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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Elections Matter, Don’t They?

We’re less than two weeks from Election Day 2014 and deciding which party will control Congress for the next two years. Nate Silver gives Republicans a 66% chance of winning a majority of seats in the Senate which would give the party control of both Houses. What would that mean for telecommunications and technology policy?

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Setting the Chicken Little ISPs Straight

Putting aside all the sky-is-falling caterwauling, here is what the FCC needs to do now: Treat broadband as the telecommunications it so obviously is under Title II, and reassert that there is still a place in government responsible for protecting consumers, innovators, and citizens generally from what will otherwise surely be unbridled industry gate-keeper control over the communications ecosystem upon which our nation’s future rides.

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The UnDigital Nation: NTIA Finds Persistent Gaps in Home Internet Use

On October 16, the US Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) released a report, Exploring the Digital Nation: Embracing the Mobile Internet, which finds that over the last five years, the total number of Americans 16 and older that accessed the Internet on any device grew by 18 percent from 151 million in 2007 to 187 million in 2012 after adjusting for population growth. Broadband adoption at home increased to 72 percent of households in 2012 from 69 percent in 2011. Despite the progress in home broadband adoption, the report also identifies persistent gaps in home Internet use. In 2012, a significant portion -- 28 percent -- of American households did not use broadband at home. A lack of interest or need (48 percent) and affordability (29 percent) are the top two reasons for non-adoption.

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The Un-Tragedy of the Commons and Bandwidth Abundance

Three years ago, Blair Levin, a former Federal Communications Commission Chief of Staff and Executive Director of the National Broadband Plan, organized Gig.U, a coalition of three dozen research university communities working to accelerating the deployment of next generation networks to serve their communities. Over two-dozen communities have, or are now in the process of, deploying such networks. This week the Brookings Institute named Blair a non-resident Fellow in its Metropolitan Policy Program, causing FCC Chairman Wheeler to note, “No one's done more to advance broadband expansion and competition thru the vision of National Broadband Plan & Gig.U.” In light of Blair’s background, we asked him to reflect on the report released today by the Pew Research Center on “Killer Apps in the Gigabit Age.”

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Comcast Answers Critics

On September 23 Comcast and Time Warner Cable submitted to the Federal Communications Commission what’s called “Applicants’ Opposition to Petitions to Deny and Respond to Comments” – basically, the companies’ answers to filings arguing against Comcast’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Back in April, we looked at the companies’ claims that the deal is in the public interest and, more recently, we published a series on what public interest advocates, competitors, and politicians are saying about the transaction. Today we look at how Comcast and Time Warner Cable replied to opposition – focusing just on how they argue the deal could impact broadband services in the U.S.

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Still A Lot To Do

There is time, FCC Chairman Wheeler, to conduct several full Commission meetings before you call the vote on net neutrality. I guarantee you that you’ll learn a lot and have a sounder basis for making the critically-important decision you and your colleagues must vote on shortly. In fact, you shouldn’t be calling a vote until you and your colleagues have had a chance to talk—really talk—to the American people.

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Where Are We In The Net Neutrality Debate?

Easily, network neutrality won the week in telecommunications wonkland. September 15 was the latest deadline for public comment at the Federal Communications Commission as it tries again to recraft what it calls open Internet rules which, in the simplest terms, is treating all Internet traffic equally. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing called Why Net Neutrality Matters: Protecting Consumers and Competition Through Meaningful Open Internet Rules, and the FCC help four forums on the topic. With so much activity, it is wise to take a breath and figure out where we are.

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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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