Our Story

 

Our Story

The Benton Institute focuses on providing resources and tools to people, to institutions, and to communities that need them most to make sure that everyone has access to the infrastructure of opportunity—open, affordable, high-performance broadband—and the skills to make use of it.

William Benton

William devoted large portions of his income and the income from Encyclopaedia Britannica stock to the support of philanthropic activities, especially those concerned with communications and education. His experience at the University of Chicago had convinced him of the importance of organized research as the essential ingredient in the promotion of a stable future world. His experience in advertising and politics had given him the confidence to commit himself to an educated and enlightened public as the base for modern democracy.

Read More about William Benton

Marjorie & Charles Benton

Marjorie and Charles’ 62-year partnership was dedicated to public service, civic engagement, and impact philanthropy. Their lifelong commitments and contributions to improving the lives of underserved people and communities—rooted in the Benton Institute’s values of access, equity and diversity—have supported a stronger, more equitable, and more just America.

Read More about Marjorie & Charles Benton

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

For 40 years, the Benton Institute has helped strengthen communities by advancing communications policy in the public interest while providing day-to-day support and resources to the community of people who care about “broadband for all.”

Our work takes the long view to help envision a public interest-focused broadband policy agenda. At the core of our mission is protecting democratic values. That means championing fast, fair, open broadband for all as the infrastructure of opportunity. It means educating people about broadband’s promise to deliver education, healthcare, economic equality, civic engagement and more.

This is an historic moment where our efforts are needed more than ever to ensure we achieve digital equity and that starts with building better communications networks in communities. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the high costs of communities being offline and the federal government seems poised to invest billions of dollars in addressing the problem. But people and communities need additional resources to shape those dollars, to plan long term, to ensure their interests are represented in the discussion — that’s our job.

We must start addressing internet access as a civil rights emergency in need of a comprehensive solution. Everyone must have access to open, affordable, high-performance broadband—and the skills to make use of it—if we are to become a more equitable society.

Organization Timeline

1980s

In its early years, Benton makes small grants to emerging organizations like the just-launched C-SPAN in 1982. Benton publishes Gavel to Gavel, A Guide to the Televised Proceedings of Congress, the first viewer's guide for the network. Benton also collaborates with the Council on Foundations to produce the video, We Don't Fund Media, and the publication, How to Fund Media, to encourage and challenge foundations to support media projects. From the start, Benton makes media education and capacity building for non-profit organizations central to its mission. Communicating in the '80s: New Options for the Nonprofit Community is a primer on new technology applications in 1983. Alert to new public interest issues raised by emerging communications, Benton also supports the Institute for Public Policy Advocacy, the American Civil Liberties Union, the development of the documentary series POV for PBS, and National Public Radio. For the first time, Benton invests in defining long-term public policy solutions to help shape early strategies for the internet age.

Reagan, Cable Television, and Mobile Phones

1981

Charles Benton founds the Benton Foundation, with offices in Washington D.C. and Evanston, Illinois, as the legacy of his father, who in his will handed down the foundation’s mission of “good works in communications” and $8 million in Encyclopaedia Britannica stock to support the organization. He serves as Chairman until his death in 2015.

Benton's first board meeting is September 17, 1981. Among its first board members are U.S. Senator from Iowa (1973-1979) Richard “Dick” Clark, former Editor-in-Chief of the Chicago Daily News Roy Fischer, and Indiana Congressman (1959-1981) and House Majority Whip (1977-1981) John Brademas, then President of New York University (1981-1991).

Marjorie Craig Benton serves as Trustee and Adrianne Benton joins the board as Secretary.

Norman Sherman, former aide to Hubert Humphrey, is appointed first Executive Director (serves until 1982).

National Highlights
  • Ronald Reagan becomes 40th President of the United States
  • HBO, MTV and CNN are available to cable audiences nationwide via satellite.
  • First mobile phone network deployed.
  • 23-node ARPANET, Internet Protocol, and TCP developed.
1982

With the conviction that an educated and enlightened public is the base of modern democracy, Benton makes an early investment in the just-launched C-SPAN and publishes Gavel to Gavel, A Guide to the Televised Proceedings of Congress. It is the first viewer's guide for the network, which televises live, gavel-to-gavel proceedings of the U.S. House of Representatives and, later, the U.S. Senate. It covers other forums where public policy is discussed, debated, and decided--all without editing, commentary, or analysis and with a balanced presentation of points of view.

Carolyn Sachs becomes Executive Director of Benton Foundation (serves until 1989).

1983

From the start, Benton makes media education and capacity building for non-profit organizations central to its mission. Communicating in the '80s: New Options for the Nonprofit Community is a primer on new technology applications.

Benton collaborates with the Council on Foundations to produce the video, We Don't Fund Media, and the publication, How to Fund Media, to encourage and challenge foundations to support media projects.

