5G, Smart Cities and Communities of Color

This report examines the implications for communities of color of fifth-generation wireless technology (also known as 5G) and Smart City technology. Currently, major mobile network operators, such as AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, offer the fourth generation of wireless broadband technology (4G). Over the next four years, these companies will start to offer 5G in select cities. 5G will facilitate the growth of Smart City technologies, which are tools that allow cities and counties to manage public services such as transportation and power grids more efficiently.

“Regulatory Revival” and Employment in Telecommunications

Empirical research demonstrates that the Obama Administration’s aggressive regulatory agenda at the Federal Communications Commission reduced investment in the telecommunications sector between $20 and $40 billion annually, robbing the nation of a boom in network expansion the public wants and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act mandates.

As there is a direct relationship between network investment and jobs, the next logical question to ask is how this reduced network investment affected employment in the telecommunications sector. Using standard economic techniques and publicly-available data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Ford finds that over the period 2010-2016, the telecommunications sector lost approximately 100,000 jobs per year—many of them high-paying union jobs. This loss is the pay-equivalent of about 130,000 “average” US jobs.

Algorithm’s decisions draw increased scrutiny

The world’s 3.6 billion internet users depend on computer algorithms to sort through the vast ocean of information available online. Algorithms follow a set of programmed instructions to transform data into a form that humans can understand, deciding everything from the content of social media feeds to the creditworthiness of borrowers. Though algorithms handle digital data, their decisions also have consequences in the analog world.

In May, a homeowner in Illinois filed a lawsuit against the real estate data website Zillow, alleging that their home value estimator tool significantly undervalued her home and impeded its sale. To protect European citizens when their data is used in “automated decisionmaking”, the European Union enacted new data protection rules last year. This kind of scrutiny may increase with a greater reliance on algorithms to make sense of online data.


[Commentary] On May 18, House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the BROWSER Act (H.R. 2520), legislation that would apply privacy regulations to both Internet service providers (ISPs) and edge providers (e.g., Netflix and Facebook). Most notably, the bill would require companies to obtain users' permission before sharing their sensitive information, including web-browsing history, with advertisers. The legislation is surprising, as it comes just weeks after Blackburn led the vote to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s privacy protections for broadband subscribers. Below we unpack the BROWSER Act and take a look at what to expect in the weeks ahead.

NCTA Proves Virtuous Cycle Works

[Commentary] Recently, NCTA, the trade association for the industry formerly known as cable, posted this amazing graph and blog post showing that the "virtuous cycle" the Federal Communications Commission predicted would happen when it adopted the Open Internet rules (a.k.a. net neutrality) back in December 2010. Indeed, as the NCTA graph shows (based on the latest Akamai State of the Internet Report), the average speed of broadband connections has not only continued to rise since the FCC first adopted net neutrality rules in 2010, but the rate of increase has accelerated since the FCC adopted the Title II reclassification Order in February 2015. Finally, as NCTA also points out, in the approximately 10 years since the FCC first began to enforce net neutrality through the "Internet Policy Statement" and the Comcast/BitTorrent Complaint, the cost of moving bits from their source to your home has dropped 90 percent on a per bit basis. (Whether we are actually still paying too much because of our lack of competition in the broadband market is something of a different question.)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this matches the findings from Free Press' Derek Turner in this massive and meticulously documented report, "Broadband Investments And Where To Find Them." But it's still nice to see NCTA confirm it.

Innovators in Digital Inclusion: Free Geek

In 2000, a collective led by Oso Martin recognized the need in Portland, Oregon, for safe disposal and recycling of electronics. Simultaneously, they saw an opportunity to get technology into the hands of those who did not have it. Free Geek began as a simple collection and refurbishment program (and, yes, it was started in a garage). A Free Geek gathering during Portland’s Earth Day celebration brought some formality to the enterprise shortly before it was founded. The new organization soon opened a storefront in an industrial area of Portland, where residents could drop off used tech, and volunteers set to work fixing it up and giving it away. The storefront that opened in a warehouse in the city’s Inner Southeast Industrial District 17 years ago now stretches half of a city block. This location, separated from most of the city’s residents, means that Free Geek must be a destination. Since the beginning, Free Geek’s service model has been structured around community service: volunteer a total of 24 hours and you receive a free computer. This approach fuels the engine, keeps resources available, and keeps people coming in the door. The program expanded so that students may complete 24 hours of any kind of community service in exchange for a computer.

