Digital Divide

The gap between people with effective access to digital and information technology, and those with very limited or no access at all.

Ajit Pai Is Preserving A World Where The Digital Divide, And ISP Profits, Can Grow

[Commentary] The Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, has spoken eloquently about the “digital divide” and his commitment to resolving it. His solution? Creating the same market conditions that fueled the divide in the first place.

Pai’s approach is a field of dreams that suggests, “If we let them (internet service providers, or ISPs), they will provide it.” But that business model, at least for many of the large incumbents, has left far too many offline. Pai has suggested that broadband deserts are created by the boogie man of government regulation. But ISPs will invest only when they need to and they likely don’t see the need to right now. The problem we face is getting service to those who are too costly to serve. Pai needs to see that the pattern of exclusion in broadband results from the failure of business models, not merely the presence of regulations.

[Maya Wiley is a Henry J. Cohen Professor of Urban Policy & Management at The New School.]

Wired: Connecting Equity to a Universal Broadband Strategy

In this case study, we argue that barriers to broadband access, one aspect of the digital divide for low income communities of color, stem from a myriad of factors including deregulation of the telecommunications industry and a history of segregation of and disinvestment in neighborhoods of color. Specifically:
The deregulation of the telecommunications sector in the 1990s allowed sweeping consolidation of the industry and created a broadband market with significantly less competition between firms, steeper prices, and slower speeds compared to other industrialized nations.
Regulators do not hold internet service providers (ISPs) accountable to universal build out requirements, which the government enacted in exchange for granting monopolies in the market. This monopolized and deregulated environment has allowed ISPs to upgrade digital infrastructure in the most profitable, high-income areas first. The persistence of de facto racial segregation of neighborhoods means such investments (and lack thereof) result in digital redlining of a disproportionate number of neighborhoods of color and rural areas of all races.

Why Does Verizon Care About Telephone Poles?

[Commentary] Public street poles may not look like much, but to wireless service providers, they’re valuable real estate. Companies like Verizon want low-cost access to them to install equipment to handle the rapidly growing demand for mobile data. But poles are owned locally, and cities and counties aren’t eager to give away access at below-market rates. Doing so would essentially subsidize an already wealthy industry — nationwide, as much as $2 billion a year, money that could otherwise go to expanding low-cost broadband access. As a result, the industry is waging a war for those poles, at all levels.

Big Telecom and its allies in the White House have quietly carried out a campaign to secure rapid and cheap access to those poles, at taxpayer expense. If the industry wants the same access to taxpayer-funded infrastructure that public utilities enjoy, it should bear the concomitant responsibility to make its services available to everyone in that jurisdiction. Alternatively, if Big Telecom doesn’t want the responsibility of deploying broadband in low-income neighborhoods, then the states and the Federal Communications Commission should continue to allow cities to charge market-rate fees and leases to generate municipal dollars needed to broaden access, as San Jose is doing in several low-income neighborhoods.

[Sam Liccardo is the mayor of San Jose (CA) and a member of the Federal Communications Commission’s Broadband Development Advisory Committee.]

Defining digital down

[Commentary] In 1994 Sen Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY)decried what he felt was an ongoing redefinition of acceptable behavior designed to normalize what had previously been unacceptable. He described this phenomenon as “Defining Deviancy Down.” The Trump Federal Communications Commission is following a similar “defining down” policy when it comes to what is acceptable in the all-important networks that connect us.

By quietly altering the measuring sticks, the Trump FCC is “Defining Digital Down” to reset the definition of acceptable behavior by the companies that control America’s networks. Instead of working to build the best possible future for Americans, the agency’s new definitions lower expectations, declare victory where there is none, and set the stage for anti-consumer consolidation. Instead of challenging American companies to, for instance, raise average internet connectivity speeds to levels above those of Kenya, the Trump FCC is seeking to redefine downward what constitutes high-speed broadband. Changing the measuring stick changes the outcome. Imagine how the results of last weekend’s football games could have changed if a first down was only nine yards. Quietly, and with little notice, the agency that is supposed to be protecting consumers is changing its definitions in a manner that favors the corporations they are supposed to oversee at the expense of the consumers they are supposed to protect.

[Wheeler is a Brookings Visiting Fellow and former chairman of the FCC]

FCC plan leaves rural America in internet slow lane

[Commentary] To get internet with adequate speed into more rural areas, you could offer incentives for companies to build lines in places where there would otherwise be too few customers, and you could offer subsidies to residents to make the customer base as large as possible. Or you could just change the definition of “adequate.” Unfortunately, the Federal Communications Commission is looking hard at the latter option, and that’s bad news for the thousands of Mainers living in parts of the state unserved by high-speed internet.

