Broadband & Democracy

Friday, December 10, 2021

Weekly Digest

 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of December 6-10, 2021

Kevin Taglang
Taglang

Technology is a tool, a tool that can be used, if distributed equitably, to improve society.

At the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, we are not for broadband just for broadband’s sake. In the “Broadband & Society” part of our name, we recognize that in our increasingly digital lives, equitable access to broadband and a just society are inseparable.

Broadband’s potential, its promise, is not just quicker communication, but improving education, healthcare, job training and acquisition, economic development, delivering government services, and so much more.

In short, we see broadband as the infrastructure of opportunity—an essential tool to ensure a thriving democracy.

Summit for Democracy

With this in mind, you may understand why Benton’s collective heart leapt this week when leaders from around the world in government, civil society, and the private sector gathered for the first of two Summits for Democracy to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing democracies in the 21st century—and broadband was on the agenda.

In his opening remarks, President Joe Biden said:

Last month, I was proud to sign a bipartisan piece of legislation, a true act of consensus between Democrats and Republicans in our country: the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

This legislation will make a generational investment to deliver what people need most in the 21st century: clean water, safe roads, high-speed broadband Internet, and so much more — all of which strengthens our democracy by creating good-paying union jobs that will translate to lives of opportunity and dignity for working people, with better access to the tools and resources they need to thrive.

President Biden announced the establishment of the Presidential Initiative for Democratic Renewal, a landmark set of policy and foreign assistance initiatives that build upon the U.S. Government’s significant, ongoing work to bolster democracy and defend human rights globally. In the coming year, the United States is planning to provide up to $424.4 million toward the Presidential Initiative, centered around five areas of work crucial to the functioning of transparent, accountable governance:

  1. Supporting Free and Independent Media
  2. Fighting Corruption
  3. Bolstering Democratic Reformers
  4. Advancing Technology for Democracy
  5. Defending Free and Fair Elections and Political Processes

Advancing technology for democracy includes:

  • Advancing an Open, Interoperable, Reliable, and Secure Internet. The United States embraces a vision of an Internet that is open, interoperable, reliable, and secure, and reaffirms our commitment to protecting and respecting human rights online and across the digital ecosystem. The use of digital technologies should reinforce, not weaken, democracy and respect for human rights; offer opportunities for innovation in the digital ecosystem, including businesses large and small; and maintain connections between societies. To achieve this vision and maintain a high level of security, privacy protection, stability, and resilience of the technical infrastructure of the Internet, the U.S. Government will work with partners to protect and fortify the multi-stakeholder system of Internet governance. As part of this effort, the United States will work to strengthen the Freedom Online Coalition, a multi-stakeholder effort to support Internet freedom and promote human rights online. The U.S. Government will seek not only to expand Freedom Online Coalition membership, but also to deepen the coalition’s diplomatic efforts to address the challenges and opportunities of digital technologies.
  • Expanding Digital Democracy Programming. To assist partner countries in realizing the benefits of digital technologies that support democratic values and respect human rights, rather than undermining them, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) will provide up to $20.3 million to build on programming supporting open, secure, and inclusive digital ecosystems. This programming will help governments enshrine democratic principles in their countries’ use, development, and governance of technology, while empowering civil society, technologists, and the private sector to encourage the same.
  • Advancing Democracy-Affirming Technologies. To incentivize innovation in technologies that asymmetrically advantage democratic values and governance, the National Science Foundation, the National Institute of Standards and Technology, and the Open Technology Fund, alongside international partners, will provide up to $3.75 million for a series of International Grand Challenges on Democracy-Affirming Technologies. This series of prize competitions will focus on topics such as harnessing artificial intelligence for an open Internet and advancing and deploying privacy-preserving technologies.
  • Defending against Digital Authoritarianism. To reduce the potential for human rights abuses enabled by some dual-use technologies, the U.S. Government and likeminded partners will launch an Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative, in which participating governments will work together to determine how export control tools could better monitor and, as appropriate, restrict the proliferation of such technologies. In parallel, to counter authoritarian censorship of the Internet, the State Department will provide up to $4 million to establish and seed a Multilateral Surge and Sustain Fund for Anti-Censorship Technology, which will enable the connection of more users to the uncensored Internet, sustain those connections in times of greatest need, and invite like-minded partners to contribute jointly.

On December 10, the United States, Australia, Denmark and Norway announced the Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative to help stem the tide of authoritarian government misuse of technology and promote a positive vision for technologies anchored by democratic values. The countries recognize that advanced technologies are a vital part of global economic growth and communication, helping people become more interconnected, share knowledge, and advance freedom, democracy, and opportunity. 

Too often, cyber intrusion, surveillance, and other dual-use technologies are misused to stifle dissent; harass human rights defenders; intimidate minority communities; discourage whistle-blowers; chill free expression; target political opponents, journalists, and lawyers; or interfere arbitrarily or unlawfully with privacy. 

The Export Controls and Human Rights Initiative will seek to address this challenge by:

  • Working to develop a voluntary written code of conduct intended to guide the application of human rights criteria to export licensing policy and practice.
  • Building policy alignment with like-minded partners that leads to common action, and concrete and practical outcomes.
  • Bringing together policymakers, technical experts, and export control, and human rights practitioners to ensure that critical and emerging technologies work for, and not against, democratic societies.
  • Exploring how best to strengthen domestic legal frameworks; share information on threats and risks; share, develop and implement best practices; and improve others’ capacity to do the same. Over the coming year, we will also engage in further coordination with other governments, as well as consult with industry and academia.

Broadband & An Equitable Society

Fifteen years ago, the American Political Science Association sounded a warning: “Our country’s ideals of equal citizenship and responsive government may be under growing threat in an era of persistent and rising inequities. Today the American Dream is increasingly out of reach for many, and the link between economic success and strong democracy is broken.

Universal broadband can be a vital engine for economic growth—a tool for increasing individual opportunity. It can enable economic opportunities to increase—regardless of geography or income. It can help Americans rediscover the pathways for upward economic mobility that have long characterized the American Dream. In doing so, we can empower a new generation of people in the United States with the tools they need to fulfill their potential.

Broadband is a tool that can help support democratic society and the social justice it engenders because increasing economic growth and individual opportunity are the means for securing a foundation of support for democratic institutions.

The strength of universal broadband is that it will help us solve some of our most critical societal challenges, meet people wherever they live and work, and help them overcome key barriers regardless of their background, community surroundings, or demographic characteristics. Imagine each community enabled to identify and build on its strengths and employ technology accordingly.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events

Dec 13—Digital Divide Summit (Fierce Telecom)

Dec 14—December Open Meeting (FCC)

Dec 14—Privacy, Equity, and Civil Rights Listening Sessions (National Telecommunications and Information Administration)

Dec 14—Affordable Connectivity Program Overview Webinar (Universal Service Administrative Company)

Dec 15—Executive Session (Senate Commerce Committee)

Dec 15—A Year in Review and A Look Ahead at 2022 with Former FCC Chair Ajit Pai (Georgetown University)

Dec 15—Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Broadband Programs Public Virtual Listening Session #1 (NTIA)

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