In less than three months, nearly 800,000 low-income people who receive telephone subsidies through the Universal Service Fund's Lifeline program will be negatively impacted by changes scheduled to go into effect at the Federal Communications Commission on December 1, 2021. The FCC needs to change course and help more Americans keep connected to communications services that are essential to navigate the ongoing public health and economic crisis. Most importantly, the FCC should act swiftly and hit the pause button on the 2016 plan to zero-out support for voice-only services.
Despite clear evidence to the contrary, lobbyists have long claimed that U.S. broadband is extremely competitive and incredibly affordable.
Perhaps there’s no better day to contemplate the critical connection between communications and equity than Juneteenth. June 19 commemorates the day in 1865 when slaves in Texas first learned about the Emancipation Proclamation issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. Cut off from communications, slaves in Texas were deprived news of their freedom for over two and a half years. In our time when information travels at the speed of the internet, it is almost inconceivable that anyone could be denied information so vital to their well-being for so long.
Seventy-five years ago, in October 1944, my grandfather, William Benton, delivered a clarion call in the pages of Forbes magazine by articulating a forward-looking agenda on behalf of a coalition of business leaders (“the capitalists who cared enough about the system to save it”) to deliver a more peaceful and prosperous American future in the (then-expected) wake of winning World War II. William Benton recognized that American progress rested on the connection between economic opportunity and democracy.
It's easy to say all Americans should be able to use the Internet in the 21st century, which is probably why several leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have done just that. It’s much harder to say how to get there. Almost everyone, even on both sides of the aisle in Congress, seems able to agree on the need to fix the maps first. That’s because the Federal Communications Commission relies on coverage reports from industry, and carriers have incentive to exaggerate their reach.
The power of communication and the exchange of ideas were starkly brought home recently as news of bombs being delivered to Americans’ homes and businesses, and the murder of worshipers in Pittsburgh dominated headlines everywhere. President Donald Trump and some of his Republican allies appear to be actively engaged in a feedback loop with extremists who participate in the darkest online forums.
The Benton Foundation is joining 40 civil and human rights organizations that believe that online companies need to do more to combat hateful conduct on their platforms. We are asking that these companies adopt corporate policies to prohibit hateful activities on their platforms. They should make it clear what type of conduct is and is not permitted on their platform and remove any U.S. clients that violate those corporate policies. Although Benton has always championed free speech, today we draw a line.
I trust that the people of this country have not so lost their love of truth that they would allow their leaders to vilify our brothers and sisters who seek out and report on the truth so that we can aptly practice our democracy. Who can argue with the importance of a free press to our nation, our democracy, our liberty? And who would try to turn the people against our own tool for holding government accountable? That is the work of tyrants – and tyrants are the true enemy of the people.
There has always been a challenge to ensure all Americans can get the news and information they seek -- a challenge that has been a personal one for our family. I hope you and your peers will take a stand. In your own artistic self-interest, you need to think about how you will connect with and grow your audience in the digital age. (You have bills to pay, after all!) But in the greater public interest, we need you to act as stewards to ensure a handful of big companies don’t impede innovation, block information, or stifle culture and free speech. Be energized and help us right the ship.