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National Broadband Plan takes shape with Digital Literacy Corps, USF update

“Despite widespread deployment, nearly a third of Americans have not embraced broadband,” said FCC Commissioner Baker this morning at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.  Baker spoke at the Digital Inclusion Summit, an event co-hosted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Knight Foundation to offer perspective the state of the nation’s connectivity and a preview up the upcoming National Broadband Plan, due to be delivered to Congress on March 17.

FCC Chairman Genachowski said that there has been the unprecedented “open process” for the Plan, including livestreams of 40 public workshops, 70 posts at blog.broadband.gov that generated thousands of comments. That process has brought “vital points into focus,” said Genachowski. Rural, minorities, disabled, senior, tribal communities are all lagging in broadband adoption and access. “The cost of digital exclusion is high and growing every day,” he said. In fact, a recent study from the Digital Impact Group estimated the aggregate economic cost of digital exclusion at $55 billion per year.

Key news from the Digital Inclusion Summit:

  • The FCC and the KnightFoundation announced $100,000 in prizes for a “civic computer programming contest,” “Apps for  Inclusion.”
  • While eight days remain until the release of the National Broadband Plan (See Broadband.gov),  the FCC has indicated that it will include a “National Digital Literacy Corps,” an update to Lifeline and work on building out public, private and nonprofit partnerships.
  • The Plan may also include spectrum for free wireless broadband. As reported in Reuters, the FCC may also “dedicate spectrum to free wireless Internet service for some Americans to increase affordable broadband service nationwide. One way of making broadband more affordable is to ‘consider use of spectrum for a free or a very low cost wireless broadband service,” the FCC said in a statement.”

An “Apps for Inclusion” Challenge

Ibargüen speaks at the Newseum (Courtesy FCC)

Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen presented a summary of the Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, comparing information to basic commodities to good streets and clean water.

“If information is a core need, and if it is to be delivered digitally, then logically to be a fully participating citizen one must have access,” he said.

Ted Olson, Knight Co-Chair, would echo that sentiment later. “Information is as vital as air and water to democratic communities,” said Olson. “Citizens must have it to thrive.”

In voicing his support for broadband and new media literacy, Ibargüen noted a recent study from Pew Internet that the Internet has surpassed newspapers as a primary means of getting news for Americans, including many “non-traditional” means like personal feeds, social media and mobile applications.  Ibargüen compared broadband to the national infrastructure projects of past generation. “I can’t wait to build the equivalent of Eisenhower’s highways — or for that matter the railroads under Lincoln,” he said.

The Knight Foundation and FCC Apps for Inclusion Challenge will award cash prices to developers who can create easier online access to services and information. “This contest reflects on three beliefs that are key to our work at Knight Foundation,” said Ibargüen in a prepared release. “First, our ideal of informed, engaged communities; second, our conviction that universal broadband is key to achieving this ideal; and third, our deep interest in using new approaches to connect with innovators.”

The Inclusion Challenge follows the Knight News Challenge, which distributed $5 million dollars for digital innovation. “Citizens should be able to see voting records or campaign contributions,” said Ibargüen after his speech.

“This is an open-ended contest. Like the News Challenge, we don’t know what will come of it,” he said. “I do know that [the Challenge] has been phenomenally successful in generating ideas that we could not have imagined.”

A video montage of the Digital Inclusion Summit from the Knight Blog is embedded below:

Support from Congress, officials on broadband initiatives

Other federal officials and members of Congress were also on hand to share their perspectives on the importance of the broadband plan.

HUD Secretary Donovan spoke of creating “a geography of opportunity” through broadband, working through private, public and nonprofit partnerships. “Too often today we can predict the outcome of a kid’s life by their zip code,” he said.

“With broadband, we can use access to drive other outcomes,” said Secretary Donovan. “The ability to learn is not limited by school or resources available. Seniors and the disabled can get control of their healthcare or get better housing. It is not just about the hardware, the wiring, the computers themselves, it’s about the barriers to actualizing using the technology.”

Secretary Donovan suggested three ways to apply technological innovation where it’s needed:

  1. local outreach on the specific ways technology can improve lives
  2. digital literacy training
  3. workforce development and financial literacy training.

Secretary Donovan said they’ll need to work with nonprofit and private sectors to “bring down the cost of computers and monthly service.” He observed that “our most creative housing developers and civic institutions are nonprofit CDCs. If we’re going to be successful, we need to engage private sector and fundamentally engage that third sector.”

