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Government Taking Steps to Address Companies’ Vast Collections of Private Consumer Data

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2010 – As consumers provide large amounts of private information to web services, the government is tuning into the fact that the use of this information by these companies is becoming increasingly important.

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WASHINGTON, November 3, 2010 – As consumers provide large amounts of private information to web services, the government is tuning into the fact that the use of this information by these companies is becoming increasingly important.

Last week, top members of the Committee on Energy and Commerce sent Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg a list of questions regarding the firm’s use of private user data. On Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission completed an investigation of Google’s collection of information during its mapping efforts.

In an effort to organize the federal effort, the Obama administration has formed an Interagency Subcommittee on Privacy & Internet Policy. It includes representatives from the departments of State, Energy, Treasury and Commerce as well as the National Economic Council and others. The goal of the committee is to monitor and create policies that affect user privacy and access.

Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information Larry Strickling recently spoke at the 32nd International Conference of Data Protection and Privacy Commissioners in Israel. Strickling highlighted a number of efforts being undertaken by te federal government to protect consumers. The most expansive of which is the Internet Policy 3.0. This policy position was announced in February and looks to update and improve overall internet policies including cyber security and copyright protection. In regards to privacy, the goal is to increase user privacy and simplify the privacy statements which sites and software use.

The NTIA has already formed the Internet Policy Task Force which combines the efforts of the NTIA, along with the Patent and Trademark Office, NIST and the International Trade Administration. The task force also works with key stakeholders to ensure that any policies proposed are achievable and pragmatic.

Strickling however lamented that there is still not a comprehensive set of guidelines such as the Fair Information Practice Principles which the FTC has proposed. These principles would offer a baseline from which new polices could be formulated and customized per industry; Strickling wants these rules to be a formal enforceable code.

“I envision a strong role for voluntary but enforceable codes of conduct, which must be developed through open, multi-stakeholder processes as a way to fuel this dynamism,” he said. “This approach recognizes that technologists and entrepreneurs, privacy and consumer advocates, business interests, and the government have to work together to develop a privacy policy. Launching such multi-stakeholder processes is, indeed, challenging, but we should have confidence in the process because similar global, multi-stakeholder efforts have been successful, for example, the creation of the underlying Internet standards.”

To achieve this level of consumer protection, Strickling proposed the establishment of a Privacy Policy Office which would act as an interagency center of expertise. This new office would not replace the FTC or NTIA but would offer a clearinghouse of information and work with stakeholders.

He also emphasized that these issues must be handled both at the national and international level, saying, “International cooperation on enforcement is very encouraging. Just about a month ago, privacy enforcement agencies from 13 countries formally announced the formation of the Global Privacy Enforcement Network. I’m pleased to say that the U.S.’s own FTC is among the thirteen.”

The FTC is also one of five signatories to the APEC Cross-border Privacy Enforcement Arrangement. The agreement creates a voluntary framework for cross-border cooperation on consumer privacy investigations and enforcement issues throughout the APEC region.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for BroadbandBreakfast.com since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act

FCC

Eighty Civil Society Groups Ask for Swift Confirmation of FCC, NTIA Nominees

The groups sent a letter emphasizing the need for internet access expansion ahead of Wednesday confirmation hearings.

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Photo of Alan Davidson from New America

WASHINGTON, November 16, 2021 – Eighty civil-society groups have penned a letter to Senate leadership requesting a swift confirmation process for President Joe Biden’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Groups representing interests spanning civil rights, media justice, community media, workers’ rights and consumer advocacy highlighted to Senate leadership the need for the agencies to shepherd internet access expansion on the heels of newly signed bipartisan infrastructure legislation.

Biden last month nominated Jessica Rosenworcel as chairwoman and Gigi Sohn as a commissioner of the FCC, as well as Alan Davidson for director of the NTIA. Rosenworcel and Sohn’s confirmations would make a full slate of commissioners at the FCC, ending the potential for 2-2 deadlocks.

Key Senate Republicans have since expressed concern over the nomination of Sohn, citing her liberal views on communications policy.

Signees of the letter emphasized that an ongoing global pandemic and “worsening climate crisis” raise the stakes for FCC and NTIA action, and that connectivity access issues are even further exacerbated among poor families and people of color.

Organizations on the letter included the American Library Association, Color of Change, the Communications Workers of America, Greenpeace USA and the Mozilla Foundation, among others.

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Rosenworcel on Wednesday.

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National Telecommunications and Information Administration on Minority Community Grant Applications

The more detail, the better, NTIA officials said of program.

