Government & Communications

Attempts by governmental bodies to improve or impede communications with or between the citizenry.

Broadband’s future is in the crosshairs of the FCC’s ‘political spectrum’

[Commentary] The Federal Communications Commission, once a sleepy regulatory backwater, has become a deeply political agency, governed less by the science of radio waves than by pressure from inside-the-Beltway groups. How did we get here? The answer, according to “The Political Spectrum”, a remarkable new book by Clemson University economist Thomas Hazlett, is that the agency began life with a political agenda, one that continues to override its technical experts.

With the skill of a TV detective, Hazlett reveals how the undefined “public interest” standard has proven itself a potent and malleable political weapon. As new information technologies are invented — from radio and TV to cable, satellite, cellular and now broadband — the FCC has wielded its power both intentionally and recklessly to benefit a changing cast of favored industries, restricting competition and all but the most mainstream content.

[Larry Downes is a project director at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy]

Don't Let President Trump Silence Communities of Color

[Commentary] Thanks to the open internet, a new generation of activists fighting for civil rights and equality has been able to make their voices heard in ways previously unimaginable. Now the Trump Administration is trying to turn back the clock and silence them by undoing the Network Neutrality rules. That is simply unacceptable. We have fought and won this fight before, and now it’s time to get organized again. Send your comment to the Federal Communications Commission today.

With the Trump administration waging a war on so many communities — from attempting to gut health-care coverage for millions of people to repeatedly trying to implement an unconstitutional Muslim ban — now, more than ever, we need the open internet to organize and fight back. I’ll work hard to protect Net Neutrality from inside the halls of Congress, but we need your voice too.

President Trump is being sued for deleting official emails because we have learned nothing

After what felt like years of hammering Hillary Clinton for failing to adhere to federal e-mail transparency policies, you might think politicians would take pains not to make the same mistake. But now, the White House has been accused of just that.

One June 22, the nonprofit group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed suit against President Donald Trump for violations of three separate federal records laws, including the automatic deletion of internal e-mails. In each case, the effect of the violations would be to place internal communications outside the reach of public transparency measures like the Freedom of Information Act — exactly what politicians spent an entire campaign season arguing about.

FCC Chairman Pai Defends FCC Budget Cut

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said the commission can do more with less—102 fewer full-time employees, for example—and his budget reflected that philosophy while still being able to serve the FCC's core mission of protecting the public interest and closing the digital divide. Chairman Pai, joined by Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael O'Rielly, testified on the FCC's budget before the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government.

The FCC has asked for about $322 million, 5.2% less than the previous year, even though the FCC's budget has been flat since 2009. Chairman Pai conceded it was a challenge to do more with less but that the FCC had rolled up its sleeves. And while he said past chairmen had pointed out that the FCC is fully funded by fees charged to licensees, he also remembered—and more than one legislator reminded him—that someone was paying that fee, including businesses big and small and the consumers to whom those fees were passed along. Chairman Pai said that even with fewer people, the FCC had more than doubled the number of items it was dealing with at its public meetings—saying the average was not 5.83 items vs. 2.58 under his predecessor. He cited a number of cost savings as well, from closing an off-site warehouse to cutting down on the number of printers and copying machines.

The future(s) of mobility: How cities can benefit

No matter how ready a city is to move toward advanced mobility models, municipal officials can already begin developing a vision for what integrated mobility ought to look like and how their cities might evolve accordingly. More important, they can consider how to manage the transition so that its benefits are maximized in line with local priorities for improving residents’ quality of life.

To help city leaders structure their thinking, we have created scenarios for how mobility might change in three types of cities: dense cities in developed economies, dense cities in emerging economies, and sprawling metropolitan areas in developed economies. Each scenario accounts for present-day conditions and highlights both opportunities and challenges. In this article, we lay out these visions for the future of mobility, along with ideas about how municipal officials and other urban stakeholders can help their cities navigate toward positive outcomes.

Funding the Resistance with $1 Million to Tech & Media Startups Driving Progressive Change