National Highlights
  • Federal Communications Commission Chairman Mark Fowler (1981-1987) famously declares TV is nothing more than a "toaster with pictures."
  • The "network of networks" model is born, and the term “Internet” is used for the first time.
1984

Alert to new public interest issues raised by emerging communications, Benton awards multi-year grants to the American Civil Liberties Union's Project on Computer Technology and Privacy (now the Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology) and the ACLU's Project on Information Technology and Civil Liberties.

Benton co-founds Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media (now Media Impact Funders) which began on a volunteer basis in 1984 as an affinity group for funders interested in the power of film to highlight social issues. Charles Benton serves on its board of directors.

National Highlights
1986

Benton awards NPR a two-year grant for coverage of, and commentary on, communications and information technology issues.

Benton provides seed money for the development of Point-of-View Documentary Films (POV), the acclaimed and long-running anthology series of nonfiction programs from independent producers on PBS.

1987

Benton publishes Justice for All: A Guide to the Supreme Court of the United States for C-SPAN.

Benton awards a series of multi-year grants to protect and expand public access to vital government information by supporting "Right-to-Know" projects at the American Library Association, OMB Watch, and People for the American Way.

President of the League of Women Voters (1982-1986) and President & CEO of the Council on Foundations (1996-2005), Dorothy S. Ridings, joins the Benton Board of Directors.

National Highlights
  • Dennis Patrick is appointed FCC Chairman (serves until 1989).
  • Half of US homes subscribe to cable TV services.
1988

Benton awards multi-year grants to the Campaign Finance Research Institute (now a division of the National Institute on Money in Politics) to develop a research library on Money in Politics.

National Highlights
  • George H. Bush elected 41st President of the United States.
  • More than half of US homes own a VCR with the cost falling to less than $200.
1989

Six times in our forty-year history, Benton has invested in defining long-term policy solutions in service to our values of access, equity, and diversity and our goal to ensure that everyone is able to use the communications systems of the day. In 1989, Benton commissions eight papers to address issues that federal policymakers would face in the 1990's, which help shape early public policy strategies for the internet age.

Jerry Berman (Chairman Emeritus, Founder and past President, Center for Democracy and Technology (1994-Present) joins Benton as a Fellow. Jerry focuses on research and policy project development relating to public access to electronic government information. With funding from the Benton and Bauman Foundations, he co-authors Electronic Public Information and the Public’s Right to Know with Hank Perrit, Villanova University.

Donna Lambert, Benton Fellow (1989-1990) analyzes policy in the children’s television area. She coordinates Federal Trade Commission and Federal Communications Commission filings addressing unfair and deceptive advertising practices in programming for young children. With passage of the 1990 Children’s Television Act, she educates public interest groups on the constitutional and legal implications of the legislation. Donna goes on to serve at the Federal Communications Commission as Special Counsel.

Larry Kirkman becomes Executive Director of Benton Foundation (serves until 2001).

National Highlights
  • Alfred Sikes is appointed FCC Chairman (serves until 1993).
  • Time Inc. and Warner Bros. merge creating America’s largest media company.
1990s

In 1992, Benton launches the Communications Policy Program with funding from MacArthur Foundation, the first major grant the organization receives. In 1994, Benton organizes the Public Interest Summit, a convening of 700 non-profit leaders seeking to shape the emerging internet. Benton goes on to publish a series of reports on how the internet impacts education, healthcare, libraries, and, most importantly, the lives of the people who do not have access to this new communications tool, drawing attention to the emerging digital divide. After passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Benton launches a free, daily email newsletter to help educate people on how the new Act is being implemented and on other developments in telecommunications.

Clinton, Commercial Internet, Amazon, and Google

1990

Craig Benton joins the Benton Board of Directors serving twice—from 1990-1995, and again from 2008-2012. In what Robert Furniss (Adrianne’s husband) affectionately calls the “nepotism seat,” various family members and their spouses take their turns on the board. Scott Benton serves from 1994-1998, Robert Furniss serves from 1997-2000, and Shelly Benton serves from 2000-2004.

1991

National Highlights
  • Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web.
  • Three out of four US homes own a VCR.
1992

Benton receives its first major grant from MacArthur Foundation to launch the Communications Policy Program.

Benton and the Center for Strategic Communications redefine nonprofit communications by publishing Strategic Communications for Nonprofits, a 10-guide series on media relations, production, and networking, and hold regional workshops. Carnegie, Ford, MacArthur, and Robert Wood Johnson are among the many foundations to distribute the guides to their grantees. Benton publishes a second edition in 2008.

