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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What’s in the E-rate Order? Maximizing E-rate Dollars

Maximizing the benefit of each dollar spent on telecommunications services for schools and libraries and minimizing the contribution burden on consumers and businesses is a major goal adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in its July 23 E-rate order. The FCC is aiming to drive down costs for the services and equipment needed to deliver high-speed broadband connectivity to and within schools and libraries. And, the FCC concludes, E-rate applicants need more information about purchasing decisions. The FCC changed E-rate rules to increase pricing transparency, encourage consortium purchasing and amend its lowest corresponding price (LCP) rule to clarify that potential service providers must offer eligible schools, libraries and consortia the LCP.

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Paid Peering, Paid Prioritization, and the Nuance of the Net Neutrality Debate

It is easy to conflate peering and paid prioritization. Recently, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CT) introduced bills in both chambers of Congress to ban so-called paid prioritization. Coverage by the New York Times pointed out that the bills ban “deals similar to the recent agreement that allows Netflix to connect directly to Comcast’s system to avoid network congestion.” However, that is not strictly true. The proposed Online Competition and Consumer Choice Act of 2014 (S. 2476 and H.R. 4880) prohibits “paid prioritization” as understood in the Federal Communications Commission’s conventional discourse on net neutrality. The bills do not explicitly deal with interconnection, or peering arrangements such as the Netflix-Comcast deal. Similarly, in its Open Internet rules, the FCC has so far focused on regulating the potential harms of last-mile paid prioritization rather than that of paid peering/ interconnection. As the FCC reviews the recent flood of net neutrality comments, regulators should be mindful of rhetoric-masked, bad arguments that overlook the nuances between the two.

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What's in the E-rate Order? Affordable High-Speed Broadband To and Within Schools and Libraries

On July 23, the Federal Communications Commission released its report and order on “Modernizing the E-rate Program for Schools and Libraries,” an effort to reorient the E-rate program to focus on high-speed broadband for U.S. schools and libraries. Tomorrow we’ll look at how the FCC aims to maximize the cost-effectiveness of spending for E-rate supported purchases. We’ll also explore soon making the E-rate application process and other E-rate processes fast, simple and efficient. And then we’ll look at the FCC’s new proceeding on meeting the future funding needs of the E-rate program in light of the program's new goals.

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Cities Seek FCC Help to Expand Broadband

FCC Chairman Wheeler said the FCC will “look for opportunities to enhance Internet access competition” and highlighted a recommendation to lift legal restrictions on the ability of cities and towns to offer broadband services to consumers in their communities. This week saw a major development on this front. Chattanooga (TN) and Wilson (NC) simultaneously petitioned the FCC to pre-empt laws in their states that ban the cities from expanding their high-speed Internet networks.

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OTI and Benton Foundation Argue for Strong Open Internet Protections Under Title II Authority

Over the past few months, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has received over a million net neutrality comments—a reflection of the broad and vocal interest around the country in the debate over the best path forward for strong open Internet protections. Yesterday, New America’s Open Technology Institute added our voice to the conversation, filing joint comments with the Benton Foundation in the Open Internet docket. We urge the FCC to craft strong new rules that protect users against the full scope of harms on all platforms, arguing that reclassifying broadband as a Title II telecommunications service is the clearest and most legally sound way to achieve this important goal.

Officially Explaining the Importance of an Open Internet

Public Knowledge, along with our allies Access Sonoma Broadband and Benton Foundation, submitted comments in the FCC’s Open Internet proceeding (that’s the net neutrality proceeding). Although our comments were long, their message was simple: it is time to do this right. It has been almost a decade since the FCC put out its “internet policy statement,” recognizing its critical role in protecting an open internet. Since then, we have seen many things happen in the world of net neutrality. But we have not seen robust net neutrality rules capable of withstanding a court challenge.

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The Legal Underpinnings Of The Prison Phone Call Debate

You may well have read about the Federal Communications Commission’s vote last August to cap rates for interstate phone calls placed by prison inmates. Understandably, most of the coverage of this controversy has focused upon what the FCC did, rather than the legal underpinnings of its actions. This post will address some of those legal questions.

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FCC Reforms and Modernizes the E-rate

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It's Not About "Can We?" It's About "Will We?"

Next week public comments are due regarding the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) proposed rules for net neutrality. Much of the focus will be on arcane legalisms, the particulars of various court decisions, and the confounding twists and turns of FCC regulatory oversight (or lack thereof). This is all well and good, and based on more than a decade tracking such minutiae as a member of the FCC, I am confident that those of us favoring a real Open Internet will have much the better detailed arguments to put forward. But it’s more -- much more -- than that.

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E-Rate Modernization: It’s About Time

Over the last decade, a diversity of groups, from the State Education Technology Directors Association to the LEAD Commission to the Department of Education, among many others, have advocated that the FCC modernize the E-Rate program. Now that the FCC is finally set to act, how do the prospects for improvement appear? We put that question to Blair Levin (1), who was the Chief of Staff at the FCC when the program was initially conceived and implemented, and also was the principal architect of the National Broadband Plan, which proposed a number of E-Rate related changes now being considered by the FCC. Here is his response.