We are excited to announce that we have committed $1 million to a new cohort of progressive startups working at the intersection of tech, media, and politics. After receiving more than 500 applications during our “Resist and Rebuild” open call for funding (up from 100 last year!), we narrowed down the field to 14 and are delighted to be investing in the following startups:
Amplify: helping grassroots groups take action
Flippable: turning America blue by building a movement to flip states
Indivisible: building a model for how local activism can affect real change in Congress
Mijente: combining digital & offline organizing w. creative media to inspire activists
Notifica: connecting immigrants at risk of deportation with their support networks when they need them most
Online SOS: serving and supporting people experiencing online harassment
Pantsuit Nation: using storytelling to drive social and political change with a modern ability to reach a large, digitally savvy audience eager to participate in collective action
Ragtag: assembling a volunteer team of technologists, tech enthusiasts, political and community organizers, and activists to build progressive change from the ground up
Sister District: harnessing the energy of volunteers and donors in deeply blue (or red) places and channeling it to critical state races where it can make a big impact
Swing Left: helping you find and commit to supporting progressives in your closest Swing District so that you can help ensure we take back the House in 2018
Townhall Project: empowering constituents across the country to have face-to-face conversations with their elected representatives
Vigilant: building a database so you can search and monitor all of the public records data sources you need — at once
VoterCircle: building a friend-to-friend voter outreach platform that dramatically reduces the time and cost of outreach
We the Protesters / Stay Woke: establishing a community of learners, builders, and activists to create solutions to advance equity and justice in America

What is it that the Trump administration doesn’t want us to see?

[Commentary] President Trump’s administration blocked journalists from recording audio or video of the June 19 briefing. Such pathetic, undemocratic cowardice is part of a disturbing trend.

Increasingly, politicians are weaponizing public anger at the media to justify operating in the shadows. Democracy is dying in that darkness. We cannot and must not accept it becoming the new normal. In democracies, elected officials are employees of the citizenry. They are accountable to us. We cannot accept government in the shadows as the new normal of American politics. Transparency in government is worth fighting for; it separates us from the despots who close their palace’s gilded curtains while the press tries, in vain, to peer within. President Donald Trump hasn’t gone that far yet, but he’s starting to draw the curtains. If we don’t speak out now, this could be just the beginning. In the meantime, we need innovative journalists who can shame the White House for its undemocratic practices while exploring fresh methods of shining light into Trump’s shadowy swamp.

[Brian Klaas is a fellow in comparative politics at the London School of Economics]

Chairman Pai Needs to Restore Integrity to FCC’s Net Neutrality Proceedings

[Commentary] Given the current climate at the Federal Communications Commission, it is not surprising that instead of writing a genuine apology, the FCC chose to dispute the fact that John Donnelly, a reporter for CQ Roll Call, was manhandled by FCC security as he attempted to ask Commissioner Michael O’Rielly a question. Following the “Save the Internet” rally that took place ahead of that day’s FCC vote to revoke net neutrality protections, open internet advocates — myself included — were treated with hostility in the FCC building when trying to access the meeting. Advocates were directed by guards to throw away signs tucked away in their bags before entering the building, and once inside, directed to the overflow room. Despite being a former FCC commissioner, guards and FCC officials made it difficult for me to enter the main meeting room even though I explained that a seat was being saved for me. I was also told that I could not stand in the back of the room. When finally seated in the press section, I was told that I could not move to any other vacant seats. It is not normal for public input to be unwelcome at the FCC, as it appears to be today. Chairman Pai must welcome comments from people of all stripes, return civility and respect to the debate and ensure that the FCC electronic filing system is prepared to handle the many more millions of comments that are expected. Americans, who have come to rely on the internet as an integral part of their lives, deserve and expect no less.

[Tristani is a special adviser to the National Hispanic Media Coalition and served as a FCC commissioner from 1997 to 2001. She is also a former executive director of the Benton Foundation.]

President Trump tells tech CEOs that Washington needs to 'catch up with the revolution'

President Donald Trump called for “sweeping transformation of the federal government’s technology” during the first meeting of the American Technology Council.

Eighteen of America’s leading technology executives – including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google parent Alphabet – convened at the White House for the summit. “Government needs to catch up with the technology revolution,” said President Trump. “America should be the global leader in government technology just as we are in every other aspect, and we are going to start our big edge again in technology – such an important industry.” The tech leaders spent four hours meeting officials including Vice President Mike Pence, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross before meeting with the president. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, was also present.

They discussed modernizing the government’s technological infrastructure, cutting fraud and government costs and improving services for taxpayers. The White House believes these measures could save up to $1 trillion over 10 years.

Boris Epshteyn, a former Trump surrogate, now defends him as a Sinclair TV pundit

TV station powerhouse Sinclair Broadcast Group raised a few eyebrows in April when it hired Boris Epshteyn as its chief political analyst. Epshteyn, after all, was a combative TV surrogate for President Trump during the presidential campaign and briefly was a Trump administration press aide, raising an obvious question: How independent would his political analysis be? The answer, judging from Epshteyn’s first few weeks on the job, seems to be not very.

In his initial pieces for Sinclair, the owner of the largest string of TV stations in the nation, Epshteyn has played much the same role he did during the presidential campaign — as a Trump booster and defender. His “Bottom Line With Boris” segments have echoed positions taken by Trump himself, especially the president’s distaste for the news media.