Maybe one day, wireless internet on par with fixed broadband will become a reality – but that day is not here yet. FCC rules now state that areas should have access to both wireless and fixed broadband internet, and that should not change. True high-speed internet is a necessity for an economy driven by the latest technology. The areas that lack it are already in trouble and are falling further behind, and that won’t stop unless the government does something more than change a definition.

Democratic Party pushing a $40 billion plan to bring the best Internet access to rural America

The Democratic Party is making high-speed Internet access a new plank in its economic agenda as it tries to regain trust among middle-class Americans in the country's heartland. Democratic lawmakers are calling for $40 billion in new federal funding for infrastructure projects for rural and tribal areas and other regions, whose access to fast, affordable broadband has lagged behind that of dense, urban areas. The proposal, unveiled Sept 28, would have Internet providers compete for the right to build out the networks -- local governments and cooperatives would also be eligible for funding.

Drawing parallels to the 1930s-era push for nationwide electricity, Democrats say the plan would benefit farmers, medical patients and students in the most remote and underserved areas. The effort suggests Democrats are seeking to turn Internet access into a campaign issue in upcoming midterm races. By incorporating rural broadband into the party's overarching “Better Deal” economic plan, the “digital divide” is gaining a prominence that has rarely been seen before in the party's platform.

America’s Digital Divide

While broadband internet access has increased over time, there remains a digital divide in access to and adoption of high-speed internet. Closing this gap must be a priority, and will take a substantial federal investment to do. There are still 34 million residents that do not have at least one broadband provider in their community. While nearly all of Connecticut has access to high-speed internet, more than one third of Mississippi’s residents lack access. At local levels, the disparities get larger. In more than 200 counties, no one has access to broadband internet. Congress must prioritize rural broadband expansion in any national comprehensive infrastructure plan debated in the 115th Congress.

Further, Congress needs to work on closing the gap in at-home internet usage. All Americans can benefit from having the internet in their homes, giving them better access to educational, health, and career-related resources. Bridging this gap will require improving competition to bring consumer costs down and expanding efforts to subsidize home broadband subscriptions.

Wi-Fly Lending Launch Kit

The internet is a powerful enabler for social change; yet, for 34 million Americans it remains out of reach. A disproportionate number of these people include vulnerable populations such as low-income families or individuals, seniors, and adults living with a disability. Mobile Beacon works hand-in-hand with community organizations to create digital inclusion programs that provide the internet to the people that need it most. Together, we help connect people to this vital tool to improve their lives. That’s why we’re offering the to help you create programs that will really take off. When you become one of our pilot sites, you’ll have access to the full which includes:

25 donated 4G LTE mobile hotspots
FREE unlimited 4G LTE data plans during the pilot program
25 donated Lenovo Thinkpad E560 laptops

Pilot applications should have a clear focus on how mobile, high-speed internet will make a tangible change for the people you serve. Provide as much detail as you need to explain what you plan to do and how you will measure your impact.

AT&T says it’s not ignoring low-income broadband needs

AT&T says the latest claims that it is ignoring the broadband needs of low-income residents in Detroit are false and that it continues to enhance speeds. In a new complaint filed at the Federal Communications Commission, the telecommunications company has been accused of ignoring the broadband needs of low-income residents in Detroit. The practice is called “digital redlining,” a process of income-based discrimination carried out against lower-income neighborhoods.

“We do not redline,” AT&T said. “Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is unparalleled." AT&T added that its network investments are in line with the rules set by the FCC's Communications Act and that it will present its side of the story. "Our investment decisions are based on the cost of deployment and demand for our services and are of course fully compliant with the requirements of the Communications Act," AT&T said. "We will vigorously defend the complaint.”

Silicon Valley and governments have to play nice if we want to save the world

Technology doesn’t always cooperate with us when we want it to. And sometimes governments don’t want to cooperate with it, either. At the United Nation’s High-Level Event on Innovation and Technology various snafus reinforced a key point that recurred at various conferences during UNGA week: That all the talk of using technology to fight poverty, hunger, and gender inequality is useless if we can’t get over the most basic hurdle—universal access to the internet, which less than half the world currently has. Only then can we attempt to use our digital savvy to tackle the 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), the UN’s ambitious framework for solving global problems by 2030.

In order to achieve any of this, however, technology leaders in the private sector and government leaders in the public sector are going to have to learn how to get along. Traditionally positioned as opponents at opposite ends of the ring—the private sector wanting to make a profit, the public sector wanting to make a difference—UNGA treated both as equals and encouraged them to shake hands instead of throw punches. True, lasting, global change isn’t the responsibility of either party alone, but to move forward, they’re going to have to find some middle ground on the following issues.