Common Cause’s new report on the politics of the Digital Divide

Common Cause has taken a deep dive info Broadband Gatekeepers: How ISP Lobbying and Political Influence Shapes the Digital Divide. They look into a few recommendations:

  • Broadband Reforms
  • Lobbying Disclosure Reforms
  • Campaign Finance Reforms
  • Shareholder Corporate Accountability

With a general observation…

Broadband connectivity is vitally important to a functioning 21st-century democracy. But the private sector has failed to deliver universal broadband deployment, with the 15 ISPs and trade associations studied in this report spending more than $100 million every year on lobbying and elections, prioritizing profits over people. As a result, millions of households, particularly in marginalized communities, lack access to affordable, high-speed broadband and continue to face significant barriers to getting online.

We can and must do better. For 50 years, Common Cause has worked on systemic reforms to build a better democracy. The digital divide makes clear that Common Cause’s core programmatic work is needed now more than ever, both to pass legislation that increases access to affordable high-speed broadband and to reform our lobbying and campaign finance laws that allow ISPs and their trade associations to wield such disproportionate political power.

And I’m just going to include more info on the broadband reforms, with the addition of a table that outlines corporate lobbying and political expenditures by the largest 15 national providers…

Political spending by AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and other major ISPs has profoundly shaped the contours of the digital divide. But the fight is not over. There are a number of steps our elected officials can take to give power back to the people and begin to close the digital divide.

Congress should pass the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which takes significant steps to address all aspects of the digital divide, including broadband access, affordability, and digital equity.181 Passing this landmark legislation will enable millions of households to participate in our democracy and economy, thus leveling the playing field and helping to connect households ISPs have ignored or underinvested in for years.

Congress should also support the FCC to strengthen Lifeline and digital inclusion initiatives to ensure that all communities, particularly those who are underserved, have access to affordable, reliable, high-quality communications services. In 2020, Congress passed the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which the FCC rolled out in March of this year.182 The program provides a $50 monthly discount for eligible low-income households ($75 for those on Tribal lands) to purchase a broadband connection.183 The program is an important emergency re[1]sponse by Congress that made clear that affordable connectivity is a top priority. However, the program is only temporary and will end once the funding is depleted.184 The temporary nature of the program makes it even more urgent for the FCC to reform the Universal Service Fund to ensure a sustainable source of funding to support low-income affordability and adoption and incorporate safeguards to ensure ISP accountability, consumer protection, and program eligibility. While Universal Service Fund reform is critical, supplementary support through the Emergency Broadband Benefit and other funding mechanisms dedicated to low-income affordability are important to enact in the interim. Congress should also support permanent funding for digital inclusion activities, such as digital literacy trainings and access to connected devices that help households successfully adopt broadband.185 A sustainable Lifeline subsidy and a digital inclusion plan will ensure that no one is left behind in the use of connectivity to participate in our democracy and economy.

Lawmakers and regulators must also take steps to restore net neutrality and the FCC’s authority over broadband. The repeal of net neutrality and the abdication of the FCC’s authority over broadband during the Trump administration paved the way for large ISPs to engage in discriminatory practices that prioritize their profits over the public interest.186 In the last four years, we have seen broadband prices increase,187 a lack of transparent billing practices,188 and reports of mobile carriers selling their customers’ real-time location data.189 A credible net neutrality framework must ensure that the FCC is an empowered advocate for people that can hold ISPs accountable for discriminatory practices.

 

This entry was posted in Policy, Research, Vendors by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

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