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Republican and Democratic Freedom Fighters Join Hands to Proudly Declare Freedom on the Internet

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WASHINGTON, February 6, 2013 – Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee collectively patted themselves, and their nation, on the back at a hearing on Tuesday entitled, “Fighting for Freedom: Dubai and Beyond.”

Our notions are grounded in freedom, said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. Indeed, said Rep. Poe, “freedom is what we do in this country.” Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., also echoed the flag-waving spirit in saying that a universal commitment to upholding free speech was “one of many things that unite Democrats and Republicans.”

The hearing focused on the United States’ choice to align with 53 other countries, including Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany and India, against other country’s proposals put forward at the World Conference on International Telecommunications in the United Arab Emirates in mid-December 2012. The event was the subject of the November 2012 Broadband Breakfast Club.

The WCIT conference had been held to examine proposed changes to the International Telecommunications Regulations first adopted in 1988. The 1988 regulations were initially implemented by the Geneva, Switzerland-based International Telecommunications Union to address to the changing world of international communications, namely, telephone systems.

According to a memorandum distributed for the hearing, the 1988 regulations were “conceived in an era when most countries still had monopoly, government owned telephone providers.” These regulations did not relate to any projected internet usage, an option that was not yet on the global horizon.

Founded in 1865 to deal with the birth of the telegraph in global context, the ITU is now part of the United Nations.

Sally Shipman Wentworth, senior manager for public policy at the Internet Society, hoped that the ITU would “become more transparent” and that the “processes need to be more open, more inclusive of civil society, more reflective of a broader community and not a closed door intergovernmental place…which promotes this feeling that it is a secret plan.”

During the WCIT Conference, the U.S. and the 54 other nations united against proposals by Russia, China and Iran to incorporate that might allow government control over its citizens’ access to international telecommunications services, thus allowing countries the ability to censor their citizens’ internet-based speech. Additional proposed rules allowed for international tariffs that might restrict market-based exchanges of information.

Opposing the 55 countries that included the United States were 89 nations “ led by Putin’s Russia and our good buddies the Chinese…[who] want the internet as a weapon against democratic opposition,” said Rep. Poe. He wondered whether aid given by the U.S. to countries that supported the resolution might need to be re-examined.

Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., warned that the regulations “could be used by oppressive governments to censor and surveil.”

The divided outcome of the WCIT convention has led to some uncertainty as to what will happen next.

In a rare unanimous vote, Congress preemptively voted 397-0 in opposition to United Nations governance over the internet — even prior to the divided outcome in Dubai.

Panelists speaking before a joint hearing of several committees led by the Energy and Commerce Committee warned of the issues that would arise if Congress does not engage with its critics.

Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell urged Congress to act swiftly against the effort. “Let us not look back at this moment and lament that we did not do enough, we have but one chance, let us tell the world now that we will be resolute,” he said.

“The internet is under assault,” he said. “These wonders of the 21st century are inches away from being smothered by innovation-crushing rules designed for a different time.”

Rep. Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., agreed with him. She said he hoped that the internet would remains “a success story for generations to come, not only for Americans, but for people around the world.”

Rep. Henry  Waxman, D-Calif., said that the U.S. can continue to strengthen the relationships between “coalitions of countries that stood together in Dubai.”

Also present at the hearing was Bitange Ndemo, secretary for the Kenyan Ministry of Information and Communications. Speaking via internet connection from a location in Nairobi, Kenya, Ndemo spoke of the internet’s ability to give people hope and its ability to empower a nation’s people to see their government is more responsive. He referred to the internet as the “lifeblood for innovations we have made in Kenya.”

Former U.S. Ambassador David Gross praised Ndemo’s desire to “defend that which he believes to be correct.” Gross also spoke of how in recent years, internet connectivity has risen, and that broadband latency has greatly decreased in Kenya.

These kids of technical improvements have enabled the internet to provide a voice – literally as well as figuratively – for Ndemo speaking via an internet connection.

Harold Feld of the non-profit advocacy group Public Knowledge said that the unity between the United States and many nations of the rest of the world gave an “advantage ultimately in the political sphere, by making clear to many in global society what the stakes are here.”

