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Roslyn Layton: Orwellian Symbolism of Barack Obama, Seeking to Classify Broadband as a Utility, in China

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Editor’s Note: With the announcement of President Obama’s desire to classify broadband as public utility, BroadbandBreakfast.com welcomes commentaries and opinions on the subject from a multitude of viewpoints.

November 12, 2014 – During President Obama’s official visit to China Monday, the White House issued a statement of support of government regulation of the Internet with the classification of broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act from 1934.  

photo-roslyn

The symbolism of this statement appearing while President Obama is in China could not be more Orwellian.  The Chinese internet is everything that we don’t want in the US:  state ownership of the enterprises that comprises the Internet, its infrastructure, content, and connectivity; top-down regulation of every aspect of the Internet experience; and government collusion with industry to create Internet companies.  Should the US take the route of reclassifying broadband under Title II as Obama suggests, it would bring the the US dangerously closer to the Chinese model where the internet is “government allowed”.

Title II is not only bad news for the US, but for the rest of world. Indeed foreign authoritarian governments have been looking for justification to monitor networks and users under the guise of net neutrality and the “Open Internet”. Obama’s announcement could not be a better present to the leaders of China, Iran, and Russia. 

The mid-term election which roundly favored the Republicans was also a proxy of voters’ dissatisfaction with the President.  Net neutrality was not even an issue in the last round.  Obama could have ensured his Open Internet legacy with a middle of the road approach by returning to the 2010 net neutrality rules, which a number of ISPs already agreed to uphold.  It would have also been an opportunity for bi-partisan bridge building.

Instead the President made an extreme proposal that reaches beyond the last mile broadband connection to regulate interconnection, where there is no evidence of market failure; and to wireless, where growth and innovation are greatest in networks.  It’s a lame duck, last-ditch attempt for severe rulemaking which will likely be for naught, but it signals solidarity with extreme constituents to whom the President made a campaign promise in 2008.

Indeed imposition of Title II on broadband will have a hard time surviving judicial review, as the FCC, expressly deciding not to regulate broadband as a utility for the last two decades, would be making an about face.  Moreover, reclassification is guaranteed to bring litigation.  Instead of net neutrality rulemaking delivered in 2014, it will probably take another decade.

Classification of broadband under Title II would reverse one of great legacies of the Democrats, the permission-less innovation policy implemented by the Clinton Administration. The internet that was open and free from bureaucratic meddling allowed America’s digital society to flourish and to foster the country’s global leadership in the broadband-enabled ecosystem.

For all those who think that Title II 1930s era monopoly rules are the way to manage the Internet, many more Americans do not favor government control.  A number of have observed that Congress needs to make the final decision on net neutrality.  Given the White House announcement Monday, that outcome is increasingly likely.

Roslyn Layton is a Ph.D. Fellow at Center for Communication, Media and Information Studies at Aalborg University in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Editor’s Note: BroadbandBreakfast.com accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to [email protected]. The views reflected in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of BroadbandBreakfast.com and Broadband Census LLC.

 

Broadband's Impact

FCC to Vote On Emergency Broadband Benefit Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel

The agency is expected to vote on policies for the $3.2B program by mid-May to ensure proper implementation, chairwoman says.

Derek Shumway

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April 14, 2021 – Jessica Rosenworcel, the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, said Tuesday the agency will be voting by mid-May on policies to deliver the $3.2-billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which has received over 9,000 interested institutions through its portal.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program is part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 that passed Congress in December 2020, which provides up to $50 in a monthly internet discount for families and $75 for tribal lands to access broadband internet.

It’s “the nation’s largest ever broadband affordability program,” Rosenworcel said Tuesday on a virtual panel hosted by Allvanza, an advocacy group for Latinxs and underserved communities within the technology, telecommunications and innovation industries; the Multicultural Media Telecom and Internet Council (MMTC); and the Asian Pacific American Advocate group (OCA).

It’s “designed to make sure we get every household in this country connected to high-speed Internet service because this pandemic has proven like nothing before,” she added.

The FCC made a sign-up portal on its website to determine interest in the program, and over 9,000 institutions have signed up to date, Rosenworcel said, adding she hopes the policies for the EBB can address the homework gap by extending internet subsidies normally reserved for schools and libraries to households.

Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and acting National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator, said minority-aimed broadband initiatives have done great work in bringing together providers and companies with minority-serving institutions.

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Digital Inclusion

Virt Seeks To Serve As The Hub To Find And Join Virtual Events

Launched last week, virt.com hopes to take advantage of the rise in virtual events by crowdsourcing them in one place.

Tim White

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Photo of GHS co-founder Victor Zonana, left, from Global Health New Zealand

April 13, 2021 – Global Health Strategies, the global advocacy group focused on health and policy, last week launched Virt.com, a new open-source media platform that crowdsources virtual events on various issues.

