Public interest groups urge lawmakers to craft a public-centered broadband plan

Reclaim the Media/WashPIRG:

Seattle community groups mark One Web Day 2009 by highlighting the need for affordable, fast broadband access in every community across Washington and the US.

During his Sept 21st, 2009 address in Troy, New York President Obama again stressed the importance of fair and open broadband access:

One key to strengthening education, entrepreneurship, and innovation in communities like Troy is to harness the full power of the Internet. That means faster and more widely available broadband as well as rules to ensure that we preserve the fairness and openness that led to the flourishing of the Internet in the first place. Today, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is announcing a set of principles to preserve an open Internet in which all Americans can participate and benefit. I am pleased that he is taking this step. It is an important reminder that the role of government is to provide investment that spurs innovation and common-sense ground rules to ensure that there is a level playing field for all comers who seek to contribute their innovations.

As federal and state government agencies ramp up strategies for expanding broadband Internet access, community organizations are clarifying the values and policy priorities that will lead new broadband initiatives to vest serve the civic, economic, and cultural needs of all Americans for the next generation.

In Seattle, public interest groups Reclaim the Media and WashPIRG are releasing a new report, A Public Interest Internet Agenda, a guide for policymakers creating strategies to connect more urban and rural households to affordable, high-speed broadband Internet.
The report was prepared by member groups of the national Media and Democracy Coalition, including Reclaim the Media.

The report should provide immediate guidance to the Federal Communications Commission, which has been given a deadline of February 2010 for preparing a national broadband strategy. The FCC’s new Chairman, Julius Genachowski, has called for “a process that will be open, transparent and will allow public participation in ways that are unparalleled," and the FCC has begun to schedule public hearings to guide its work.

"The US has fallen behind in universal Internet access, in affordability and in speed, thanks to years of hands-off public policy," said Reclaim the Media executive director Jonathan Lawson. "We need a concerted national effort to get back on track, and policymakers specifically need to hear from the unserved and underserved sectors of our community, not just the telecommunications carriers who have let us fall so far behind. The community-generated recommendations in this report bring balance back to the discussion."

A Public Interest Internet Agenda prescribes broadband policy solutions that are tied to the common good and our prosperity. According to the report, digital inclusion–combining affordable, fast Internet connections for everyone with the skills needed to use technology–is the key to economic development, improved healthcare and education, energy efficiency, robust democracy and open government.

“Broadband access is crucial to economic, educational and democratic participation in Washington and it’s critical that government make consumer friendly choices that empower communities while bringing access to every corner of the state. Without consumer protective policies to guide them, the handful of corporations that sell broadband have done so at runaway rates, with poor service and have even avoided serving broadband to many of our most vulnerable communities. This report offers solutions to connecting communities while protecting consumers,” said Blair Anundson, Consumer and Democracy Advocate with WashPIRG.

A Public Interest Internet Agenda recommends the following core principles:

1. Every American should have access to Broadband communications. Like the government’s past efforts to extend telephone coverage there must be universal and open, non-discriminatory access to high-speed and high-quality broadband.

2. Good policy must be well informed. Policymakers must have access to reliable data on where broadband presently exists, at what speeds, of what quality, by what provider, how it is used by consumers, why certain consumers do not use it, and how other consumers integrate it into their lives. These data must be as granular as possible, and should be made available in raw form on the Internet for public analysis.

3. Policy should promote competition, innovation, localism, and opportunity. Locally owned and operated networks support these familiar core goals of communications policy, and therefore should receive priority in terms of federal and state support. Structural separation of ownership of broadband infrastructure from the delivery of service over that infrastructure will further promote these goals.

4. Government should use public resources wisely. Policymakers should seek to leverage the use of resources and assets such as publicly-owned spectrum, fiber and rights-of-way to achieve the goal of universal broadband access to the Internet

5. Policy must stress digital inclusion and the service of traditionally disenfranchised communities. Stimulating broadband supply is necessary but not sufficient to achieve the goal of universal broadband. Policymakers must also promote digital inclusion to stimulate broadband demand and ensure that all residents have access to the digital skills and tools necessary to take advantage of the Internet’s enormous potential benefits in creativity, economic development and civic engagement. This benefits not just those on the wrong side of the Digital Divide, but all broadband users and our society.

A Public Interest Internet Agenda emerged from local and regional discussions of community technology needs in Seattle and other communities across the country. It has been endorsed by over 40 local and national public interest organizations that work on media and telecommunications issues.

For more information or to download a copy of A Public Interest Internet Agenda, visit www.reclaimthemedia.org or www.washpirg.org

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The Washington Public Interest Research Group (WashPIRG) is a non-profit, non-partisan, public interest advocacy organization. www.washpirg.org

Reclaim the Media is a Seattle-based media justice advocacy group working to build a community-centered movement for just media representation, technology access, and communications rights. RTM is one of about a dozen groups that collaborated over the past year to prepare the policy recommendations set forth in A Public Interest Internet Agenda. www.reclaimthemedia.org

The Media and Democracy Coalition is a collaboration of more than 30 organizations united to amplify the voices of the public in debates over media and telecommunications policies. Reclaim the Media is a cofounder and executive board member of the MDC. www.media-democracy.net

article originally published at Reclaim the Media/WashPIRG.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey