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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2016 As Prologue, Not Aberration

How do we hold the powerful accountable when media decimates its Washington, statehouse, and overseas bureaus? How do we dig up the difficult-to-unearth facts when reporters are spread so thin? And, importantly, how do we free journalism from the Wall Street-Madison Avenue mentality that subordinates news to the bottom line? Information is coin of the realm if a society is to be self-governing; it is a public good that must be nourished and spread over the land. If the media industry itself is not interested in making this happen, then we must have an urgent national discussion to make it happen in spite of big media. I’m not given to rhetorical extravagance, but I’ll say this: big media is strangling our democracy, and it can only get worse on its present course. It’s "wake up" time in America.

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Government Funding for Broadband Network Providers Serving Community Anchor Institutions

Governments can play an important role in funding broadband infrastructure deployment to ensure robust, affordable access for anchor institutions beyond what the market is able to do. Failing to take action to spur broadband deployment creates risks for the community – losing businesses, jobs, services, and population.

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Options for Accelerating Great American Broadband

How can we best utilize the bi-partisan consensus that we need better infrastructure, including broadband networks?

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Stronger Together For and With Great Broadband

Last week, I gave a speech in Wilson, North Carolina, at a conference on Expanding the Gigabit Ecosystem. I wasn’t there to make a partisan statement but began by agreeing with 75 percent of an assertion of one of the presidential candidates: that it is time—because it’s always time--to Make America Great. I suggested the real topic of that conference is how we make America great with great broadband. That is also the topic today, though in the spirit of bi-partisanship, I would like to title this speech, Stronger Together for and with Great Broadband.

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This Changes Nothing; This Changes Everything

Expecting, perhaps, a wave of new Members of Congress, we had an eye on the elections of Members of key Congressional committees with jurisdiction over telecommunications. We found, again, however, that most Members will be returning for another 2 or 6 years. But, this time, to an entirely different political landscape.

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Make America Great—with Great Broadband

We come together at the time of the final at bats in what feels like both the longest and most painful presidential election in our collective memory. I’m not here to make a partisan statement. But I’ll start by agreeing with 75% of an assertion of one of the candidates: that it is time—because it’s always time--to Make America Great. Indeed, I’d like to suggest the real topic of today’s conference is how we make America great with great broadband.

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CenturyLink Buys Level 3

On October 31, 2016, telecommunication company CenturyLink announced plans to buy Level 3 Communications, an Internet “backbone” company that runs infrastructure that connects businesses to the Internet. CenturyLink will acquire Level 3 in a cash and stock transaction valued at approximately $34 billion, including the assumption of debt. The tie-up with Level 3 will provide CenturyLink, which has historically focused on phone networks, the ability to increase its fiber-optic capacity, something that is especially important as it works to bring broadband Internet to rural areas.

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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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