The Open Technology Institute's work spans a number of core issues.
Broadband Adoption and Digital Literacy
Understanding the factors that impact broadband adoption and digital literacy is an important part of the broader discussion about Internet access and affordability in the United States. Our work on these issues considers questions about how we define broadband adoption and understanding why some people “adopt” broadband (and why others may choose to remain offline).
Broadband and Education
Students, parents, and teachers need access to the digital tools that can transform educational experiences, but numerous challenges hinder universal, affordable access high-speed Internet service at schools, libraries, and home. Our work on this issue focuses on increasing the capacity of schools and libraries (and, in particular, the reform of the FCC’s E-rate program) and intersects heavily with the work of New America’s Education Policy Program.
Competition is a key factor that affects the cost and speed of Internet access in a community, but in the majority of US cities, most consumers only have a choice between a local telephone company and local cable company. As a result, prices are higher and speeds are lower in the US than in many comparable markets. We urge policymakers to re-evaluate our current approaches to increase competition and encourage more affordable high-speed Internet service in the U.S.
To promote Internet access and affordability, communities across the country are seeking new models and solutions for broadband service. Some cities have decided to invest in their own network fiber infrastructure, especially where there is limited competition from incumbent providers. In other places, local groups are organizing and building their own infrastructure. We highlight the benefits of municipal and community networks for providing better service at lower prices, promoting competition, and giving local communities greater control over their Internet infrastructure.
We work directly with communities in the US and abroad to understand and support local adoption, ownership, governance, and use of technology. In every case, we follow the community's lead to make the technology appropriate to locally-identified needs and goals. Our approach to trainings takes an approach called "Digital Stewardship," which recognizes and uplifts the existing knowledge and capacity in a community. We also engage in participatory research and evaluation of community technology adoption, ownership, and use, and inform OTI's policy, tech development, and tech deployment work with our findings.
As technology evolves, consumer privacy protections must evolve as well. OTI promotes consumer privacy protections that foster confidence in communications networks as safe and reliable places for free expression. In early 2015, OTI worked with consumer and privacy advocates to urge the FCC to pass new regulations to increase the location accuracy needed to enhance the ability of emergency responders to locate mobile phone customers, while still ensuring the privacy of consumer data provided was protected.
In addition to broad engagement on export controls and privacy protections, OTI is also active on the impact of copyright restrictions on cybersecurity, free expression, innovation, and competition. Congress passed the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) in 1998 to combat copyright infringement, but its broad mandate has subjected a wide range of activities to unnecessary litigation. The DMCA has since been used to interfere with independent security researchers working to identify vulnerabilities in computer software, to stifle competition, and to suppress device portability.
Cost of Connectivity
To provide context around discussions of Internet accessibility in the U.S. and around the world, OTI has released a series of Cost of Connectivity reports, which assess the cost and speed of broadband Internet access in 24 cities in the U.S. and abroad. In 2015, OTI’s third Cost of Connectivity report was cited by President Obama in the White House “Community-Based Broadband Solutions” report and subsequent speech about the importance of investing in high-speed broadband.
The rise of data caps both on the wireline and mobile networks in the US underscore a critical need for policymakers to implement reforms to promote competition in the broadband marketplace. Data caps generate revenue for incumbents, but they also make bandwidth an unnecessarily scarce commodity which is bad for consumers and innovation.
The current debate that is raging over law enforcement’s desire for surveillance backdoors into encrypted communications and devices harkens back to a similar debate that occurred two decades ago. The consensus amongst experts then, as it is now, was that giving government investigators special access to encrypted data is technically impossible to do without seriously undermining our cybersecurity against other threats, while also undermining the U.S. tech economy, and threatening human rights across the globe.
Export Controls and Sanctions
The free flow of information and access to digital communications tools are increasingly considered a basic human right around the world. Our work on export controls and sanctions promotes the dual goals of making technology that enables safer and more secure communications available to citizens in repressive countries, while preventing US companies from exporting censorship and surveillance technology to the governments in those countries.
The current multistakeholder model of Internet governance is under pressure from governments as well as civil society to address issues like surveillance as well as the challenges of access and affordability. Our work on Internet governance focuses primarily on human rights concerns and on building capacity in the Global South to participate more fully in the Internet governance project.
When your Internet connection doesn't work as expected, how can you tell whether the problem is caused by your connection, the application, or something else? Answering this question and others like it is surprisingly difficult. OTI is a founding member of, and contributor to, Measurement Lab (M-Lab), a consortium of research, industry, and public interest partners. M-Lab is dedicated to providing an infrastructure for the open, verifiable measurement of global network performance. M-Lab provides the largest collection of open Internet performance data on the planet and allows consumers to test their network connections to identify the issues at play.
The promise of a free and open Internet, where individuals are able to decide for themselves what they see and do online without interference from Internet service providers, is a cornerstone of OTI’s policy work. When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) responded to comments from over 4 million Americans and adopted the Open Internet Order in February 2015, we celebrated. The passage of the strongest net neutrality rules in U.S. history represents countless hours of work by OTI to help shape this vital order. While helping to lead a broad coalition of industry and civil society groups, OTI filed comments and met with the FCC more than any other civil society organization. Through the work of our Wireless Future Project (WiFu), OTI ensured that the Order applied to mobile wireless networks—closing a loophole from an earlier set of rules—and addressed interconnection for the first time in FCC history.
Privacy and Security
OTI believes that everyone has the right to access an Internet that is not only open, but secure, and that includes having security against privacy violations by governments and service providers. Working on its own and as a part of New America’s Cybersecurity Initiative, OTI is pushing every day for policies that will provide that security.
The Wireless Future Project develops and advocates policy proposals to promote universal, affordable and ubiquitous broadband and to improve the public’s access to critical wireless communication technologies. It seeks to promote fair and efficient use of the airwaves to unlock the full potential of the wireless age for all Americans
The Transparency Reporting Toolkit is a project by New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) and Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society. Using research on the current state of transparency reporting, the project aims to identify best practices, create a template transparency report, and establish reporting guidelines. These resources will be shared publicly to foster standardization in reporting and provide companies new to reporting with an easy-to-use set of tools essential to crafting their transparency reports.
Universal Service Fund (Lifeline and E-rate programs)
The FCC’s Universal Service Fund administers several programs that aim to promote better access to telecommunications services across the country, especially in low-income, rural, insular, and high-cost areas. We advocate for better policies across the Universal Service Fund, but particularly the E-rate program (which provides subsidies to broadband providers to offer discounted service to schools and libraries) and Lifeline Program (which provides discounts for telephone and broadband service for eligible low-income households).