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Ex-Cybersecurity Czar, Subcommittee Chair Say NTIA-funded Networks Could Have Security Built In

WASHINGTON, March 10, 2009 – Rod Beckstrom, who resigned on March 6 after less than a year as director of the National Cybersecurity Center said Tuesday that the NTIA could use its rulemaking authority to mandate a baseline of open security standards in stimulus-funded network infrastructure.

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WASHINGTON, March 10, 2009 – Rod Beckstrom, who resigned on March 6 after less than a year as director of the National Cybersecurity Center, said Tuesday that the NTIA could use its rulemaking authority to mandate a baseline of open security standards in stimulus-funded network infrastructure.

Beckstrom spoke with BroadbandCensus.com after he attended, but did not testify at, a hearing before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Emerging Threats, Cybersecurity, Science and Technology.

He reportedly resigned after equipment orders and leases of office space for his agency were canceled, and his boss, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had not had a single meeting with him since she took office in January.

“It’s always easier to bake in security than it is to layer it on afterwards,” Beckstom said when asked if NTIA should include security as a criteria in awarding stimulus grants. The stimulus program is “an opportunity” to try and get things right the first time, he suggested. “When we move into new technologies, we often don’t look at security first.”

While Beckstrom wasn’t familar with the specifics of the NTIA grant process, he said he would support including security in grant criteria: “Obviously there is a benefit if we can get that incorporated into the process.”

Cybersecurity is increasingly important given the nation’s increasing reliance on networks in “every aspect of our lives,” said subcommittee chairwoman Yvette Clarke, D-N.Y. “It is easy to understand why this issue dominates our agenda…too many vulnerabilities exist on two many critical networks,” she said.

And the Bush strategy that “lacked teeth” needs to be replaced with one that places the White House at the top of the chain of command, while using “all of the tools of U.S. power in a coordinated fashion” while holding agencies accountable, she said. Clarke plans to hold two more hearings on cybersecurity topics this month.

The subcommittee hearing was “particularly timely,” given Beckstrom’s resignation, said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the full committee. While Thompson said he had been optimistic at Beckstom’s appointment, the Bush administration put him in a position without clear lines of authority or a budget, a “no-win situation.” Beckstrom “did not have experience working miracles,” he said – namely overcoming the domination of the National Security Agency in cybersecurity policy formation.

In his letter of resignation, Beckstrom cited the NSA’s incrasing role in protecting both military and government networks as a reason he was returning to Silicon Valley after being hand-picked to head the Bush administration’s “comprehensive national cybersecurity initiative.” The program is meant to protect all government networks against attacks.

In his opening statement, Thompson said there should be a “credible civilian cybersecurity capability” in the government. But it should interface with the NSA rather than being controlled by it, he said. Echoing Beckstrom’s assesment, he said: “I don’t think the answer to our problems in cyberspace comes from giving control of the entire Federal cybersecurity mission to the NSA.”

“Cyberspace should be declared a vital national asset,” said ranking member Daniel Lungren, R-Calif. These critical networks should be protected with a “well-crafted strategy,” he said,  utilizing public-private partnerships “based on trust and cooperation.”

But to date, efforts to protect those assets have not been successful, said Dave Powner, director of information technology management issues at the Government Accountability Office. While then-President Bush initiated several cybersecurity programs, Powner admitted that GAO has “yet to fully satisfy its cybersecurity responsibilities” as prescribed by the Bush strategies. And though GAO is developing new cybersecurity capabilities, Powner said “furher action needs to be taken to address these areas.”

The White House should be at the top of an “accountable, operational  cybersecurity organization,” specifically a new governance structure, Powner said.  Putting the White House will raise the profile of cybersecurity issues and make both public and private sector leaders more aware of emerging threats and problems, he said. And law enforcement capabilities – both national and international – should be improved by increasing cooperation among agencies and other nations, Powner suggested.

“Clearly, NTIA could have a role in [a cybersecurity strategy],” Powner said in an interview. “I think the important thing going forward is with the broadband deployment as it is today, we need to make sure that rollout is secure.” But NTIA’s position with regard to securing networks has been a subject of debate, the agency could certainly help with improving security, he said.

