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Broadband's Impact

Future of Internet Governance, Freedom of Speech Take Center Stage at Cato Book Panel

WASHINGTON, February 4, 2009 – The 18th century ideas of Thomas Jefferson were thrust into a 21st century debate at the Cato Institute Wednesday during a discussion of David Post’s new book, In Search of Jefferson’s Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace.

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Editor’s Note: Don’t miss Andrew Feinberg’s video interview with David Post on BroadbandCensus TV.

WASHINGTON, February 4, 2009 – The 18th century ideas of Thomas Jefferson were thrust into a 21st century debate at the Cato Institute Wednesday during a discussion of David Post’s new book, In Search of Jefferson’s Moose: Notes on the State of Cyberspace.

Studying Jefferson’s legacy of “scaling up” the Republic during his presidency — establishing procedures for settlement of new territories and adding new states to the union — can help better understand how to govern the Internet as it grows more and more important in daily life, Post said.

Laws and institutions must adapt to the ever-growing scale of the global network, he said, calling it an “engine for growth and ideas.”

The “undiscovered territory” of the growing Internet is a “powerful theme” in Post’s book, said the Financial Times’ Clive Crook. Crook compared today’s Internet to the unexplored lands of 18th century America, with “no clear notion” of where continued expansion will lead. Regulatory schemes for conventional communications technology is “not applicable,” Post added.

But comparing regulatory schemes for the Internet to older technologies like the telephone does not diminish the significance of the new ones, Crook said. The key issue, he said, will be how far we can extend our traditional ideas regarding free speech to a global network.

Crook offered an example using the different standards for libel in the United States and Great Britain. He asked: “Why should the Internet be held to a different standard than print publications?”

Such free speech issues will be the major problem facing an expanding global network, said George Washington University Law Professor Jeffery Rosen.

Rosen voiced pessimism about the Internet’s potential as a panacea for free speech as more and more content is controlled by international corporations. The people with the most control over online speech today are not governments or network operators, he said. Instead, Rosen suggested the “most powerful person on the Internet” today is Google’s general counsel.

Internet governance in the “age of Google” will most likely come in the form of traditional laws and voluntary regulation by “gatekeepers” in negotiation with different governments, Rosen said. Rosen recently authored a piece in The New York Times magazine on this theme.

Companies like Google want governments to tell them what content to remove instead of having to make those decisions themselves, he said. Such a system would offer less protections than the current way the Internet operates, but Rosen expressed optimism that over the long run, people’s experience with free speech online will lead them to demand more from their governments.

But a more frightening threat to freedom of speech online is the rise of network-level filtering, he added. Such technologies are already being proposed and implemented throughout Europe and North America to root out child pornography.

Rosen warned that many other governments, particularly those in Europe, would have its uses expanded to include other types of content, such as videos which are deemed to support terrorism. Rosen expressed alarm at the possibility of such a regime, which could render the Internet a dramatically different place within the next 10-15 years: “Free speech as we know it would be dramatically curtailed.”

A possible compromise on speech issues can be found in Jefferson’s approach to governing a republic, Post said. By treating each country differently and respecting its laws, companies can protect privacy and still honor local law and custom, he suggested. For example, companies like Google and Yahoo can treat personal search histories differently depending on local laws, and possibly destroy such data immediately to protect users.

The broadband stimulus bill currently before Congress could possibly add “political saliency” to censorship efforts, Rosen said.

Rosen warned that with government money invested in network infrastructure, strings attached to the funding could lead to a “slippery slope” on speech issues.

But as it becomes more difficult to function without access in an increasingly online world and Internet access becomes more and more of a “right,” Post emphasized that how we pay for an expanded network will nonetheless be the subject of many important policy decisions. How much time we spend online will most certainly factor into how Internet governance evolves, he said.

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Digital Inclusion

Lack of Public Broadband Pricing Information a Cause of Digital Divide, Say Advocates

Panelists argued that lack of equitable digital access is deadly and driven by lack of competition.

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September 24, 2021- Affordability, language and lack of competition are among the factors that continue to perpetuate the digital divide and related inequities, according to panelists at a Thursday event on race and broadband.

One of the panelists faulted the lack of public broadband pricing information as a root cause.

In poorer communities there’s “fewer ISPs. There’s less competition. There’s less investment in fiber,” said Herman Galperin, associate professor at the University of Southern California. “It is about income. It is about race, but what really matters is the combination of poverty and communities of color. That’s where we find the largest deficits of broadband infrastructure.”

While acknowledging that “there is an ongoing effort at the [Federal Communications Commission] to significantly improve the type of data and the granularity of the data that the ISPs will be required to report,” Galperin said that the lack of a push to make ISP pricing public will doom that effort to fail.

He also questioned why ISPs do not or are not required to report their maps of service coverage revealing areas of no or low service. “Affordability is perhaps the biggest factor in preventing low-income folks from connecting,” Galperin said.

“It’s plain bang for their buck,” said Traci Morris, executive director of the American Indian Policy Institute at Arizona State University, referring to broadband providers reluctance to serve rural and remote areas. “It costs more money to go to [tribal lands].”

Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made that digital divide clearer and more deadly. “There was no access to information for telehealth,” said Morris. “No access to information on how the virus spread.”