Representative Lee Terry (R-NE), following Commissioner Baker, said that “90% of Nebraskans have access to broadband but “puts an asterisk next to that. It’s 200 kbps. That doesn’t work in 21st Century.” Rep. Lee stated his support for reform of the Universal Service Fund to provide rural broadband.

Using a phrase that might raise some libertarian hackles, FCC Commissioner Copps called Internet access a civil right. “Access denied is opportunity denied,” he said. Full text of Copps’ remarks is available as .doc or PDF at FCC.gov.

Rep. Ed Markey, courtesy of the FCC.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) spoke at length about the importance of broadband to civic life and equal access. As the Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang observed, Markey put national broadband charge for FCC in stimulus plan. And, as Kim Hart reported in the Hill, broadband funding from the stimulus has been a contentious topic.

Rep. Markey cited the precedent of E-Rate in improving digital literacy. According to Rep. Markey, 95% of US schools and libraries are now connected to the Internet, up from 14%.

In an alliterative moment, Rep. Markey observed that the “plan is not merely for megabits and megahertz but consumers and community.”

Joey Durel, City-Parish President, spoke about “muni fiber” at Lafayette, Louisiana, where a “citizen-owned utility” company delivers up to 50 Mbps at costs lower to comparable commercial services.

As Durel has said elsewhere, commenting at DSL Reports, Lafayette muni fiber also supports 100Mbps symmetrical P2P.

Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) said 75% of U.S. employers require prospective employees to apply online. “Affordability is a necessity, not a luxury,” she said. Rep. Matsui referred to the Broadband Affordability Act, which would amend the Communications Act of 1934 to establish a Lifeline Assistance Program for universal broadband adoption to include low-income citizens. Before she spoke, FCC Chairman Genachowski gave Matsui and other members of credit due credit for the inclusion of the USF in the Broadband Plan.  “I want you to hear it from me before the tabloids,” he joked.

Rep. Xavier Becerra (D0CA) described the importance of connecting to a wider world, removing language barriers. He observed that people are ten times more likely to use the Internet if they’ve gone to college. “What we’re doing in connecting all Americans to broadband is helping those families who are too distant from the rest of us,” he said.

Examples of success for technology education, pleas for connectivity

A diverse set of citizens also spoke at the Summit to share how access to broadband or technology changed their lives. Rhonda Locklear, a housing specialist for the Lumbee Tribe in Pembroke, NC, shared her pain in not being able to provide her child with broadband connectivity he needs for homework. “If our children don’t get what they need, they’re going to be left behind,” she said.

Korean War vet and writer Garrison Phillips talked about how the OATS program engaged and trained seniors in the use of technology. Phillips said he began blogging in his 70s, thanks to digital programs aimed at seniors, and that’s he’s grateful for Net access to information, given the challenges posed by living in a 6th floor walkup.

For AmeriCorps volunteer Alex Kurt, the success of a tech skills program in Minnesota “only highlighted how big the problem really is. For each person I help, two to three more come saying ‘I lost my job. I can’t use a computer,’” he said. More information regarding the program Kurt is involved in is available at wip.technologypower.org.

Florence Pearson and her daughter speak at the Newseum. Picture courtesy of FCC.

“I was handicapped. I had to have someone else type my work for me,” said Florence Pearson, Education Director at Head Start in NYC, as quoted on the KnightBlog and pictured on the left with her daughter. “[After training,] all I can see are possibilities for myself and my family. I went in with fear and came out with the motivation to tackle the computer and make my children proud.”

And what does the FCC and broadband mean to Irvin Aviles, a computer technician from Baltimore? “Broad opportunities for a common community,” he said, explaining how training and certification led to employment for the father of four at Time Warner Cable in Baltimore.

Launching a National Digital Literacy Corps

“If today’s disparities are not addressed, our digital divide will soon become a digital canyon,” said FCC Commissioner Clyburn, who said a “National Digital Literacy Corps” will be part of the National Broadband Plan.

“Broadband is one of our generation’s most important challenges, primarily because it presents one of our most monumental opportunities,” said Clyburn. Universal broadband and the skills to use it can lower barriers of means and distance to help achieve a more equal opportunity for all Americans.”

According to Clyburn, next week’s Plan will recommend a three-part National Digital Literacy Program that will consist of

  • a National Digital Literacy Corps
  • a one-time investment to bolster the capacity of libraries and community centers
  • an Online Skills portal for free, basic digital skills training.

