Get Everyone in US Online, High-level Panel Says

at-netThe nation needs to give the same urgency to making sure all Americans have broadband access as the Eisenhower administration did in building an interstate highway system a half-century ago, a report released Friday concluded. The Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy expressed worry about whether the news industry’s financial woes will make for a less educated citizenry and considered whether the government should prop up independent journalists.

The commission includes two former FCC chairmen, newspaper publishers, a top Google executive, the NAACP president and a former CNN president. It concluded that a free flow of information “is as vital to the healthy functioning of communities as clean air, safe streets, good schools and public health,” and that it’s time for leaders to give it a higher priority. It drew parallels to both the Eisenhower administration’s building of roads and the Lincoln administration’s effort to build the transcontinental railroad. Considering how much business is done on the Web, including the process of applying for jobs, it’s vital to get as many people plugged in as possible, the commission said. More than a third of Americans do not subscribe to broadband services and, in many rural communities, they don’t even have the option.

“You have to have access in order to be socially first class, economically first class and politically first class,” said Alberto Ibarguen, former Miami Herald publisher and president and CEO of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. He said he is encouraged that the Obama administration appears to be making the effort a priority.

Government should also provide incentives to broadband and cable television service providers so they quickly wire areas that are underserved. Michael Powell, a former Federal Communications Commission chairman and member of the Knight group, said he would like to see the FCC be less entangled in regulation and take a more active role in seeing these goals are met. As this is being done, the commission said funding should be provided so public libraries can make Internet access and media literacy programs readily available.

The commission said independent journalism plays a vital watchdog role and wrestled with how to encourage it.

“We do have something that is deteriorating and is not being replaced in the old form, and that is cause for worry,” Powell said.

Government should increase support for news-gathering at public radio and television stations and explore how it could provide incentives for new business models that offer quality journalism, the commission said. But the commission came to no consensus on whether private-sector journalists should get public subsidies, an idea that would test the historical tradition of journalists’ independence from government.

ABC News President David Westin, who was not on the commission, said he hoped the report would not be misinterpreted as a call for government to replace local reporting done by newspapers as newspapers retrench. There are already new businesses emerging to try and fill that role, he said. Powell noted the same, saying people should be less concerned about the format in which information is provided and more concerned that people are available to provide it.

“It’s difficult enough when I get the call from somebody in government complaining about the way we reported something,” Westin said. “But if the person himself who is getting the call is either directly or indirectly employed by government, that could be dangerous.”

The commission urged that the government operate with as much transparency as it can in coming years, offering low-cost access to public records and making social data readily available. It endorsed efforts to provide communities with information in as many forms possible, including mobile phones. Each community should also have an Internet hub — a Web site that provides links to many forms of local information, it said.

“This is an extraordinarily propitious moment,” Ibarguen said. “We didn’t have this when we started out two years ago. This is an opportunity.”

Movies & TV

'Venom' is all tooth and tongue in the latest movie posters

Tom Hardy will play the lead role in Sony Pictures' Venom. Here's everything we know about the solo feature for the popular Spider-Man spinoff character ahead of the film's 2018 premiere in theaters.
Movies & TV

September brings 'The Dragon Prince,' an animated war series, to Netflix

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

Laugh, cry, or just relax with the best series streaming on HBO

Whether you prefer the twisted world of 'True Detective' or the lovable techies that have quickly come to define 'Silicon Valley,' here are our picks of the best HBO series now available on HBO Now and HBO Go.
Mobile

FCC pauses its review of T-Mobile-Sprint merger, says it needs more time

T-Mobile and Sprint are hoping the third time is the charm for a merger. It comes just months after the carriers cited an inability to find common ground, extending yet again the long dance between the two telecom giants.
Computing

Need to convert video in a flash? These free apps and services will do the job

Devices that are capable of playing video can be a picky bunch to say the least. Fortunately, the best free video converters can render format issues a thing of the past. Here are our current favorites.
Computing

Release of Nvidia's RTX 2080 Ti GPUs will be delayed by a week

Nvidia's new RTX 2000 series graphics cards are impressive pieces of hardware, with some amazing advancements and some rather high price tags to match. Here's everything you need to know about Nvidia's new top-tier cards.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Self-balancing skates, tiny tripods, and more

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the Web this week. You can't buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Computing

Don't buy a new router, fix your Wi-Fi with these quick tips

Don't panic when your Wi-Fi goes down. Instead, fix it. These simple solutions to the most common Wi-Fi Problems will get you back online at high speed in no time (hopefully) without buying a new router.
Computing

Our favorite gaming desktops make the latest consoles look pathetic

PC gaming doesn't always come cheap, but it doesn't have to be extortionate either. In this guide we've put together a list of the best gaming PCs you can buy, with everything from the big and flashy, to the super compact.
Computing

These 15-inch laptops are both powerhouses, but which should you buy?

The Asus ZenBook Pro 15 UX580 offers an innovative twist on the tried-and-true touchpad: the LCD-equipped ScreenPad. That's not all that Asus has up its sleeve, but is it all enough to compete?
Mobile

This orange puck keeps you online in any country, with one hidden catch

Staying connected on your travels can be a challenge and sometimes results in hefty cell phone bills you could do without. We tried out the Skyroam Solis, a global Wi-Fi hotspot and power bank billed as the perfect solution.
Computing

Don't spend hundreds on Pro Tools or Logic. Try one of these free alternatives

Believe it or not, Pro Tools isn't the only digital audio workstation worth your time. Check out our picks for the best free recording software, whether you're looking for a lightweight app or a full-blown audio workstation. Updated meta…
Computing

Microsoft may go back to black with 2018 Surface Pro and Surface Laptop

Microsoft may be adding black as a color option to its refreshed Surface Laptop and Surface Pro models on October 2nd. Rumors of the new color along with an image of the black Surface Laptop popped up over the weekend.
Computing

Microsoft could debut transparent Surface Dial sequel at October event

Microsoft's upcoming October Surface event could show off more than just laptops. A new FCC filing suggests Microsoft may also debut a new Surface Dial device, potentially with a transparent center.