WASHINGTON, December 9, 2009 – The ubiquity of online advertising is a product of its importance to the internet economy, said a group of consumer advocates Wednesday during a debate on the future of online advertising.
But the impact of new targeted advertising methods on consumer privacy and its potential to manipulate online experiences was the subject of heated argument at the event, sponsored by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
Privacy does not mean the same thing to all consumers in all situations, said Progress and Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow Berin Szoka. Advertisements are attempts to capture user attention – the “great currency of the Internet” – and when successful support a wide range of valuable content, he said. But in online life, “consumers have many values,” Szoka added.
“Privacy is one of them,” he said, but it is not an absolute. Consumers must sometimes trade privacy for content, he said. “There is no free lunch.”
As more information and entertainment migrates to the internet, Szoka said it is “critical…that we find a way to support this media.” Targeted advertising can fit the bill, he suggested – especially if technology gives users more control over their own preferences.
Most consumers don’t understand that advertising is a necessity for today’s internet, he said. New technologies like targeting need to be given a try, he said, so content providers can recoup the value of their advertising – down 25 percent since 2000, he noted.
Center for Digital Democracy founder Jeff Chester said Szoka’s ideas about advertising’s future represented a “false dichotomy.” The real debate should be over the rules that regulate advertiser content, he said. Chester warned of a “Targeting 2.0” system in which neuroscience combined with massive databases not only serve ads, but target content to users.
“It’s about influencing our behavior without our consent,” he said. Chester pointed to the subprime lending crisis as proof of the system’s invidiousness, alleging “racial labeling” in which ads for subprime loans were presented to users whose online profiles had been targeted by a “pervasive, far-reaching system” that identified them as minorities.
“What we need are safeguards,” he said. “We don’t want to have a system that is invisible and unaccountable.”
But Howard Beales, a professor of strategic management and public policy at George Washington University said targeting has nothing to do with whether or not advertising is good or bad for consumers. Even when less-than-savory tactics are employed, targeting doesn’t necessarily increase the effectiveness of ads, he pointed out.
Any discussion of advertising regulations should be forward-looking, not based on past behavior, said Center for Democracy and Technology Vice President Ari Schwartz, who pointed out that many practices decried by consumers received little industry support, even from those who might benefit from their use.
“What I’ve seen…is that you don’t hear publishers as the ones who come to its’ defense,” Schwartz said. Publishers, in fact, don’t see gains in revenue from increased advertising, Schwartz said – but ad networks do. “Intraspaced ads” will not be the savior of online publishing, he said.
Use of personal information to target ads is a subject worth debating, Schwartz said. He suggested that should self-regulatory models and existing law fail to prevent abuses, new legislative efforts would surface. But Chester interjected, insisting “you cannot separate out the data collection process [to protect privacy] unless you understand the business model [of advertisers].
Ad networks aren’t trying to sell ads, Chester said. “The business model is to have a connection with you everywhere you go online.” Advertising is even shaping editorial content of news sites, Chester alleged.
Advertisers and publishers, he said, are “honing in on our interests and vulnerabilities” in order to serve targeted content to consumers in real time, he said. “What you see and what your neighbor sees may be totally different…there are real dangers here” he warned. “We need to examine it and create the most appropriate safeguards.”
But Szoka suggested Chester’s dire warnings come from a view that all advertising is manipulative and that consumers are inherently stupid, and reprimanded Chester for portraying him and Beales as “industry shills.”
Instead of rushing to regulation of something that may not be harmful, Szoka suggested an “principled alternative” of campaigns to “empower and educate” consumers on issues and the tools available to them – “something the FTC does extremely well.”
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.
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.”
New Report Recommends Broadening Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues
A Mattey Consulting report finds broadband revenues can help sustain the fund used to connect rural and low-income Americans.
WASHINGTON, September 14, 2021— Former deputy chief of the Federal Communications Commission Carol Mattey released a study on Tuesday recommending the agency reform the Universal Service Fund to incorporate a broad range of revenue sources, including from broadband.
According to the report by Mattey’s consulting firm Mattey Consulting LLC, revenues from “broadband internet access services that are increasingly used by Americans today should contribute to the USF programs that support the expansion of such services to all,” it said. “This will better reflect the value of broadband internet access service in today’s marketplace for both consumers and businesses.”
