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Media Institute Launches Program to Protect a Version of Global Online Free Speech

in International/Media ownership/Net Neutrality by

WASHINGTON, December 9, 2014 – The Media Institute announced a new initiative on November 24 aimed to protect the group’s view of internet freedoms around the world. Entitled Global Free Speech and the Internet, this program will be “guided by a number of underlying principles, based on the belief that the internet should be an open and interoperable platform, largely free from government intrusion, where information can be shared freely.”

“The ‘Global Free Speech and the Internet’ program will be a forceful advocate for global free speech online,” the group said.

Chaired by former Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell, aims to halt government-centric models of internet governance that control online speech.

Michael Miller, assistant professor of Political Science at George Washington University, told Broadband Breakfast that he sees the program’s mission of “promoting free speech on the internet and free access to information…as empowering individuals to push for the system of government they like best.”

Free speech and an open internet are tenants of democracies, but continue to be the point of contention between democratic governments and journalists. In the annual World Press Freedom index, the U.S. ranked 46 for 2014, dropping 14 spots since the previous year.

With an audacious goal of “combating centralized control of the internet,” it bears noting that since most of the world’s internet traffic goes through the U.S. and Europe, since eleven out of the thirteen tier 1 internet companies that make up the backbone reside within the U.S. and Europe.

Since revelations of spying by the U.S. National Security Agency and Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, many countries have become uneasy with amount of control that U.S. companies have over the internet. In late 2013, Brazil even announced plans to distance ties from the United States. It appears that the country is slowly following through with the effort.  

 

Broadband Roundup: Standard-Option Encryption, Madison Fiber Build, and the House of Wheeler

in Broadband Roundup/Broadband's Impact by

WASHINGTON, October 1, 2014 – Smartphones are about to become “NSA-proof,” according to the Washington Post. In the wake of continued stream of information about surveillance by the National Security Agency, Google and Apple are making device encryption a standard feature in their newest software releases in an effort to ease consumer concern about government agencies prying into their personal lives.

Enhanced encryption in Apple’s iOS 8 keeps the tech manufacturer from handing over any of the data on a person’s device, as all the device data is under protection of the user’s passcode. Similarly, Google’s upcoming Android L software will enable encryption by default. Even if federal officials go to the company seeking a consumers’ data, the company wouldn’t be able to give it to them, since the encryption is device specific.

FBI officials, see this as a disturbing marketing push tells people that they are above the law. Others say that the claim of data being “NSA-proof” is just bogus. Chief technologist for the Center for Democracy and Technology Joseph Lorenzo Hall said, “If they [NSA] want it, they can get it.”

Madison Looks to FCC to Bridge Digital Divide with Municipal Broadband

Local government officials in Madison, Wisconsin, are exploring the possibility of building their own municipal fiber-to-the-home broadband network. Alderman Scott Resnick, currently the a 27 year-old President Pro Tem of the Madison Common Council, sees municipal broadband as a way to bridge the community’s “digital divide” for those who cannot afford high-speed internet access.

“We are doing one-fifth of what other communities are doing to try to cross the digital divide,” says Resnick, who works in the tech field at Hardin Design & Development. “We are failing Madison’s residents. I know that’s not a positive statement, but that’s the reality,” reported Isthmus.

The two main private broadband providers locally, AT&T and Charter, have laid “middle mile” fiber, but the “last mile” cables that run to the households do not enjoy bandwidth speeds to users of the network. Madison is technically well positioned for a community fiber network, as it owns 132 miles of fiber for its Metropolitan Unified Fiber Network that connects universities, colleges, hospitals and other anchor institutions.

However, municipalities must obtain competitive local exchange carrier certification under state law. This requires cities offering triple-play service – internet, television and telephone to run each service as independently profitable.

Comcast Answers

Comcast and Time Warner Cable responded to filings that argued against the proposed merger of the two companies in a submission to the FCC entitled “Applicants’ Opposition to Petitions to Deny and Respond to Comments,” according to a summary by the Benton Foundation’s Kevin Taglang.

The companies reiterate their claims that the acquisition is in the public interest because it would increase the quality of services to a greater number of people, encourage competing providers to innovate and invest more in their own networks and allow for greater investment and innovation due to the larger scale and reach of the combined company, especially when it comes to the deployment of higher broadband speeds and services. They specifically cite the ability to spread their Internet Essentials adoption program “to millions of additional low-income families throughout the acquired systems.” They argue that there are no “credible rebuttals” in any of the critical filings with the FCC.

