Building a broadband future

Right now in America, one-third of kids are dropping out of high school—among minorities the rate is fifty percent.  This does not bode well for America’s place in the Information Age.

Today, most of our citizens have their medical history strewn across pages of paper records.  We still carry illegible prescriptions by hand to a pharmacist, hoping they accurately decipher what drug was ordered.  Too many citizens in rural communities lack access to specialists critically needed for their care.  Costs are going up, but health care quality is not.

Our energy transmission system is horribly inefficient.  The power company does not typically know when the power is out, until someone calls.  A smarter grid would not only improve the efficiency of our power use, it would help preserve the quality of our environment.


Congress: Invest in Intelligent Transportation Systems to create jobs

As Congressional leaders work to craft a jobs package that will address our nation’s alarming unemployment levels, they would do well to invest in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and other transportation projects that will modernize our nation’s aging infrastructure and improve the performance of our multimodal transportation systems.

ITS technologies are beginning to move our national transportation network into the digital age, and are already providing major improvements in transportation safety, mobility, efficiency, and the environment.  A few examples include high-tech traffic and freight management systems, synchronized and adaptive traffic signals, smart transit systems, electronic tolling systems, weigh-in-motion truck inspections, ramp metering, advanced condition assessment technologies, and real-time traffic, transit and parking information. 

Investing in ITS will create new jobs quickly because these technologies can be deployed without a lot of new construction or right-of-way issues.  And 50 percent of every dollar spent on ITS deployment goes directly to wages and salaries, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).


Closing the digital divide through broadband expansion (Rep. Doris Matsui)

Growing up in the Central Valley of California, my education relied heavily on textbooks and local libraries.  As I got older, I used the newspaper to find my first part-time job and applied to college through a mail-in application.  After I got married, my husband and I shared photos of our young son through slides at family gatherings.  Today, I watch my grandchildren use the Internet to collaborate on projects with school children across the Atlantic; and my son can collect witness testimony through teleconference across the country. 

I recognize that the American way of life has changed dramatically since my youth, due in large part to our ability to communicate instantly via the Internet.  However, not every American family can afford up to $60 per month for broadband services at home, putting themselves and their children at a disadvantage.

Today, young and old Americans look to the Internet to provide necessary information to succeed and in-home broadband service offers an immediate wealth of knowledge to their door.  As we all know, recent economic hardship has meant tighter pocketbooks and many amongst us have been forced to make cut-backs.  In the current economic climate, an increasing number of hardworking Americans simply cannot afford to pay the high costs for broadband services.  At a time when consumers need the Internet more than ever to seek employment assistance, education, health care, and to manage their finances, this vital and convenient information source Internet plays a vital role in our economic recovery.


Update online privacy laws now

Congress and the Federal Trade Commission are gathering information to consider rules to protect consumer privacy on-line from potential commercial abuse.  Efforts at reform are missing the mark if they don’t address the very real privacy concerns raised by government surveillance and other law enforcement demands for bulk data collection and access to information.

There is broad agreement that Internet users need to know what information is being collected about them and have privacy policy information delivered in ways they can easily understand.  Thus, businesses are focusing on crafting pro-consumer practices that are transparent and provide consumers with more meaningful choices. Internet sites know they are a click away from a customer leaving if they don’t like the privacy policy.  But privacy becomes a more critical issue where there is little competition and few choices, as we see with Internet Access Providers, or just one choice, as with government agency services on-line.


Time for net neutrality (Rep. Ed Markey)

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) took a historic step towards developing new rules to safeguard the free and open nature of the Internet, fulfilling a key campaign promise of President Obama's and kicking off a process that has been years in the making.

If adopted, the Commission's net neutrality protections will ensure that users have unfettered access to all lawful online content and applications. These measures, which will be crafted over the coming months by the FCC, are urgently needed to preserve the openness and competition that have made the Internet the most successful communications medium in human history.

Since its earliest days, the Internet has been guided by the principles of non-discrimination and freedom. That means that all ones and zeros are treated equally and special interests and Corporate America can't direct Internet traffic to serve their own purposes at the expense of the public.


Support net neutrality (Rep. Jared Polis)

As an entrepreneur and creator of several successful internet start-ups, I have long been an ardent supporter of open access to the internet and continue to support net neutrality in Congress today. Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is holding an important meeting to consider a net neutrality framework for the internet.

The decisions that the FCC makes impact the future of the internet itself. By enshrining open access into regulation, the FCC can ensure that the internet remains a level playing field for innovative content, services, and applications and does not break apart into various pay-to-play private networks.


Preserving Democracy in the Digital Age

If you’re reading this post, you’re incredibly empowered. Empowered by boundless information, opportunity, and by access. Despite the seemingly pervasive nature of 21st century technological achievements, many Americans are not easily able to see these very words.

To see this post, you need to have access to a computer and the Internet, which means you likely have broadband access. You may even have an RSS feed from this blog. Or maybe you are a thoughtful citizen who intends to post a comment and discuss what we’re saying. Maybe you’ll even forward this to people you think should read it, and blog about the topic yourself.

These basics, that many take for granted, are actually not basic for a large population of Americans. About 37 percent of adult Americans don’t have easy access to the Internet at home. That means they can’t easily access news and information that they need to conduct their day-to-day lives. And they can’t be active, informed, and engaged citizens in a democracy.