Those “issue channels” include health, Covid-19, climate and environment, gender, food and nutrition and human rights. It relies on users in different regions posting about upcoming events in those categories.

The launch last week coincided with a new ad campaign called Unmutetheworld, focused on digital equity around the world with the belief that internet access is a human right. It includes partnering with groups like National Digital Inclusion Alliance and grassroots organizations in many different countries.

“The pandemic has transformed our lives. The way we connect, the way we celebrate, the way we mourn, the way we work, access healthcare and learn, has changed,” GHS CEO David Gold said in an interview. “Broadband allows us to connect virtually even during the pandemic, but so many people don’t have access to the internet, they cannot connect, and we have to change that,” he said.

Gold described Virt as a way to connect people globally to meaningful conversations about health, science, policy, technology, among other topics. “We have a window of opportunity right now with the pandemic to really change. Despite all the terrible effects of COVID-19, we have this moment in time to make the case for big investments,” he said.

Gold highlighted the work of GHS and the Unmutetheworld campaign to connect people across different nations. “Broadband access comes to the heart of economic development, we have to take that momentum in the U.S. and expand it around the world,” he said.

Broadband is becoming increasingly more important, with more people working, schooling, or using health services virtually than ever before due to the pandemic.

Broadband central to digital activities

“Broadband used to be a ‘nice to have,’ now it is a ‘must have,’” Angela Siefer, executive director at NDIA, said in an interview. “Twenty years ago, we were worried about having enough computers in a classroom and lucky that one of them connected to the internet, but that has changed now, and we need to keep up with the technology. It permeates our whole lives,” she said.

President Joe Biden recently announced a new $2.3-trillion infrastructure proposal called the American Jobs Plan, which includes $100 billion for broadband programs over eight years. Congress has also recently introduced legislation on broadband initiatives, including $100 billion as part of the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or LIFT America Act, sponsored by the Democratic delegation on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

“We are excited about the potential of these government initiatives, not just for funding deployment, but also to address affordability, digital literacy skills and devices,” Siefer said. “We’ve never had this much awareness about broadband issues. We’re seeing real ideas being put into action.”

Siefer also mentioned state-level efforts to expand broadband, including recent legislation in New York and Maryland. Maryland plans to spend $300 million of federal funding from the American Rescue Plan on broadband programs, including infrastructure, subsidies for fees and devices, and grants for municipal broadband. New York state recently announced the 2022 fiscal year budget including a $300 billion infrastructure package that contains broadband subsidies for low-income residents and an emergency fund to provide economically-disadvantaged students with free internet access.

“We’re seeing a shift to address adoption and affordability at both the state and federal level, where previously we only saw discussion of availability,” Siefer said. “It’s not just about unserved and underserved areas when it comes to digital equity, because the infrastructure might be there, but people are not participating in broadband for a variety of reasons,” she said. “Affordability and digital literacy lock people out. New programs aim to solve that problem and get people connected.”

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Education

Libraries Must Be Vigilant To Ensure Adequate Broadband, Consultants Say

Derek Shumway

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Photo of Stephanie Stenberg via Internet2

April 7, 2021 – Libraries should monitor their broadband speeds and ensure they are getting quality connections, according to library consultants.

Carson Block from Carson Block Consulting and Stephanie Stenberg of the Internet2 Community Anchor program told a virtual conference hosted by the American Library Association on Tuesday that it’s time libraries take a closer look at how they are getting broadband and if they are getting the speeds they are paying for. If not, they said they should re-negotiate.

Block and Stenberg shared details about the “Towards Gigabit Libraries” (TGL) toolkit, a free, self-service guide for rural and tribal libraries to better understand and improve their broadband. The new toolkit helps libraries prepare for E-Rate internet subsidy requests to aid their budget cycles.

It also has tips about communicating effectively between library and tech people since there is a gap in knowledge between those two groups. The TGL is supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and Gigabit Libraries and Beyond (GLG) to improve the toolkit and expand throughout the United States. In addition to focusing on rural and tribal libraries, now urban libraries will be included for support.

During the event, a live poll showed all participating attendees said they “very infrequently” had technical IT support available in their home libraries. Stenberg said this confirmed TGL’s findings that libraries need more tech and IT support, as the majority of respondents in previous surveys gave similar concerning results.

To really emphasize the need for adequate broadband and support at libraries, another question was asked to live attendees about their current level of expertise around procuring and delivering access to broadband as a service in their library, assuming that the majority of attendees worked for libraries. All participants said they possess “no experience” trying to get broadband in the library.

Common issues that are to blame include libraries with insufficient bandwidth, data wiring or poorly set-up networks. Old and obsolete equipment also contributed to bad Wi-Fi coverage.

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