Protecting privacy and providing oversight should be priorities in any cybersecurity strategy, said Microsoft vice president Scott Charney. Before joining Microsoft in 1999, Charney was chief of the computer crime and intellectual property division of the Department of Justice.

“The information age has arrived, but the [U.S.] has not yet built a comprehensive national cyberspace security strategy,” Charney said.  Cybersecurity issues pose unique challenges that “transcend agency boundaries,” he said.

To meet those challenges, a strategy should be coordinated by one organization “responsible for ensuring that the government acts as one government,” Charney said. “If the government wants to use all the instruments of its power…the center of gravity must be in the White House.”

The role of the Homeland Security department should be to set standards – but not mandate specific technologies, he added. Specifying security requirements is “the appropriate role of DHS.”

Further hindrances to a cohesive cybersecurity strategy iinclude law enforcement emphasis on identifying attacks rather than preventing them, and tthe intelligence community’s obsession with classification, secrecy and hiding vulnerabilities rather than defeating them, said NetWitness Corporation CEO Amit Yoran, who helped start the U.S. Computer Emergency Response Team.

Even members of Congress have not been provided with cybersecurity plans developed by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, “for ill-defined reasons,” he said. “[S]uch a broad overclassification is counterproductive to supporting an effective cyber defense.” And the lack of information sharing among agencies only provides advantages to adversaries, Yoran added.

The U.S. needs to rebuild its cybersecurity procurement systems and technical know-how, beginning at the lowest levels, said Oracle chief security officer Mary Ann Davidson. First, military and intelligence agencies should purchase software that is purpose built, rather than try to adapt and secure ill-designed products.

Congress should enact policy explicitly declaring a “21st century Monroe Doctrine,” Davidson said. Such a policy would encourage development of detection and response mechanisms, and provide a deterrent against all types of attacks against increasingly critical infrastructure, including “smart grid” components, she said.

And as critical infrastructure is built, Davidson said the builders should be trained to “think like a hacker” and assume systems will be attacked. But universities have not been responsive to teaching secure coding practices, she noted.

The lack of built-in security in NTIA-funded broadband networks thatt could become part of the grid is a matter of concern that will warrant additional hearings, Clarke said in an interview after the hearing. “I have been concerned…about our ability to embed some security measures [in broadband],” she said. “Things happen, security can be breached, and we’re at the point where we can understand how to ger that done.”

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Broadband's Impact

Steve Lacoff: A New Standard for the ‘Cloudification’ of Communications Services

The cloudification of communications services makes it easy to include voice, data, SMS, and video within any existing service.

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The author of this Expert Opinion is Steve Lacoff, general manager of Avalara for communications

The line of demarcation between what has traditionally been considered a telecommunications service was once very clear. It was tangible – there were wires, end points, towers, switches, facilities. Essentially, there was infrastructure required to relay voice or data from point A to point B.

Today that line is fuzzy, if not invisible. The legacy infrastructure remains, but an industry of cloud-based services that don’t require the physical connections has exploded. Voice, data, SMS, and video conferencing can now be conveniently delivered OTT. Enabled by simple API integrations, businesses can embed just one of these services or a complete communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) into an app, service, or product.

Cloudification is a game changer

This “cloudification” of communications services makes it easy to include voice, data, SMS, and video within any existing application, product, or service. These are essential components for many business models.

Consider these services we have come to rely on in our daily lives: food or grocery delivery, ride services, and business and personal communications. These require multiple methods of communication with shoppers, drivers, co-workers, watch party groups, and external business partners.

The exciting news is there is no end in sight. Use cases will continue to evolve and growth will continue to skyrocket. The scale cloud delivery accommodates is massive. These untethered, easy to embed communications services are a critical differentiator for both business-to-business and business-to-consumer buyers, and the lifeblood of the businesses providing both the end user subscriptions and the APIs.

In fact, one industry juggernaut saw H1 YoY video application service demand grow nearly 600% in 2020.

Not surprisingly, as business demand for these services increases smaller CPaaS players continue to enter the market to quickly snag market share. According to a recent IDC study, “the global market revenue for CPaaS reached $5.9bn in 2020, up from $4.26bn in 2019, and is expected to reach $17.71bn by 2024.”

