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Broadband and Democratization

Broadband Lifeline and Connect2Compete Mark A New ‘Broadband Moment’ Around Adoption and Usage

July 12, 2012 – If 2008 marked the dawn of our national “broadband moment,” this summer and fall may well be the beginning of a new era of broadband adoption and usage.

A major national initiative, dubbed “Connect2Compete,” is just beginning to find its footing. In a webinar two weeks ago, this collaboration of corporate, philanthropic and community leaders delineated their mission, goals and timetables. It is to use the “power of the internet to improve the lives of low income Americans and their ability to thrive in the global economy.”

Additional, the Federal Communications Commission is in the midst of launching an exciting Broadband Lifeline pilot program. This $25 million pilot program could help pave the way for a Universal Broadband Fund. Such a fund could do for internet connectivity what the Universal Service Fund, in an earlier era, did for making the telephone an anchor of American life. […]

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July 12, 2012 – If 2008 marked the dawn of our national “broadband moment,” this summer and fall may well be the beginning of a new era of broadband adoption and usage.

A major national initiative, dubbed “Connect2Compete,” is just beginning to find its footing. In a webinar two weeks ago, this collaboration of corporate, philanthropic and community leaders delineated their mission, goals and timetables. It is to use the “power of the internet to improve the lives of low income Americans and their ability to thrive in the global economy.”

Additional, the Federal Communications Commission is in the midst of launching an exciting Broadband Lifeline pilot program. This $25 million pilot program could help pave the way for a Universal Broadband Fund. Such a fund could do for internet connectivity what the Universal Service Fund, in an earlier era, did for making the telephone an anchor of American life.

But first, I must say that I use the term “broadband adoption” with some caution. Every time I Google that phrase, the search results are good… it’s just that the advertisements are all off. What I see instead is information about the adoption of children – which is a vital and easy-to-grasp societal good.

But the benefit of proselyting broadband usage can be somewhat harder to explain.

It might be best to see through analogy to rural electrification. This key point I learned from Jonathan Adelstein, Administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, when he keynoted the Broadband Breakfast Club in June 2010:

Just as rural electrification required federal investment in infrastructure to bring power lines to farmers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture needed to engage in an active campaign of “electricity adoption.” Rural America not only needed to get electricity to its doorstep, it needed to be trained and sold on the benefits and value that would come from household electricity consumption.

Seen in that light, the usage of broadband becomes far more revolutionary. We’ll be discussing this very topic at the July 17, 2012 Broadband Breakfast Club, “Bringing Broadband Adoption to the Nation’s Underserved Populations.”

The Broadband Adoption Trinity: Cost, Digital Literacy, Relevance

The FCC’s National Broadband Plan from March 2010 identified three areas that need to be addressed to getting all Americans online: the cost of broadband, basic digital literacy skills and the relevance of content available over broadband transmission. In the lead-up to the Broadband Breakfast Club event on July 17, we aim to analyze several of the key efforts and how they are tackling the problem of getting all Americans access to broadband… and the educational tools that Americans need to make it a part of their daily lives.

As a result of a the first nationwide broadband consumer survey, focusing on non-adopters, the agency wrote:

Cost. When prompted for the main reason they do not have broadband, 36% of non-adopters cite cost.

Digital Literacy. About 22% of non-adopters cite a digital literacy-related factor as their main barrier. This group includes those who are uncomfortable using computers and those who are “worried about all the bad things that can happen if [they] use the Internet.”

Relevance. Some 19% of non-adopters say they do not think digital content delivered over broadband is compelling enough to justify getting broadband service. Many do not view broadband as a means to access content they find important or necessary for activities they want to pursue. Others seem satisfied with offline alternatives. These non-adopters say, for instance, the Internet is a “waste of time.”

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has spoken about the dilemma associated with gaps in broadband usage. In a speech in San Diego on May 31, he noted the disparity between the 68 percent of Americans who are connected at home, versus South Korea and Singapore, where broadband adoption rates top 90 percent.

