Digital Beat Blog

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Telecom Policy Roars Into March

The Senate Commerce Committee convened a Federal Communications Commission oversight hearing on March 2 which included testimony from each of the five FCC commissioners. On Monday, American and European officials released details on the new trans-Atlantic data transfer agreement, known as the E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield. On March 3, the Senate Commerce Committee marked up and approved the MOBILE Now Act (S. 2555), a bill aimed to free up up more valuable spectrum for wireless devices.

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Lifeline Reform Reaches the Home Stretch

The Federal Communications Commission is likely to vote on its Lifeline reform proceeding at its March 31 public meeting, including its plans to expand Lifeline from supporting only voice telephone service to include broadband Internet access. Because I previously delved into the history of the Lifeline program since its inception during the Reagan Administration, this post will review the policy justification for Lifeline and then focus on some of the specific issues the FCC is likely to consider.

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A New Era of Broadband Deployment

The city of Huntsville, Alabama became the next Google Fiber city. Huntsville will own the fiber network and will lease it to Google. For most other Google Fiber cities, Google has built the fiber network from scratch. With the Huntsville partnership, Google is demonstrating its willingness to offer its services over a network it doesn’t own -- and that’s a game changer.

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Digital Literacy and Inclusion: “We Are All In It Together”

All of the organizations I studied for my recent Benton Foundation report recognize that digital literacy, the ability to navigate the Internet, is key to meaningful broadband adoption. But they took different approaches to ensuring their clients have the skills needed to make use of broadband. Computer classes have traditionally been a popular way to provide digital literacy training. More recently, digital inclusion organizations have embraced one-on-one, personalized training approaches for community members in order to be relevant to each person’s everyday life experiences. In addition, several organizations noted that digital literacy is needed and requested by all, regardless of income.

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How Technology Is Influencing Your Vote

Communications technology is playing a tremendous role in the 2016 election, from debate coverage and the influence of social media to “voter surveillance” in campaigning. What voices are being amplified in this environment? And what does this mean to those who have not adopted these technologies?

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Love is in the Air: President Obama Proposes (a Budget) and a Sentimental Anniversary

President Barack Obama released the final budget proposal of his presidency on February 9, a $4 trillion plan for the 2017 fiscal year, which starts October 1. Just over one-quarter of the $4 trillion budget is so-called discretionary spending for domestic and military programs that the President and Congress dicker over each year. The rest is for mandatory spending, chiefly interest on the federal debt and the Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits that are expanding automatically as the population ages. So how does the budget proposal affect communications policy? Here’s a breakdown.

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Bringing Broadband to Digital Deserts

To go from desert to oasis, you need water. To go from digital desert to oasis of opportunity, we need broadband.

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Happy 20th Anniversary, Telecommunications Act

I love anniversaries. They give us a chance to review where we’ve been – and recommit to our goals. Today is one of those days. After many, many years of debate about how to best modernize U.S. telecommunications law, on February 8, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 into law at the Library of Congress. The venue was no accident: it was symbolic of the information, knowledge and learning that the Act would help extend throughout the country.

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Updates on Broadband Subsidies, and a New Safe Harbor Deal

Robbie’s Round-Up for the week of February 1-5, 2016
Progress was made in regards to broadband subsidies for those with low income. Highlights include a New America Event discussing the report "Opportunity for All?" and Google announcing a Google Fiber initiative to connect those with low income in public housing.
Also this week, a new U.S.-E.U. safe harbor deal.

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Data Caps and Vulnerable Populations

Today, most Internet service providers have implemented some form of a data cap. These caps limit the amount of access a consumer has to data before they are charged surplus fees or cut off from the network. Although there is little clarity as to why such caps are necessary, their unintended consequences could be disastrous for vulnerable populations. There are many well-documented economic and competitive concerns about data caps. Caps are not popular with consumers, nor are they an effective means of managing network congestion. In fact, when one Comcast engineer was asked why the company’s caps had been set at current levels he responded that he had “no idea,” as he was involved only in the technological aspects of the company, not “business policy.” This open admission that there is no technological necessity for data caps goes to show that ISPs’ decisions to implement caps is primarily driven by profit.

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The Scariest Cable Merger Nobody In Washington Is Talking About

When Comcast tried to merge with Time Warner Cable last year, reaction was swift and negative. Not many people liked the idea of America’s largest and least loved cable company getting any bigger; the deal collapsed after hundreds of thousands of Americans spoke out and federal regulators signaled that they would not let it go forward. Big Cable should have gotten the message. But here we are just a year later with a new cable mega-merger in the works. This time, Charter Communications wants to snatch up Time Warner Cable along with Bright House Networks.

