EVANSTON, Illinois, January 30, 2017 – Benton Foundation CEO Adrianne Furniss on Monday sent the following letter to to President Donald Trump and leaders both in Congress and at the Federal Communications Commission.
Just as ten years ago when Benton Foundation Founder Charles Benton called on then-President George W. Bush to develop a national broadband strategy, I am asking for Federal leadership to create a Make America First in Broadband Again Plan and ensure that we will extend the benefits of broadband – and the opportunities it delivers – to all Americans.
January 30, 2017
President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Washington, DC 20500
Dear President Trump:
As your new Administration sets priorities for rebuilding America and restoring its promise for all Americans, we need to address how we will extend the benefits of broadband – and the opportunities it delivers – to all Americans.
Broadband and its applications – both wired and unwired – are unquestionably the dominant communications medium of the 21st century. We need investment in broadband infrastructure in rural and low-income America with a strong commitment to competition, accountability, efficiency, and oversight.
Our nation’s commitment to ubiquitous and affordable communications has never been more important. In the midst of the information technology revolution, we cannot and should not abandon or weaken our guarantee of universal, affordable communications access for all Americans no matter where they live. We must unleash the rivers of data and opportunity that broadband enables, and extend prosperity to every community.
Too many Americans have been left behind. Without access to high-speed broadband they are cut off from information, online job opportunities, and the skills training that other Americans have benefitted from. In short, these Americans are cut off from opportunity.
To make America greater, we need better broadband. Your Administration should advance a Make America First in Broadband Again Plan, one that can:
- Extend broadband to Americans too long ignored and left behind. More than half (53 percent) of rural Americans lack access to high-speed broadband. The U.S. ranks 12th in the world on average Internet speeds – behind countries like Latvia. If you want America to be first, we need to set a national goal of ensuring at least 100 million U.S. homes have affordable access to 100-megabit broadband by the end of your first term.
- Use broadband infrastructure investment as a catalyst for middle-class job growth. Broadband infrastructure investment is a proven economic dynamo and vital catalyst for middle-class job growth. As your Commerce Secretary designee Wilbur Ross put it, “Broadband is a path to the future” and “a very essential component of economic policy, altogether, including the infrastructure component.” Communities that get new access to broadband experience average job growth 6.4 percent greater than before they had broadband. In fact, studies show that every $1 billion in infrastructure investment creates 13,000 jobs. Broadband infrastructure investment can set the stage for a sustained period of innovation-driven growth, and advance a more prosperous middle class by opening up new job opportunities in its construction, and new jobs in its use.
- Giving school’s choice of broadband options to ensure no child is deprived of knowledge. Our students continue to lag behind their peers worldwide in knowledge gained – where we have let countries like China outperform us in reading, math and science.(1) One reason is that 21 million U.S. students lack access to the basic broadband infrastructure necessary to take advantage of digital learning, as Vice President Mike Pence notes, “By ensuring that high-speed Internet is available in every … classroom, we can connect Hoosier students to the latest digital learning tools and ultimately set our kids on a course to compete for the careers of tomorrow.” As United Nations Ambassador Nicki Haley has said, “Technology, connectivity, and digital learning are critical to unleashing our students’ potential. When we invest in them, we equip students with the skills their future employers will demand.” They are right. Each of these leaders have, as governors, embraced the E-Rate program to extend gigabit broadband to every school, Wi-Fi to every classroom, and opportunity to every child. But we can’t turn back the clock. I encourage you to oppose any effort that would in any way impede the E-Rate program or have the effect of not supporting public positions your Vice President and US Envoy to the United Nations have taken when it comes to enabling children to take full advantage of E-Rate enabled broadband infrastructure investments.
- Deregulate local broadband. We also need to ensure that broadband’s benefits don’t just go to Wall Street, but also extend all the way to Main Street. Too often, communities lack local broadband choices because they are saddled with state or other regulations that prevent the investment in and delivery of broadband. We should eliminate job-killing broadband regulations that stifle community broadband investment and local economic growth to enable every American, regardless of where they live, to take full advantage of local broadband investments and new community broadband options.
- Serve the veterans who have served America. As you have noted, we need to ensure “our veterans get the care they need wherever and whenever they need it.” There is no better technology for anytime anywhere delivery of services than broadband. As Congress unanimously recognized in December when it passed H.R. 6394 (the Improving Broadband Access for Veterans Act of 2016), we need to promote broadband Internet access service for veterans, in particular low-income veterans and veterans residing in rural areas. Broadband is especially vital to veterans as they transition from the armed services to civilian employment. The Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program has been providing veterans with crucial connectivity for over 30 years. An estimated 10-13% of current wireless Lifeline beneficiaries are veterans of U.S. military service. Too often, as you note, funding for veterans has fallen short. We should make sure that no one caps the Lifeline program benefits we give to veterans any more than we capped what we asked for them on the battlefield. We encourage you to champion veterans’ service to this country, and pledge not to harm the vital lifeline they need.
- Ensure big media companies can’t bias news by putting mainstream media in the broadband fastlane ahead of unaffiliated independent content. You complain about mainstream media bias and unfairness, which could be exacerbated if establishment, big media companies are allowed to give their own mainstream content and news preferential treatment over their own broadband pipes, instead of giving all content equal treatment. Many Americans want to freely, fairly, and openly choose which media they want to consume. With broadband increasingly becoming the primary way Americans access their news and other content, we would encourage you to oppose efforts that would allow media giants to give preferred access to their own affiliated news sources and programming. Some of your advisors may try and tell you that enabling users to openly and freely access the content of their own choosing is the equivalent of Obamacare for the Internet, but I suspect you are too smart to be fooled by such simplistic arguments.
On January 2, 2007, ten years ago this month, Benton Foundation Chairman Charles Benton sent President George W. Bush a letter asking him to create a national broadband strategy. You see, in a campaign appearance nearly three years before that date, President Bush had said, “We ought to have universal affordable access for broadband technology by the year 2007.” That was true then; it is true now.
Although great progress has been made in deploying broadband and encouraging adoption, Benton’s words still ring true: “We need broadband pipes that are bigger, faster, and extend into every corner, community, and city in America – and we need them right away.”
There are no easy solutions to the challenges of extending broadband’s reach to every American. But these challenges must be addressed based on the same principles that have always guided U.S. communications policy – a commitment to ubiquitous, affordable access to the most important technologies of the era.
Adrianne Benton Furniss
Chairman John Thune, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Ranking Member Bill Nelson, Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
Chairman Roger Wicker, Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet
Ranking Member Brian Schatz, Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet
Chairman Greg Walden, House Energy and Commerce Committee
Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr, House Energy and Commerce Committee
Chairman Marsha Blackburn, House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
Ranking Member Michael Doyle, House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
Chairman Ajit Pai, Federal Communications Commission
Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, Federal Communications Commission
Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, Federal Communications Commission
Editor’s Note: The preceding letter is the copyright of the Benton Foundation.
Stamping out Election Falsehoods Like Playing Whack-a-Mole, Says Georgia’s Brad Raffensperger
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.
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.
At New America Foundation Event on India, Panelists Talk of ‘Digital Colonization’ by U.S. and China
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
Mobile Technology Aided the Growth of Black Lives Matter, But Will Hashtag Outrage Lead to Change?
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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