Sustaining Democracy in a Digital Age

A Blog from New America's Media Policy Initiative

Where's MPI?: Media Policy Initiative Week in Review

Published:  September 3, 2010
Photo Credit: Access Humboldt

New America Foundation's Media Policy Fellow Sean McLaughlin presents Congressman Mike Thompson (CA-1) with a copy of the Knight Commission report in Eureka, Calif., on Sept. 2, 2010.

  • First of all, we would like to announce that Version 1 of Daniel Amzallag and Amalia Deloney’s information community case study on Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota: Adapting business models to digitalized information demandhas been completed and posted to the Media Policy Initiative’s website. Following the lead of The Knight Commission Report on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, the case study assesses the “information health” of the Twin Cities community.
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    In addition, MPI’s formal Comments regarding Copyright on the FTC’s study of Journalismare also now on our website.
  • Sept. 1, Angelica Das of American University’s Center for Social Mediaposted some commentary on MPI’s Washington, D.C. case study. Das contributed a significant amount of research on the District’s media outlets—research essential to the success of the case study.
  • Fellow and Access Humboldt executive director Sean McLaughlin had the opportunity to meet with Rep. Mike Thompson Sept. 2, when the California representative came to AH’s Community Media Center in Eureka, Calif., for a briefing on Digital Redwoods, an initiative to bring high-speed broadband to all communities in the North Coast region. This visit comes on the heels of a recent announcement of new funding for the initiative’s work (see last week’s Week in Review).

    At the event, McLaughlin was able to give Thompson a copy of The Knight Commission Report on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, which gives the congressman some background on the general rationale for Digital Redwoods’ work.

    McLaughlin has also been serving on an ad hoc Broadband Working Group for the Humboldt County Planning Commission, and the group’s language was presented at the Aug. 26 Planning Commission meeting addressing the county’s telecommunications infrastructure. According to the Redwood Times, McLaughlin made the point that “the free market system doesn’t work for telecommunications because there’s no profit in providing it in rural areas. He said it’s like the phone system that has to be subsidized in rural areas where there aren’t enough subscribers to make it profitable.”

    The commission’s discussion on Humboldt telecommunications will resume on Sept. 9.
  • Open gov is a hot topic these days, as Wikileaks releases classified documents and the U.S. government makes greater use of applications such as Twitter to connect with the voting public. Yet the transparency that many observers are seeking is in the release of raw data used to make actual policy. In this vein, MPI fellow Phil Napoli has co-authored an article with Joe Karaganis of the Social Science Research Council, published in Vol. 27 of Government Information Quarterly, (registration required) with the aim of spurring policymakers to adopt greater transparency as a way of doing business.

    The article, “On making public policy with publicly available data: The case of U.S. communications policymaking,” looks to communications policymaking’s recent problems with transparency, particularly to how the data that policy is based on should be available to the public and often is not, as a case study for the policymaking environment as a whole.

    Napoli and Karaganis’ proposals for fixing this situation include the following: 1. enacting a clear legislative requirement to post all data involved in government agency/third party policy research, 2. better models for data release—as in, data can be released, but in a selective manner to those with a stake in the research and with government protection of any databases to protect confidentiality, and 3. the creation of a Federal Advisory Committee on Data Quality, Integrity, and Access.

    Since government watchdogs that inform the public (or those with a stake in policy) can only be as good as the information that they can access, a lack of information only leads to inadequate public understanding of policy. Napoli and Karaganis’s article adds to the dialogue on this issue. It remains to be seen how and when, if at all, policymakers will choose to follow the standards of open gov consistently.
  • If you saw last week’s Week in Review, you might recall that MPI collaborator Colin Rhinesmith has been following the Digital Divide Lecture Series closely. The second lecture in the series was given by Brian Bell, Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Grant Coordinator at the Computer Science and Information Technology Department at Parkland College, and Rhinesmith’s account was posted Sept. 2. Beginning with this most recent entry, Rhinesmith will be posting his responses on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Community Informatics Initiative's “CI Reflections” blog.

    Perhaps one of Rhinesmith’s most striking take-aways from the talk was that—in terms of the digital divide—Bell characterized most of the students in his computer classes as being excluded from the developed world, since 70% of them do not have access to a home computer or Internet. And this is just part of a vicious cycle, as one of Bell’s main points was that “Access at Home at Early Age is Key.” As Rhinesmith said, “[Bell] argued that we need to start putting technology in the hands of young people or we are going to keep falling behind.”

    This is particularly true in the context of a recent studythat points to a link between home Wi-Fi access and teens’ educational success, a lack of which leads directly to Bell’s next point: the need for computers and computer skills in order to combat unemployment.

    As unemployment in America is now up to 9.6%, this is an especially timely observation. With many jobs requiring online applications, Bell makes the point that the opportunity and ability to fill out a PDF application and return it to an employer is critical. According to Rhinesmith, Bell calls for “ALL employers need to make sure to provide machine-writable PDF files to make it easier for people to fill them out and return them online, particularly if an employer restricts applications to online-only submission.”

    This illustrates one of the problems in this digital age of ours: If not everyone is on the same page, in terms of access to equipment or digital literacy skills, not everyone has the capacity to be an engaged, active participant in society—whether that engagement is on a national scale or with the community of Champaign-Urbana.
  • Finally, a few words about the work going on over at Media Access Project. Kamilla Kovacs, who serves as communications and development director at MAP, recently commented on the need for the FCC to protect net neutrality, despite long-held concerns over regulation’s effects on commercial investment in broadband infrastructure.

    In the Aug. 27 post, “The 2000s: A History of the FCC’s Internet Policy Deregulation”, Kovacs traces the past decade of Internet policy deregulation and calls for the FCC to take a more active role now to ensure that companies will not discriminate in their network access. As Kovacs puts it,

“The solution to the FCC’s rightful concern about investment is not the abandonment of net neutrality protections. Doing so would leave carriers free to discriminate against or block traffic on the Internet, gutting free expression, technological innovation, and competition in online commerce. Doing so would also fail to provide any concrete assurance that carriers will in fact invest to expand and upgrade broadband networks, as they promise to do.”

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