Digital Beat Blog

Here Benton Foundation Chairman and CEO Charles Benton and others offer their unique perspective on communications policy. We invite you to read and comment on these original posts, start by registering for a benton.org account.


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Is Comcast-Time Warner Cable "In the Public Interest"?

On April 8, 2014, Comcast announced that it and Time Warner Cable have officially filed their joint Applications and Public Interest Statement with the Federal Communications Commission. This kicks off the formal regulatory approval process for a proposal that has garnered lots of media attention. Comcast and Time Warner Cable argue that the proposed acquisition is “pro-consumer, pro-competitive, and will generate substantial public interest benefits. This week, we take a look at the companies’ claims. The FCC will approve a proposed ownership transaction if, if, after weighing “the potential public interest harms of the merger against any potential public interest benefits,” it concludes that, “on balance,” the transfer “serves the public interest, convenience and necessity.” The FCC will focus on “demonstrable and verifiable public interest benefits that could not be achieved if there were no merger.” So, does Comcast + Time Warner Cable = public interest? Here’s what the companies claim.

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A Time For "No!"

How much more do regulators need to know before they understand that the proposed Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger is bad news all around? It’s bad for consumers, competition, and our very democracy.

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Recrafting Open Internet Rules

On April 11, the Benton Foundation responded to the Federal Communications Commission’s request for public comment on how to preserve an Open Internet in the wake of this year’s ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which struck down some of the FCC’s Open Internet (or “network neutrality”) rules. Benton strongly believes that Open Internet rules are necessary for the Internet to continue to be a boon to commerce and our democracy, and they remain an important policy goal of the FCC. It is particularly important to enact strong Open Internet rules because of the disproportionate impact of an ISP’s discriminatory behavior on vulnerable populations, such as people of color, low-income populations, seniors, people with disabilities, and rural communities.

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Defending the Multistakeholder Model of Internet Policymaking and Governance

Public Knowledge Calls for More Data and Consumer Protections in Phone Network Trials

On March 31, 2014, Public Knowledge, along with the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute and the Benton Foundation, told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that AT&T’s plans to test its new services on consumers must include more thorough data collection plans and more robust consumer protections.

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It’s More Than Mere Access

The newly released Pew Research Center’s report, “Older Adults and Technology Use,” shows substantial forward movement in Internet use and broadband adoption by America’s senior population. However, given the increasingly important role that this 21st century technology plays in all of our lives, it is troubling that 41 percent of seniors still do not use the Internet (compared to 14 percent of all adults), and that 53 percent do not have broadband access where they live (all adults: 30 percent). The Benton Foundation has been working with Senior Service America, Inc. (SSAI) to address the challenges of bringing senior non-Internet users online. This latest Pew research reaffirms what we’re finding in our work.

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Pew Updates Us on State of the News

On March 26, the Pew Research Center released State of the News Media 2014, the eleventh annual report by the Pew Research Center examining the landscape of American journalism. The study includes special reports about the revenue picture for news, the growth in digital reporting, the role of acquisitions and content sharing in local news and how digital video affects the news landscape. In addition, it provides the latest data on audience, economic, news investment and ownership trends for key sectors of news media.

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Driving Fiber Deeper: The National Broadband Plan at Four

For communities that don’t yet have access to high speed broadband, prospects that they will soon have fiber as an option are not good.

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Surprises, Lessons, and Still in Beta

Turns out, in our National Broadband Plan, and in every national broadband plan around the world, there are four strategies that dominate: 1) Driving fiber deeper; 2) Using spectrum more efficiently; 3) Getting everyone online; and 4) Using the platform to improve delivery of public goods. So, on the 4th anniversary of the release of the National Broadband Plan, the right question is are we improving in executing on those 4 strategies?

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Understanding Broadcasters v. Aereo

In a few weeks (April 22, to be exact), the Supreme Court of the United States will hear oral arguments in one of the most important intellectual property cases in recent years. Depending on who you believe, the case could endanger or even destroy free over-the-air broadcasting or it could imperil the development of cloud computing and threatening the very underpinnings of the emerging digital economy. Or perhaps neither, since this case, American Broadcasting Companies, Inc. v. Aereo, Inc., has been the object of heated hyperbole on all sides. Behind the dry and highly technical arguments in this case is a major controversy over whether Aereo, a small start-up with a few thousand subscribers, can capture and distribute over-the-air TV signals via the Internet.

