Connect with us

Expert Opinion

One Web Day DC 2008: E-Democracy and Information Policy, an Education and a Celebration

WASHINGTON, September 22 – One Web Day, DC style: New York has a rally celebrating the Internet and its democratizing power, DC holds a panel session focused on the policies that could either expand the web as a democratizing force or stifle it.

Published

on

Blog Entries

WASHINGTON, September 22 – One Web Day, DC style: New York has a rally celebrating the Internet and its democratizing power, DC holds a panel session focused on the policies that could either expand the web as a democratizing force or stifle it.

Not that we don’t know how to celebrate in DC – the happy hour will be later this evening – but from 9 to 5 (or usually 10 to 6) it’s policy.

Sascha Meinrath welcomes the wonks and the media to One Web Day DC 2008 opening event at the New America Foundation’s headquarters and calls it a celebration of “one of the most important telecommunications innovations in history” and tells us that One Web Day (OWD) celebrations are going on all over the world at the same time.

The idea started and is still driven by Susan Crawford, who three years ago imagined a One Web Day that could at some point rival earth day.

“One Web Day may be in its infancy…but we can see the importance of Internet policy rising” in the national political landscape, Sascha says before introducing a key telecommunications policy maker, Jonathan Adelstein, from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Commissioner Adelstein follows his introduction with an introduction of his own, of Congresswoman Donna Edwards (D – Marylan, 4th congressional district).

Congresswoman Edwards is interested in how the internet can be an enabler for democratic engagement on the community level, but to start, she says, communities need access. Access to broadband is something Ms. Edwards sees lacking at the community level, even in her own houselhold.

“According to the broadband provider in my area, I can get service in the zip code I live in, and that’s true for houses just down the street from me, but at my house we can’t get broadband and are still on dial-up.” As a result, the Congresswoman has given up on utilizing the few hours of the day when’s she’s home to go online (“because it’s too much of a pain”) and she worries that students at the schools in her community are facing similar situations. “I think the Internet and access to the web is the future for the 21st Century and I connect that very closely to the future of the young people in the community.”

Ms. Edwards says she’s excited about the prospects for this digital future but also weary of the potential for some of the advantages broadband offers to be excluded. As her personal anecdote makes clear, exclusion is happening, even where we’d least expect it.

Returning to the podium, Mr. Adelstein, who was visibly frustrated by Ms. Edwards report that she does not have broadband at her home, follows-up on her inspirational speech with a focus on policy, beginning with the need for a national broadband strategy to “restore [the US] to its position as a global leader on technology.”

The elements of a national broadband strategy, according to Commissioner Adelstein, include an open and neutral internet and the goal of universal broadband penetration that facilitates empowerment.

Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation follows Mr. Adelstein and presents a good picture of the type of empowerment the web can deliver: Sunlight’s latest online transparency tool, publicmarkup.org, and One Web Day’s public mark-up release: “The Wall Street Bail-Out Bill,” open and exposed to users for discussion and comment.

Ellen highlights the power of the web as being particularly liberating, in that Sunlight has “liberated” countless documents and massive amounts of government information, but without the power of the web to publish, the information could never truly be liberated.

A prominent developer of the tools necessary for groups like Sunlight to liberate information and connect activists is John Wheeler of Democracy in Action. John introduces himself as one of the first staffers to have an email address on the Hill and talks about his difficulties in getting others in Congress to understand the power of the new medium in 1994.

“Today,” John says, “Congress is dealing with a flood of emails and I’m proud to be partly responsible for that flood.” For the rest of the online gadflies, Democracy in Action has put all the web tools for organizing and advocacy in one place at the Salsa Commons.

One group interested in utilizing John’s tools is Bread for the City, a grassroots organization with a mission of assisting those on the verge of homelessness. Bread in the City’s Greg Bloom gave the OWD audience a tour through his group’s weblog, Beyond Bread, and noted the challenge of connecting what organizers and advocates are doing at the offline grass roots level with the web community while remaining issue-focused.

Broadband Census’ own Drew Clark joins the panel and returns to Congresswoman Edwards’ eloquent opening remarks to highlight the importance of getting accurate data on broadband connectivity in order to better inform policy makers and ensure the technology’s expansion.

As a part of One Web Day, Drew (and everyone here at Broadband Census) is encouraging consumers to take the census and join in the effort to better inform consumers about their broadband service options. Much like Ellen Miller and the Sunlight Foundation, BroadbandCensus.com is an effort to enhance the transparency of publicly available information in the interest of a more engaged citizenry and more informed policy making.

