Analysis

Rural Broadband Shouldn't Come at the Expense of Being Affordable and Effective

The Federal Communications Commission’s recent inquiry into reducing the minimum speeds for broadband—something that sparked criticism among open internet advocacy groups—is the latest example of how FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has failed to champion policies that would enable rural broadband to succeed once it’s built.

The most recent indication that the rural broadband promised under Pai’s chairmanship might not be the digital divide fix the FCC thinks is the agency’s approach to its annual evaluation of broadband standards, which is mandated by Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the subsequent Broadband Data Improvement Act of 2008. According to the notice adopted on Aug. 8, the FCC will “seek comment on whether a mobile speed benchmark of 10Mbps/1Mbps is appropriate for mobile broadband”—and, more to the point, if mobile broadband is good enough to replace fixed broadband. While seemingly innocuous, this is a marked pivot from the standards adopted under former Chairman Tom Wheeler, which established 25Mbps/3Mbps as the minimum. Given Pai’s initial opposition to those standards as a commissioner (ones that were in line with telecommunications lobbyists) and the short period for comment of the current inquiry, the new move seems like a clear move against innovation. More importantly, the new inquiry’s focus on lowering broadband speeds at a time when the FCC has demonstrated a commitment to rural broadband seems like an easy out in defining what progress for the latter would look like. In other words, the move would shrink the onus on internet providers to provide customers with the best possible service—and rural communities will have the most to lose before they get a chance to gain.

What You Need To Know About the 2017 Wireless Competition Report.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has put the 20th Wireless Competition Report on the agenda for the FCC’s September Open Meeting. Technically, the Wireless Competition Report is a non-rulemaking agency report to Congress, similar to the many reports the FCC does on everything from the prices paid for cable services to the state of the Satellite industry. But the Wireless Competition Report has become something of a big deal in recent years, owing to the refusal of the FCC since 2010 to find whether or not there is “effective competition” in the wireless industry.

Chairman Pai is now putting it back at the Commission level and the Report is once again finding that we have “effective competition” — whatever that means. So it seems like a good time to run through the Wireless Competition Report, what it is, what it means, what it doesn’t mean, and how it gets used and/or abused. And, of course, how it relates to network neutrality, since everything in the world relates to net neutrality these days.

The Right Response to Equifax

How can we reduce the consequences for consumers and companies when the next breach happens? We can pass national data breach legislation. A national standard would not have prevented the Equifax breach, but it would clarify for consumers and companies the types of information subject to protection and the penalties for failing to do so.

While respecting the valuable role of the states, we clearly need a basic federal standard to ensure that all Americans can expect adequate data protection allowing companies to better deploy security and training so that the next breach is less damaging for consumers. Sen Mark Warner (D-VA) has not only renewed the call for national data breach legislation, but also asked the important question “is it time to rethink data protection policies dealing with these large, centralized sets of highly sensitive data on millions of Americans?” The answer to Senator Warner’s question is yes.

Assessing a Clinton argument that the media helped to elect Trump

Many of Hillary Clinton's supporters identify one culprit more than others in the 2016 outcome: the media. Clinton herself points a finger in that direction in her new book, “What Happened,” according to an excerpt published at the Hill. “Many in the political media don’t want to hear about how these things happened and how these things tipped the election in the final days,” Clinton writes. “They say their beef is that I’m not taking responsibility for my mistakes — but I have and I do again throughout this book. Their real problem is they can’t bear to face their own role in helping elect Trump, from providing him free airtime to giving my emails three times more coverage than all the issues affecting people’s lives combined.”

The first point there is fair. By the end of the campaign, Donald Trump had been the beneficiary of the equivalent of some $5 billion in free advertising, according to the media tracking firm mediaQuant. Some of that was a function of the live coverage of Trump’s rallies, which often ran without interruption on cable news, particularly in the early days of the campaign. But much of that free coverage was also a function of online coverage, often driven by his tweets. In May 2016, as the Street notes, Trump generated nearly $200 million in free media attention — largely thanks to his weird tweet about taco bowls. It’s also worth noting that Clinton, too, was the beneficiary of free coverage. MediaQuant estimates that she was the beneficiary of $3.24 billion in free media coverage — or, as it’s known in political campaigns, earned media. Politicians work to get this free coverage. It’s part of the process. And Trump earned more than Clinton.