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The Government Makes the Internet Better

Although it did not garner much coverage, an independent, nonpartisan analysis of federal funding for broadband infrastructure and the existence of municipally operated networks finds that both have resulted in improvements in U.S. broadband service.

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Seeing Issues Whole

Media ownership is broadband transmission is advanced telecommunications is the Open Internet is content diversity is the public interest is democracy.

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Netflix, Comcast and Our Changing Internet

The Wall Street Journal broke the story reporting that Netflix had agreed to pay Comcast to ensure Netflix movies and television shows stream smoothly to Comcast customers. In exchange for payment, Netflix is to get direct access to Comcast's broadband network. Why would Netflix need to do that? Earlier this month we learned that Netflix’s video streaming performance on Verizon and Comcast networks has been dropping for the past three to four months. Verizon and Comcast have each been involved in disputes with video streaming services like Netflix and YouTube. When these negotiations fail, users suffer. In other words, bad video performance is often caused not just by technology problems but also by business decisions made by the many companies involved in delivering Internet traffic from content providers to end users.

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Here’s How The Government Handles A Deal Like Comcast/Time Warner Cable

There has been a wave of commentary, most of it negative, about Comcast’s proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Many of the columns and op-eds call for the FCC and the Department of Justice to stop the deal, but few have explained the process by which such transactions are reviewed.

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Wheeler’s Got Next

Since January 14, the telecom world has been asking ‘What will Wheeler do next?’ This week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler delivered his answer.

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Net Neutrality and Civil Rights: No Closer Connection

The most important decision the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has had to make in years is upon it. How this decision comes down will significantly affect the future of our nation’s communications networks. It will profoundly affect each of us as individuals -- and no one more profoundly than America’s minority and diversity communities. That’s because this is not only a communications issue. It is also a critically important civil rights issue. All of us who support the expansion of civil rights need to be in the thick of this decision. The issue is the future of the Internet and whether that future will be open and accessible to all of us -- or, will the Internet become the playground of a few gate-keeping, powerhouse communications giants? The term "network neutrality" doesn’t begin to do justice to this issue. This is about Internet Freedom. This is about ensuring that the most opportunity-creating communications tool of the twenty-first (or perhaps any) century is open to every American -- regardless of who they are, where they live, the color of their skin, the nature of their ethnicity, or the particular economic and social circumstances of their individual lives. The Internet should be and can be the highway to expanded opportunity for 330 million Americans -- but it will require positive policy action to make it so.

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The Public Interest Communications Law Project and the Benton Senior Counselor

The Benton Foundation and Georgetown Law are establishing the Public Interest Communications Law Project, under which Andrew Jay Schwartzman will serve as the Benton Senior Counselor at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation (IPR). Our goal is to create a cohort of younger and more diverse advocates to work on closing the digital divide, so our most vulnerable populations can participate fully in a diverse media system and our democracy. What’s critical here, in my view, is that the experiences of all people inform media and telecommunications policy decisions.

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Abe Lincoln and the Return of the Jedi -- Without the Ewoks

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler was in Boulder, Colorado, this week to deliver the third installment in his opening trilogy of speeches on his governing approach. “Think of it as Return of the Jedi, without the Ewoks,” he joked. The takeaway quote from this address comes from President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Annual Message to Congress: “As our case is new, so we must think anew, and ACT anew.”

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What Comes Next in the IP Transition: More Public Input

On January 30, the Federal Communications Commission launched a broad set of voluntary experiments meant to ensure that the nation’s communications networks continue to provide the services consumers want and need in this era of historic technological transformations. And the FCC also initiated two new proceedings to collect more input from the public about what many call the IP Transition.

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Did Congress Empower the FCC to Regulate the Internet? Appeals Court Says ‘Yes’

Last month’s blockbuster ruling throwing out the key provisions of the Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 Network Neutrality rules justifies taking a hard look at Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Opponents and proponents of Network Neutrality have, understandably, focused their attention on whether the FCC should take the invitation of the court to "reclassify" broadband services as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. In the near term, the controversy over reclassification will be front and center. But the longest lasting and most important legacy of the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is likely to be its expansive interpretation of Section 706.

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