Friday, February 18, 2022
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 February 14-18, 2022
Every American should have access to affordable broadband internet services at home, school, and work. That’s the topline recommendation in The Future of Tech: A Blueprint for Action.
Americans appreciate the importance of broadband that is reliable, safe, modern, trustworthy, and affordable. A 2021 survey found that 82% of voters agree that “we need universal access to high-speed internet to ensure our kids get the education they need to compete and win in a global economy;” and 73% agree that “access to high-speed internet is as critical to families today as running water and electricity.” Now that Congress has allocated the needed funds, the Future of Tech Commission recommends that the Biden Administration should commit to closing the digital divide and making broadband universal within five years through timely, accountable implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act at the federal, state, and local levels; accurate, up-to-date mapping; and robust oversight. Through effective policy implementation—ensuring that high-speed internet access is available, affordable, and adopted in every urban, suburban, rural, and remote community, in every home, and in every workplace— technology can be a great equalizer of access, education, and opportunity for all.
In April 2021, the independent, bipartisan Future of Tech Commission was formed to investigate a wide range of challenges that have arisen with the increasing adoption of technology tools including privacy issues, the amplification of harmful mis- and disinformation, children’s safety, and the very functioning of our democracy. The commission set out to propose a coordinated tech strategy for the United States specifically considering issues of universal access; data privacy and the related issue of platform safety; cybersecurity; market competition; and technological innovation.
The effort was led by Common Sense Media’s Jim Steyer, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, and former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. A similar effort from an Obama-era independent commission (the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission which was also led by Spellings and Steyer) translated into a 2013 blueprint for digital education.
Between April and December 2021, the Future of Tech Commission held mostly virtual town halls around the country—in Arizona, northern and southern California, Connecticut, Florida, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Texas—and two in Europe. The commission interviewed dozens of industry leaders, experts, and advocates in the U.S. and abroad and invited direct input from citizens. It also conducted comprehensive public opinion polls with thousands of registered voters nationwide in late summer 2021 and early 2022, which revealed remarkable findings about the American public’s attitudes toward technology policy.
In addition to universal broadband access, the commission finds consensus that:
- Every American should be protected from the misappropriation and misuse of their and their children’s personal data; from misinformation and disinformation that threaten public health, safety, and a flourishing democracy; and from infringement of their freedom of speech online, a fundamental American value.
- Every American should be able to depend on an online market of products and ideas characterized by safety, security, consumer choice, transparency, affordability, quality, and innovation.
Broadband’s Role in Ensuring Open and Competitive Markets
The commission argues that the U.S. is stronger and the marketplace healthier when markets are open, fair, inclusive, and fully competitive. Such markets serve the needs of consumers, small businesses, and entrepreneurs and strengthen our international competitiveness in a fiercely competitive global economy.
The Future of Tech Commission considered the consumer impact of the broadband internet access service market. Americans who live in areas with only one or two broadband providers pay prices that can be considerably higher than those who live in markets with more competition. Nearly one-third of Americans who don’t have broadband said that affordability was the reason.
Encouraging competition from companies that offer an array of broadband technologies—from cable and fiber to satellite and wireless, so long as they meet minimum needs for speed and reliability—can help improve service quality and affordability in communities that have broadband and accelerate delivery of service to communities without it, with the implementation of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s new resources for broadband expansion. Another promising trend is the increasing number of rural cooperatives and municipal utilities providing broadband connectivity to unserved households.
The Future of Tech Commission recommended that policymakers expressly authorize and enable local government and community organizations and companies—such as cooperatives and municipal broadband providers—to compete for existing and expanded service as a means to help lower broadband prices for consumers and expand consumer choice.
Recommendations to Close the Digital Divide
The Future of Tech Commission makes additional recommendations that could impact the digital divide.
1.) The commission calls for the creation of a Technology Coordinating Council in the White House to coordinate and drive policy impact, consistent with President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, the recommendations of The Future of Tech: A Blueprint for Action, and other strategic global and domestic technology goals. The White House Technology Coordinating Council would be led by a Senior Director and bipartisan Tech Policy Advisory Group to develop a coordinated tech policy strategy for the nation.
- Given the importance of the tech sector to our society and economy, and the urgent need for policy reforms, a more prominent coordinating entity, helmed by senior White House leadership, is warranted.
- This Council is intended to improve effective coordination on top tech policy matters. For example, aspects of tech policy advocacy and development are currently spread out across several White House offices, including the National Economic Council, National Security Council, Domestic Policy Council, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy. Moreover, tech policy is also developed, implemented, and advocated for by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) in the Commerce Department, which, by statute, is the president’s principal advisor on telecommunications and information policy. The Department of Health and Human Services also plays an important tech policy role with respect to children’s mental health issues.
- Many other countries around the world have taken action to enhance tech policymaking structures with their government in order to formulate policy, enforce rules, and liaise with civil society and industry in a more efficient, consistent way. Many of them have a single Data Protection Authority to govern data protection and privacy rules across various industries. In Australia, for example, the government established the Office of the eSafety Commissioner, which works to promote a healthy online experience and bring prominence to issues—such as cyberbullying, imagebased abuse, and illegal and harmful online content—that warrant urgent attention.
2.) The commission asks the President to direct the Department of Education, in consultation with the Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Commerce, to:
- Establish a grant program to teach digital literacy and citizenship to combat misinformation and protect democracy.
- Help public schools better identify teachers, students, and families caught in the digital divide.
3.) The commission recommends the development of a new “Digital Inclusion Fund” at NTIA to address digital divide concerns and support subscriber acquisition for new entrants. This work would include:
- A program for institutions working to bridge the digital divide in local communities (e.g., schools, libraries, public housing, health clinics), including leveraging digital navigators.
- Funding for digital needs assessments, digital citizenship/skills programs, bulk purchasing of home broadband service, and bulk purchasing of devices.
Work is Beginning, Not Ended
In rural and urban communities alike, millions of Americans either lack or cannot afford broadband, the essential tool to perform so many crucial tasks. As many as sixteen million American children have no online access to do their homework or the research to complete it. Millions of small businesses lack a basic connection to the markets, customers, and suppliers that proliferate online, stifling job creation and opportunities. Millions of families cannot get the affordable, quality care or the answers they need through telehealth, because they have no high-speed broadband. While the work of connecting everyone in the U.S. will be greatly accelerated by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act broadband programs, the Future of Tech Commission is a timely reminder that the work is far from over.
Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)
ICYMI from Benton
Feb 22—Technological Advisory Council Meeting (FCC)
Feb 24—Disability Advisory Committee (FCC)
Feb 25—Race, Racism, & American Media (University of Houston)
Feb 28—State of the Net Conference 2022 (Internet Education Foundation)
Mar 16—March 2022 Open FCC Meeting