Politico wrote that many of the merger opponents made “self-interested requests” of Comcast, “almost always with an express or at least an implicit offer to support” its Time Warner Cable bid if the demands were met. One of these requests came from Netflix, whic asked for a free interconnection deal between itself and the combined cable company–a practice called peering that has historically only happened between huge networks due to high rates of equal traffic going across the two–instead of the current paid interconnection deal–a practice called transit that occurs between access providers like Comcast and hosting providers like YouTube or Netflix when traffic between the two is more one-sided.

The House of Wheeler

The New York Times published a great piece on FCC Chairman Wheeler’s background. It touches on his history as a lobbyist and investor in the tech industry, as well as events from his current tenure in the FCC. As a lobbyist, he pushed for the E-Rate program despite it directly benefitting the cellular industry, and he opposed the potential merger Sprint and T-Mobile out of concern for less competition. Both flattering and critical, it’s a great, all-encompassing look at the man at the helm of the FCC.

 

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

in FCC by

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.

Broadband Roundup: AT&T-DirecTV Merger and its Impact on the Marketplace

in Broadband Roundup/Broadband's Impact/Media/Media ownership/Net Neutrality/Wireless by

WASHINGTON, May 19, 2014 – AT&T announced that it would acquire DirecTV in a $48.5 billion deal, according to multiple sources. The agreement may allow AT&T to position itself in a way to rival cable firms. AT& would acquire about 20 million of DirecTV’s customers. The Washington Post recounts that the stated goal of the merger is to gain more customers in the high-speed internet, phone, and pay-TV subscriptions market.

Reuters reports that little overlap is shared between AT&T and DirecTV, permitting the telephone giant to tap into the video market more than ever before, including all of DirecTV’s programming. DirecTV, on the other hand, would be able to offer its customers enhanced broadband internet service.

The New York Times speculates that AT&T’s bid is likely in response to Comcast’s announcement of its intent to purchase Time Warner Cable in February for $45 billion. It’s not the first time either that AT&T has attempted this big of a merger: three years ago, the company tried to acquire T-Mobile for $39, only to have the deal fall apart because of antitrust concerns.

“The media chessboard is moving more this year than it has in the past decade,” The Times quotes Richard Greenfield, a media analyst with the brokerage firm BTIG “You’re seeing major shifts. Everyone is jockeying for position.”

The merger first needs approval from federal regulators, who may be unlikely to approve out because of concerns about the possibility of higher prices in the face of less choices. The Post further reports that “in 2012, U.S. cable-TV bills increased 5.1 percent, to an average of $64 a month, triple the rate of inflation, according to a government report.”

The advocacy group Public Knowledge criticized the proposed merger, with senior staff attorney John Bergmayer saying, “The industry needs more competition, not more mergers. The burden is on AT&T and DirecTV to show otherwise…to explain how this merger wouldn’t harm wireless competition, and how whatever new services it plans to offer by combining with DirecTV would offset any harms to wireless and video competition.”

USA Today said that AT&T’s proposed merger with DirecTV would be different from Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable, in that the former eliminates a competitor in AT&T’s U-Verse market. In in the aftermath of the FCC’s proposal on net neutrality, concerns have been raised that the “increased concentration of power among the few who provide broadband would give AT&T more leverage if… ISPs are ultimately allowed to charge for “fast lanes” of the Internet for content providers that are willing to pay for them.”

Additionally, Recode reports that Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers recently sent a letter to President Obama requesting that the National Security Agency “curtail” its surveillance activities.

This comes in the wake of recent documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden claiming that the NSA “intercepted equipment from Cisco and other manufacturers and loaded them with surveillance software.” Cisco has stated that this was not voluntary cooperation on its part.

“We simply cannot operate this way; our customers trust us to be able to deliver to their doorsteps products that meet the highest standards of integrity and security,” Chambers wrote. “We understand the real and significant threats that exist in this world, but we must also respect the industry’s relationship of trust with our customers.”

Utah Poised to Be First State With Large-Scale Gigabit Networks: Speakers at Utah Broadband Summit

in Broadband's Impact/Cybersecurity/FCC/Fiber/Gigabit Networks by

PROVO, Utah, October 28, 2013 – The prospect and reality of Gigabit Networks throughout the country, beginning in Utah, are “creating bigger surface areas for the mind,” the chief technology officer of US IGNITE said here on Thursday.

Speaking at the Utah Broadband Summit here in Provo — selected a Gigabit city six months ago by Google Fiber — US IGNITE CTO Glenn Ricart said that Gigabit Networks offer untold benefits to individuals, businesses, universities and governments.