The Case for Media Impact

What does it mean for a journalistic organization to put the goal of impact at the center of its mission? In this report, we explore this question through the lens of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its explosive project, “Evicted and Abandoned,” in which a collaborative reporting project of more than fifty reporters and fifteen organizations in twenty-one countries took on the World Bank.

Part One of the report introduces the current impact conversation in the media arena and describes ICIJ’s structure and strategy. Part Two traces the forerunners to some contemporary journalists’ discomfort with the notion of impact as a goal for media, and finds that, in fact, the notion of journalistic impact is nothing new. In Part Three, we examine how ICIJ’s impact imperative affects the organization’s approach to story choice, production, and distribution. The report also covers the challenges associated with this model and suggests what other journalistic organizations can learn from the experience of ICIJ.

Measuring Broadband In Schools

In schools across the United States, IT departments are routinely tasked with supporting teachers as they move toward more technology-centric instructional environments. It may seem obvious that this can only be done with a foundation of robust broadband infrastructure. In practice, however, schools don’t always know the state of their infrastructure, or how to best improve it. The challenges that school administrators face when budgeting for and deploying technology vary widely, as do their approaches to supporting its use within their schools. Measuring and assessing network health is a critical challenge facing public schools as they plan for both today’s and tomorrow’s broadband needs.
School districts lack network measurement tools.
School networks present unique technical challenges for network measurement.
Network management practices should be considered in any measurement program.
Upstream ISP peering may affect school network performance.
Performance measurements should be compared with data on network capacity.

USTelecom and its Aftermath

As detailed in this BULLETIN, a proper implementation of Title II precluded the Federal Communications Commission’s approach, forcing the Agency to ignore the “vast majority of rules adopted under Title II” and “tailor[] [Title II] for the 21st Century.” Surprisingly, the DC Circuit found in United States Telecom Association v. FCC that the agency had wide latitude to interpret the Communications Act and not only upheld the agency’s decision to reclassify but also its gross distortion of Title II. In so doing, the DC Circuit has extended Chevron deference beyond any reasonable limit, greatly expanding the Commission’s authority well beyond its statutory mandate.

This BULLETIN first presents several examples of how the 2015 Open Internet Order ignores both the plain language of Title II and the extensive case law to achieve select political objectives, followed by a discussion of the DC Circuit’s acceptance of such legal perversions. Next, this BULLETIN discusses how the FCC attempted to use the same theory of the case found in USTelecom to regulate the prices of Business Data Services. Conclusions and policy recommendations are at the end.

Flawed Study Flunks Test on Municipal Broadband

As with many past industry-supported attacks on municipal broadband, it will take some time for interested readers to dig into the details of the University of Pennsylvania Law School professor Christopher Yoo’s study and fully understand its strengths and weaknesses. That will occur in due course. There are, however, a number of serious problems with this study that leap out at once.

For one thing, almost immediately after releasing their report, the authors issued a press release acknowledging that they had “erroneously stated that the bonds used to finance the projects in Chattanooga, TN; Lafayette, LA; and Wilson, NC; call for balloon payments toward the end of their bond terms.” While the authors claim that this error did not affect their financial analysis, one wonders how many other serious errors exist in the study—and how many other times the authors took shortcuts instead of reviewing the full available data. Perhaps if they had contacted the cities at issue to verify the data, they could have caught this mistake in advance. Apparently, they skipped that step as well. A particularly important shortcoming of the study is that the choice of 2010 through 2014 as the study period introduced significant selection bias. Another problem with the Yoo study is that the boldness of its conclusions is undermined by the many caveats and qualifications set forth at various points in the study.