Friday, March 6, 2020
Headlines Daily Digest
Elections & Media
In October 1944, my grandfather William B. Benton delivered a clarion call in the pages of Fortune magazine. On behalf of the Committee for Economic Development (CED), a national coalition of business leaders, he offered a forward-looking agenda to deliver a more peaceful and prosperous future for all Americans—not just a few. At the time, that future was difficult to imagine. Fifteen years prior, the Great Depression had roiled the American economy, driving unemployment rates to almost 25% in 1933. Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal had re-started economic growth, but it took World War II to power a robust recovery. Now, with the end of the war in sight, it was time to chart a path for peacetime. “The good of all—the common good—is a means to the enduring happiness of every individual in society and is superior to the economic interest of any private group,” Benton wrote. One of CED’s first principles was fostering competition. It is in the public interest, my grandfather argued, that corporations be allowed to grow if they provided useful service to the community: "Provided that the power that comes with size is not permitted to stifle competition and is not permitted in other ways to be abused, big business can serve the common good." Benton also recognized the connection between economic opportunity and democracy.
Nearly 75 years after he wrote "The Economics of a Free Society: A Declaration of American Business Policy” as vice-chairman of the CED's board of trustees, we at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society continue to make the case for bringing the 21st century's essential communications medium to all people in the U.S. to deliver individual opportunity, strengthen communities, and ensure a thriving democracy. We believe too many people in the U.S. have been left behind—because broadband networks don’t reach them, the service is unaffordable, or people don’t yet have the skills to make use of this powerful tool. One reason for this? Broadband market concentration is stifling the benefits of competition for consumers.
[Adrianne Benton Furniss is the executive director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society]
We are now in the third generation talking about getting broadband out to all our citizens. We are nowhere near getting the job done. It’s a market failure. It’s a government failure. And it’s a national embarrassment. Big telcos and their allies at the Federal Communications Commission and Congress tell us all is well and we’re on track. Pretty long track! Make that claim in many of our inner cities like Baltimore, Milwaukee, and Newark and you will get laughed out of town. Try to sell that pitch in rural America where nearly 30% of people are still waiting. Visit tribal lands where over 40% (and I think that’s a low estimate) lack access to fixed broadband. Check in with marginalized communities including people of color, seniors, low-income Americans, individuals with disabilities, and you’ll see the same sad story. This is the year when we must decide whether it is the road past or the road ahead that we will take. Understanding how we have so mishandled broadband in particular and communications generally can help inform our decisions for a better future. It’s a make or break year for America that will define the next generation of broadband access—and perhaps of democracy itself.
[Michael Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and was the FCC's Acting Chairman from January to June 2009. In 2012, former Commissioner Copps joined Common Cause to lead its Media and Democracy Reform Initiative.]
New Jersey ranks highest overall in the nation with 98% wired broadband coverage and 78% low-priced plan availability. Alaska ranks lowest overall, with 61% wired and fixed wireless broadband coverage and no low-priced (wired) plan availability. Despite being the 2nd largest state by population, Texas came in 8th overall for broadband availability and pricing. California, the largest state, came in 13th place. Affordable wired internet is most widely available in Rhode Island, where 89% of the population has access to a broadband plan $60 or under.
The Rural Broadband Cooperative is a group with a goal of bringing high-speed internet to a sparsely populated area about halfway between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh. In their part of rural Huntingdon County, access to high-speed internet was mostly limited, expensive and unreliable. The cooperative turned to fixed wireless broadband. Different from DSL or satellite services, fixed wireless broadband taps into an existing underground fibre optic network nearby and turns that into a radio signal. Compared to building expensive infrastructure like telephone or cable lines, this is much cheaper. From a radio tower, the cooperative relays the internet to users who have radio receivers at home. They connect that signal to a router, and voilà: high-speed internet.
Halfway through its 5-year rural broadband project, Microsoft said its Airband Initiative is now in 25 states and Puerto Rico. Started in mid-2017, the Airband Initiative aims to eliminate the rural broadband gap and Microsoft said it's on track to meet its target of expanding high-speed internet to 3 million Americans living in unserved areas by 2022. “We’ve already reached a total of 633,000 previously unserved people, up from 24,000 people in 2018, and as our partners’ network deployments accelerate over the coming months, we will be reaching many more,” wrote Shelley McKinley, head of technology and corporate responsibility at Microsoft. The project focuses on technology utilizing unused broadcast frequencies between TV channels (known as TV white spaces) to help deliver enhanced connectivity coverage in locations where laying cables isn’t possible.
Historically, privacy was about protecting aspects of your life from being shared with people in your life you didn’t want to know that information. The use of data to manipulate me into purchasing something I don’t need is a very different kind of harm than the old privacy concerns about unwanted disclosure. In the context of corporate data collection, a continued focus on unwanted disclosure is only a small piece of the puzzle. The real concerns from corporate data collection are manipulation and discrimination. Our data may be exploited to harm us without the data ever being shared outside the place that originally collected it. We need rules that prevent harmful types of collection and harmful types of uses of data about us, regardless of which company is doing it. We need rules that protect users regardless of whether the data was collected “directly” or shared. Only this will really protect users from manipulation and discrimination. It will also level the competitive field.
[Charlotte is Competition Policy Director at Public Knowledge]
A Q&A with Sen Mark Warner (D-VA).
Government oversight of tech companies is one thing, but in the 2020 election year, Sen Warner is also thinking about the various ways technology is being used to threaten democracy itself. The interview covers election interference, misinformation, cybersecurity threats, and the government’s ability and willingness to deal with such problems.
When asked, "Do you think Congress is up to the task of delivering a tough consumer data privacy bill anytime soon?" Sen Warner said, "We haven’t so far and it’s one more example of where America is ceding its historic technology leadership. On privacy, obviously the Europeans have moved with [the General Data Protection Regulation]. California’s moved with their own version of privacy law. The Brits, the Australians, and the French are moving on content regulation. I think the only thing that’s holding up privacy legislation is how much federal preemption there ought to be. But I think there are ways to work through that."
Benton (www.benton.org) provides the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband, while connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events. While the summaries are factually accurate, their sometimes informal tone may not always represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by Kevin Taglang (headlines AT benton DOT org) and Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
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