For example, Gigabit Networks allow companies to parse through “big data,” to offer services only available at an extremely low latency, and to “vitualize” a broadband network to suit customized needs for super high-speed bandwidth.

Utah, Ricart said, has a combination of advantages in the counties just north and south of Salt Lake City. In addition to Google’s commitment to Provo (home to Brigham Young University), Utah enjoys computer networking leadership through the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and a premier institutional Utah Education Network.

Additionally, a consortium of 16 cities along the Wasatch Front mountain range are members of UTOPIA, the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency, a Gigabit Network poised to offer service to more than a half-a-million residents and businesses.

Such a concentrated test bed for Gigabit Networks is hard to find, said Ricart, but Utah is poised “to make it happen.”

Ricart was the kickoff keynote speaker at the state broadband initiative summit here at the Utah Valley Convention Center. His organization, US IGNITE, is a national non-profit organization seeking to advance high-speed connectivity and software-defined networks.

Following lunch, the entire audience was addressed by University of Utah cybersecurity expert Matthew Might, and by Bhargav Shah, Senior Vice President of Overstock.com.

Comparing the adoption of super high-speed broadband to the rise of electricity consumption, Shah said that “disruptive technologies are becoming mainstream faster.”

In particular, he cited:

  • voice and data convergence
  • cloud computing
  • social media and networking
  • big data
  • mobile commerce
  • the internet of things

Speaking about Utah’s investment in technology and education, Shah said that the state has offered “incentives to attract technology companies, and hence tech talent in the near term” and “investment in education to fulfill demand for more technologies in the long term.”

Shah’s Overstock.com is a leading Utah-based internet retailer.

Might offered a sobering look at the challenges of cyber-warfare, offering many examples of cyber-attacks launched by terrorist organizations, and by the government of China and the United States. There is no easy fix to the problems of cyber-vulnerabilities, he said, other than continuing to invest in advanced mathematics.

Other breakout sessions throughout the day focused on topics including geographic information systems, broadband adoption, broadband planning for local governments, and commercial-grade broadband services.

During one noteworthy session, Steve Corbato, deputy chief information officer for the University of Utah, highlighted the university’s role as one of four notes on the ARPAnet, the Advanced Research Project Administration’s predecessor network to the internet.

In highlighting the technological advancements in applications, and in computer processing power, Corbato said that as a nation, “it is clear that the network is not keeping up with storage.”

Utah, however, enjoys a number of advantages, including Google Fiber, UTOPIA, and an abundance of fiber networks.

Referring to the recently opened facility of the National Security Administration in Bluffdale, Utah, between Salt Lake City and Provo, he said.

“If you want to know why NSA came to Salt Lake City, this fiber map is a critical reason,” said Corbato.

Between the two coasts, “the only places with a similar position are Chicago and Houston,” he said.

Corbato cited many reasons why the university believes so strongly in Gigabit Networks and advanced broadband. He said that broadband enables:

  • New modes of course delivery, including massively open online courses
  • Faculty competitiveness and retention
  • Staying connected with our alumni, including lifetime education
  • Delivering personalized medicine conveniently
  • Data gathering for field science
  • Supporting K-12 education in Utah
  • Accelerating the information technology economy in Utah

 

Tech Industry and Non-Profit Groups Criticize National Security Agency’s Encryption-Cracking

in Broadband's Impact/Privacy/Transparency by

WASHINGTON, September 6, 2013 – In the wake of reports in The New York TimesProPublica, and The Guardian that the National Security Agency had embarked on a system of cracking widespread industry-used encryption protocols, at least one industry group and non-profit organization highlighted the need for the nation to “redraw its boundaries around surveillance.”

According to a statement issued by the Ed Black, President and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association:

“We remain confident that the professionals involved in NSA surveillance efforts are dedicated, competent patriotic people who truly believe they are on a mission to protect our country. But we must stress that, without proper checks and balances, these efforts can erode the very principles and freedoms our country was founded on.  In the absence of vigorous oversight, the NSA has been able to leverage existing, limited laws beyond the breaking point to expand its purview, threatening constitutional rights and vital national interests in the process.

“This is a tragic case of myopia on the part of the NSA, and the surveillance infrastructure throughout the government. Our surveillance agencies have been so focused on succeeding in its own narrow (and noble) mission, that it seems the agency will allow no loosely-crafted law and no cybersecurity door to stand in its way. This gives us little confidence that, where legal restraints are concerned, the NSA won’t continue to seek ways to evade oversight and disregard Constitutional rights.