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Scott Woods, senior broadband program specialist and team lead for NTIA's Connecting Minority Communities, speaking at Broadband Communities in Houston

WASHINGTON, October 24, 2021–Lack of eligibility or proper planning or documentation errors are frequent grounds for disqualification of applicants for the United States’ Commerce Department’s Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program, agency officials said Wednesday and Thursday.

Speaking at webinars for individuals considering applying for the grants – which are being made by the National Telecommunications and Information Association of the Commerce Department – officials shared the most commons mistakes made by applicants when applying for the grants.

Among the officials speaking during the two presentations were Scott Woods, senior broadband program specialist and team lead for the Connecting Minority Communities program, Management and Program Analyst Pandora Beasley-Timpson, Broadband Program Specialist Janice Wilkins, Telecommunications Policy Analyst Francine Alkisswani, and Broadband Program Specialists Cameron Lewis and Kevin Hughes.

Among the biggest mistakes is eligibility. “Only historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, or minority serving institutions can apply,” said NTIA’s Michelle Morton.

Making a Successful Application

Morton and other leaders of the program also shared traits of a successful grant application.

“Good applicants provide a business and execution plan,” they said. “[Applicants] should demonstrate there is a core staff that is dedicated to the proposed project and knowledgeable about the process, as well as an editor, preferably one not connected to the project, to encourage non-biased review of the grant to see how it reads.”

Project Implementation and Evaluation

When describing their project implementation and planning process, applicants should have a clear project narrative that “identifies specific tasks, measurable milestones, and performance outcomes resulting from the proposed project activity,” the officials said.

Importantly, the NTIA stressed that all applicants must comply with Commerce Department regulations for the protection of human subjects during all research conducted or supported with grant funds.

This is important because the NTIA is required to determine whether or not a project’s evaluation plan “meets the definition of human subject research.” Thus, no work can be taken for research involving human subject until a federal grants officer approves of the research.

Consortiums

NTIA leaders also addressed questions about consortium-based applicants. “The lead application is the entity entering into the grant agreement with the NTIA and assumes primary operational and financial responsibility for the project.”

A consortium allows Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities and minority-serving institutions to partner with local governments on their application. Each consortium partner must provide a letter of a commitment to the project, including the detailed role of each member of the project and the specific commitment of each member of the project.

Finances and Budgeting

Applicants are also required to include financial documentation that details how the funds will be used and how the funding plans to meet the projects’ intended goals.

Additionally, applicants’ budget narrative should serve to explain how the costs were estimated and justify how the budget items are necessary to implement project goals and objectives and accomplished applicant’s proposed outcomes.

“We encourage out of the box thinking with regard to applicants putting together their projects,” said Hughes.

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NTIA

Senate Advances Legislation Creating Office of Internet Connectivity Within Commerce Department’s NTIA

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Photo of Sen. Maria Cantwell by Lance Cheung of the U.S. Department of Agriculture

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2020 – The Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday voted to advance a version of legislation creating a new office with the Commerce Department, and  re-authorizing the Federal Trade Commission’s authority to protect consumers from deceptive internet marketing.

One bill would establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the National Telecommunications and Infrastructure Administration of the Commerce Department.

While senators approved both the reauthorization of the US SAFEWEB Act and the Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand Act by voice vote.

The ACCESS BROADBAND Act requires the administrator of NTIA to establish a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within 180 days of the bill’s enacting date, with the aim of coordinating and streamlining the process of applying for various federal broadband support programs.

However, the amended version of the bill includes language authored by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., which specifically excludes the Universal Service Fund’s programs from the office’s mandate.

The bill would also require the new office to create a single application for the various federal programs under its auspices, as well as a website which would be a one-stop shop for individuals and institutions seeking to learn more about federal programs for expanding broadband access.

In her opening remarks before the committee began consideration of the bill, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., the committee’s ranking member, praised the “good bipartisan work” that went into drafting it.

“Closing the digital divide that so many communities particularly in our rural communities face is a priority for many members on this committee, and this bill is an important step in addressing that challenge,” she said.

“And I would I would say that this coronavirus is also a very strong learning lesson for us, as it relates to the gaps in broadband because you certainly need it as it relates to so many aspects of delivering on education and healthcare during this time period.”

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., later added that the bill, which she co-sponsored, will be helpful to Arizonans living in rural areas who may need help accessing better broadband services.

“Nearly 25 million Arizonans living in rural areas do not have access to high speed internet, so it’s crucial for Arizona that rural communities are afforded the same opportunity to stay connected as our urban areas, and the ACCESS BROADBAND Act moves us in the right direction,” she said. “It’s an essential step to help us close the digital divide and ensure everyone in my state and across our country can access quality, high speed internet and the opportunities that come with it.”

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