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Advocate Alleges ‘Racial Labeling’ in Targeted Online Ads

WASHINGTON, December 9, 2009 – The ubiquity of online advertising is a product of its importance to the internet economy, said a group of consumer advocates Wednesday during a debate on the future of online advertising.

But the impact of new targeted advertising methods on consumer privacy and its potential to manipulate online experiences was the subject of heated argument at the event, sponsored by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

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WASHINGTON, December 9, 2009 – The ubiquity of online advertising is a product of its importance to the internet economy, said a group of consumer advocates Wednesday during a debate on the future of online advertising.

But the impact of new targeted advertising methods on consumer privacy and its potential to manipulate online experiences was the subject of heated argument at the event, sponsored by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.

Privacy does not mean the same thing to all consumers in all situations, said Progress and Freedom Foundation Senior Fellow Berin Szoka. Advertisements are attempts to capture user attention – the “great currency of the Internet” – and when successful support a wide range of valuable content, he said. But in online life, “consumers have many values,” Szoka added.

“Privacy is one of them,” he said, but it is not an absolute. Consumers must sometimes trade privacy for content, he said. “There is no free lunch.”

As more information and entertainment migrates to the internet, Szoka said it is “critical…that we find a way to support this media.” Targeted advertising can fit the bill, he suggested – especially if technology gives users more control over their own preferences.

Most consumers don’t understand that advertising is a necessity for today’s internet, he said. New technologies like targeting need to be given a try, he said, so content providers can recoup the value of their advertising – down 25 percent since 2000, he noted.

Center for Digital Democracy founder Jeff Chester said Szoka’s ideas about advertising’s future represented a “false dichotomy.” The real debate should be over the rules that regulate advertiser content, he said. Chester warned of a “Targeting 2.0” system in which neuroscience combined with massive databases not only serve ads, but target content to users.

“It’s about influencing our behavior without our consent,” he said. Chester pointed to the subprime lending crisis as proof of the system’s invidiousness, alleging “racial labeling” in which ads for subprime loans were presented to users whose online profiles had been targeted by a “pervasive, far-reaching system” that identified them as minorities.

“What we need are safeguards,” he said. “We don’t want to have a system that is invisible and unaccountable.”

But Howard Beales, a professor of strategic management and public policy at George Washington University said targeting has nothing to do with whether or not advertising is good or bad for consumers. Even when less-than-savory tactics are employed, targeting doesn’t necessarily increase the effectiveness of ads, he pointed out.

Any discussion of advertising regulations should be forward-looking, not based on past behavior, said Center for Democracy and Technology Vice President Ari Schwartz, who pointed out that many practices decried by consumers received little industry support, even from those who might benefit from their use.

“What I’ve seen…is that you don’t hear publishers as the ones who come to its’ defense,” Schwartz said. Publishers, in fact, don’t see gains in revenue from increased advertising, Schwartz said – but ad networks do. “Intraspaced ads” will not be the savior of online publishing, he said.

Use of personal information to target ads is a subject worth debating, Schwartz said. He suggested that should self-regulatory models and existing law fail to prevent abuses, new legislative efforts would surface. But Chester interjected, insisting “you cannot separate out the data collection process [to protect privacy] unless you understand the business model [of advertisers].

Ad networks aren’t trying to sell ads, Chester said. “The business model is to have a connection with you everywhere you go online.” Advertising is even shaping editorial content of news sites, Chester alleged.

Advertisers and publishers, he said, are “honing in on our interests and vulnerabilities” in order to serve targeted content to consumers in real time, he said. “What you see and what your neighbor sees may be totally different…there are real dangers here” he warned. “We need to examine it and create the most appropriate safeguards.”

But Szoka suggested Chester’s dire warnings come from a view that all advertising is manipulative and that consumers are inherently stupid, and reprimanded Chester for portraying him and Beales as “industry shills.”

Instead of rushing to regulation of something that may not be harmful, Szoka suggested an “principled alternative” of campaigns to “empower and educate” consumers on issues and the tools available to them – “something the FTC does extremely well.”

Andrew Feinberg was 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.

Health

FCC Proposes Notification Rules for 988 Suicide Hotline Lifeline Outages

The proposal would ensure providers give ‘timely and actionable information’ on 988 outages.

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Photo via Health and Human Services

WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission unanimously adopted a proposal to require operators of the 988 mental health crisis line to report outages, which would “hasten service restoration and enable officials to inform the public of alternate ways to contact the 988 Lifeline.”

The proposal would ensure providers give “timely and actionable information” on 988 outages that last at least 30 minutes to the Health and Human Services’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration, the Department of Veteran Affairs, the 988 Lifeline administrator, and the FCC.

The commission is also asking for comment on whether cable, satellite, wireless, wireline and interconnected voice-over-internet protocol providers should also be subject to reporting and notification obligations for 988 outages.

Other questions from the commission include costs and benefits of the proposal and timelines for compliance, it said.

The proposal would align with similar outage protocols that potentially affect 911, the commission said.

The notice comes after a nationwide outage last month affected the three-digit line for hours. The line received over two million calls, texts, and chat messages since it was instituted six months ago, the FCC said.