Galperin also raised the impact of digital gaps in access upon homeless and low-income populations. As people come in and out of homelessness, they have trouble connecting to the internet at crucial times, because – for example – a library might be closed.

Low-income populations also have “systemic” digital access issues struggling at times with paying their bills having to shut their internet off for months at a time.

Another issue facing the digital divide is linguistic. Rebecca Kauma, economic and digital inclusion program manager for the city of Long Beach, California, said that residents often speak a language other than English. But ISPs may not offer interpretation services for them to be able to communicate in their language.

Funding, though not a quick fix-all, often brings about positive change in the right hands. Long Beach received more than $1 million from the U.S. CARES Act, passed in the wake of the early pandemic last year. “One of the programs that we designed was to administer free hotspots and computing devices to those that qualify,” she said.

Some “band-aid solutions” to “systemic problems” exist but aren’t receiving the attention or initiative they deserve, said Galperin. “What advocacy organizations are doing but we need a lot more effort is helping people sign up for existing low-cost offers.” The problem, he says, is that “ISPs are not particularly eager to promote” low-cost offers.

The event “Race and Digital Inequity: The Impact on Poor Communities of Color,” was hosted by the Michelson 20MM Foundation and its partners the California Community Foundation, Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Southern California Grantmakers.

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Broadband's Impact

USC, CETF Collaborate on Research for Broadband Affordability

Advisory panel includes leaders in broadband and a chief economist at the FCC.

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Hernan Galperin of USC's Annenberg School

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021 – Researchers from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School and the California Emerging Technology Fund is partnering to recommend strategies for bringing affordable broadband to all Americans.

In a press release on Tuesday, the university’s school of communications and journalism and the CETF will be guided by an expert advisory panel, “whose members include highly respected leaders in government, academia, foundations and non-profit and consumer-focused organizations.”

Members of the advisory panel include a chief economist at the Federal Communications Commission, digital inclusion experts, broadband advisors to governors, professors and deans, and other public interest organizations.

“With the federal government and states committing billions to broadband in the near term, there is a unique window of opportunity to connect millions of low-income Americans to the infrastructure they need to thrive in the 21st century,” Hernan Galperin, a professor at the school, said in the release.

“However, we need to make sure public funds are used effectively, and that subsidies are distributed in an equitable and sustainable manner,” he added. “This research program will contribute to achieve these goals by providing evidence-based recommendations about the most cost-effective ways to make these historic investments in broadband work for all.”

The CETF and USC have collaborated before on surveys about broadband adoption. In a series of said surveys recently, the organizations found disparities along income levels, as lower-income families reported lower levels of technology adoption, despite improvement over the course of the pandemic.

The surveys also showed that access to connected devices was growing, but racial minorities are still disproportionately impacted by the digital divide.

The collaboration comes before the House is expected to vote on a massive infrastructure package that includes $65 billion for broadband. Observers and experts have noted the package’s vision for flexibility, but some are concerned about the details of how that money will be spent going forward.

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Broadband's Impact

Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas

The Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple datasets to try to get a better understanding of well- and under-connected areas in the U.S.

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Scott Wallsten is president and senior fellow at the Technology Policy Institute

WASHINGTON, September 16, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute introduced Thursday a broadband data index that it said could help policymakers study areas across the country with inadequate connectivity.

The TPI said the Broadband Connectivity Index uses multiple broadband datasets to compare overall connectivity “objectively and consistently across any geographic areas.” It said it will be adding it soon into its TPI Broadband Map.

The BCI uses a “machine learning principal components analysis” to take into account the share of households that can access fixed speeds the federal standard of 25 Megabits per second download and 3 Mbps upload and 100/25 – which is calculated based on the Federal Communications Commission’s Form 477 data with the American Community Survey – while also using download speed data from Ookla, Microsoft data for share of households with 25/3, and the share of households with a broadband subscription, which comes from the American Community Survey.

The BCI has a range of zero to 10, where zero is the worst connected and 10 is the best. It found that Falls Church, Virginia was the county with the highest score with the following characteristic: 99 percent of households have access to at least 100/25, 100 percent of households connect to Microsoft services at 25/3, the average fixed download speed is 243 Mbps in Ookla in the second quarter of this year, and 94 percent of households have a fixed internet connection.

Meanwhile, the worst-connected county is Echols County in Georgia. None of the population has access to a fixed connection of 25/3, which doesn’t include satellite connectivity, three percent connect to Microsoft’s servers at 25/3, the average download speed is 7 Mbps, and only 47 percent of households have an internet connection. It notes that service providers won $3.6 million out of the $9.2-billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to provide service in this county.

“Policymakers could use this index to identify areas that require a closer look. Perhaps any county below, say, the fifth percentile, for example, would be places to spend effort trying to understand,” the TPI said.

“We don’t claim that this index is the perfect indicator of connectivity, or even the best one we can create,” TPI added. “In some cases, it might magnify errors, particularly if multiple datasets include errors in the same area.

“We’re still fine-tuning it to reduce error to the extent possible and ensure the index truly captures useful information. Still, this preliminary exercise shows that it is possible to obtain new information on connectivity with existing datasets rather than relying only on future, extremely expensive data.”

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