“Broadband is too important,” according to Clark, and unless there is universal broadband, there will be a segment of people who are left out of a vital medium for commerce and conversation. “BroadbandCensus.com will be a place where you can find information on connectivity that is comprehensive, useful and reliable.”

Next up, Alec Ross, Barack Obama’s science adivisor reflected on the power of the Internet as an educational tool and an organizational tool and, most importantly, as a transformative personal tool.

“So much on the internet speaks to so many people directly,” Ross says, “it’s a very personal experience and one that allows people to find the information they want without the historical limitations of place and space.”

Mr. Ross believes Senator Obama’s experience as a community organizer has contributed to his acute unederstanding of the powers of this tool. He then laid out some of the principle policy goals of an Obama administration in regards to the Internet, including Universal Service Fund reform, spectrum reform, and the creation of a Chief Technologies Officer for the nation. He stressed that groups like the Sunlight Foundation would have a partner in the federal government in an Obama administration.

Wrapping up the One Web Day kick-off at New America Foundation, Nathaniel James, the Campaign Coordinator for the Media and Democracy Coalition and the lead organizer of DC’s One Web Day, drew attention to the local effort to create a Time Capsule for OWD. The goal of the Time Capsule, according to Nathaniel, will be to create “a living archive of where we were in terms of e-democracy up until One Web Day 2008.” At 5pm today, the site will be closed to further contributions (though comments will still be allowed) until One Web Day 2020, when the community will then undertake a critical re-evaluation of what has happened over the last 12 years.

Nathaniel sums up the objective of the Time Capsule: “we’ve outlined a trajectory today and we want to come back in 12 years and make sure that we’re following through on that trajectory.”

So that’s it for the live event, now it’s back to the online events of One Web Day and the DC crew will return at 6pm with a little less policy and a little more celebrating. Until then, try to be one of the last to leave your mark on the time capsule and remind yourself in 2020 what it was like today.

Expert Opinion

Christopher Ali: Is Broadband Like Getting Bran Flakes to the Home?

Christopher Ali discusses his solutions to bridge the rural-urban digital divide in his most recent book, “Farm Fresh Broadband.”

Published

on

Professor Christopher Ali

By Christopher Ali

During my rural broadband road trip, one provider recalled a story of trying to convince his community to adopt fiber-to-the-home. In response, someone said, “You mean like bran flakes at my house every morning? What do you mean fiber to my home?”

In today’s connected world, broadband is as essential as bran flakes—one item in a nutritional toolkit of rural community development. Current policies do not encourage us to eat our digital fiber. Instead, money, markets, politics, and profits will define the forthcoming pages in this book. We will delve deep into the market failures of rural communication; we will learn how federal policies prioritize large telecommunications companies at the expense of small ISPs and co-ops.

We will see how many of these companies deliver only the legally required minimum speeds rather than treat these minimums as a floor to build on.

As much as rural broadband policy is a story of failure, it is also one of ingenuity and innovation in America’s heartland. It is here where we find some of the successes of rural broadband—like Luverne, Minnesota, seat of Rock County, whose leaders risked a $1 million bond to bring fiber-optic broadband to the county, or the PRTC (originally the People’s Rural Telephone Cooperative), which brought fiber-optic broadband to McKee, Kentucky, one of the poorest communities in the state.

These are the local companies and cooperatives more interested in serving their members and communities with a public service than earning a short-term return on investment. And there are many who are in need of these providers, like farmers and growers, who are all too often left out of the conversation, but for whom broadband to the farm would mean a new era of agriculture.

The story of rural broadband in the United States is equally one of failure and one of promise. “Farm Fresh Broadband” captures both, all the while reminding the reader that as much as technology policy is enacted in Washington, D.C., it is lived throughout the country.

Rural broadband policy, like all public policy, is a living, breathing, and changing creature, which means that, with the right attention and coaxing, we can make it work for the people who need it most.

Also see Broadband Breakfast’s interview with Christopher Ali

Christopher Ali is Associate Professor at UVA’s Department of Media Studies and a Knight News Innovation Fellow with the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. He is the chair of the Communication Law and Policy Division of the International Communications Association and the author of two books on localism in media, “Media Localism: The Policies of Place” (University of Illinois Press, 2017) and “Local News in a Digital World.” This piece is excerpted by Ali from his latest work, “Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity,” which is available at the MIT Press.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Continue Reading

Expert Opinion

Adrianne Furniss: Lifeline Needs A Lifeline

The FCC should hit the pause button on a current plan to zero out support for voice-only services.

