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).
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 the 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 last-mile solutions. 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.
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.
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.
Privacy and Security
As more and more of our lives migrate online, privacy and security are increasingly important issues. Our privacy and security work ranges from the impact of surveillance on historically marginalized communities, including communities of color, to mobile privacy in ICT4D projects and the impact of the summer 2013 revelations about the NSA’s massive surveillance program.
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
Universal Service Fund
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 service for eligible low-income households).