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An Open Letter to Donald Trump From Adrianne Furniss of Benton Foundation About National Broadband Strategy

in Broadband and Democratization/Broadband's Impact/FCC/National Broadband Plan by

EVANSTON, Illinois, January 30, 2017 – Benton Foundation CEO Adrianne Furniss on Monday sent the following letter to to President Donald Trump and leaders both in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission.

She wrote:

Just as ten years ago when Benton Foundation Founder Charles Benton called on then-President George W. Bush to develop a national broadband strategy, I am asking for Federal leadership to create a Make America First in Broadband Again Plan and ensure that we will extend the benefits of broadband – and the opportunities it delivers – to all Americans.

January 30, 2017

President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Trump:

As your new Administration sets priorities for rebuilding America and restoring its promise for all Americans, we need to address how we will extend the benefits of broadband – and the opportunities it delivers – to all Americans.

Broadband and its applications – both wired and unwired – are unquestionably the dominant communications medium of the 21st century. We need investment in broadband infrastructure in rural and low-income America with a strong commitment to competition, accountability, efficiency, and oversight.

Our nation’s commitment to ubiquitous and affordable communications has never been more important. In the midst of the information technology revolution, we cannot and should not abandon or weaken our guarantee of universal, affordable communications access for all Americans no matter where they live. We must unleash the rivers of data and opportunity that broadband enables, and extend prosperity to every community.

Too many Americans have been left behind. Without access to high-speed broadband they are cut off from information, online job opportunities, and the skills training that other Americans have benefitted from. In short, these Americans are cut off from opportunity.

To make America greater, we need better broadband. Your Administration should advance a Make America First in Broadband Again Plan, one that can:

  1. Extend broadband to Americans too long ignored and left behind. More than half (53 percent) of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband. The U.S. ranks 12th in the world on average Internet speeds – behind countries like Latvia. If you want America to be first, we need to set a national goal of ensuring at least 100 million U.S. homes have affordable access to 100-megabit broadband by the end of your first term.
  2. Use broadband infrastructure investment as a catalyst for middle-class job growth. Broadband infrastructure investment is a proven economic dynamo and vital catalyst for middle-class job growth. As your Commerce Secretary designee Wilbur Ross put it, “Broadband is a path to the future” and “a very essential component of economic policy, altogether, including the infrastructure component.” Communities that get new access to broadband experience average job growth 6.4 percent greater than before they had broadband. In fact, studies show that every $1 billion in infrastructure investment creates 13,000 jobs. Broadband infrastructure investment can set the stage for a sustained period of innovation-driven growth, and advance a more prosperous middle class by opening up new job opportunities in its construction, and new jobs in its use.
  3. Giving school’s choice of broadband options to ensure no child is deprived of knowledge. Our students continue to lag behind their peers worldwide in knowledge gained – where we have let countries like China outperform us in reading, math and science.(1) One reason is that 21 million U.S. students lack access to the basic broadband infrastructure necessary to take advantage of digital learning, as Vice President Mike Pence notes, “By ensuring that high-speed Internet is available in every … classroom, we can connect Hoosier students to the latest digital learning tools and ultimately set our kids on a course to compete for the careers of tomorrow.” As United Nations Ambassador Nicki Haley has said, “Technology, connectivity, and digital learning are critical to unleashing our students’ potential. When we invest in them, we equip students with the skills their future employers will demand.” They are right. Each of these leaders have, as governors, embraced the E-Rate program to extend gigabit broadband to every school, Wi-Fi to every classroom, and opportunity to every child. But we can’t turn back the clock. I encourage you to oppose any effort that would in any way impede the E-Rate program or have the effect of not supporting public positions your Vice President and US Envoy to the United Nations have taken when it comes to enabling children to take full advantage of E-Rate enabled broadband infrastructure investments.
  4. Deregulate local broadband. We also need to ensure that broadband’s benefits don’t just go to Wall Street, but also extend all the way to Main Street. Too often, communities lack local broadband choices because they are saddled with state or other regulations that prevent the investment in and delivery of broadband. We should eliminate job-killing broadband regulations that stifle community broadband investment and local economic growth to enable every American, regardless of where they live, to take full advantage of local broadband investments and new community broadband options.
  5. Serve the veterans who have served America. As you have noted, we need to ensure “our veterans get the care they need wherever and whenever they need it.” There is no better technology for anytime anywhere delivery of services than broadband. As Congress unanimously recognized in December when it passed H.R. 6394 (the Improving Broadband Access for Veterans Act of 2016), we need to promote broadband Internet access service for veterans, in particular low-income veterans and veterans residing in rural areas. Broadband is especially vital to veterans as they transition from the armed services to civilian employment. The Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program has been providing veterans with crucial connectivity for over 30 years. An estimated 10-13% of current wireless Lifeline beneficiaries are veterans of U.S. military service. Too often, as you note, funding for veterans has fallen short. We should make sure that no one caps the Lifeline program benefits we give to veterans any more than we capped what we asked for them on the battlefield. We encourage you to champion veterans’ service to this country, and pledge not to harm the vital lifeline they need.
  6. Ensure big media companies can’t bias news by putting mainstream media in the broadband fastlane ahead of unaffiliated independent content. You complain about mainstream media bias and unfairness, which could be exacerbated if establishment, big media companies are allowed to give their own mainstream content and news preferential treatment over their own broadband pipes, instead of giving all content equal treatment. Many Americans want to freely, fairly, and openly choose which media they want to consume. With broadband increasingly becoming the primary way Americans access their news and other content, we would encourage you to oppose efforts that would allow media giants to give preferred access to their own affiliated news sources and programming. Some of your advisors may try and tell you that enabling users to openly and freely access the content of their own choosing is the equivalent of Obamacare for the Internet, but I suspect you are too smart to be fooled by such simplistic arguments.

On January 2, 2007, ten years ago this month, Benton Foundation Chairman Charles Benton sent President George W. Bush a letter asking him to create a national broadband strategy. You see, in a campaign appearance nearly three years before that date, President Bush had said, “We ought to have universal affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007.” That was true then; it is true now.

Although great progress has been made in deploying broadband and encouraging adoption, Benton’s words still ring true: “We need broadband pipes that are bigger, faster, and extend into every corner, community, and city in America – and we need them right away.”

There are no easy solutions to the challenges of extending broadband’s reach to every American. But these challenges must be addressed based on the same principles that have always guided U.S. communications policy – a commitment to ubiquitous, affordable access to the most important technologies of the era.

Sincerely,

Adrianne Benton Furniss
Executive Director
Benton Foundation

cc:
Chairman John Thune, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Ranking Member Bill Nelson, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Chairman Roger Wicker, Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet
Ranking Member Brian Schatz, Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet
Chairman Greg Walden, House Energy and Commerce Committee
Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr, House Energy and Commerce Committee
Chairman Marsha Blackburn, House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
Ranking Member Michael Doyle, House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
Chairman Ajit Pai, Federal Communications Commission
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Federal Communications Commission
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, Federal Communications Commission

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