Why? “As political dialogue moves to online forums; as the Internet becomes the comprehensive source of real-time news and information; and as the easiest access to our government becomes email or a Web site, then those who are offline become increasingly disenfranchised,” said Clyburn. “Until recently, not having broadband was simply an inconvenience. Now it’s becoming essential to opportunity and even citizenship. As I have said before, if the adoption gap is not addressed soon, today’s digital divide will soon transform into a digital canyon.”

“Altogether, 93 million Americans do not have broadband at home. And adoption rates are much lower among certain populations, including rural Americans [50%], the elderly [65%], persons with disabilities [42%], low-income Americans [40%], African Americans [59%], and Hispanics [49%]. Among the 13 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 who do not have broadband at home, 6 million are either Hispanic or African American. These disparities won’t just disappear over time if we sit back and do nothing.”

Full text of Commissioner Clyburn’s announcement of the Digital Literacy Corps is available as a PDF.

Principles of the National Broadband Plan

“Targeted solutions should aim to direct resources at populations less likely to be online with broadband,” said Clyburn. Collaborative solutions acknowledge the need for government leadership and coordination in this area; but also rely on the private, non-profit and philanthropic sectors. And local solutions understand that, while the decision to adopt is an individual one, the path to adoption is social.”

“The staff has come up with a number of recommendations with these goals in mind,” said Clyburn.  “To help with cost, the Plan recommends expanding low income Universal Service support to broadband, and exploring using spectrum for a free or very low cost wireless service.  Partnerships between the public, private, non-profit and philanthropic sectors, can help address the relevance barrier by encouraging comprehensive solutions that combine hardware, service, training and content, and by conducting outreach and awareness campaigns that target underserved communities.”

Applying “Gov2.0″ in practice

The use of social media and other collaboration technology online has been notable in many branches of government. The FCC launched Reboot.gov earlier this year, following OpenInternet.gov and Broadband.gov.

Even if FCC.gov remains dated, the FCC itself has moved quickly to use crowdsourcing tools for questions,  @FCC took questions about the digital inclusion at summit using the event’s #BBplan hashtag or using email sent to newmedia@fcc.gov. (Authors of “questions from Twitter,” however, were not unattributed.) Several of the tweeted questions were answered and webcast at FCC.gov/live. That virtuous feedback loop using a combination of online collaborative tools and a livestream is one of the better examples of so-called “government 2.0″ technology I’ve seen in action.

The FCC and Knight Foundation also distributed USB flash drives with PDFs of remarks, reports and relevant links, along with paper versions of the same. That move was both digitally savvy and helpful to members of the media or general audience.

Following the broadband debate ahead

As Amy Gahran pointed out in her post on the National Broadband Plan at the Knight Digital Media Center, this moment presents opportunities for community news and civic engagement.

Given the stakeholders involved in this project, the months ahead will likely be contentious as well. Gahran is spot on in this observation:

“Large, established businesses such as cable companies, broadcasters, and telcos have much at stake and are throwing substantial lobbying muscle toward protecting their interests. Expect that the there will be changes to the plan between the time it goes to committee and the version that eventually makes it to the floor of Congress.

Gahran shared events and resources that will be of use to readers in the D.C. area and beyond in following both the debate around broadband policy and implementation.

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FTC workshop explores future of journalism, regulation of aggregation

Early on Tuesday morning, I walked up Massachusetts Avenue to attend the FTC workshop on the future of journalism. Ten hours later, I emerged overstimulated by the volume of ideas presented, saddened again by the tens of thousands of journalists who have lost employment and energized by the quality of the conversations I’d had.

If you look at Danny Sullivan’s impressive liveblog of the FTC workshop on the future of journalism, you’ll see why.

The event began with a video about the changing media world from Minnesota Public Media, embedded below. More about the “Future of News Summit, where it premiered, can be found at thefutureofnews.ning.com.

The FTC established a Twitter account for the conference, @FTCnews. You can see all of the participants’ tweets aggregated at #ftcnews.

Why convene the conference?

The very existence of the forum raised some eyebrows. How does the Federal Trade Commission factor into regulating journalism, after all? FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz observed that:

..the ongoing revolution in the markets for news, then, warrants serious study for at least two reasons. First, markets for public goods such as news may work imperfectly. Competition policy is well-suited to evaluate these market imperfections.