Equally significant are broadband divides in this country, with less than 50 percent of African Americans, Latinos, seniors and rural Americans having adopted broadband. Only 46 percent of low-income families have adopted broadband, versus 90 percent of wealthy families.

Being connected at home not only allows you to search for jobs, it can also help you develop basic skills – like how to prepare and upload your resume online. Learning slightly more advanced digital skills can be your ticket to a new job. Basic online certifications, for example, qualify people for new jobs in health care…. While some jobs require engineering or extensive computer software expertise, many only require basic digital skills – knowing how to use a computer, search, upload, or process a transaction.

Connect 2 Compete’s Unique Social Enterprise

Genachowski made these remarks at the launch of the first Connect 2 Compete pilot program. It offers 39,000 San Diego families (though who are eligible for free school lunches) high-speed internet services through the cable provider Cox Communications at only $9.95 a month. That’s coupled with high-powered computers sold and only $150 – plus free digital literacy and online content training.

The basic concept is to enlist funders — including foundations like the Instituto Carlos Slim, the Knight Foundation and the Wasserman Foundation — with computer and software companies like GoodPC and Microsoft, with training entities, and with high-speed internet providers. The far, the broadband providers who have committed to the program are predominantly from the cable industry.

In a nutshell, the goal is to address the cost of broadband, together with the digital literacy and relevance barriers first identified by the FCC.

Operationally, however, “this is a very backwards way” to start a social enterprise, Connect to Compete Chairman Ben Hecht said in a very frank discussion of the challenges and opportunities confronting C2C during a Washington conference in May. A normal non-profit or company gets itself going with the capacity to sell goods or services, and then seeks to tap into the marketplace, he said.

C2C, by contrast, has gotten “commitments at a market value of $4 billion, but with no way to deliver on them,” he said.

That’s not entirely true: through advertising, interfacing with educators and other partners – and of course, in collaboration with broadband providers – C2C is focusing on an online content launch in the fall, to be following by a major Ad Council campaign in 2013. More than 50 schools from six school districts will be participating in the fall San Diego pilot.

The FCC’s New Lifeline Pilot: Building Models for a Universal Broadband Fund

Equally interest is a new FCC Broadband Lifeline model in the works. Julie Veatch, the Acting Chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau, explains in a blog post yesterday:

We are delighted by the response last week to our groundbreaking Lifeline Broadband Adoption Pilot competition. Our Pilot takes aim at a problem that perpetuates poverty in the 21st Century: the low rate of broadband adoption by low-income Americans. Providers of all kinds submitted a total of 24 applications proposing innovative programs to help us better understand and tackle that issue.

Over the years, our Lifeline program has helped tens of millions of low-income consumers afford telephone service. But with broadband as essential today for jobs and opportunities as the phone was in the last century, the FCC in January included in its comprehensive reforms and modernization of Lifeline a Pilot program to explore ways to increase the low rate of broadband adoption among low-income Americans. Using $25 million in savings from Lifeline reforms, we will fund the selected Pilot projects for a year, while collecting valuable real world data about the experience to help the FCC determine how to use our Lifeline program to effectively increase broadband adoption.

At first glance, the applicants appear to have proposed well-structured, well-conceived pilots designed to help us gather the data we would need to design an effective Lifeline broadband support program. Many applicants are working with partners that can provide expertise on digital literacy training and sources for low-cost equipment. Also helpful: the applicants represent a geographically diverse mix of 25 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, enabling the pilots to test regional differences. You can view the applications in our electronic comment filing system.

None of this could make the Broadband Breakfast Club discussion on “Bringing Broadband Adoption to the Nation’s Underserved Populations”– next Tuesday, July 17 – more timely. Register here to see the panelists and join in the conversation.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. You can find him on  and Twitter. He founded BroadbandCensus.com, and he brings experts and practicioners together to advance Better Broadband, Better Lives. He’s doing that now as Executive Director for Broadband Illinois, based in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

Broadband and Democratization

Stamping out Election Falsehoods Like Playing Whack-a-Mole, Says Georgia’s Brad Raffensperger

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Photo of Brad Raffensperger from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

February 5, 2021 – With election misinformation and conspiracy theories rampant in Election 2020, secretaries of state representing pivotal states swapped stories on Thursday about the howlers they faced – and what they did to try to maintain public trust in upholding election integrity.