National Highlights
  • Bill Clinton elected 42nd President of the United States.
  • The Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act promises, but fails to deliver competition, better services, and lower prices.
1993

In the 1990’s, Benton organizes a series of ground-breaking conferences for the emerging digital age in an effort to carve out a vigorous and inclusive public interest culture. Access and Equity in the Emerging Communications Environment is the first national meeting to raise the bar on the definition of universal service with scholars, policymakers, and public interest advocates debating a set of commissioned papers.

National Highlights
  • Reed Hundt is appointed FCC Chairman (serves until 1997).
  • Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser, is released.
1994

Gathering 700 non-profit leaders to claim a stake in setting a national agenda for the new media environment, Benton organizes the Public Interest Summit, broadcast live on C-SPAN and NPR. The Summit is funded by a dozen foundations including Ford, MacArthur, Carnegie, Kellogg, and Packard. Produced in cooperation with the White House's National Information Infrastructure Task Force, Vice President Al Gore delivers the keynote address.

Henry Rivera, former FCC Commissioner (1981-1985), and Mark Lloyd, who goes on to serve as the Associate General Counsel and Chief Diversity Officer at the FCC, join the Benton Board of Directors. Rivera serves as Benton’s General Counsel until 2013.

National Highlights

The U.S. Department of Commerce begins awarding grants for innovative uses of digital network technologies in the public and nonprofit sectors.

1995

The Learning Connection: Schools in the Information Age becomes the first of Benton's What's Going On reports, which map communications policies, practices, and principles in key areas where the public interest is being contested, including schools, libraries, and health care. The Learning Connection, funded by the Joyce and Kellogg Foundations, helps inform debates that lead to new universal service provisions in the Telecommunications Act of 1996.

National Highlights

Department of Commerce releases Falling Through the Net: A Survey of the "Have Nots" in Rural and Urban America revealing gaps in computer ownership and telephone access.

1996

Benton launches its Headlines newsletter, a free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues.

Sound Partners for Community Health (1996-2006), a national regranting program, brings public television and radio stations and community partners together to produce public health programs. Sound Partners is funded by The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation with $10 million over ten years.

The Clinton administration names Benton the legatee of the National Information Infrastructure Advisory Council.

Benton and Consumer Federation of America release Universal Service: A Historical Perspective and Policies for the 21st Century.

Benton and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) jointly sponsor the Up for Grabs: Communications Practice and Policy in the Public Interest conference. The conference brings together 250 policymakers, industry representatives, and community service providers to discuss implications of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and applications of advanced telecommunications technology in improving health care, education, and civic participation.

Paul Simon, former U.S. Senator for Illinois (1985-1997) and Terry Tinson-Saario, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Education Department in the Carter Administration, join the Benton Board of Directors.

National Highlights
  • President Clinton re-elected.
  • Congress passes the 1996 Telecommunications Act which creates 1) the E-rate program at the FCC, a federal commitment to connect all public classrooms and libraries to the Internet, and 2) a fund to connect rural healthcare centers.
  • The Library Services and Technology Act sets new goals for the use of federal funds to support libraries' role in providing access to information technology.
1997

Benton publishes What’s at Stake: Defining the Public Interest in the Digital Age.

Benton continues publishing the What's Going On series funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and the Carnegie Corporation with Local Places, Global Connections: Libraries in the Digital Age.

Benton releases Destination Democracy: A Guide to Money and Politics, a website, videos, and discussion guide using the issue of campaign finance reform to demonstrate the Internet’s unique strengths for mapping the full range of solutions to complex problems with funding from the Joyce and Ford Foundations.

Richard Somerset-Ward becomes Benton Senior Fellow (serves until 2002). He authors Connecting Communities, a 2000 report funded by the Ford Foundation, as part of the Public Media in the Digital Age series.

National Highlights

William Kennard is appointed FCC Chairman (serves until 2001).

1998

Benton continues the What's Going On series with Losing Ground Bit by Bit: Low-Income Communities in the Information Age drawing attention to the digital divide.

As part of a Kellogg Foundation initiative on libraries and community information, Benton undertakes strategic communications research published as Buildings, Books and Bytes: Libraries and Communities in the Digital Age and produces a communications toolkit, The Future's in the Balance: A Toolkit for Libraries and Communities in the Digital Age.

Between 1998-2000, Benton begins a series of online service hubs that demonstrate the power of the Internet to aggregate online resources, provide interactive forums, and report on communications issues such as Bridging the Digital Divide (digitaldividenetwork.org funded by corporate and private foundations including AOL and AT&T, and the Gates, Kellogg and Markle Foundations).

National Highlights
  • There are over one million websites on the Internet.
  • Digital television transmission begins at 26 stations in the top 10 markets.
  • Google founded.
1999

Benton completes the What's Going On series with Networking for Better Care: Health Care in the Information Age.

Benton publishes Native Networking: Telecommunications and Information Technology in Indian Country.