Consumer protection policy is well-suited to help us understand the privacy and data security implications of the behavioral marketing used by media companies to increase ad revenues online. Second, and far more important, this is not just any market. The changes we are seeing in journalism will affect how we govern ourselves, not just the profits and losses of various news organizations.

The full remarks of FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz on creative destruction and journalism in the Internet Age are available as a PDF. He was forthright in assessing that there was no reversing the Internet revolution. As he put it, “when Gutenberg printed the Bible, that was bad for those who illustrate by hand.” (Note: Jessica Clark argued that the FTC Should Consider Policy Reform to Support Public Media 2.0” over at PBS’s MediaShift blog.)

Leibowitz was followed by Paul Steiger of Propublica, an “independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest. “The answer is not to save newspapers,” said Steiger. “The goal should be to assure the continuation of journalism.”  He called Amanda R. Michel an “Internet genius” for her coverage of the 2008 campaign at the Huffington Post.  Steiger also cited Propublica’s investigative journalism on “hydraulic fracturing” in gas drilling as an example of the work the organization is doing.

Rick Edmonds of the Poynter Institute, author of the BizBlog there, presented results of 2009 State of the media study he co-authored. One of his final assessments was sobering: “Most surviving newspapers will be smaller, more expensive & targeted to older consumers.” As I replied to Andy Carvin , who wondered about the statement,  given the debt loads that Edmonds cited, waiting for hyperwired Echo Boom to “age into” newspapers might be a tough strategy.

The News from News Corporation

It’s a fair bet that the packed room in the morning was there in anticipation of remarks from Rupert Murdoch, founder, chairman and managing director of News Corporation, especially given that many of the media in attendance left to file stories once he was through.

Cecilia Kang covered his speech in the Washington Post in “Murdoch: Future of newspapers in online payment, feds should stand back.”  Jeff Bercovici offered a similar take in “Murdoch to Washington: Stay out of the way, but please help.”

The other 363 stories in Google News about Murdoch’s speech at the FTC attest to the interest in his remarks, too, including an excellent piece in the Wall Street Journal, “FTC to examine possible support of news organizations.”

Why? Murdoch may have held that “a diversity of views is essential to debate” but he was crystal clear:  news organizations that don’t adapt should fail, “just like a restaurant that makes meals that no one wants to eat.”

Further, even as he argued that the feds should keep the U.S. press the most free in the world, the government should also “use its power to make sure the most innovative companies can reach customers,” a view that sounded to this writer’s ears rather like net neutrality.

He was also crystal clear in a  conviction: “online ads can’t sustain good journalism.” Murdoch intends to extend the pay model of the WSJ and @BarronsOnline to the Times UK, perhaps as early as next January.

Murdoch also suggested that the FCC‘s cross-ownership rule that prevents single ownership of both TV and newspaper in local markets was “out-dated” in the Internet age, effectively suggesting that regulators both stay out of the news business and change the market conditions.  He also observed that “for newspapers, spectrum could well prove an economic vehicle,” pointing to online convergence and  the move to a readership increasingly consuming news through mobile computing devices.

What is the state of journalism?

Following Murdoch’s remarks, a state of journalism panel began with a focus on the financial health and accomplishments of newspapers and magazines. Martin Kaiser, senior vice president of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, spoke to journalism’s essential role: enforcing goverment accountability.

Bryan Monroe, a visiting professor at the Medill School of Journalism, brought attention to issues of  diversity. His remarks were published at the Huffington Post as “Why New Media Looks A Whole Lot Like Old Media.”

This panel also raised the first – and as it turned out, only – question to the audience, in the form of a poll: How many of you know someone under 30 who reads a newspaper in print? To my eye, about 40% of those present raised their hands. It’s perhaps worth observing that very few people present were in that demographic.

One hopeful model for reporting by assignment that was cited by David Westphal, Executive in Residence, Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, University of Southern California, hailed from my former neck of the woods at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

Mark Contreras, chairman of the Executive Committee of the Newspaper Association of America & senior VP, newspapers at the E.W. Scripps Co., ended the panel with an analogy to the music industry, suggesting that there are “poignant similarities” to news business. He favors ASCAP/BMI models for content protection and a B2B model for revenue generation. Given the music industry’s struggle to adapt to the Internet, that approach might merit more consideration.

Defending the aggregators

After the representatives of legacy media shared their perspectives, Arianna Huffington came to the defense of aggregators and new media, like her own enterprise, the Huffington Post.

