Digital Beat Blog

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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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Broadband Needs Assessment and Planning for Community Anchor Institutions

Broadband needs assessment and planning for community anchor institutions (CAIs) is one of the most critical steps that state and local governments can take to improve broadband connectivity and promote economic growth in their regions. Conducting an inventory of the locations and speeds of existing broadband services for CAIs – and identifying the gaps in broadband coverage – can help attract new funding and target investments to the areas with the most need. Conducting an inventory among all CAIs can also facilitate meaningful partnerships and strategies to ensure that the entire community has adequate broadband connectivity.

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AT&T v. FTC Decision and Media Ownership Rules Review

On August 29, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit announced its decision in AT&T Mobility v. The Federal Trade Commission. On August 25, the Federal Communications Commission released a report and order closing its review of broadcast ownership rules which dates back to 2009.

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The Facebook Election Machine

As the 2016 Presidential primaries were starting in February, we looked at the digital tools offered by Facebook and Google to help voters gain information -- and be reached by candidates. Then, we were worried about people who don’t have Internet access or, God forbid, don’t use Facebook. A few articles we read this week now makes us more concerned for Facebook users.

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Back Azimuth: Revisiting the Network Compact

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler was in Aspen (CO) this week addressing the 30th Annual Conference on Communications Policy. He returned to a familiar subject: the Network Compact. His aim was to offer a perspective on what lies ahead for the FCC by first looking back. Chairman Wheeler is known for his love of history. In his eyes, we are living through a network revolution driven by ever-evolving technology which is changing the patterns of commerce and culture. The lessons of how people dealt with past network revolutions are a “’back azimuth’,” Wheeler said, “a concept familiar to navigators in which a landmark in the rear is used to inform the path forward.”

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

A hallmark of Tom Wheeler’s tenure as Federal Communications Commission Chairman has been his willingness to take on difficult challenges and push them to completion. Surely one of the most difficult of these undertakings has been to reform “special access,” which the Wheeler FCC has wisely, and more appropriately, renamed “Business Data Services." Reform advocates argue that BDS prices are grossly excessive and unjustly enrich the former AT&T local phone companies. They maintain that this has stifled competition and dissuaded new entrants into the market. Since these overcharges are passed through to all consumers, the overcharges have arguably increased the prices that we pay for all manner of services seemingly unrelated to telecommunications. If they are right, the changes under consideration should generate more competition and lower prices.

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States Again Can Restrict Community Broadband's Growth

On August 11, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled in favor of two states that opposed the Federal Communications Commission’s attempt to preempt state laws that restrict the growth of municipal broadband networks. The decision is a victory to cable and telephone companies that oppose community broadband.

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Can We Get Better Wi-Fi Without Jeopardizing Traffic Safety?

It might not be surprising that major industries would mount a big fight over how to deploy a swathe of currently unused spectrum. However, a dispute over a chunk of spectrum located in the 5.9 gigahertz (GHz) band also pits different parts of the federal government against each other and, even in Washington’s ever-more partisan environment, has Republicans and Democrats on both sides. As such, the dispute offers some important insights into the political gamesmanship surrounding spectrum allocation.

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A Tour of Kansas City’s Digital Divide

a guest article by Casey De La Torre, a student at Florida International University. In May, Casey attended the 2016 Net Inclusion Summit at the Kansas City Public Library. In the post below, she discusses key insights from a tour of Kansas City organizations addressing the digital divide, and how it connects to her digital literacy work in Miami-Dade County, Florida. In June, the Benton Foundation published “Net Inclusion 2016: Addressing the Digital Divide From Miami to Kansas City” by Casey’s classmate, Romina Angelelli.

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