Last Friday the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy released Informing Communities: Sustaining Democracy in the Digital Age which sets a vision for healthy, informed, democratic communities. The Commission spent a year and a half talking with people across the nation and studying how citizens in different communities get their news and information. It asked if current news is supporting community needs and goals, such as community problem solving, coordinating civic activity, maintaining public accountability, and fostering human connectedness. And it found that much more can and should be done to make our communities healthy from an information standpoint. 


Investing in Anchor Institutions (Rep. Doris Matsui)

Click. Download. Hyperlink. Open. Select. Copy. Paste. Print.

Sound familiar?  For many of us, high-speed broadband access is something we have at work, and at our homes.  But for millions of Americans, broadband access is either unavailable or unaffordable.

Broadband access provides supportive technology for households, schools, libraries, and health facilities in my hometown of Sacramento and in communities across the country.  In the current economic climate, more and more hard working families need access to the internet to find a new job, manage their finances during this difficult period, obtain news alerts, and apply to college.  And it is important that we continue to fund anchor institutions in underserved areas to help our communities grow.

That’s why I have urged the Obama Administration to prioritize funding for broadband infrastructure made possible by the Recovery Act for essential “anchor institutions” - the schools, libraries and community centers that provide access to the internet for Americans all across the country.

Last week I sent a letter with my colleagues Anna Eshoo and Ed Markey to the NTIA to help ensure our concerns are addressed.  Anchor institutions are essential to providing broadband access to unserved and underserved populations unable to maintain computer service in individual homes because of financial or technological impediments.  Anchor institutions allow lower-income Americans, especially in urban areas, greater access to broadband technology at little or no cost.

Building high-capacity broadband pipes will have transformative impacts on local communities.  It will create jobs, allow our children to obtain a better education, deliver high-quality health care at a lower cost, improve job-training centers, and enhance public safety.  Bringing high-capacity broadband to schools and libraries will also help strengthen our communities, and provide access to broadband to those Americans who need it most.


Digital rules of the road key to National Broadband Plan

I had the opportunity this week to join the FCC conversation about the development of a National Broadband Plan.  The discussion centered on content and reflected a keen awareness that any strategy aimed at promoting economic opportunities through broadband must include sensible safeguards for the millions of Americans who make their living in today’s digital economy with their ideas and creativity.

What Frank Sinatra sang about “love and marriage” is equally true for content and broadband.  To build a successful digital future, “you can’t have one without the other.”  Robust broadband networks offer the creative community a virtually limitless array of new ways to reach and expand their audiences.  And, compelling content is a primary reason more and more Americans are seeking out the enhanced online experience that the high-speed Internet delivers.

The expansion of broadband can have an enormously positive impact on the ability of consumers to access all sorts of content, from news to government decision-making (including the FCC workshop) to home videos to film and television.  But the Internet economy will not flourish in a lawless environment, where the rights and protections of others are not respected and where there are no rules of the road.


Revamping and securing our country’s civilian cyber infrastructure (Rep. Loretta Sanchez)

Recent cyber attacks against the official websites of the South Korean and American governments have created a new generation of national defense and homeland security issues for the U.S., which we must be ready to meet and defend against in the 21st century. Although the Internet has increasingly brought the world together, it has also added a new layer of threats from terror groups and rogue nations that are building up offensive cyber attack capabilities. Evidence of the crippling effects of cyber attacks was most recently seen during the Russian-Georgian war, when the Russian military shut down critical Georgian government websites in coordination with the ground attack on South Ossetia.

To protect the U.S. from this new era of cyber threats, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has announced the creation of a new centralized command dedicated to cyber warfare and securing military cyber assets and websites. The U.S. Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) will employee thousands of “cyber warriors” to combat the growing number of cyber spies from countries like Russia and China that try to infiltrate our military cyber grid and gain intelligence. Although most Americans don’t realize that we’re engaged in daily combat against cyber warfare, these cyber warriors are truly unsung heroes who protect vital military assets oversees.

The Obama Administration has made revamping and securing our country’s civilian cyber infrastructure a cornerstone in his national security agenda. In recent remarks to the Council of Foreign Relations, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano pointed out the critical role DHS has as the sole protector of civilian government websites, as well as its efforts to help secure the private sector. Unlike the Defense Department, which has thousands of cyber warriors, DHS has only 100 employees dedicated to combating civilian cyber threats and building cyber security plans. With the gap between military and civilian cyber security personnel as large as it is, there needs to be strong government leadership to increase recruitment pools and employ the next generation of cyber leaders that will help and protect our civilian networks.

Unlike past Administrations, President Obama has also engaged and asked for counsel from crucial yet unconventional communities. This is most noted by the recent appointment of Jeff Moss, founder of the largest conference of hackers held annually, to the Homeland Security Advisory Council. Further, as the ranking female member on the House Armed Services Committee and Vice-Chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, I play a crucial role in making sure the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security have the tools and resources they need to fully defend our civilian and military cyber infrastructure. I believe that these unconventional allies and greater coordination with the private sector will help create a stronger, more resilient cyber security system.

Cross-posted from The Foundry.