Mattey notes that sources of funding for the USF, which are primarily from voice revenues and supports expanding broadband to low-income Americans and remote regions, has been shrinking, thus putting the fund in jeopardy. The contribution percent reached a historic high at 33.4 percent in the second quarter this year, and decreased slightly after that, though Mattey suggested it could soar as high as 40 percent in the coming years.
“This situation is unsustainable and jeopardizes the universal broadband connectivity mission for our nation without immediate FCC reform,” Mattey states in her report, “To ensure the enduring value of the USF program and America’s connectivity goals, we must have a smart and substantive conversation about the program’s future.”
According to Mattey’s data, the assessed sources (primarily voice) of income will only continue to shrink over the coming years, while unassessed sources will continue to grow. Mattey’s report was conducted in conjunction with INCOMPAS, NTCA: The Rural Broadband Association, and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.
“It is time for the FCC to take action, and to move away from the worst option of all – the status quo – that is jeopardizing the USF which is critical to connecting our nation,” the report said.
John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB, echoed the sentiments expressed by Mattey in her report, “We simply must put the USF funding mechanism on a more stable and sustainable path,” he said, “[in order to] strengthen our national commitment to broadband equity for all.”
Mattey report uniform with current recommendations
Mattey’s research is generally in line with proponents of change to the USF. Some have recommended that the fund draw from general broadband revenues, while others have said general taxation would provide a longer lasting solution. Even FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested that Big Tech be forced to contribute to the system it benefits from, which the acting chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said is an “intriguing” idea.
The FCC instituted the USF in 1997 as a part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The fund was designed to encourage the development of telecom infrastructure across the U.S.—dispensing billions of dollars every year to advance the goal of universal connectivity. It does so through four programs: the Connect America Fund, Lifeline, the rural health care program, and E-Rate.
These constituent programs address specific areas related for broadband. For example, the E-Rate program is primarily concerned with ensuring that schools and libraries are sufficiently equipped with internet and technology assistance to serve their students and communities. All of these programs derive their funding from the USF.
Outreach ‘Most Valuable Thing’ for Emergency Broadband Benefit Program: Rosenworcel
FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel said EBB will benefit tremendously from local outreach efforts.
WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021 – The head of the Federal Communications Commission said Monday that a drawback of the legislation that ushered in the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program is that it did not include specific funding for outreach.
“There was no funding to help a lot of these non-profit and local organizations around the country get the word out [about the program],” Jessica Rosenworcel said during an event hosted by the Internet Innovation Alliance about the broadband affordability divide. “And I know that it would get the word out faster if we had that opportunity.”
The program, which launched in May and provides broadband subsidies of $50 and $75 to qualifying low-income households, has so-far seen an uptake of roughly 5.5 million households. The program was a product of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.
“We gotta get those trusted local actors speaking about it because me preaching has its limitations and reaching out to people who are trusted in their communities to get the word out – that is the single most valuable thing we can do,” Rosenworcel said.
She said the FCC has 32,000 partners and has held more than 300 events with members of Congress, tribal leaders, national and local organizations, and educational institutions to that end.
“Anyone who’s interested, we’ll work with you,” she said.
EBB successes found in its mobile friendliness, language inclusion
Rosenworcel also preached the benefits of a mobile application-first approach with the program’s application that is making it accessible to large swaths of the population. “I think, frankly, every application for every program with the government should be mobile-first because we have populations, like the LatinX population, that over index on smartphone use for internet access.
“We gotta make is as easy as possible for people to do this,” she said.
She also noted that the program is has been translated into 13 languages, furthering its accessibility.
“We have work to do,” Rosenworcel added. “We’re not at 100 percent for anyone, and I don’t think we can stop until we get there.”
- TPRC Conference to Discuss Definition of Section 230, Broadband, Spectrum and China
- Repealing Section 230 Would be Harmful to the Internet As We Know It, Experts Agree
- Amy Klobuchar Reiterates Need for Funding Agencies to Handle Big Tech
- Technology Policy Institute Introduces Data Index to Help Identify Connectivity-Deprived Areas
- AT&T’s Opens Learning Center in Dallas, Parallel Wireless Expands, AT&T 5G Experiment for National Defense
- Topic 2 at Digital Infrastructure Investment 2021: Last Mile Digital Infrastructure
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