As she dryly observed, citing a post by Mike Masnick at TechDirt, there’s some news aggregation by News Corp/IGN out there. All Things Digital, for instance,  links and  aggregates content, as does Rotten Tomatoes.

Her remarks are posted in full there, as you might expect, in “Desperate Metaphors, Desperate Revenue Models, & the Desperate Need For Better Journalism.”

Huffington didn’t mince words in her denunciation, either:

It’s time for traditional media companies to stop whining and face the fact that far too many of them, lulled by a lack of competition and years of pretax profits of 20 percent or more, put cash flow above journalism and badly misread the web when it arrived on the scene. The focus was on consolidation, cost-cutting, and pleasing Wall Street — not modernization and pleasing their readers.

They were asleep at the wheel, missed the writing on the wall, let the train leave the station, let the ship sail — pick your metaphor — and quickly found themselves on the wrong side of the disruptive innovation the Internet and new media represent. And now they want to call timeout, ask for a do-over, start changing the rules, lobby the government to bail them out, and attack the new media for being… well, new. And different. And transformational. Suddenly it’s all about thievery and parasites and intestines.

Get real, you guys. The world has changed. Here are some facts culled from one of the most popular anthems to the impact of technology on our world:

(I talked with Huffington afterwards about her comments and the transition the industry is going through. She asked if I’d like to write about it – so I did, in “Is journalism going through a Reformation?“)

Where are the readers? Whither remedies? A Yahoo! News consortium? And how does Google News work?

After lunch, media analyst Ken Doctor shared his thoughts about “where the readers are.” You can read more from him at Contentbridges.com.

Leonard Downie presented findings on the reconstruction of journalism from the Columbia journalism report:  Columbiajournalismreport.org

Lem Lloyd, vice president of channel sales at Yahoo!, shared details of the media company’s growing newspaper consortium. Lloyd said they’ve have sold 18,000 campaigns on Yahoo!, amounting to more than six  billion impressions. Behavioral targeting sales represent some ninety percent of that total.

And Josh Cohen explaining how GoogleNews works with publishers. Cohen wrote about the FTC and the future of news at Google’s Public Policy blog. A extensive interview of Cohen on paywalls, publishers and partnerships by Danny Sullivan is also available at Search Engine Land.

Emerging models for journalism

The most dynamic panel of the day featured technologists, entrepreneurs and an bonafide bloggers like Josh Micah Marsall of Talkingpointsmemo.com and Danny Sullivan, who took a break from liveblogging to participate.

Sullivan, at that point, was frustrated with offline metaphors applied online. And Jeff Jarvis, media pundit and CUNY professor, asked the FTC to “stay off the lawn,” suggesting that premise of the event was about the survival of legacy players, not journalism itself.

In considering the prospect of not finding a viable models, Robert Thomson, managing editor of the Wall Street Journal, observed that “the cost to society of not being able to afford specialist journalism is going to be profound.”

Chris Ahern, of Reuters, and Danny Sullivan replied to Thomson that it’s not “an either/or proposition.” Hybrid models for news are worth trying.

And in a memorable exchange, Marshall observed that “there is more of an ethic online of linking to the story that got the reporter on the track and then adding commentary” than is practiced by traditional media, alluding to stories that the AP and others have run with without linking.

Media consumption trends, the economics of news and online advertising models

For more on the final panel and preceding presentations, consult Danny Sullivan’s liveblog of the FTC workshop on the future of journalism.

Ball State professor Mike Bloxham presented on media consumption based upon data that can be found at ResearchExcellence.com. He described a need for publisher to look cross-platform for media consumption in order to meaninfully gauge a “news footprint” that included print, TV, online and radio.

Susan Athey, a professor of economics at Harvard, presented on the economics of news, particular the trend toward “multi-homing” in consumption and the growth of online advertising. Her presentation addressed the salience of potential FTC regulation more directly than any other, aside from the chairman himself, predicting competition in online ad networks and between aggregators that would require oversight.

Law professor David Evans, following Athey, said that “the one thing I do worry about is mixing up market failure with nostalgia.” His paper on  economics of the online advertising industry is available online.

The final panel of the day, addressed the important of behavioral advertising to future business models. Jeff Chester of Democraticmedia.org asserted that “the news media industry should embrace fair information principles.”

Conclusions?

As I look back over the day, it’s not clear to me yet what the FTC intends to do, other than listen. I look forward to returning to the FTC tomorrow to learn more.

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