“There are also practical concerns around the NSA’s efforts.  By secretly embedding weaknesses into encryption systems in order to create a “back door” for surveillance access, the NSA creates a road map for similar cyber-incursions by others with less noble intentions. Back doors, of course, can be used by anyone smart enough to find them.

“How we collectively deal with this issue will say a lot about what kind of country we have become. The problem goes beyond the technical aspects of encryption and cybersecurity. The United States risks not only credibility on the world stage, but an erosion from within of our own democratic values.  Continued legal and operational secrecy by the government may lead us to the point where we as a nation one day realize that we have eroded the foundation of our Democracy. To have this discussion we’re going to need more information in the hands of more people. Only then can we collectively reassess and draw the appropriate boundaries around surveillance. If these revelations make anything clear, it’s that we’re going to need an enhanced system of robust checks and balances to protect our democracy, sadly, from those who are protecting our security.”

Also addressing the controversy is the Center for Democracy and Technology. In a statement, CDT Senior Staff Technologist Joseph Lorenzo Hall said:

“These revelations demonstrate a fundamental attack on the way the Internet works. In an era in which businesses, as well as the average consumer, trust secure networks and technologies for sensitive transactions and private communications online, it’s incredibly destructive for the NSA to add flaws to such critical infrastructure.

“The NSA seems to be operating on the fantastically naïve assumption that any vulnerabilities it builds into core Internet technologies can only be exploited by itself and its global partners. The NSA simply should not be building vulnerabilities into the fundamental tools that we all rely upon to protect our private information.”

Internet Subcommittee Chair Hails Universal Broadband Service, Decries FISA

in Universal Service by

William G. Korver, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com

WASHINGTON, June 20 – All Americans, whether they be poor, handicapped, or rural, have the right to universal broadband service, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said on Friday. The congressman also blasted the compromise foreign surveillance legislation that passed Congress on Friday.

Since universal broadband penetration would result in better education and health care in America, Markey, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, strongly supports legislation devoting part of the Universal Service Fund (USF) to establishing nationwide broadband.

Due to the enormous possible benefits of broadband for the average American consumer, policymakers should focus on ensuring that urban, rural, and high-cost areas have access to high-speed internet services. Most of the $7 billion USF currently subsidizes telephone service, and not Internet connections, in rural areas.

Markey played a role in creating the E-Rate program (the “E” stands for education) as a portion of the USF in the 1996 Telecommunications Act, providing funds for connecting schools and libraries ot the Internet.

Just as the E-Rate has helped to “transform education,” Markey said that only by educating America’s blue-collar children will the full fruits of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other pro-trade initiatives be realized. Markey supported NAFTA in the 1990s.

Markey spoke at the Federal Communications Bar Association Awards lucheon and annual meeting at the Mayflower Hotel.

On the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) legislation that was heading to a House vote, Markey said that the measure would have an adverse impact on privacy and civil liberties, and that he would voted against the bill.

Markey said that the under the bill, The National Security Agency could continue a controversial surveillance program with only limited judicial oversight.

Markey did vote against the bill, but it passed the House 293-129.

The bill’s passage will likely ends lawsuits against telecommunications carriers participated in NSA surveillance.

The FISA legislation enhances the NSA’s ability to conduct surveillance of phone calls and e-mail messages entering and leaving the U.S.

Markey, who represents Lexington, Massachusetts, where American colonials once fought for the ending of forced quartering of British troops without a warrant, said it was his belief that American revolutionaries would not have tolerated such infringements on personal liberty.

Congress failed to embody a “check” to the executive branch when it approved FISA, Markey said.

Markey also touted a bill, introduced on Thursday, providing accessibility to communications for persons with disabilities, as well as legislation he has introduced on Network Neutrality (H.R. 5353), and the House-passed Broadband Census of America Act (H.R. 3919), to “increase broadband data collection and establish mapping of broadband infrastructure nationally.”

Markey added: “I am still working on draft legislation on a national set of consumer protection standards for wireless service, a draft which also includes the protection of the right of local municipalities to offer broadband service and other telecommunications services.”

Markey also touted forthcoming hearings before his subcommittee: a hearing on Tuesday, June 24, on the subject of universal service, which is set to feature George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars movie series; as well as a pending hearing on the privacy implications of so-called “deep packet inspection” technologies by broadband providers.

Documents Referenced in this Article:

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