Elizabeth Daley, Dean and inaugural holder of the Steven J. Ross/Time Warner Chair, University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, joins Benton’s Board of Directors.

National Highlights
  • There are 150 million Internet users worldwide; 50% in the US.
  • Because of the FCC's E-rate program, 95 percent of U.S. schools are connected to the Internet.
2000s

In 2000, Benton created the Digital Divide Network, providing the most comprehensive map of resources and strategies for bridging the digital divide with programming help from the National Urban League. The Digital Divide Network features news, research, and data about the problem of unequal access to technology, as well as resources and information for communities seeking local solutions. In 2007, Benton publishes Universal Affordable Broadband for All Americans: How to Modernize Universal Service for the 21st Century and Connect Americans to a New Era of Digital Opportunity, a call to modernize federal telecommunications subsidy systems to focus on expanding the reach and affordability of high-speed internet access. During the election of 2008, Benton releases a comprehensive, federal strategic plan for accelerating broadband deployment, which is a major resource for the Federal Communication Commission’s 2010 National Broadband Plan.

Bush, Social Media, Smartphones

2000

Benton creates the Digital Divide Network (DDN), providing the most comprehensive map of resources and strategies for bridging the digital divide with programming help from the National Urban League. DDN featured news, research, and data about the problems of unequal access to technology, and provides one-stop resources and information for communities seeking local solutions.

With funding from the Joyce Foundation, Benton and the Education Development Center's Center for Children & Technology (EDC’s CCT) write The E-Rate in America: A Tale of Four Cities, the first in-depth analysis of the federal E-Rate program, analyzing the impact in four Midwest school systems of the federal government’s commitment to connect every classroom.

National Highlights
  • George W. Bush elected 43rd President of the United States.
2001

MacArthur Foundation continues to fund Benton’s core policy work with a three-year grant.

Andrea Taylor becomes Executive Director of Benton Foundation (serves until 2004).

National Highlights
  • Michael Powell is appointed FCC Chairman (serves until 2005); speaks to the U.S. "Mercedes divide."
  • Media giants Time Warner and AOL merge.
  • There are 400 million Internet users worldwide and one billion web pages on the Internet.
2002

Benton and EDC’s CCT continue their partnership and write Great Expectations: Leveraging America's Investment in Education Technology which examines the five-year old E-Rate program.

Woody Wickham, former MacArthur Foundation Vice President, who oversaw the foundation’s grants to public television and independent media, joins Benton’s Board of Directors.

2003

Benton and EDC's CCT continue their partnership with The Sustainability Challenge: Taking EdTech to the Next Level.

2004

Jim Kohlenberger, White House Senior Domestic Policy Advisor to President Clinton (1993-2000) who worked to help pass the Telecommunications Act of 1996, becomes a Benton Senior Policy Fellow, serving until 2008. Jim strengthens Benton’s collaborations in the field and guides the media policy work, including advocacy for universal, affordable broadband, tangible public interest obligations for digital television broadcasters, diversified media ownership, and open communications networks. Kohlenberger later becomes Chief of Staff, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy for President Obama (2009-2011).

Karen Menichelli becomes Executive Director of Benton Foundation (serves until 2006).

National Highlights
  • President Bush reelected.
  • Facebook launched.
2005

Benton is appointed to the Federal Communications Commission's Consumer Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the Commission regarding consumer issues within the jurisdiction of the Commission and facilitates the participation of all consumers in proceedings before the Commission (serves until 2017).

With funding from Ford Foundation, Benton publishes Jim Kohlenberger's Citizen's Guide to the Public Service Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters.

Michael Smith joins Benton Board of Directors as Treasurer.

National Highlights

Kevin Martin is appointed FCC Chairman (serves until 2009).

2006

Gloria Tristani, FCC Commissioner from 1997-2001, becomes Executive Director of Benton Foundation (serves until 2007).

2007

Benton publishes Jim Kohlenberger's Universal Affordable Broadband for All Americans: How to Modernize Universal Service for the 21st Century and Connect Americans to a New Era of Digital Opportunity. The report’s research and analysis offers a starting point for major Universal Service Fund reform and modernization during the Obama administration. Penn State University's Jorge Reina Schement leads The Future of Universal Service Project, a collaboration with Benton Foundation, working with other Penn State scholars including Amit M. Schejter, Richard D. Taylor, Robert Frieden, and Krishna Jayakar. Other scholars contribute including Sharon Strover, University of Texas, Austin, Harmeet Sawhney, Indiana University, Justin Brown, University of Florida, Heather Hudson, University of San Francisco, and Nancy C. Kranich, former president, American Library Association.

Charles Benton asks President Bush for a national broadband strategy to guarantee universal, affordable communications access for all Americans.

Benton and Robert Woods Johnson Foundation launch New Routes to Community Health.

