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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FCC Monday Morning Quarterbacks the Sports Blackout Rule

On September 30, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on whether to repeal its sports blackout rules. The outcome is a forgone conclusion - the FCC will repeal the rules.

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Where There Is...

Although network neutrality -- or Freedom Against Internet Restrictions, if you prefer -- grabbed many of the headlines this week, we’d like to highlight a September 4 speech by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler entitled “The Facts and Future of Broadband Competition.” To cut to the chase, Chairman Wheeler outlined an Agenda for Broadband Competition that establishes principles for all of the FCC’s broadband activities.

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The Question of Preemption: The FCC Considers Lifting Municipal Broadband Restrictions

One of the most controversial issues the Federal Communications Commission will face this fall is whether it can and should preempt (i.e., invalidate) state laws that restrict their municipalities from constructing and operating their own broadband networks. This post does not address the wisdom of these projects, but rather whether the FCC has the legal authority to preempt those state laws.

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What Are Politicians Saying About Comcast/Time Warner Cable? (Part III)

With both the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission reviewing Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable, many elected officials are weighing in on the potential benefits and pitfalls of the deal. Comcast has noted http://corporate.comcast.com/comcast-voices/more-support-pours-in-for-comcast-time-warner-cable-transaction that nearly 70 mayors and more than 60 additional state and local officials have gone on record as proponents of the proposed merger.

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What Are Competitors Saying About Comcast/Time Warner Cable? (Part II)

As noted last week, the first round of public comment on Comcast’s proposal to buy Time Warner Cable was due August 25. The $45 billion transaction, announced in February, would combine the nation's top two cable TV companies. Comcast and Time Warner argue that the combination will create a world-class communications, media, and technology company significantly better positioned than either company alone to bring consumers the advanced services they want now and will need in the future and to keep America at the forefront of technology and innovation. The Federal Communications Commission is reviewing the transaction to determine if it is in the public interest. Here’s a look at what Comcast's and Time Warner's competitors are saying.

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What Are People Saying About Comcast/Time Warner Cable? (Part I)

August 25, 2014, Comcast’s David Cohen helpfully reminded us, was the due date for the first round of comments in the Federal Communications Commission’s review of Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Here's the first in a series examining what's being said.

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Who Should Pay for Universal Service?

On August 7, the FCC released an order asking the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service to provide recommendations on how the FCC should modify the universal service contribution methodology. The Joint Board, for those scoring at home, was created by provisions in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and first established in March 1996 to make recommendations to implement the universal service provisions of the 1996 Act. The Joint Board is comprised of FCC Commissioners, State Utility Commissioners, and a consumer advocate representative.

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The Net Neutrality State of Play

More than a million citizens have contacted the Federal Communications Commission demanding genuine network neutrality. We know a healthy democracy demands an Open Internet. Last week the President of the United States also weighed in against a fast-lane/slow-lane Internet. Two conclusions stand out: (1) no new arguments have been ginned up by the big Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T that lend a whit of credibility to their entrenched opposition to strong net neutrality rules; and (2) growing grassroots support for a truly open Internet is commanding attention at the highest levels of government.

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#NetNeutrality News Never Sleeps (Even in August)

August in Washington (DC) is hot and muggy. Especially in an election year, denizens abandon the city and policy news generally grinds to a halt. But when the future of the Internet is at stake, there’s no break in the news.

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What’s in the E-rate Order? A Request for More Input and Data

Although the Federal Communications Commission adopted many changes to the E-rate program on July 11, 2014, the FCC also launched a new proceeding – a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – seeking public comment on additional issues. Specifically, the FCC seeks input on the future funding needs of the E-rate program; discrete issues that may further simplify the administration of the E-rate program; promoting cost-effective purchasing through multi-year contracts and consortium purchasing; and how best to calculate the amount of funding eligible libraries need in order to purchase Wi-Fi networks and other internal connections.

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Can Online Public Files Combat the Flood of Money in Elections?

This week the New York Times reported on an explosion of spending on political advertising on television. The explosion is “accelerating the rise of moneyed interests and wresting control from the candidates’ own efforts to reach voters,” Ashley Parker reported. On July 31, the Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause and the Sunlight Foundation (represented by the Institute for Public Representation of Georgetown University Law Center) called on the Federal Communications Commission to extend to cable and satellite systems the requirement that their political files be posted on the FCC’s online database.

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What’s in the E-rate Order? A Streamlined Process

The third major goal adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in the latest E-rate reform proceeding is to make the E-rate application process (and other E-rate processes) fast, simple and efficient.

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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

At its July 11 open meeting, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules for the universal service Schools and Libraries Program, commonly known as the E-rate Program, which helps ensure that schools and libraries can obtain telecommunications and Internet access at affordable rates. The program was born 18 years ago after passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the July 11 action by the FCC is the biggest reform of the program in its history. In short, the July 11 action aims to migrate from traditional non-broadband services to focus on external broadband connections and Wi-Fi connectivity to students.

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