Benton Foundation

The mission of the Benton Foundation is to articulate a public interest vision for the digital age and to demonstrate the value of communications for solving social problems.

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  • Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has been on the job for just over a year. And with 2014 coming to a close, we look back at the accomplishments of the FCC in his first year. Today we look at the FCC’s Lifeline program which provides discounts on monthly telephone service for eligible low-income subscribers.

  • On December 11, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission completed a comprehensive reform of the E-rate program, the nation’s largest program supporting education technology. Mandated by Congress in 1996 and implemented by the FCC in 1997, the E-rate provides discounted telecommunications, Internet access, and internal connections to eligible schools and libraries, funded by the Universal Service Fund (USF). Over the past year and a half, the FCC has been reviewing the program to ensure that our nation’s students and communities have access to high-capacity broadband connections that support digital learning while making sure that the program remains fiscally responsible and fair to the consumers and businesses that pay into the USF. The real work of modernizing the E-rate reaches back to the earliest days of the Obama Administration.

  • On December 11, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission improved education for all our young people by providing the tools to connect every school and library to high-capacity broadband -- and Wi-Fi connectivity that delivers critical education tools right to students’ desks. This is a huge win for U.S. education.

  • There is a great new book, just published, that I hope Chairman Tom Wheeler and his FCC colleagues will read before they vote on “net neutrality” early in the new year. The book is America’s Battle for Media Democracy: The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform. Victor Pickard, one of the brightest young media scholars in the communications firmament, is its author. He has mined a veritable mountain of records to compile an eye-opening story of the ups and downs (mostly downs) of the ongoing battle between media gatekeepers and public interest reformers. This is usable history—the best kind of history—showing that we have been at communications inflection points like this before and documenting what happens when we allow ourselves to get suckered down the wrong road. The wrong road is the one too often taken, Pickard shows, in spite of reformers and, occasionally, even a heroic FCC.

  • In part I of this article, we looked at the Federal Communications Commission's fast start under Chairman Tom Wheeler to address the transition of the phone system from traditional, landline service over copper wires to a broadband- and wireless-based system. With other issues pressing for attention at the FCC, momentum slowed during the summer of 2014.

  • Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler has been on the job for just over a year. And with 2014 coming to a close, we look back at the accomplishments of the FCC in his first year. One of the great challenges the FCC faces in coming months and years -- and which Wheeler recognized during his confirmation -- is guiding the transformation of the U.S. telephone system. This is no small task. The U.S. system is, perhaps, the best in the world, encompasses 1.5 billion miles of wire and some 120 million phones. And despite its great complexity, it has operated with near-perfect reliability for some 125 years through snow and rain and heat and gloom of night. The challenge now is to ensure the phone system can work just as well as it moves from an analog, circuit-switched network to a digital, packet-switched network.

  • President Barack Obama’s recent statement urging Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler to “reclassify” broadband Internet services has exposed many people to something they haven’t had reason to think about: the FCC is an independent agency, not truly part of the Executive Branch. Actually, the FCC is in some ways more nearly akin to an arm of the Congress, and exercises quasi-legislative powers when it adopts rules implementing the Communications Act. The relationship between the FCC and the Executive Branch is a worthy topic to explore, but in light of the recent Republican takeover of the Senate, this post will address the relationship between the FCC and Congress. Apart from the power to legislate, Congress has several means of influencing actions of the FCC.

  • So 2014 will pass into history without the Federal Communications Commission stepping up to the plate to ensure an Open Internet. Think of the good history the Commission could have made for itself. Instead we got more delay and more uncertainty about whether Title II net neutrality will ever see the light of day.

  • Last week, Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn outlined five principles to bring the Lifeline program, which subsidizes phone service for low-income Americans, into the broadband age. The principles focus on two things we all care about. First, they call for the FCC to improve how the program functions so that more funds go to those who need it, while lessening administrative burden on the companies that provide the benefit to eligible consumers. Second, the principles provide a vision of what consumers and taxpayers get in return. In Commissioner Clyburn’s words: “Broadband is the greatest equalizer of our time.”

  • One of the most important challenges of our generation is to ensure that every child in every classroom has a chance to succeed and win in the global economy. Poverty, discrimination, isolation and ignorance hold our country back. But investments in education, infrastructure and technology spur economic growth, creating more good jobs and wealth for all of us. It is in our national interest to ensure that every child — no matter who they are, no matter what they look like, no matter where they come from — has the opportunity to succeed. New research finds that just 34% of K-12 students in public schools attend schools where Internet speeds are 100 Mbps or more. One in five (20%) students attends schools with Internet speeds of only 10 Mbps or less.