Merger and acquisition activity is aligned with this hockey stick growth forecast. Large telcos, SaaS providers, and even other CPaaS providers are all on the hunt. Whether they want to add additional features to punch up their products or eliminate the competition in a very tight, nuanced market, the end game is clear – as the market expands, the players will ultimately contract leaving only the most competitive offerings.

Don’t let communications tax take you by surprise

One of the least understood risks when adding cloud-based voice, data, SMS, or video conferencing to an existing product or service is new eligibility for and exposure to the complex world of communications taxation. Making mistakes can get costly very quickly.

Here are some of the key pitfalls to keep an eye on:

  • Expanded nexus: Understanding communications tax nexus is different – and exceptionally more complicated – than sales tax. There are approximately 60,000 federal, state, local, and special taxing jurisdictions, each with uniquely complex rules that tend to change at their own pace. Rules are very different for each service.
  • More complex calculations: The more communications services you provide via API, the more complicated communications taxes will be. Each feature can be taxed at different rates in each individual jurisdiction, or the whole bundle can be taxed at one rate. It’s critical to monitor monthly to avoid audit issues.
  • Maintaining overall compliance: Just as tax rates and rules need to be maintained, so must tax and regulatory filing forms in each jurisdiction. Some of these are very long and require significant detail.  They must be filed in a timely, accurate cadence to avoid additional audit risk.

Bottom line: Don’t assume, be prepared! As these communications services become more pervasive a larger swath of technology providers will find themselves liable for communications tax. The more your business falls behind, the more it can cost you.

It pays to be proactive and prepared. Tax and legal advisory experts can help determine your level of risk, and tax and compliance software providers can help you keep up with changing rules and regulations. Don’t underestimate the ongoing value of networking with peers who are either struggling to answer the same questions or have already overcome the hurdles you’re facing today.

Steve Lacoff is General Manager of Avalara for Communications. With a focus on data, VoIP, and video streaming, Steve has spent 15 years in various product and marketing leadership roles in communications and technology industries, including Disney’s streaming services and Comcast technology solutions. Steve now drives business strategy on today’s changing industry landscape and associated tax impacts. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to commentary@breakfast.media. The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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Digital Inclusion

Digital Inclusion Week Highlights Focus on Broadband-Disconnected Urban Residents

Most Americans benefitting from federal spending on rural broadband are white non-Hispanic Americans, says NDIA.

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Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance

WASHINGTON, October 8, 2021 – Experts on digital empowerment pressed the federal government to maintain a focus on broadband equity during a Wednesday event, hosted on Wednesday by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance as part of “National Digital Inclusion Week.”

Speaking about the broader agenda for NDIA, Angela Siefer, the non-profit group’s executive director, said that NDIA’s purpose was to provide “peer-to-peer learning. We get the conversation started. Everything we get is from boots on the ground.”

This theme of community-informed practice and knowledge sharing echoed throughout the presentation.

Siefer said that NDIA “learned that digital redlining is happening in Cleveland” from discoveries that came from having boots on the ground and from living there.

“Digital redlining” refers to discrimination by ISPs in deployment, maintenance, upgrade or delivery of services. Often, as was alleged in Cleveland, NDIA accused AT&T of avoiding making fiber upgrades to broadband infrastructure. The group has also published reports with the Communications Workers of America making similar charges.

These discoveries have built momentum for some, including New York Democratic Rep. Yvette Clark’s Anti-Digital Redlining Act, introduced in August. The bill attempts to ban systematic broadband underinvestment in low-income communities.

Panelists argued that federal government perpetuates digital divide

Underinvestment in historically excluded communities extends beyond large corporations’ – it includes the U.S. federal government’s broadband investment approach. Paolo Balboa, NDIA’s programs and data manager, said that federal government perpetuates racism within the digital divide.

Balboa discussed how federal broadband programs focus funds on expanding availability to residents in unserved and underserved rural areas, but ignore the many – often black and brown – urban Americans lacking high-speed internet access.

But NDIA’s research found that most Americans benefitting from federal spending on rural broadband are white non-Hispanic Americans. Americans who lack home broadband service for reasons besides local network availability are disproportionately of color, says NDIA.