Facebook needs to answer these questions about the Russian campaign to influence American voters

We now know that a Russian organization spent two years trying to influence American voters using Facebook. Here are the questions Facebook has yet to answer and why it matters:
What were the demographics of the users who saw the ads, and how were they targeted?
What were the 470 accounts connected to the ad campaign?
What was in the ads, and what types of ads were they?
Was there any overlap between the content used by the Russian campaign and other known campaigns?

When it comes to Facebook, Russia’s $100,000 is worth more than you think

[Commentary] Facebook revealed that during the 2016 presidential campaign it sold more than $100,000 in ads to a Kremlin-linked “troll farm” seeking to influence US voters. An additional $50,000 in ads also appear suspect but were less verifiably linked to the Russian government. In the grand — at this point, far too grand — scheme of campaign spending, $150,000 doesn’t sound like much. It’s a minor TV ad buy, perhaps, or a wardrobe makeover for one vice-presidential candidate. But in the context of Facebook, it matters quite a bit. Not just for what it might have done to the election but also for what it says about us.

Russia spent at least $100,000 on Facebook ads because of Americans’ known susceptibility to partisan division, our willingness to outsource the work of analysis to social-media algorithms and our tendency to not think too hard about what we see. No, the money isn’t minor. But the real problem is us.

An unsung success story: A forty-year retrospective on US communications policy

This paper looks back at forty years of US communications policy, and concludes that all of the challenges that were salient when Telecommunications Policy published its first issue—the lack of competition in CPE, long distance, local telephone service, television networks, and multichannel video program distribution—have essentially been addressed. The other technology that has grown in importance since 1976—the Internet—is widely regarded as a raging success.

Although no history is completely uniform, the past forty years illustrates the key considerations underlying the choice between whether to impose access regulations or whether to rely on facilities-based competition. Moreover, the paper considers the important role that US courts have played in promoting competition and consumer welfare. In many cases, timely judicial intervention has forced regulators to retreat from positions that protected incumbents and limited competition. The paper concludes with outlooks on new issues and debates that will continue to arise.

Where the Digital Divide Is the Worst

Despite the continued proliferation of the internet and new digital devices, many low-income communities still lack internet access. Slightly less than half of all households with incomes under $20,000 reported having internet access in the Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey. By comparison, about 93 percent of wealthier households with annual incomes exceeding $75,000 were connected. Places where low-income households are least connected are most common throughout rural regions of the South and Appalachia. Higher costs of living might explain differences in other regions of the country, where housing or utility expenses leave households with little income to spare. Demographics further contribute to regional disparities as families of Hispanic immigrants have lower internet adoption rates, as do heads of households over age 65.

Geographic Patterns and Socio-Economic Influences on Internet Use in U.S. States: A Spatial and Multivariate Analysis

Discourse and interest in the digital divide research community is steadily shifting beyond access and adoption to utilization, impact, and outcomes of information and communications technologies (ICTs), particularly the internet. In the United States, studies and surveys conducted by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) indicate increase in internet use in every corner of the country over the last two decades. However, recent surveys on ICT use indicate significant disparities in dimensions of internet use. For example Americans’ use of the internet to pursue e-education, e-health, e-commerce, e-entertainment, and telecommuting has varied significantly – longitudinally as well as geographically. Additionally, internet use habits are rapidly expanding, providing new insights into the emerging internet of things, wearable technologies, and new forms of social media usage. As novel technologies and lifestyles emerge, analysis of new disparities and dimensions of the “usage digital divide” stemming from social, economic, societal, and environmental factors becomes important. This research examines spatial clusters, geographic disparities, and socio-economic dimensions of existing and emerging dimensions of internet use among the 50 U.S. states.

FCC asks about the state of mobile broadband. Congress flips out.

[Commentary] Twelve senators wrote to the Federal Communications Commission expressing concern regarding the agency’s latest Notice of Inquiry. The senators’ letter echoes many arguments pressed by various interest groups which seem misguided, or at least premature, given that the agency is simply asking questions to get better information about the state of the industry. But congressional opposition to the Notice of Inquiry is especially odd, given that the proceeding is, well, required by Congress. They are concerned that the agency might conclude that some Americans access internet-based services on mobile networks rather than fixed broadband networks. And while this would give the agency a more complete view of how Americans access “advanced telecommunications capability,” their unstated concern is that it might also show that fewer of us are internet-impoverished, which undermines the case for regulation.