Benton publishes What's Going on in Community Media? with the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Cecilia Garcia becomes Executive Director of Benton Foundation (serves until 2013).

National Highlights
  • Apple releases first iPhone.
2008

During the election of 2008, Benton releases a comprehensive, federal strategic plan for accelerating broadband deployment, An Action Plan for America: Using Technology and Innovation to Address Our Nation's Critical Challenges, which is a major resource for the Federal Communication Commission’s 2010 National Broadband Plan.

National Highlights
  • Barack Obama elected 44th President of the United States.
2009

National Highlights
  • Julius Genachowski is appointed FCC Chairman (serves until 2013).
  • Congress passes American Recovery and Reinvestment Act providing $7.2 billion to expand broadband's reach, calling for a National Broadband Plan (released in 2010) and a National Broadband Map (released in 2011).
2010s

A decade of transition has Adrianne Benton Furniss succeeding Cecilia Garcia as Executive Director in 2013; and the Chairmanship passing to longtime trustee, Leonard Jay Schrager, after Charles Benton’s death in April 2015. Benton makes critical decisions about its mission and tactics to concentrate on broadband, changing its name in 2019 to the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society to better reflect its core goal to bring open, affordable, high-performance broadband to all people in the U.S. to ensure a thriving democracy. The Benton Institute refines its work to provide resources to people who care about “broadband for all.” Benton underwrites legal and policy experts and provides information resources to educate the wider community about broadband's promise to deliver education, healthcare, economic equality, civic engagment, and more. We identify, support, and mentor scholars, practitioners, and public advocates, enouraging their work to articulate and advance: public-interest-focused broadband policies; research, evaluation, and data to educate policymakers and other stakholders; and best practice strategies at the state and local levels. We distribute these resources via our newsletters, publications, and podcasts. In 2019-2020, the Benton Institute's work has taken the long view, articulating a national broadband policy agenda in Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s (2019) and Broadband for America Now (2020).

Obama, National Broadband Plan,
Media Mergers

2010

Joanne Hovis, President, CTC Technology and Energy, joins Benton’s Board of Directors.

National Highlights

FCC releases Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan.

2011

Benton reports on National Broadband Plan progress, including universal service reform.

Alliance for Communications Democracy and Benton release nationwide Public, Educational, and Governmental Access Channels (PEG) study.

2012

Charles Benton is honored with the Everett C. Parker Award from United Church of Christ’s Office of Communication, Inc.

To help communities attempting to take control of their broadband futures, Benton and the Institute for Local Self-Reliance publish Chris Mitchell's Broadband at the Speed of Light: How Three Communities Built Next-Generation Networks which features in-depth case studies of three publicly-owned networks built and operated by public power utilities in Chattanooga, TN, Lafayette, LA, and Bristol, VA.

Jim Kohlenberger joins Benton’s Board of Directors.

National Highlights
  • Demonstrations against the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA) make for the biggest online protest day ever.
  • President Obama reelected.
2013

Adrianne Benton Furniss becomes Benton Executive Director (2013-present).

Benton publishes The New Network Compact: Making the IP Transition Work for Vulnerable Communities, which asks policymakers to make certain that our newest technologies continue to support some of our oldest values—accessibility, diversity, ubiquity, openness, competition, trustworthiness, interconnection, resiliency and robustness, speed, and innovation.

Robert Cohen, President, Four Corners Media Management, and Austin Hirsch, Partner, and former member of the Executive Committee and Chair of the Finance Committee, Reed Smith LLP, join Benton’s Board of Directors.

National Highlights
  • Tom Wheeler is appointed FCC Chairman (serves until 2017).
  • Japan's SoftBank completes purchase of Sprint.
2014

Andrew Jay Schwartzman, considered by many to be the “Dean'' of public interest communications attornies, is tapped as Benton Senior Counselor at Georgetown Law Center’s Institute for Public Representation. He mentors Georgetown students in litigating public interest communications issues that revolve around internet openness, media consolidation, transparency, access to communications technologies, and privacy before the Federal Communications Commission, Federal Trade Commission, and the courts. This five and a half year project is funded by a consortium of foundations, individuals, and companies including lead funder, Alphawood Foundation, and Laura and John Arnold, Benton, the Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Ford Foundation, Paul Gallant, Media Democracy Fund, Participant Media, and Voqal USA.

National Highlights
  • FCC modernizes the E-rate program for the broadband era.
  • Comcast attempts to purchase Time Warner Cable.
  • HBO's John Oliver famously begins a show with, "Our top story tonight concerns the Internet."
2015

Benton Foundation founder, Charles Benton, dies; longtime trustee, Leonard Jay Schrager, succeeds Charles as Chairman.

