Blog Posts by Robbie McBeath

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Our Broadband Divides -- And How to Bridge Them

Where is broadband? And where is it ain’t? Since encouragement of universal broadband is the law of the land, these aren’t trivial questions. This week we saw new evidence about where broadband is reaching -- and new clues about how policymakers will approach making sure this critical telecommunications infrastructure reaches everyone.

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Lifeline: Continue Reform, Or Throw It Out With the Wastewater?

The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on waste, fraud, and abuse in the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program, which provides discounts on telecommunications services for eligible low-income consumers. In 2016, Lifeline disbursed about $1.5 billion in subsidies, making crucial communications services more affordable for 12.3 million households. In June, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report, based on 2014 subscriber data, that pointed to fraud and inefficiencies in the program, leading to this week's hearing.

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How Hurricane Harvey Highlights Need to Modernize Wireless Emergency Alerts

Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas coast on August 25. The Category 4 storm brought massive rainfall and unprecedented flooding to the Houston area and emergency procedures are underway for what may be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. One critical component of rescue operations is maintaining reliable communications networks, a key mission of the Federal Communications Commission. Large-scale crises often reveal the difficulties governments and residents have communicating critical information when networks are at peak use. For years, wireless carriers and policymakers have been debating updates to the Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) system, trying to craft policy that would better enable mobile devices to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages alerting people of imminent threats to safety in their area. Even as first responders are working to rescue people at risk in South Texas, the disaster is returning attention to the WEA debate.

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Can Communications Unite Us? Lessons from Charlottesville

This week, a white supremacist terrorist killed counter-protester Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Virginia. In his initial response, the President of the United States condemned violence “on many sides.” Three days later, President Donald Trump spoke with reporters, again assigning “blame on both sides” in remarks that, according to the New York Times, “buoyed the white nationalist movement...as no president has done in generations.” Much has been written, and will be written, about the President’s choice of words, the timing of his remarks, and the effects all of this will have on our Republic. The incidents this past weekend will be an indelible, dark mark in our nation’s history. At Benton, we believe that communications policy -- rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity -- has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities to bridge our divides. These values are vital in a political climate swelling with hate and intolerance.

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Got a Smartphone? Then You've Got Broadband!

It’s that time of year again. The Federal Communications Commission launched its annual inquiry into whether broadband (or, more formally, “advanced telecommunications capability”) is being deployed to all Americans in a “reasonable and timely fashion.” Although the FCC launched a proceeding in August 2016, asking a number of questions about broadband deployment, the commission did not issue a subsequent report. Under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC is updating the inquiry and asking different questions. Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, in response, raised some concerns over how the inquiry is being framed, and how this may lead to a particular outcome. The results of this inquiry will be significant, as they dictate future FCC broadband policy.

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Senate Confirms Two FCC Nominees, Chairman Pai's Confirmation Waits

On August 3, 2017, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nominations of Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr to be members of the Federal Communications Commission. The commissioners join FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O'Rielly to implement and enforce America’s communications law and regulations. Rosenworcel and Carr were confirmed without debate -- sorta. The full Senate confirmed 63 presidential nominees by unanimous consent. But both Rosenworcel and Carr faced a bit of drama. And Chairman Pai -- who President Donald Trump has nominated for a new, five-year term -- will have to wait on his confirmation.

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We All Agree on Net Neutrality, Except When We Don’t

The House Commerce Committee’s Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a hearing on July 25, 2017. It was advertised to be a Federal Communications Commission oversight hearing, meant to focus on agency actions and processes and to discuss draft legislation that would reauthorize the FCC, a step that has not been taken since 1990. But, as with most telecommunications policy discussions theses days, it quickly turned into a debate over network neutrality. Notably, this debate made public the tactics of those in Congress and at the FCC who would repeal the rules barring broadband internet access service providers from web content blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. Throwing out those rules, especially the latter preventing providers from making deals with popular websites like Netflix to reach subscribers faster than competitors, opens the door for broadband service packages that copy the cable TV model.

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Rosenworcel Renomination, Take 3 (updated)

Jessica Rosenworcel has been nominated for a new term to be a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission -- take 3. President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Rosenworcel to return to the FCC on June 13. She served on the Commission from 2012-2017, leaving because the Senate failed to bring her renomination to a vote, due to larger political battles. Democrat Rosenworcel’s confirmation will likely be paired with a nomination of a Republican by President Trump, subsequently filling all seats on the Commission. Below we unpack the long trip it has been to get to Rosenworcel’s (third) renomination and what it will mean for the FCC -- and some pending legislation -- going forward.

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The BROWSER Act

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.

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Sinclair’s Tribune Purchase, Path Paved By Trump

During the same week that President Donald Trump fired the man in charge of the investigation into the Trump Administration’s ties to Russia, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the largest owner of local television stations in the United States, agreed to buy Tribune Media for $3.9 billion. Sinclair is set to acquire Tribune Media’s 42 stations and a prized asset, WGN America, a basic cable and satellite television channel. With the deal, Sinclair will reach more than 70 percent of American households with stations in many major markets, including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. The proposed deal was made possible by a deregulatory vote by the Federal Communications Commission last month. It seems as though the Trump Administration is paving the way for this conservative-leaning group to have greater influence over our civic discourse as it allows increasing ownership consolidation in the industry.