Published

on

The author of this Expert Opinion is Adrianne Furniss, Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society

In less than three months, nearly 800,000 low-income people who receive telephone subsidies through the Universal Service Fund’s Lifeline program will be negatively impacted by changes scheduled to go into effect at the Federal Communications Commission on December 1. That is one of the most troubling — and pressing — conclusions of an independent evaluation of the FCC’s Lifeline program conducted by Grant Thornton. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, the FCC must act now to ensure people can retain essential communications services.

As of June 20, 2021, approximately 6.9 million subscribers were enrolled in the Lifeline program; most (approximately 94 percent) are enrolled in supported wireless plans. Voice service remains a desired service for both Lifeline subscribers and the general American consumer. Only 1 percent of surveyed American adults live in a home with neither fixed nor mobile voice service, and mobile-only voice subscribers comprise more than 60 percent of U.S. households.

In 2016, the FCC adopted a comprehensive reform and modernization of the Lifeline program. For the first time, the FCC included broadband as a supported service in the program. Lifeline program rules allowed support for stand-alone mobile (think cell phone) or fixed broadband Internet access service (think home broadband service delivered over a wire), as well as bundles including fixed or mobile voice and broadband. The 2016 decision also set in motion a plan to zero-out support for voice-only services.

In its February 2021 report, Thornton found that the phase-down and ultimate phase-out of voice services by December 1, 2021 may negatively impact 797,454 Lifeline consumers (that’s over 10 percent of all Lifeline enrollees) who use voice-only services for fundamental needs. So that’s nearly 800,000 households that could face being disconnected from phone service this winter.

The FCC needs to change course and help more Americans keep connected to communications services that are essential to navigate the ongoing public health and economic crisis.

And it needs to act before December 1.

Most importantly, the FCC should act swiftly and hit the pause button on the 2016 plan to zero-out support for voice-only services. During the pandemic, the stakes are just too high for anyone to be disconnected from essential communications networks.

Then the FCC should launch a new effort to reform and further modernize the Lifeline program, informed by what we’ve witnessed during COVID, and the findings in Thornton’s and the FCC’s own recent review of the Lifeline program.

First, Lifeline needs to have foundational governance documents—such as strategic plans, performance objectives, and an integrated communications plan—to assist in the longitudinal success and guidance of the program.

Second, the FCC has to consider raising Lifeline’s monthly subsidy, $9.25, so it can make more meaningful services affordable for low-income families. Home-broadband prices (both for fixed and wireless service) remain disproportionately high when compared to the Lifeline program subsidy. The FCC should evaluate minimum service standards in relation to the average cost of wireless, wireline, and broadband data plans and determine if the subsidy will cover all, or even the majority of costs to provide Lifeline services.

Third, the FCC must adopt changes in the program so it better benefits the people it was created to connect.

  • The FCC should seek to understand the composition of Lifeline households and what services various members need (i.e., school-aged children, telecommuters, etc.). The minimum services supported by Lifeline should address the needs of the entire household.
  • Just 25 percent of the people eligible to participate in the Lifeline program actually enroll. The FCC must understand why and should consider ways to improve awareness of the Lifeline program. One idea is to partner with other federal benefit programs, and the state agencies that administer those programs, to not only increase outreach about Lifeline, but ideally to integrate Lifeline’s application processes into those program applications.
  • The FCC should adopt program rules that incorporate Lifeline consumer feedback to ensure the program works for the most vulnerable people in society.

Fourth, changes in the Lifeline program should encourage all telecommunications and broadband service providers to compete to serve low-income households in their service areas.

Finally, the FCC should also consider revising its measure of affordability of broadband for low-income consumers. Currently, the FCC considers “affordable service” as 2 percent of disposable income of those below 135 percent of the federal poverty level. Instead, the FCC should consider affordability in the context of a subscriber’s purchasing power in a geographic location and balanced with availability of services and choice of providers. The FCC should evaluate the pricing packages of voice and broadband services offered by Lifeline carriers and provide assurance that packages offered are in the reasonable standard of affordability for low-income consumers. And the FCC should institute a structured process to regularly review the Lifeline program’s pricing packages and incorporate measures of both the subsidy rate and service standards for similar programs (like the Emergency Broadband Benefit), income statistics of current consumers, and the percentage of Lifeline subscribers who pay out of pocket for services.