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Sisyphus, We’re Still Waiting

A year and a half ago, this blog discussed the “Sisyphean Task” imposed upon the Federal Communications Commission to engage in a never-ending review of its broadcast ownership rules. If you are wondering what has happened since then, the answer is “very little,” in large part because of the odd lassitude of a federal appeals court. This is going to change in the coming months.

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There’s No Debating It: Broadband’s Shaky Progress; Cruz’s Title II Misinformation; and Freeing the Set-Top Box

The Jan 8 edition of the Round-up, “Broadband Research and Digital Inclusion” discussed the Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 Broadband Report, which was adopted (but not released) at the FCC's Open Meeting on Jan 28. The FCC’s 2016 Broadband Progress Report concludes that broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.
Presidential candidate Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX), during a campaign stop in New Hampshire, blasted the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order and the decision to regulate broadband networks under Title II of the Communications Act.
The ongoing battle between presidential candidate Donald Trump and Fox News heated up again this week.
Chairman Wheeler proposed Set-Top Box rules.

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Internet Privacy, FreeBee, and the Public Cloud

More than 50 digital rights and consumer groups, including the Benton Foundation, put pressure on the Federal Communications Commission to start drafting Internet privacy rules “as quickly as possible.” The Federal Communications Commission recently had “productive” discussions with Comcast and T-Mobile about whether their offerings of data cap exemptions conflict with the goals of network neutrality. Microsoft pledged to donate $1 billion in cloud services to nonprofits and university researchers over the next three years, as the company updates its philanthropic initiatives to reflect shifts in technology.

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Where We Go From Here

The Benton Foundation suffered a great loss in 2015 when, as many readers know, we lost our founder and chairman, Charles Benton, to a battle with cancer. For many people, Charles was the foundation. Gene Kimmelman of Public Knowledge said Charles “worked tirelessly to ensure that the poor, the elderly, communities of color, and other vulnerable and traditionally marginalized communities would not be excluded from the digital future.” Anyone who met Charles soon learned he cared about people and the impact that education and communications have on improving lives and making the world a better place. As all of us at the foundation dealt with our personal loss this year, we moved forward together to honor Charles’ lifetime of work. The Benton Foundation remains dedicated to closing the digital divide and supporting digital inclusion, so everyone can participate fully in a diverse media system and in our democracy. With this goal in mind, here are the areas the foundation devoted our efforts to in 2015.

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Poverty and the Cost of Broadband

Much of the research on broadband adoption has focused on understanding the factors that influence whether an individual is likely to pay for high-speed Internet services. These factors have been used to predict rates of broadband adoption. As part of this thinking, the phrase “willingness to pay” has become widely accepted within broadband adoption literature. This phrase focuses on what an individual is willing to pay for high-speed Internet access, while also paying attention to demographic characteristics of the individuals studied. However, my recent research for the Benton Foundation finds that cost continues to be a major barrier to broadband adoption. Successful efforts to bridge the digital divide need to address “ability to pay” rather than “willingness to pay.”

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Net Neutrality’s Busy Week: From Congressional Hearing to the State of the Union, Binge On, Baby

President Barack Obama delivered his final State of the Union address this week. He has regularly used the speech to talk about technology and its influence across sectors, and this year was no different (As Jason Koebler wrote for Motherboard “The State of the Union Was About Tech Because Everything Is About Tech”). This week, in addition to communicating a vision of continuing to innovate to make advancements in energy, infrastructure, and education, President Obama referenced some recent tech policy victories.

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Understanding Broadband Un-adopters

As the Federal Communications Commission seeks to modernize the Lifeline program to include a broadband subsidy for low-income Americans, new research explains why some people drop home broadband service after trying it and recommends policies to help improve adoption rates in these households.

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Information Policy in 2016: Let’s Have Some Optimism

Let’s put some of that holiday cheer and a few of our resolutions for the new year to productive use.

Alan S. Inouye leads technology policy for the American Library Association. Previously, he coordinated the President’s Information Technology Advisory Committee in the Executive Office of the President, and directed information technology policy studies at the National Academy of Sciences.

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Research Shows Cost is Biggest Barrier to Broadband Adoption

As federal policymakers consider ways to improve the Federal Communications Commission's Lifeline Program, the Benton Foundation shared with them recent research on digital inclusion and broadband adoption. Although realizing a fully inclusive digital society is a multi-faceted endeavor, the research we shared points to the biggest obstacle we face in making sure everyone is connected.

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