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Because It is Necessary to Be Online Today, the Continuing Digital Divide Poses a Serious Challenge to Policymakers

in Broadband's Impact/FCC/NTIA by

WASHINGTON, February 11, 2013 – The increasing prevalence on job applications being online is just one of many reasons why it is vital to “close our nation’s digital divide and [improve] digital literacy,” Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., said Thursday.

Having more people connected would in turn allow more people to have access to jobs and vital information, she said, speaking at the kickoff of the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband summit here. Of job applications, 80 percent are online only. (Presentation materials here.)

Echoing similar statements she made at recent joint committee hearing regarding the World Conference on International Telecommunications summit from December, Matsui said that the internet is no longer a luxury, but a necessity to everyday life.

Others at the FCC event, which was jointly hosted with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, spoke about addressing the condition referred to as the “digital divide.”

John Horrigan, Vice President of the Media and Technology Institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said that “broadband adoption…is not a given in our society.”

Citing high cost as a major roadblock to broadband adoption, Tom Koutsky, chief policy counsel for Connected Nation, said that one in three Americans resist broadband services. Low-income families with children do not have the financial flexibility to afford broadband, he said.

Similarly, higher-income families who could adopt broadband are choosing not to do so, he said. These people may work long hours at work and, with broadband at work, don’t want it at home.

Additionally, the “greatest gap in home broadband adoption is among African American and whites who did not complete high school,” said Valerie Wilson of the National Urban League. Though price is a major factor, Koutsky believes that more than half of those who do not engage with broadband would not do so at any price.

While panelists agreed that broadband adoption was a necessity, members also spoke of the need for the public to improve their digital skills to adapt to the ever changing online climate. “This gathering is a sign of optimism,” said Horrigan.

In order to formulate a more pro-active broadband future, greater public-private partnerships are necessary, panelists agreed. Also, more competition would lead to more prices and more creative offerings, said Horrigan. He said that working to create and facilitate applications marketed towards specific sectors, such as educational institutions and the medical field, would help enhance broadband adoption and use.

Republican and Democratic Freedom Fighters Join Hands to Proudly Declare Freedom on the Internet

in FCC by

WASHINGTON, February 6, 2013 – Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee collectively patted themselves, and their nation, on the back at a hearing on Tuesday entitled, “Fighting for Freedom: Dubai and Beyond.”

Our notions are grounded in freedom, said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. Indeed, said Rep. Poe, “freedom is what we do in this country.” Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., also echoed the flag-waving spirit in saying that a universal commitment to upholding free speech was “one of many things that unite Democrats and Republicans.”

The hearing focused on the United States’ choice to align with 53 other countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and India, against other country’s proposals put forward at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in the United Arab Emirates in mid-December 2012. The event was the subject of the November 2012 Broadband Breakfast Club.

The WCIT conference had been held to examine proposed changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations first adopted in 1988. The 1988 regulations were initially implemented by the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Telecommunications Union to address to the changing world of international communications, namely, telephone systems.

According to a memorandum distributed for the hearing, the 1988 regulations were “conceived in an era when most countries still had monopoly, government owned telephone providers.” These regulations did not relate to any projected internet usage, an option that was not yet on the global horizon.

Founded in 1865 to deal with the birth of the telegraph in global context, the ITU is now part of the United Nations.

Sally Shipman Wentworth, senior manager for public policy at the Internet Society, hoped that the ITU would “become more transparent” and that the “processes need to be more open, more inclusive of civil society, more reflective of a broader community and not a closed door intergovernmental place…which promotes this feeling that it is a secret plan.”

During the WCIT Conference, the U.S. and the 54 other nations united against proposals by Russia, China and Iran to incorporate that might allow government control over its citizens’ access to international telecommunications services, thus allowing countries the ability to censor their citizens’ internet-based speech. Additional proposed rules allowed for international tariffs that might restrict market-based exchanges of information.

Opposing the 55 countries that included the United States were 89 nations “ led by Putin’s Russia and our good buddies the Chinese…[who] want the internet as a weapon against democratic opposition,” said Rep. Poe. He wondered whether aid given by the U.S. to countries that supported the resolution might need to be re-examined.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., warned that the regulations “could be used by oppressive governments to censor and surveil.”

The divided outcome of the WCIT convention has led to some uncertainty as to what will happen next.

In a rare unanimous vote, Congress preemptively voted 397-0 in opposition to United Nations governance over the internet — even prior to the divided outcome in Dubai.

Panelists speaking before a joint hearing of several committees led by the Energy and Commerce Committee warned of the issues that would arise if Congress does not engage with its critics.

Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell urged Congress to act swiftly against the effort. “Let us not look back at this moment and lament that we did not do enough, we have but one chance, let us tell the world now that we will be resolute,” he said.

“The internet is under assault,” he said. “These wonders of the 21st century are inches away from being smothered by innovation-crushing rules designed for a different time.”