The panelists argued that federal policies directed at closing the digital divide by spending primarily on rural infrastructure leaves out the digital inclusion programs urban and some rural inhabitants need.

Amy Huffman, Munirih Jester, Paolo Balboa, Miles Miller

In finding that fewer than 5 % of the bulk of American households without home broadband are rural, NDIA argues for a federal policy approach centering cost of access as the solution to connecting more families of color. The officials advocate a broader focus that includes the experiences of urban city and county residents for whom cost is the major barrier.

Munirih Jester, NDIA programs director said that NDIA keeps an active list of free and low-cost internet plan available for low-income households, and how they may access it to find affordable ISPs.

Amy Huffman, NDIA policy director, discussed the provision of COVID-19 response funding. She highlighted organization’s resources to raise awareness of the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit, a program to help households afford Internet service during the pandemic.

This year, more than 100 events were registered as part of this week’s Digital Inclusion week, with many visible on the NDIA blog, said Yvette Scorse, NDIA Communications Director.

In a statement this Monday, the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications Infrastructure Agency spotlighted the agency’s efforts on the topic, including its Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program which is making $980 million available to Native American communities.

As previously reported this August, NTIA recently launched Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program making $268 million in grant funds available to HBCUs and other Minority-serving institutions.

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Health

Senate Subcommittee Hears Broadband Affordability, Regulatory Flex Key to Reducing Hospital Burdens

Health providers testified before a Senate subcommittee that Congress should be open to all forms of telehealth.

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WASHINGTON, October 7, 2021 – A Senate subcommittee heard Thursday that affordability is the greatest barrier to broadband adoption and that lawmakers should exercise regulatory flexibility when it comes to the forms of telehealth to help reduce inessential hospital visits.

Covid-19 often brings about extreme shortness of breath, the severity of which is best assessed by a doctor, Deanna Larson, president of Avel eCARE, told the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, which convened a hearing on the state of telehealth and removing barriers to access and improving patient outcomes.

Patients with affordable, high speed internet access can be monitored at home by doctors so that they don’t enter an emergency room or take up a hospital bed prematurely, she said.

Larson urged Congress to extend or make permanent their regulatory flexibility toward telehealth especially as it relates to being neutral on the kinds of telemedicine, such as phone-only care, asynchronous care, and remote patient monitoring. An economic benefit of which would be keeping medical commerce local, she said. Patients wouldn’t be required as often to move to a higher level of care out of town.

Physicians would have 24-hour access to the patient through video calls, monitoring patients in a way which significantly lightens the burdens of the healthcare system, added Larson. With telehealth, doctors can advise patients on exactly when and if they need to go to an emergency room.

Steps to improve telehealth

The committee also heard testimony from Sterling Ransone Jr., president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Ransone, a strong proponent of telehealth, has found that the digital divide touches rural, tribal and urban communities alike and proposed a series of steps Congress could take to increase public health through broadband policy, including investing in universal affordable broadband service, digital literacy services, end-user devices, audio-only telehealth and data collection in the determinants and outcomes of telehealth as it relates to key factors such as race, gender, ethnicity and language.

Defining broadband as a social determinant of health, Ransone highlighted that affordability is possibly the greatest barrier to broadband adoption and that affordability and access disproportionately affect rural communities.

Sanjeev Arora, founder of Project ECHO and distinguished professor of medicine at the University of New Mexico, agreed: “expanding access to high-quality, high-speed broadband connectivity is critical. It’s a prerequisite for the success of any telehealth model in rural communities and urban underserved areas.”

Telehealth isn’t just vital and broadly popular, it is cost saving. Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr, who also appeared before the subcommittee, shared an estimate that widespread telehealth availability could save the health care system $305 billion a year.

Carr, in an effort to reduce inessential hospital visits and decrease the risk of spreading Covid-19, endorsed the CONNECT for Health Act, the RUSH Act of 2021, the Telehealth Modernization Act, and the Protecting Rural Telehealth Access Act, which in combination would remove geographic restrictions to telehealth services, foster use of telehealth in skilled nursing facilities, grant the Secretary of Health and Human Services greater ability to reduce telehealth restrictions and more.

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