CCA Convention, FCC Commissioners Discuss Competition and the Future of Mobile Broadband

This week, three members of the Federal Communications Commission spoke to the Competitive Carriers Association, an advocacy organization for competitive wireless carriers.

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Setting the Communications Policy Agenda for the Next Administration

For the past thirty years, the Aspen Institute has convened an annual conference that has focused on topics related to communications policy. Each year, participants, including regulators and other policymakers, scholars, and representatives of telecommunications companies and public interest groups, have met to address a specific issue and develop recommendations for constructive action around that issue. The 31st annual Aspen conference took place several months before the Presidential election that will bring a new administration to power. Given this timing, it seemed appropriate for the 2016 conference to explore the key communications issues that will face the incoming administration and develop an agenda for action on these issues. Of course, the two candidates have sharply differing views on a wide range of topics, and even though communications policy has not been the focus of much discussion during the campaign, their approach to this topic is likely to differ as well. Still, it was possible to identify some big issues that will demand attention in the near future no matter who wins the election, and to propose promising approaches for dealing with them.

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Wi-Fi and Wireless Networking for Community Anchor Institutions

For community anchor institutions (CAIs), robust broadband connections, teamed with Wi-Fi and other wireless networking, are the essential elements of a critical infrastructure. In schools, wireless connectivity enables students and teachers to access a variety of online learning resources and pivot towards the educational models of the future that help learners develop the skills to succeed in technology-integrated workplaces. Wireless can help libraries significantly extend their public Internet access capacity and spawn new community activities. In hospitals, these networks are key to supporting wirelessly-enabled medical devices, helping staff transfer patient data and assisting families in navigating the hospital, understanding medical conditions, and obtaining support.

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Setting the (Post-Election) Broadband Agenda

Congress and the Federal Communications Commission were hard at work this week in advance of the November elections. Numerous Congressional hearings were held relating to telecommunications policy, such as Wednesday’s on the Internet domain name system transition and Thursday’s FCC oversight hearing in the Senate. But I thought I’d focus on long term broadband policy (you know, after November 8). The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) released a public notice seeking comment on crafting a National Broadband Research Agenda. And FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai delivered his proposal for reducing the digital divide; he calls it his “Digital Empowerment Agenda.”

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Laboring Away: FCC Proposes TV Set-Top Rules and Lawmakers Feud Over Internet Transition

Washington is back in full-swing after the Labor Day holiday. Congress is in session, elections are heating up, and the Federal Communications Commission released its “robust and diverse agenda” for its September 29 open meeting. Headling the FCC meeting are proposed rules to unlock the TV set-top box marketplace, rules that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled in an op-ed on Thursday. In Congress, several lawmakers called for a reconsideration of the ICANN Internet transition, and one even launched a website with a countdown until “Obama gives away the Internet.” It’s good to be back, right?

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