Perhaps no one faced more pressure to act to overturn the results of his state’s presidential vote tally than Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Among the many false accusations he faced was that a Ron Raffensperger, allegedly a brother of his, works for a Chinese technology firm. While there is such a person, and that person does in fact work for the Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei, that Ron Raffensperger is not Brad Raffensperger’s brother.

At Thursday’s meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State, Raffensperger said again that he does not have a brother named Ron. He also expressed condolences for the real Ron Raffensperger out there.

Stamping out falsehoods is like playing a game of ‘rumor-whack-a-mole,’ said Brad Raffensperger. Once you eradicate one rumor, another just pops up. It’s as if the truth has 30,000 Twitter followers while falsehood has 80 million followers, he added.

Screenshot of the NASS webinar

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addressed the “Sharpiegate” scandal, another fake claim concocted by Republicans. Sharpiegate was the wrong notion pushed by some that Sharpie pens distributed at polling places were handed out for voting.

But the felt-tip pen’s ink bled through the ballot, making it unreadable by a machine and thus keeping the Sharpie victim’s vote from being counted. The twist in this particular story is that only the Sharpie-marked ballots cast by Republican candidates were thrown out, somehow.

While recognizing the seriousness of this misinformation campaign, exacerbated by Eric Trump’s tweets about it, souvenir Sharpies were ordered bearing “Sharpiegate 2020” printed on them – just as a joke, said Hobbs.

Michigan had a plan in place for months on how to collect, process, and release voting results, said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. However, because its processes were so efficient, Michigan caught its critics off guard. This exposed Michigan to accusations of allegedly counting its ballots too fast in an effort to try to “fix” the election. Robocalls targeted minority majority communities, including in Detroit.

Ohio also anticipated a barrage of misinformation. As a preemptive measure, the state rolled out numerous tools and resources to inform citizens of voting processes.

Secretaries of state need to help voters build confidence knowing their voice will be heard in a fair and honest contest, and not to tear it down, said Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State. He praised Ohio’s election integrity and said it had a record low in ballot rejection, and a record high in ballot workers.

The state also tried to stop spreaders of misinformation by warning of felony charges for spreading lies.

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Broadband and Democratization

At New America Foundation Event on India, Panelists Talk of ‘Digital Colonization’ by U.S. and China

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Screenshot from the webinar

October 1, 2020 – When it comes to social media, India is currently in a “two-house race” between the United States and China, explained India expert Madhulika Srikumar at New America on Wednesday.

Tiktok and Facebook have been big players in this race, each attracted to India’s large audience base.

Srikumar, an attorney formerly with the Cyber Initiative at Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, cited two statistics. First, one-third of TikTok’s users were Indian, before the app was banned in June by the Indian government. Second, if India’s Facebook audience were a country, it would be the fourth largest in the world.

She explained the recent trend of Chinese and U.S. companies each investing in Indian companies.

New American CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter said in response, “When I hear you Madhu, all I can think of is digital colonization.”

Slaughter stressed that it was vital we don’t have a world where states lock down their internet and asserted that the world would be a better place if there was more competition and if companies had to be more open with their policies

“Our institutions for holding power accountable are still from the analog age,” Said Rebecca MacKinnon, founding director of New America’s Ranking Digital Rights project, adding that there’s nothing in our law that could prevent Tiktok from becoming a vehicle for hate speech.

Slaughter blamed the platforms, claiming that platforms were publishers wielding great political power who were responsible for polarization and declining trust.

She pointed to a future Biden-Harris administration, and projected that if elected, it would provide a new vision for internet policy by working with a number of other countries, including Europe, to adopt global standards for a free internet. This consortium would insist that companies abide by such rules.