Generous donations allow Benton to start the Charles Benton Legacy Fund, which identifies, supports, and mentors a diverse group of scholars, practitioners, and public advocates. We encourage their work to articulate and advance (1) consumer-focused broadband policies, (2) best practices and strategies at the state and local levels, and (3) research, evaluation, and data to educate policymakers and other stakeholders on how broadband impacts lives.

Gig.U and Benton give local leaders a roadmap for getting the broadband their communities will need to thrive in the decades ahead with Blair Levin and Denise Linn's The Next Generation Network Connectivity Handbook. The handbook reviews the current landscape of broadband networks, including next generation, gigabit capable networks, outlines best practices, summarizes existing models, and presents a framework through which community leaders might begin preliminary project steps given their city’s specific strengths and circumstances.

Charles Benton and the Benton Foundation are recipients of the Alliance for Community Media Dirk Koning-George Stoney Award for Humanistic Communications.

Charles Benton is a posthumous recipient of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors’ (NATOA) Community Broadband Visionary Award.

Dr. Colin Rhinesmith is named Benton Faculty Research Fellow (2015-2017).

National Highlights
  • After attempts under prior FCC Chairs Powell, Martin, and Genachowski, Chairman Wheeler's FCC finally adopts Open Internet rules and classifies broadband as a telecommunications service.
  • Broadband Opportunity Council releases report and recommendations.
  • Comcast terminates Time Warner Cable merger agreement.
  • Verizon purchases AOL.
2016

Dr. Colin Rhinesmith writes Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives, to inform the FCC's efforts to modernize its Lifeline program for the broadband age. The report presents findings from a national study of digital inclusion organizations that help low-income individuals and families adopt high-speed internet service (Legacy Fund). Specifically, the report discusses the four digital inclusion activities that are necessary for helping low-income people adopt broadband in ways that are most appropriate for their personal needs and contexts: providing low-cost broadband; connecting digital literacy training with relevant content and services; making low-cost computers available; and operating public access computing centers.

Benton publishes Connecting Anchor Institutions: A Broadband Action Plan for the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition. Community anchor institutions – schools, libraries, healthcare providers, community colleges, public media, public housing, and other community organizations – are the key institutions that enable universal access to broadband. They make essential broadband Internet services available to those who are most in need and ensure that the benefits of the Internet are widely available to everyone—promoting digital equity and opportunity for all.

National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) gives the first annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion award to David Keyes, Digital Equity Manager for the City of Seattle.

Next Century Cities gives Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Awards to Louisville, KY, Raleigh, NC, and Austin, TX. NCC follows up in 2017 with Five Lessons for Tech-Powered Civic Engagement and an event in Washington, D.C., with awardees.

The first annual staff summer outing. You’ll never guess where we are!

National Highlights
  • Appeals Court upholds FCC's 2015 Open Internet rules.
  • FCC modernizes the Lifeline program to include affordable broadband connectivity for low-income consumers.
  • Donald Trump elected 45th President of the United States.
2017

Benton publishes The Emerging World of Broadband Public–Private Partnerships from authors Joanne Hovis and Marc Schulhof, Jim Baller and Ashley Stelfox, from the Coalition for Local Internet Choice.

Benton publishes Dr. Colin Rhinesmith and Angela Siefer's Digital Inclusion Outcomes-Based Evaluation, which describes the challenges facing community-based organizations in measuring the success of their digital inclusion programs and offers recommendations toward addressing these shared barriers (Legacy Fund).

NDIA gives the second annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion award to Emy Tseng of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Benton gives award to Tom Wheeler, the “public’s advocate,” for his service as Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, 2013-2017.

The Telecommunications Policy Research Conference (TPRC) awards the first Charles Benton Early Career Scholar Award to University of Dusseldorf doctoral student, Mirjam R.J. Lange, for Tariff Diversity and Competition Policy - Drivers for Broadband Adoption in the European Union (Legacy Fund).

Benton announces Denise Linn Riedl, Chief Innovation Officer, City of South Bend, IN, as Benton Fellow, and Jonathan Sallet, former general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission (2013-2016), and Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Litigation, US Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division (2016-2017) as Benton Senior Fellow.

National Highlights
  • Ajit Pai is tapped to be FCC Chairman (serves until January 2021).
  • Congress overturns FCC's broadband privacy rules.
  • FCC repeals Open Internet rules.
2018

Gigi Sohn named Benton Senior Fellow and Public Advocate. Gigi served from 2013-2016 as Counselor to the former Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, and from 2001-2013, as the Co-Founder and CEO of Public Knowledge, a policy advocacy organization serving the interests of consumers in Washington D.C. She received the Everett C. Parker Award in October 2018.

Authors Victor Pickard and Pawel Popiel examine the tactics and policy priorities of former-Commissioner Michael J. Copps during his 10 years at the Federal Communications Commission in The Media Democracy Agenda: The Strategy and Legacy of FCC Commissioner Michael J. Copps (Legacy Fund).

