How to Make the Internet Accessible to Everyone: An Interview with Destiny Moreno
The University of California Washington Center (UCDC) is a multi-campus residential, instructional, and research center that provides undergraduate students and faculty from the University of California with opportunities to experience Washington’s rich cultural, political and international heritage. Each year, select UC students intern with Members of Congress, the White House, cabinet agencies, advocacy groups, scientific organizations, public relations firms, and the news media. For many students, this will be their first time living on the East Coast and their first time working in policy.
Destiny Moreno is completing her junior year at UC San Diego majoring in public policy. She spent her 2019 spring quarter interning at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). I asked Destiny what her experience was like and what she learned.
YZ: Most people want to work in Congress or the White House. What motivated you to spend your summer at the FCC?
DM: I ran a popular blog throughout junior high and high school where discussions between my followers and myself produced the bulk of my site’s activity and the monetized content let me become financially independent. It was through these conversations that I learned of cultures outside my conservative background and careers beyond the traditional, limited options I’d resigned myself to. People from countries and of ages I’d unlikely encounter in person challenged my beliefs and let me help change theirs, and I think only the internet can facilitate this type of reciprocity and this degree of exposure.
Not many people, though, have the resources or even the awareness to engage with the internet in this way. There are whole populations and zip codes—many similar to the ones I came from—that lose out on the benefits of the internet and the digital literacy its full use requires. It’s bodies like the FCC that have the potential to help address this issue in fundamental ways. The FCC distributes grants to unconnected areas, they oversee where the physical infrastructure is built, and they determine who can provide service at its best rates. I want everyone to have the internet-enabled opportunities that I did, so interning at the agency that’s most capable in ensuring that was the top choice for me.
YZ: What was the issue you worked on at the FCC?
DM: I was in the Office of Economics and Analytics, so everyone I worked with was on the clock handling econometrics work for the proposed Sprint and T-Mobile merger. I assisted in the examination of a few efficiency gains reported by the merging parties that involved testing their given data with that of other telecommunication companies. I also obtained select data for research conducted by a senior member investigating mobile connectivity of Hispanic communities in the States. This project was very open-ended and I look forward to its publication and hope it sparks a national dialogue.
YZ: After spending time at the FCC, what do you think is the biggest challenge to communications and internet access?
DM: Greater universal broadband access is an important topic for me. There is a persistent global divide between people who are connected to the internet and those who are not. This gap translates to deficiencies in aggregate welfare unique to effects of broadband penetration. Highly penetrated countries enjoy the socioeconomic benefits that internet connectivity provides predominantly as a result of robust telecommunications investment. Lower-and-middle-income countries (LMICs), on the other hand, rarely see a significant presence of penetration because they lack the resources and many are still recovering from decades of colonialism.
Moreover, broadband access is not just a luxury but an essential good in the 21ST century and is a tool that can facilitate transactions to address hunger, healthcare, and human rights. Refugees ask first for food and water, then clothes, and then a phone. They use voice services and social media applications to contact family members, and search engines to find information about the asylum process. In areas with poor roads coupled with a lack accurate maps, reaching distant health centers or talking with a doctor can be very difficult—internet-enabled functions such as GPS or telemedicine can go a long way to addressing those costs. Finally, awareness campaigns are integral to addressing human rights violations, as the attention translates to pressure put on predatory regimes. Community mobilization has also been completely revolutionized by social media as witnessed in the Arab Spring in 2010 or the beginning of Black Lives Matter in 2013.
Some have pointed to the early success of using mobile networks for getting people online as a reason to not invest in broadband. This is wrong. The type of device, content, and security users derived from accessing a mobile network is vastly different from that of broadband. For many homes and businesses, mobile networks just do not have speed, reliability, and capacity for their needs.
Despite these societal benefits, the economics of deploying capital intensive broadband infrastructure results in the vast majority of the world not having access to the internet.
YZ: What solutions should policymakers consider?
DM: There are a number of things countries can do to increase investment in broadband access. One of the simplest is to have standardized regulation and fees to lower barriers and incentivize infrastructure roll out. For example, standardized rules for building towers or digging tunnels and suggesting a uniform approach to internet service provider interactions with public and private entities can resolve costly delays and procedural issues.
For many LMIC countries, foreign direct investment (FDI) is also a good vehicle to reallocate capital towards broadband deployment. However, more work needs to be done to support LMIC countries in attracting foreign investment. Whether economic, social, or political in nature, it has been observed that FDI creates positive gains for both host and home countries.
Finally, content and application providers (CASPs) should also contribute to closing the digital divide. Examples of these activities include Facebook in India, Mozilla in Africa, and Google in Uganda. The issue with these programs is that they provide limited access to the internet and are dependent on complex coordination amongst many domestic and international organizations to complete. We need to transition from one-off projects to a large-scale strategic framework that allows the CASPs to contribute and support broadband deployment in LMICs. Various two-sided pricing models show promise in bringing in more firms to reduce the economic burden of internet access for limited-income users.
YZ: What are your plans after graduation?
DM: I’ll be applying to graduate schools this coming fall while I study abroad at University College London. I’m looking exclusively to joint degree programs so that I can obtain my J.D. and Master’s in Public Policy or Public Affairs simultaneously. Location (for weather and food!) is the biggest factor to me right now and all my favorite states to live in have highly rated programs. I see myself most happy and challenged studying in Washington State, Washington DC, or Texas; but I plan to end up in DC regardless of where I go. There’s nothing like a metro commute packed with suits and chatter to start the day!
Image: Destiny Moreno
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