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., agreed with him. She said he hoped that the internet would remains “a success story for generations to come, not only for Americans, but for people around the world.”

Rep. Henry  Waxman, D-Calif., said that the U.S. can continue to strengthen the relationships between “coalitions of countries that stood together in Dubai.”

Also present at the hearing was Bitange Ndemo, secretary for the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications. Speaking via internet connection from a location in Nairobi, Kenya, Ndemo spoke of the internet’s ability to give people hope and its ability to empower a nation’s people to see their government is more responsive. He referred to the internet as the “lifeblood for innovations we have made in Kenya.”

Former U.S. Ambassador David Gross praised Ndemo’s desire to “defend that which he believes to be correct.” Gross also spoke of how in recent years, internet connectivity has risen, and that broadband latency has greatly decreased in Kenya.

These kids of technical improvements have enabled the internet to provide a voice – literally as well as figuratively – for Ndemo speaking via an internet connection.

Harold Feld of the non-profit advocacy group Public Knowledge said that the unity between the United States and many nations of the rest of the world gave an “advantage ultimately in the political sphere, by making clear to many in global society what the stakes are here.”

Congress must continue their support “of the multi-stakeholder model of internet policy…both at home and abroad,” Wentworth said in her closing statements. “We can work together to ensure the internet continues to transcend political divides, and serves as an engine for human empowerment throughout the world.”

Expert Opinion by Paul Budde: WCIT and the Tower of Babel

in International by

A key reason for the heated debate in relation to the International Telecommunications Regulations (ITRs) at the next World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT) is the problem that different parties are talking about different elements while using the same words.

In the USA the internet is regarded as an ‘information service’ (and for regulatory purposes includes telecoms + content). This level of regulation keeps the ‘intertwined’ internet separate from other telecoms services in the country.

In the developed world outside the USA, however, the two are not integrated and from a government policy point of view the only element that is part of telecoms regulations is the infrastructure.  This means that the infrastructure used for the internet is simply telecoms infrastructure and that, as such, it forms part of the overall telecoms infrastructure environment and falls under the county’s telecoms regulatory regime – or for that matter under international telecoms regulations.

BuddeComm has always strongly opposed the American interpretation because it leads to a lack of competition, to broadband monopolies or duopolies and to the well-known problems of net neutrality; which are all far more prominent in the USA than in any other developed country.

Whatever rules apply to telecoms, very strong opposition exists – and not just from the USA – to any regulation that would increase the price of infrastructure usage. Such regulations would be completely unnecessary if the telcos were prepared to transform their organisation to better face the challenges and opportunities of the digital economy.

For this reason it is important to recognise the difference in interpretation between the USA and the rest of the world. Only when infrastructure is treated separately from services can a discussion take place about whether, and in what way, the burden of infrastructure investments can be solved.

Unfortunately this is only one part of WCIT’s Tower of Babel. When addressing international regulations regarding the internet each party is using its own interpretation in a different way – and sometimes the same party will use different interpretations for different parts of the internet. This particularly relates to governments. When they address the infrastructure elements as mentioned above they will perceive and interpret the internet as infrastructure. When they want to address cultural elements that they want to protect, or content they want to ban, they talk about content.

When they address intellectual property (also, confusingly, called IP) they use language put in front of them by the lawyers of copyright holders; legislation, language and concepts dating back to the 17th century.
The internet, however, suddenly becomes national interest if the discussion relates to cybercrime and cyber warfare.

It is hard not to conclude that some of the comments and positions taken in the WCIT debate are to some degree disingenuous. By creating ‘fear, uncertainty and doubt’ parties are trying to improve their bargaining position. This is a very typical occurrence in a monopolistic market and the telcos have long been masters of such behavior.

It would, of course, be far more productive if the parties involved were prepared to base their position on a more mature and well-informed state of affairs – e.g, the reality of the digital economy and the importance of infrastructure as a national utility that will deliver social and economic benefits beyond telco profits. But sadly they believe that to take such an informed approach would place them in a weaker negotiating position.

The best outcome for  the WCIT will be a clarification of language, clearly separating the various elements, putting fences around them, and making decisions as to who is going to discuss what – and also, importantly, once this clarification is established, what can be organised nationally and what needs to be addressed internationally. The ITU should take a leadership role in this as it is the international body that fully understands all the different elements of the internet and has a very clear view of the future, which is reflected in the ITU/UNESCO Broadband Commission for Digital Development. It could play a key role in assisting its member states to understand the different issues that need to be addressed in the transformation of the industry and how to best address each one of them.

Only when that is done can decisions be made, and can proper international telecommunications regulation take place.

Paul Budde focuses on the telecommunications market and its role within the digital economy, with strategic research and consultancy services to international agencies, governments and businesses. This article reprinted by permission from BuddeBlog at http://www.buddeblog.com.au/frompaulsdesk/telcos-cannot-wind-back-the-clock

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