Benton releases John Horrigan's Digital Skills and Job Training: Community-driven initiatives are leading the way in preparing Americans for today’s jobs. Roughly half of all job openings in the United States fall into the middle-skill category and most (82%) of them require digital skills. Wages are better as a result.

Rachel Moran and Matthew Bui, Annenberg School for Communications and Journalism, University of Southern California, receive the second Charles Benton Early Career Scholar Awards at TPRC’s 2018 conference for Race, Ethnicity, and Telecommunications Policy Issues of Access and Representation: Centering Communities of Color and Their Concerns (Legacy Fund).

NDIA gives the third annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion award to Deb Socia, founding Executive Director of Next Century Cities and former Executive Director of Boston’s Tech Goes Home.

2019

Benton Foundation changes its name to the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society to better reflect our mission and work.

Mignon Clyburn, former Commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from 2009 to 2018, including a term as Acting Chairwoman in 2013, joins Benton’s Board of Directors.

Dr. Christopher Ali, Associate Professor in the Department of Media Studies, University of Virginia, named Benton Faculty Research Fellow, and writes a book, Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity, to be published by MIT Press in September, 2021 (Legacy Fund).

Benton publishes Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, by Jonathan Sallet, a national agenda for the next decade and a discussion on how public policy can close the digital divide and extend digital opportunity everywhere. We participate in a series of events to bring our recommendations to the field, including the annual Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband conference and the Coalition for Local Internet Choice conference held after the Broadband Communities gathering in Washington D.C.

With Andrew Jay Schwartzman as our counsel, Benton joins public interest organizations, states, and businesses as a petitioner in the Mozilla v. FCC case arguing that the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit should overturn the December 2017 Federal Communications Commission order that eliminated strong, enforceable net neutrality rules.

Benton Senior Fellow, Jonathan Sallet, writes Improving the Administration of E-Rate: Ensuring All Schoolchildren Get the High-Speed Broadband Connections They Need on behalf of Benton and EducationSuperHighway.

One of the founding members of the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, Benton helps celebrate SHLB’s 10th year of “Connecting Anchors.”

Burcu Baykurt, Assistant Professor, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, receives the third Charles Benton Early Career Scholar Award at TPRC’s 2019 conference for (Dis)connecting the Digital City. The committee identifies Tarleton State University, Assistant Professor Jacob Manlove, as runner up for Assessing the Need for a Measure of Broadband Adoption Inequality (Legacy Fund).

NDIA gives the fourth annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion award to PCs for People CEO, Casey Sorenson, and the Digital Equity Emerging Leader award to San Antonio Housing Authority Digital Inclusion Program Manager, Munirih Jester.

Robbie McBeath, Benton Writing Associate, presents during NDIA’s Net Inclusion Lightning Round on Benton’s Headlines newsletter.

National Highlights

Inventor of the Internet, Tim Berners-Lee proposes a plan to save the Internet. world-wide-web.html

2020s

In 2019-2020, the Benton Institute speaks with policymakers, advocates, and practitioners around the country to create recommendations for a national broadband agenda because we care about harnessing broadband’s potential to improve people’s lives, our communities, and our democracy. From those discussions we learn that leaders at all levels of government need to embrace four building blocks of broadband policy—Digital Equity, Deployment, Competition, and the importance of Community Anchor Institutions and community leadership. The ways people use broadband now have changed drastically with COVID-19. But our overarching goal is the same: everyone in the U.S. needs to be able to use high-performance broadband and we need to make that possible as soon as we can. Our goal is to continue to work with our allies to implement the recommendations we formulated, many of which grow out of the best practices of communities around the country that are taking the initiative to plan their own broadband futures. To further President Joe Biden’s four top policy priorities—combatting COVID-19, enabling economic recovery, addressing racial equity, and dealing with climate change—the Biden-Harris administration has articulated that broadband has a key role to play. Whether it is delivering telehealth, jobs through construction of networks as part of an infrastructure package, digital literacy training and affordability to close the digital equity gap, or applications for farmers to more sustainably manage their land and outputs, or for cities to implement smart grid technology, we can’t “Build Back Better” without broadband.

Biden, COVID-19, Economic Crisis,
Racial Equity

2020

We release a much-anticipated sequel to the 2019 national agenda, Broadband for America’s Future: A Vision for the 2020s, written by Benton Senior Fellow, Jonathan Sallet. A new sense of urgency to implement equitable broadband policies and start addressing at-home internet access as a civil rights emergency in need of a comprehensive solution drives us to release Broadband for America Now.

Adrianne Benton Furniss authors “Want to Solve America’s Problems? Start with Broadband” for Fortune 75 years after her grandfather, William Benton, published a Fortune article, “The Economics of a Free Society,” on behalf of the Committee for Economic Development.