When asked whether the UN could play a role, Slaughter said that it could, but it would need to have strong member support since “the current U.S. government has distain for non-US institutions.” The United Nations would have difficulty putting regulations in place with one of it’s biggest members not being supportive.

MacKinnon agreed that UN involvement would be complicated. For the past decade, there’s been a fight brewing over who sets standards for the tech community and for global technologies.

Srikumar, in turn, appealed for greater resources to flesh out what exactly an open internet means, as well as a move to divorce content from gatekeepers.

Joshua Keating, senior editor of Slate moderated the webinar.

See also “The Privacy Negotiators: The Need for U.S. Tech Companies to Mediate Agreements on Government Access to Data in India,” by Madhulika Srikumar on New America

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Broadband and Democratization

Mobile Technology Aided the Growth of Black Lives Matter, But Will Hashtag Outrage Lead to Change?

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Screenshot of panelists on the Brookings Institution webinar

September 21, 2020 — In the United States, widespread public use of mobile phone cameras and social media has thrust the longstanding issue of police brutality against Black Americans into the national spotlight like never before.

Delving deeply into the subject of how digital tools have contributed to the goals of anti-brutality activists, panelists at a Brookings Institution event on September 14 detailed the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and whether the explosive growth of the hashtag #BLM might result in any institutional change.

In the summer of 2014, videos, images, and text narratives of violent encounters between police officers and unarmed Black people circulated widely through news and social media, spurring public outrage.

“A large digital archive of Tweets started in 2014, when Michael Brown was killed,” said Rashawn Ray, professor of sociology and executive director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland.

Media activism fueled by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner gave rise to Black Lives Matter, or #BLM, a loosely-coordinated, nationwide movement dedicated to ending police brutality, which uses online media extensively.

The panelists referenced the “Beyond the Hashtag” report authored by Meredith Clark, assistant professor at the University of Virginia, analyzes the movement’s rise on Twitter.

“Mobile technology became an agent of change,” said Mignon Clyburn, former commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, referring to the 2007 introduction of the iPhone as a turning point in the way individuals utilize devices. “Devices became smaller, less expensive, and more ubiquitous,” said Clyburn, “we are now seeing a global, mobile revolution.”

Increased accessibility to mobile devices and social media cracked open doors previously kept tightly shut by pro-corporate, pro-government gatekeepers of the media, which spread anti-Black ideologies. Mobile devices initiated a leveling of the media playing field, allowing for marginalized groups to intervene in dialogues.

“Black Americans have the opportunity to share distinctively what is happening to us,” said Nicol Turner Lee, senior fellow in governance studies and the director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institute.

“These videos show our humanity, and how it is destroyed and undermined,” added Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

While videos taken to report instances of police brutality are critical resources, they come with significant consequences for those filming and viewing them.

In order to record an instance of police, an individual has to be courageous, as many citizen journalists attempting to capture an act of police brutality, end up a subject of cruelty.

“You have the right to record protected under First Amendment,” Clarke informed, urging that officers be trained on respecting citizens First Amendment rights to film.

While recording instances of police brutality is distressing in itself, sharing the video online, although necessary, amplifies the video’s power to traumatize indefinitely. “There will no doubt be a generation of children that will be traumatized,” by repeatedly seeing images of Black Americans brutalized by the police, said Lee.

Clarke urged individuals who decide to share content, to do so with a trigger warning.

While digital tools have enabled video evidence of brutality to be caught, amass widespread attention, and cause public outrage, as of yet, it has not translated into real-life justice for Black individuals. Difficulty to bring prosecution against excessively violent officers remains.

Clarke noted that police union contracts are barriers to reform. “The terms of collective bargaining agreements allow officers to see video evidence before reporting on how the events transpired,” detailed Clarke.

Ray called for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, H.R. 7120, introduced by Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, which he said was currently ‘collecting dust’ in the Senate.

The bill would establish new requirements for law enforcement officers and agencies, necessitating them to report data on use-of-force incidents, obtain training on implicit bias and racial profiling, and wear body cameras.

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