Tuesday, August 6, 2019
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Broadband technologies are getting better and faster — but access to them is still concentrated in metro areas and suburbs, leaving vast swaths of the country with marginal service or nothing at all. Benefits of the broadband advances are mostly going to consumers who already have plenty of options for robust internet connections. Despite efforts to narrow the digital divide, rural areas, small towns and low-income neighborhoods in big cities still struggle to have access to reliable and affordable broadband service. 5G networks using the highest-speed airwaves won't reach rural areas for years because the signals can't travel very far. The bottom line: There's significant overlap between the parts of the country that have been left behind economically over the past decade and those that are broadband deserts.
Recent insights into successful broadband partnerships:
- Broadband partnerships between Rural Local Exchange Carriers (RLEC) and Electric Distribution Cooperatives (EDs) are uncommon, but when done right, can benefit all involved.
- Successful partnerships capitalize on each party’s unique strengths, which requires consistent, transparent communication, and flexibility at all levels.
- Once the business model has been agreed upon, it is critical to clearly define each party’s responsibilities concerning their shared customers and the infrastructure used to serve them.
- Thinking beyond near-term profits, RLECs and EDs should work with their local communities to maximize broadband’s economic development benefits, thereby helping to create long-term community value and growth in their customer base.
The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 along party lines Aug 1 to change long-standing guidelines related to cable franchising fees. The modifications detrimentally affect one of educational media’s great unsung heroes, Public, Educational and Government access television and radio stations nationwide. The effects of the FCC’s decision will go beyond PEG stations. The new rules, which will take effect in Sept, will allow cable companies to assign market values to benefits and charge the amount back to local communities in most cases. Benefits include items such as free cable subscriptions for schools, discounts for the elderly, and perhaps most importantly fiber connectivity to local government buildings such as police departments, fire stations and libraries. The rationale? The FCC’s majority seems to believe in trickle-down economics — that allowing cable companies to charge back fees will increase company profits and lead to more broadband in America. But talk with communities in 23 states that have limited or eliminated fees that communities can charge for the use of their property and support of community channels — states such as Wisconsin and Ohio — and look for a correlation between limiting local power and increasing broadband investment. The only correlation is increased company profits.
In this era of news deserts — communities with limited access to credible and comprehensive news and information — and deepening polarization, killing PEG broadcasting is the last thing our country needs. The FCC’s move to undercut a crucial educational voice demands our sharpest attention in support of media access and our communities, as legal action is certain to follow.
[Ernesto Aguilar, is Program Director at National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Mike Wassenaar is President and CEO of Alliance for Community Media.]
Under the new rule passed by the Federal Communications Commission, cable providers can now count “in-kind services” toward what they owe local communities. Such services include discounts for seniors and fiber-optic networks that link government buildings. That means two things: Cable companies will see their profits increase, and local community access television stations will see their budgets slashed. Along with community newspapers, cable access stations give voice to “regular” citizens from across the region, producing dozens of locally conceived and produced public interest programs, airing countless city and town government meetings and covering everything from Fourth of July parades to Thanksgiving football. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the move would free cash for the cable companies to expand broadband access to under-served communities. The cable companies, however, have made no such promise. “Comb through the text of this decision,” said FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted against Chairman Pai’s plan. “You will not find a single commitment made to providing more broadband service in remote communities. There is no enforceable obligation to expand broadband capacity. There is no agreement that any savings from today’s action is pushed into new network development. I fear this absence speaks volumes.”
Government whistleblowers increasingly being charged under laws such as the Espionage Act, but they aren’t spies. While we all live under extensive surveillance, for government employees and contractors — especially those with a security clearance — privacy is virtually nonexistent. When a government worker becomes a whistleblower, the FBI gets access to reams of data describing exactly what happened on government computers and who searched for what in government databases, which helps narrow down the list of suspects. Government insiders charged under the Espionage Act are not allowed to defend themselves by arguing that their decision was in the public interest.
President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign has harnessed Facebook advertising to push the idea of an “invasion” at the southern border, amplifying the fear-inducing language about immigrants that he has also voiced at campaign rallies and on Twitter. Since Jan, President Trump’s re-election campaign has posted more than 2,000 ads on Facebook that include the word “invasion” — part of a barrage of advertising focused on immigration, a dominant theme of his re-election messaging. President Trump’s language on immigration — particularly his use of the word “invasion” — is under scrutiny after the mass shooting in El Paso on Aug 3. The suspect in that shooting, which left 22 people dead, appeared to be the author of a manifesto declaring that “this attack is a response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” In his re-election campaign, President Trump has spent an estimated $1.25 million on Facebook ads about immigration since late March. Those ads represent a significant portion of the roughly $5.6 million that President Trump has spent on Facebook advertising during that period. Many of the ads began with a blunt message — “We have an INVASION!” — and went on to say, “It’s CRITICAL that we STOP THE INVASION.”
Despite broad efforts to crack down on misinformation ahead of the 2020 election, the primary season so far has been chock full of deceptive messages and misleading information. More sophisticated tactics that have emerged since 2016 threaten to derail the democratic process by further polluting online debate. And the seemingly unending influx of fakery could plant enough suspicion and cynicism to throw an otherwise legitimate election into question. "Far more people have gotten the idea that you can throw a U.S. election by trolling," says Ben Nimmo, a misinformation expert at the Atlantic Council.
America’s two largest newspaper publishers will merge in an effort to combat declining circulation and plunging advertising revenue, but will still face pressure to cut costs at hundreds of already cash-strapped publications around the country. The $1.4 billion purchase of McLean (VA)-based Gannett by GateHouse Media, based in Pittsford (NY), will create a conglomerate that will own more than 250 daily newspapers and hundreds of weekly and community papers. The new company will retain the Gannett name and will have publications in 47 states, reaching more than 145 million unique visitors each month. Executives from both companies extolled the deal as an opportunity to slash up to $300 million in overhead costs while “continuing to invest in newsrooms” -- creating journalism that they hope can attract more digital subscribers and advertisers to their publications at a time when America employs thousands of fewer journalists than it did a decade ago. But the efficiencies wrought by the merger may also result in publications that rely less on local reporters and more on USA Today-type stories produced or edited remotely and published in dozens of the company’s publications. The deal may also mobilize other newspaper chains, including McClatchy and Tribune, to pursue their own mergers in a battle for big advertising dollars.
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