Denise Linn Riedl’s Toward Inclusive Urban Technology; Lessons, cases, and resources developed by local technology champions and planners asks “What does procedural justice look like when cities deploy new technology?” and convenes local city practitioners to lend their knowledge and experience to address the question (Legacy Fund).

How do America’s Communities secure the benefits of fiber-optic infrastructure? Public Infrastructure/Private Service: A Shared-Risk Partnership Model for 21st Century Broadband Infrastructure  by Joanne Hovis, Jim Baller, David Talbot, and Cat Blake outlines how the public infrastructure/private service model presents a scalable option for communities that lack the expertise or interest to operate communications networks or act as internet service providers themselves but want to own and control the core communications assets in their community as a means of securing the benefits of the broadband internet.

If We Build It, Will They Come? Lessons from Open-Access, Middle-Mile Networks by Jordan Arnold and Jonathan Sallet discusses one solution to our deployment and competition problems—the construction of open-access, middle-mile networks.

Benton publishes John Horrigan’s Adapting Jobs Programs for Today and Tomorrow.

Colin Rhinesmith and Susan Kennedy author Growing Healthy Digital Ecosystems During COVID-19 and Beyond, which discusses how digital inclusion coalitions across the country are responding to the triple challenges of the pandemic, growing economic inequality, and racial injustice facing poor communities and communities of color across the country without access to broadband internet at home.

Benton underwrites Gigi Sohn’s Tech on the Rocks  podcast (Legacy Fund).

NDIA gives the fifth annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion award to Daniel Noyes, Co-Chief Executive Officer of Tech Goes Home, and the Digital Equity Emerging Leader award to Rebecca Kauma, the Economic and Digital Inclusion Program Manager for the City of Long Beach, California.

Denise Linn Riedl, Chief Innovation Officer, City of South Bend, IN, Leon Wilson, Chief of Digital Innovation & Chief Information Officer, Cleveland Foundation, and David Dodson, Senior Fellow, MDC, join Benton’s Board of Directors.

In 2020, the Benton Institute begins collaborating with the Illinois Office of Broadband, working on broadband issues in the state. Pew writes about this collaboration in “Illinois, Benton Institute Work Together to Close the Digital Divide: How collaboration between government and a nonprofit organization yields better broadband for state residents.” The partnership develops a webinar series, a biweekly newsletter to bring Illinois-specific broadband news to subscribers, and the Illinois Connected Communities program, which pairs state grants and philanthropic funds raised by Benton to cover the cost of community coaching.  A year-long program of community planning and engagement assists local governments, libraries, schools, and various community organizations with the creation of strategic action plans for broadband access, adoption, and use implementation.

National Highlights
  • Microsoft study finds that nearly half the US population lacks broadband internet.
  • Joseph R. Biden elected 46th President of the United States.
2021

We begin a celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Benton and the 25th Anniversary of Headlines.

Six Community Broadband Networks Demonstrate Diversity of Approaches to Connectivity Challenges by Christopher Mitchell, Sean Gonsalves, and Jericho Casper is released. MuniNetworks.org—the Institute for Local Self-Reliance clearinghouse of information about local government broadband policy—has published thousands of stories and conducted hundreds of interviews with those who have built, operated, or worked in the local broadband ecosystem. But for someone trying to get a sense of the range of community broadband approaches, there is no single document that encapsulates the variety of models. This collection is a preview for a much larger compendium of community-led broadband case studies that will be released later this summer.   

We publish Putting State Broadband Funds to Work: Best Practices in State Rural Broadband Grant Programs by Ryland Sherman, Joanne Hovis, and Jacob Levin. State-level efforts are critical to distributing federal funds and incubating local initiatives. They have long-established programs for addressing rural broadband gaps and offer a valuable history of lessons learned, both of what works and what doesn’t. This paper describes the commonalities among many of the leading state rural broadband funding programs and recommends best practices.

A panel of international scholars chose two winners to receive the fourth annual Charles Benton Early Career Scholar Awards at their February 2021 virtual conference. They recognized Edward John Oughton, Assistant Professor of Data Analytics, GGS, George Mason University for Policy Options for Digital Infrastructure Strategies: A Simulation Model for Broadband Universal Service in Africa and Hoan (Sarah) Nguyen, a doctoral researcher and Graduate Fellow at the Annenberg School of Communications at University of Southern California, for ICTs Use for Mitigating Social Exclusion in the Lives of Homeless Women (Legacy Fund).

Dr. Colin Rhinesmith returns as Senior Faculty Research Fellow. During his 2021-2022 fellowship, Rhinesmith will examine what he is calling "digital equity ecosystems" in communities across the United States (Legacy Fund).

Benton believes that broadband policy — rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity — has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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