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Broadband Roundup: More Action on Connect America Fund, FTC versus FCC, NSA Surveillance Continues




WASHINGTON, June 23, 2014 - The Federal Communications Commission announced that its open meeting on July 11 will center on closed captioning of internet protocol-delivered video clips, the Connect America Fund’s rural broadband expansion, and modernizing E-Rate to deliver digital learning.

Tom Wheeler explained more about the E-Rate modernization plan in a blog post on Friday, June 20. The agency is set to contribute $2 billion over the next two years toward Wi-Fi network upgrades in schools and libraries in addition to the fund's $2.4 billion budget.

The stated goal is to connect 10 million students and discourage spending on older technologies like dial-up phones and pagers.

"Today, three out of five schools in America lack sufficient Wi-Fi capability needed to provide students with 21st Century educational tools," said Wheeler. "As currently structured, E-Rate in past years has only been able to support Wi-Fi in 5 percent of schools and 1 percent of libraries. Last year, no money was available for Wi-Fi."

"The new plan will make E-Rate dollars go farther by creating processes to drive down prices and increase transparency on how program dollars are spent. And it will simplify the application process for schools and libraries, making the program more efficient while reducing the potential for fraud and abuse."

Wheeler also said the free market had "failed" to provide basic broadband "to more than 15 million Americans" in rural areas.  At a House Judiciary Committee hearing Friday, congressional Republicans said that the FCC has no business arbitrating over net neutrality, the National Journal reported. They think the task should actually be delegated to the Federal Trade Commission instead.

The FCC regulates communications networks while the FTC focuses on malicious business practices that harm competition and consumers.

"I believe that vigorous application of the antitrust laws can prevent dominant internet service providers from discriminating against competitors' content or engaging in anticompetitive pricing practices," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte, a Virginia Republican, according to National Journal.

Democratic legislators disagreed, according to Bloomberg. They argued that FTC antitrust regulation is too narrow and neglects non-economic values like free speech.

“We need a regulatory solution to address potential threats to net neutrality and must allow the FCC to do its job,” said Rep. John Conyers, of Michigan, according to Bloomberg.

The Guardian reported reported that the National Security Agency's bulk data collection will continue at least three more months following the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's approval of a Justice Department request on Thursday, June 19.

The Justice Department and director of national intelligence, James Clapper, said in a joint statement that extensions of the program are necessary since Congressional legislation specifying NSA parameters hasn't yet passed.

"Given that legislation has not yet been enacted, and given the importance of maintaining the capabilities of the Section 215 telephony metadata program, the government has sought a 90-day reauthorization of the existing program," said the joint statement, according to the Guardian.


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