The commitment to connecting people with low incomes to essential communications services is not new. But the past 18 months have offered stark reminders of the importance of universal service. We need the FCC to act now to keep everyone connected. And we need the FCC to update the Lifeline program so everyone can rely on a basic level of connectivity no matter how much income they have.

Adrianne Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society. She manages the institute’s staff and relationships with Benton experts, partners, and supporters in service to Benton’s mission and in consultation with Benton’s Trustees and Board of Directors. Previously, she held management positions at both non-profit and for-profit content creation companies, focused on program development, marketing, and distribution. This piece was originally published in the Benton Institute’s Digital Beat, and is reprinted with permission. © Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2021. Redistribution of this publication – both internally and externally – is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Continue Reading

Expert Opinion

Sen. Michael Bennet: Broadband Infrastructure Legislation Follows Colorado Model

Senate-passed legislation for broadband investment inspired by Colorado’s experience, says senator.

Published

on

The author of this Expert Opinion is Michael Bennet, U.S. Senator from Colorado

Washington may soon make the biggest broadband investment in U.S. history, and the first draft was written in Colorado.

Last month, the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that includes a historic $65 billion for broadband. This section draws directly from the BRIDGE Act, the bill I wrote with Coloradans to reflect our state’s struggles and successes against the digital divide.

Long before the pandemic, broadband was a consistent source of frustration for people across our state. Parents on the Front Range, farmers on the Eastern Plains, and nurses on the Western Slope all told me the same thing: broadband was too slow or expensive to be of any practical use.

Too often, Washington’s answer was to shower the biggest telecom companies with billions in subsidies to build networks, usually in rural areas, that were outdated almost as soon as they were finished. At the same time, Washington had no good answer for working families, many in cities, who couldn’t afford existing broadband options.

As usual, Colorado didn’t wait on Washington to act. Cities created their own municipal networks, like Longmont’s NextLight, which PC Magazine named one of the fastest broadband providers in America. Electric coops like the Delta-Montrose and Yampa Valley Electric Associations deployed fiber-optic networks in rural communities at world-class speeds and prices. Through it all, the Colorado government demonstrated that it could get money out the door for broadband faster and more effectively than Washington.

With these lessons in mind, I wrote the BRIDGE Act with Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman from Ohio and Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King from Maine. Our bill became the model for the broadband provisions in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which is now on the cusp of becoming law.

Based on the BRIDGE Act, the infrastructure bill gives the lion’s share of the broadband funding to states, not Washington. This is a sea change in policy, because it puts states and local leaders — not federal bureaucrats — in the driver’s seat. After all, they have the best understanding of needs on the ground and the greatest incentive to spend limited funds wisely.

Second, the bill more than quadruples the minimum speeds for new broadband networks, while prioritizing even faster networks. For a typical family, this means kids could download homework (or stream Netflix) even as parents work remotely — all without their connection slowing to a crawl.

Third, the bill includes $2 billion for broadband on tribal lands, including the Southern Ute and the Ute Mountain Ute here in Colorado. According to the FCC, one in three homes on tribal lands lack access to high-speed broadband — a significantly higher rate than the rest of the country. Closing this gap is an economic and moral imperative.

Finally, the infrastructure bill prioritizes affordability by requiring new broadband networks to provide at least one low-cost option. Inexplicably, Washington has never insisted on this before. And it can’t come soon enough.

All of these ideas came directly from the BRIDGE Act and what I’ve learned from Colorado. Now we have to pass them into law.

If we do, it would represent the biggest broadband investment in our history, but also one of the most transformative investments in our future. It will mean every worker in our mountain communities can connect remotely for their jobs. It will mean every farmer and rancher can deploy the latest technologies for precision agriculture. It will mean every family can connect with their doctors online, instead of traveling hours to the local clinic. And it will mean no student will be left without broadband, which today is no different than leaving them without textbooks.

We are on the verge of connecting every American to affordable, high-speed broadband. And if we succeed, we can take satisfaction in knowing that Colorado led the way.

Michael Bennet is U.S. Senator from Colorado. This piece was originally published in the Grand Junction (Colo.) Daily Sentinel, and is reprinted with permission.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

Continue Reading

Recent

Signup for Broadband Breakfast

Get twice-weekly Breakfast Media news alerts.
* = required field

Trending