Issues don't go away when Congress goes home…

…is something a certain site editor said to me as I complained about lack of substantiative things to write about.

This complaining also took place during a break in one of my classes on property. Today we’re talking about the right to exclude someone from using your property, which in some cases is absolute, and some cases not (I guess I should remember this for the exam).

Anyway, one of the cases that we’re looking at today is Loretto v. Teleprompter Manhattan CATV Corp (458 U.S. 419). It has to do with a cable company maintaining cables on a reluctant landlord’s property for the use of a tenant.

Which brings me to something I’ve been thinking about recently, having talked about it on a few of Leslie Poston‘s Topics On Fire podcasts, specifically regarding the Digital Divide. Did you know, for instance, that public housing residents cannot get subsidized cable modem service, because broadband is considered “entertainment?”

I bet you didn’t.

Is broadband really “entertainment” these days? I know I certainly was entertained by watching two of my college rowing teammates win Olympic Bronze medals in the Mens’ Eight last weekend, but working from home using that same broadband pipe is far less entertaining.

And even less entertaining is having to apply for unemployment benefits. If you’ve been in that situation, some states require (or suggest, very strongly) that you do it online. But what if you can’t get online?

Shireen Mitchell (aka DigitalSista) has made this a major issue, and something that I’ve tried to investigate, with little success, because of the patchwork of state and federal regulations governing access to government services. There are acts requring the use of more online resources and less paper, but those people still have a right to the services. Sometimes, Mitchell says, this means an office functionary downloading and printing a paper form.

This is obviously not entertaining for anyone involved.

Meanwhile, one of the major problems facing this Congress is what to do with the massive Universal Service  Fund (USF), which was originally meant to keep the copper phone network working in rural areas. Those areas are pretty well served now. But there is still lots of cash flowing into USF. You pay for it on your mobile phone bill. On your landline bill. On your VOIP bill. Look. It’s there.

Some of that goes to schools and libraries, allowing them to get subsidized broadband service under a program called E-Rate.

Should that extend to public housing?

Some Members of Congress simply want to gut the fund. Is that a good idea?

Ultimately, this will be a question between Congress and the FCC. But here’s another problem. The FCC needs 3 votes to get anything done. as soon as the Senate adjourns, one Commissioner (Deborah Tate) will no longer be a Commissioner, becuase her term will have expired. That means we’ll have a 2-2 FCC. Gridlock.

Congress wants to get done by mid September so they can campaign. Will they get something done? Or will there be gridlock?

Where should that money go? Is broadband service “entertainment,” or your cable as important as your phone now?

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Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.

3 thoughts on “Issues don't go away when Congress goes home…”

  1. I'm going to skip past your USF is the boogeyman question… that's been rehashed over many many years.What I will comment on is that I think that Digital Inclusion will eventually make more of your concerns be highlighted (and addressed) as long as rural municipalities carry that torch and force the hands of incumbent players/providers to either put up or face new entry. Here's an interesting graphic:http://digitalinclusionforum.com/home_ads/DIF_0…I am still not clear that your examples are matching up to the issues of city dwellers and rural communities. For one, poverty and low income areas need more than just “broadband”. They would need the computers that connect to this. Another way funding could be supplied is via library systems just as college students previously would walk/bike/bus to a computer lab centrally on campus (see also early to mid 1990s). Over time, the funding becomes part of the mix due to the building requirements or code for facilitating SCADA or security needs. Indeed, I see a great many homeland security initiatives will pay dividends in terms of structural unbundling concepts borrowed from the European concepts on broadband competition.

  2. I agree that broadband access has become a basic right in this new global economy – everyone should have access to it, and that means access at speeds that ensure they can use the tools out there online to work, to research, to educate, to obtain needed services…

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