The new line was established as part of the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law in 2020.

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Health

FCC Eliminates Use of Urban-Rural Database for Healthcare Telecom Subsidies

The commission said the database that determined healthcare subsidies had cost ‘anomalies.’

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WASHINGTON, January 26, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted a measure Thursday to eliminate the use of a database that determined the differences in telecommunications service rates in urban and rural areas that was used to provide funding to health care facilities for connectivity.

The idea behind the database, which was adopted by the commission in 2019, was to figure out the cost difference between similar broadband services in urban and rural areas in a given state so the commission’s Telecom Program can subsidize the difference to ensure connectivity in those areas, especially as the need for telehealth technology grows.

But the commission has had to temporarily provide waivers to the rules due to inconsistencies with how the database calculated cost differences. The database included rural tiers that the commission said were “too broad and did not accurately represent the cost of serving dissimilar communities.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel gave an example at Thursday’s open meeting of the database calculating certain rural services being cheaper than in urban areas, when the denser latter areas are generally less expensive.

As such, the commission Thursday decided to revert the methods used to determine Telecom Program support to before the 2019 database order until it can determine a more sustainable method. The database rescission also applies to urban cost determinations.

“Because the Rates Database was deficient in its ability to set adequate rates, we find that restoration of the previous rural rate determination rules, which health care providers have continued to use to determine rural rates in recent funding years under the applicable Rates Database waivers, is the best available option pending further examination in the Second Further Notice, to ensure that healthcare providers have adequate, predictable support,” the commission said in the decision.

Healthcare providers are now permitted to reuse one of three rural rates calculations before the 2019 order: averaging the rates that the carrier charges to other non-health care provider commercial customers for the same or similar services in rural areas; average rates of another service provider for similar services over the same distance in the health care provider’s area; or a cost-based rate approved by the commission.

These calculations are effective for the funding year 2024, the commission said. “Reinstating these rules promotes administrative efficiency and protects the Fund while we consider long-term solutions,” the commission said.

The new rules are in response to petitions from a number of organizations, including Alaska Communications; the North Carolina Telehealth Network Association and Southern Ohio Health Care Network; trade association USTelecom; and the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

“The FCC listened to many of our suggestions, and we are especially pleased that the Commission extended the use of existing rates for an additional year to provide applicants more certainty,” John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, said in a statement.

Comment on automating rate calculation

The commission is launching a comment period to develop an automated process to calculate those rural rates by having the website of the Universal Service Administrative Company – which manages programs of the FCC – “auto-generate the rural rate after the health care and/or service provider selects sites that are in the same rural area” as the health care provider.

The commission is asking questions including whether this new system would alleviate administrative burdens, whether there are disadvantages to automating the rate, and whether there should be a challenge process outside of the normal appeals process.

The Telecom Program is part of the FCC’s Rural Health Care program that is intended to reduce the cost of telehealth broadband and telecom services to eligible healthcare providers.

Support for satellite services

The commission is also proposing that a cap on Telecom Program funding for satellite services be reinstated. In the 2019 order, a spending cap on satellite services was lifted because the commission determined that costs for satellite services were decreasing as there were on-the-ground services to be determined by the database.

But the FCC said costs for satellite services to health care service providers has progressively increased from 2020 to last year.

“This steady growth in demand for satellite services appears to demonstrate the need to reinstitute the satellite funding cap,” the commission said. “Without the constraints on support for satellite services imposed by the Rates Database, it appears that commitments for satellite services could increase to an unsustainable level.”

Soon-to-be health care providers funding eligibility

The FCC also responded to a SHLB request that future health care provider be eligible for Rural Health Care subsidies even though they aren’t established yet.

The commission is asking for comment on a proposal to amend the RHC program to conditionally approve “entities that are not yet but will become eligible health care providers in the near future to begin receiving” such program funding “shortly after they become eligible.”

Comments on the proposals are due 30 days after it is put in the Federal Register.

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Digital Inclusion

Broadband Breakfast Interview With Michael Baker’s Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel

Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.

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Digital Equity provisions are central to state broadband offices’ plans to implement the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grant program under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

In this interview with Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark, Michael Baker International Broadband Planning Consultants Teraira Snerling and Samantha Garfinkel go into detail about the role of Digital Equity Act plans in state broadband programs.

Michael Baker International, a leading provider of engineering and consulting services, including geospatial, design, planning, architectural, environmental, construction and program management, has been solving the world’s most complex challenges for over 80 years.

Its legacy of expertise, experience, innovation and integrity is proving essential in helping numerous federal, state and local navigate their broadband programs with the goal of solving the Digital Divide.

The broadband team at Michael Baker is filling a need that has existed since the internet became publicly available. Essentially, Internet Service Providers have historically made expansions to new areas based on profitability, not actual need. And pricing has been determined by market competition without real concern for those who cannot afford service.

In the video interview, Snerling and Garfinkel discuss how, with Michael Baker’s help, the federal government is encourage more equitable internet expansion through specific programs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

The company guides clients to incorporate all considerations, not just profitability, into the project: Compliance with new policies, societal impact metrics and sustainability plans are baked into the Michael Baker consultant solution so that, over time, these projects will have a tremendous positive impact.

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