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Decision Time: Fast Lanes for the 1% and Slow Lanes for the 99%?

More and more people now understand the Internet to be the most opportunity-creating tool of our time. It is, increasingly, the door to jobs, education, healthcare, equal opportunity, and to the news and information we need to sustain our civic dialogue. But the question now is: opportunity for whom? Is the Net going to be the tool of the many that helps us all live better -- or will it become the playground of the privileged few that only widens the many divides that are creating a stratified and unequal America? Are we heading toward an online future with fast lanes for the 1% and slow lanes for the 99%? Well, it’s decision time. Now. The Federal Communications Commission is considering rules that would permit giant Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T to create fast lanes for their business partners and friends who can afford to pay what will inevitably be very heavy freight, while start-ups, innovators, and potential competitors are priced out of the express lane. The fate of the Internet will be decided in the next few months, so this is the time for concerned citizens to speak out.

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Privacy, Civil Liberties and the NSA

On July 2, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board released a detailed analysis of U.S. surveillance programs. The headline-grabbing conclusion of the research is that a set of National Security Agency programs that collect vast amounts of Internet communications from U.S. companies has proved to be an effective intelligence tool, but that some aspects bordered on unconstitutionality. The board said that the NSA programs need better safeguards for protecting Americans' communications scooped up in the process. One of the goals of the board in writing the report has been to increase transparency about U.S. surveillance. In addition to this effort to explain the program, the board has set forth a series of policy recommendations designed to ensure that the program appropriately balances national security concerns with privacy and civil liberties. As you pack up for July 4 weekend, we thought we’d take a closer look at what the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is and what it found out about the NSA.

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Two Decisions Shed Light on the Supreme Court's Role in Telecommunications Policy

Two tech-related rulings have us thinking about the role of the Supreme Court in telecommunications policy these days.

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Unlicensed Spectrum: The Challenge and the Opportunity

This is a story about a uniquely successful government initiative. Over the last three decades, the Federal Communications Commission has created and expanded bands of spectrum which are made available for unlicensed use. Unlicensed use, particularly for Wi-Fi, has enabled a proliferation of consumer devices such as garage door openers, remote controls, baby monitors and wireless speakers. There are also innumerable vital industrial and scientific applications using unlicensed spectrum. A new analysis from the Consumer Electronics Association estimates that unlicensed spectrum uses already generate $62 billion annually for the U.S. economy. Even though this may be somewhat overstated, there is no doubt that freeing up spectrum for unlicensed use has been a roaring success.

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Making Rights Real

It’s really no longer possible to deny the connectivity among these issues: making voting a guaranteed and enforceable right, opening the doors of equal opportunity to every American, and having a media that informs citizens about the obstacles that are holding them and their country back.

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The FCC's Sisyphean Task

Sisyphus, you may recall from high school days, was sentenced to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill only to watch it roll back down. Section 202(h) of the 1996 Telecommunications Act gave the Federal Communications Commission the Sisyphean task of reviewing all of its broadcast ownership rules every two years (later extended to four) and determining whether each of them continue to be "necessary in the public interest."

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"Our Top Story Tonight Concerns The Internet"

“Our top story tonight concerns the Internet.” That may sound like us, but, in fact, is the first line in a 12 minute sketch by comedian John Oliver during the June 1 edition of his new HBO show, Last Week Tonight. And in those 12 minutes, Oliver did what even he said was impossible – he made the network neutrality debate accessible and interesting. Oliver, a long time “correspondent” on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, used nearly half his program to highlight the dangers of the Federal Communications Commission proposal to allow broadband service providers to charge content providers “more money for service that isn't entirely awful,” as Jordan Zakarin wrote in The Wrap.

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Why Silicon Valley’s Diversity Matters to All of US

How inclusive are the opportunities that Silicon Valley offers? This week, we saw evidence that it is not for some groups. Although tech is a key driver of the economy and makes products that many Americans use every day, it does not come close to reflecting the demographics of the country — in terms of sex, age or race. The lopsided numbers persist among engineers, founders and boards of directors.

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The Open Internet and the Digital Divide

What is the impact of open Internet policies on the digital divide?

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Still No Time For Party Hats -- The Net Neutrality Vote In The FCC Commissioners' Own Words

We’re probably not the first to tell you that on May 15, the Federal Communications Commission voted to launch a rulemaking seeking public comment on how best to protect and promote an open Internet. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) starts with a fundamental question: “What is the right public policy to ensure that the Internet remains open?” – That is, open to new content, new products and new services, enabling consumers to choose whatever legal content, services and applications they desire. Although you never hear anyone publicly say ‘I’m against an open Internet’ or 'I’m for a closed Internet’, there is a great deal of debate about the FCC’s role in ensuring an open Internet and the methods it uses to do so. Ultimately, the public should and, we believe, will determine the FCC’s course of action. The NPRM adopted May 15 is the starting point for the public’s official chance to tell five FCC commissioners what to do. So this week, we look at how FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn, Jessica Rosenworcel, Ajit Pai, and Michael O’Rielly justified their votes on Thursday.

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