NEWS RELEASE | To Close Digital Equity Gaps, U.S. Should Endow a Digital Futures Foundation from Proceeds of Spectrum Auctions—New America and Johns Hopkins Experts Propose Bold Fix for Digital Inclusion Gaps

By on April 5, 2021

April 5, 2021
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
 
 
WASHINGTON, DC—Today, New America’s Open Technology Institute and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies jointly released a proposal to invest a portion of the windfall proceeds from recent and anticipated auctions of public airwaves in a new private Digital Futures Foundation to develop improved digital applications that address digital equity gaps in education, telehealth, online government services, and other critical areas.
 
While President Biden’s infrastructure plan will usefully address the national need for universal access to affordable broadband connections, getting everyone online will not solve the equally critical challenge of improving the public-purpose applications and training needed to enable full digital inclusion.
 
According to Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Project at New America’s Open Technology Institute (OTI) and co-author of the proposal:

“To reap the full benefits of the president’s proposed investments in universal broadband access, we need to address the serious gaps in the applications that actually provide the services that broadband can deliver and the training citizens need to access them. Auctions of the public airwaves are raising tens of billions of dollars that should be recycled back into technology investments aimed at closing persistent equity gaps in digital learning tools, telehealth, environmental justice, and other critical needs.”

 
According to Dr. Lester M. Salamon, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies (JHU/CCSS) and the other co-author of this proposal:

“With expanding demand for broadband triggering windfall proceeds from spectrum auctions, dumping these proceeds into the federal budget instead of using them to close these gaps in public-purpose digital applications and skills no longer makes sense. A foundation mechanism offers the best combination of flexibility, long-term perspective, and ability to engage other partners that developing the needed public-benefit digital applications will require.”

 
With the most recent spectrum auction, concluded in January, reaping a record $81 billion and several additional auctions coming later this year and in years to come, the OTI and JHU/CCSS proposal suggests that investing a meaningful share of these auction proceeds into an independent foundation dedicated to expanding the citizen usefulness and equity of the digital system makes the most economic and public policy sense.
 
In reaching this conclusion, the OTI and JHU/CCSS proposal:

  • Documents the forces driving the windfall proceeds of recent spectrum auctions;
  • Calls attention to the long U.S. history of investing proceeds from the sale of public assets into public-purpose uses from the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to the FirstNet Public Safety initiative of 2012;
  • Reports on the U.S. and international successes of a strategy known as philanthropication thru privatization, which has led to the creation of 650 other private charitable foundations that make effective public-purpose uses of the proceeds from transactions involving other government-owned or -subsidized assets, including over 250 so-called health conversion foundations in the United States; and
  • Points out the limitations of alternative business and governmental vehicles for developing the innovative public-purpose applications and training needed to close the equity gaps that will remain even after broadband infrastructure and affordability are expanded.

 

For more information, please contact Lisa Johnson, Senior Communications Manager, New America’s Open Technology Institute, ljohnson@opentechinstitute.org, and Chelsea Newhouse, Communications Manager, Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, chelsea.newhouse@jhu.edu.
 

Read the full proposal here
 
Read the Boston Globe op-ed here
 
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About the Open Technology Institute
The Open Technology Institute (OTI) works at the intersection of technology and policy to ensure that every community has equitable access to digital technology and its benefits. We promote universal access to communications technologies that are both open and secure, using a multidisciplinary approach that brings together advocates, researchers, organizers, and innovators. To learn more, please visit us online at www.newamerica.org/oti and on Twitter @OTI.
 
About the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies
The Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies is a leading source of ground-breaking research and knowledge about the nonprofit sector, social investing, and the tools of government. Working in collaboration with governments, international organizations, investment innovators, and colleagues around the world, the Center encourages the use of this knowledge to strengthen and mobilize the capabilities and resources of the public, nonprofit, and for-profit sectors to address the complex problems that face the world today. Working in cooperation with the East-West Management Institute, the Center has launched a Philanthropication thru Privatization (PtP) Project calling attention to a third route to the development of private, endowed foundations and encouraging implementation of this strategy in countries around the world. To learn more, please visit us online at ccss.jhu.edu and on Twitter @JHUCCSS.
 
About New America
New America is dedicated to renewing the promise of America, bringing us closer to our nation’s highest ideals. We’re a different kind of think tank: one dedicated to public problem solving. Our team of visionary researchers, changemakers, technologists, and storytellers study and seize the opportunities presented by dramatic social and technological change. We search for powerful ideas, wherever they are, and collaborate with civic innovators around the country to develop evidence-based solutions. To learn more, please visit us online at www.newamerica.org or follow us on Twitter @NewAmerica.
 

Chelsea Newhouse is the Communications Manager for the Center for Civil Society Studies and manages the Center's Nonprofit Economic Data and Philanthropication thru Privatization Projects and the Nonprofit Works Interactive Database. Prior to joining the Center in 2008, she worked for the Johns Hopkins University Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics, the Baltimore Sun, and as a community organizer for Clean Water Action and the Democratic National Committee. She holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Virginia. Chelsea can be reached at chelsea.newhouse@jhu.edu.