Congress must continue their support “of the multi-stakeholder model of internet policy…both at home and abroad,” Wentworth said in her closing statements. “We can work together to ensure the internet continues to transcend political divides, and serves as an engine for human empowerment throughout the world.”

FCC

FCC Watchdog Finds Evidence of Fraud in Emergency Broadband Benefit

Inspector General report finds “dozens” of cases of EBB abuse across the country.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 24, 2021 – The watchdog that monitors fraud and abuse of Federal Communications Commission programs said it has found evidence that service providers are enrolling into the Emergency Broadband Benefit program more students than exist at some schools.

The Office of Inspector General said in a Monday report that service providers, who are reimbursed from the program for offering subsidized broadband services to schools, and their sales agents have been abusing the program by enrolling more “households that claimed they have a dependent child” than students “who are actually enrolled in those schools.”

The report found “dozens” of eligible schools across the country are overenrolled six months into the program. That includes schools in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, New York and Florida.

The most “egregious examples” of such abuse, the OIG said, came out of Florida, with one example of a school that had enrolled 1884 households in the EBB program, when OIG research showed that “no more than 200 students attend” the school. Another school with 152 students had 1048 households enrolled in the program. The OIG said it will not disclose which schools to preserve its on-going investigation.

The report notes that additional households were blocked from enrolling in the program “by other program safeguards.”

Majority of abuse done by “handful” of providers

“Evidence shows this is not consumer-driven fraud – enrollment data directly links certain providers and their sales agents to these enrollments,” the report said, adding the same sales agents who overenrolled students in the aforementioned schools also did the same in other state schools.

“Sales agents who work for just a handful of EBB providers are responsible for the majority of this fraudulent enrollment activity,” it added.

Other examples of abuse, the report said, includes failure to identify the dependent child, the repeated use of the provider retail address as the address of homes served, and more than 2000 EBB households were noted as being more than 50 miles from their schools.

“As EBB providers incentivize sales agents to maximize enrollments by providing commission-based compensation, many of the abuses that once plagued the FCC’s Lifeline program have reappeared in the EBB program,” the report concluded, adding these providers will be liable for violations.

“If providers discover enrollment problems, OIG reminds them of their obligation to take appropriate remedial measures,” the report added. “Providers who defraud FCC programs by violating program enrollment rules and claim support for those households will be held accountable and may be subject to civil or criminal sanctions.”

The $3.2-billion EBB program, which launched in May, provides a subsidy of $50 per month to eligible low-income households and $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands, as well as a one-time reimbursement on a device. The program has enrolled over five million households so far.

The FCC is currently asking the public for comment on how it should handle the program’s expansion into a permanent fixture as a result of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed by President Joe Biden last week.

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FCC Requires Telecom Companies to Let Subscribers Text to Suicide Prevention Hotline

The measure would increase access for those seeking emergency mental health assistance.

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WASHINGTON, November 18, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to require providers of telecommunications to permit individuals to text directly to a three digit number, 988, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

The suicide prevention lifeline is a national network that offers free and confidential support in Americans in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. The move increases access for individuals in crisis by  routing text messages sent to 988 to the group’s 10-digit number, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

The vote to establish text-to-988 comes after Americans spent months isolated under stay-at-home orders in 2020. The CDC reported that last year, 44,834 individuals died by suicide in the United States. Experts have suggested that the pandemic has increased mental health struggles for Americans.  The FCC has repeatedly recognized suicide’s impact on at-risk communities, including youth, the Black community, the LGBT community, Veterans, and the deaf, hard of hearing, deaf-blind, and people who have speech disabilities that affect communication.

The FCC required text providers to support three digit dialing and text messages to 988 by July 16, 2022. “This uniform deadline will help to prevent confusion and facilitate unified outreach campaigns,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, who described 988 as “life-saving work.” “I am pleased to approve today’s decision because Text-to-988 will save lives in vulnerable and underserved communities by taking advantage of this vital communications channel,” he said.

Commenting on her vote to approve the measure, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel noted that LGBT youth are almost five times as likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. “These young people deserve a future,” she said. “They deserve support. And that support should be simple to access. Today we help make that possible.”

Americans sent an estimated 2.2 trillion text messages in 2020. Texting to 988 may be an especially important option for young people, who may prefer the anonymity and convenience of texting a crisis counselor instead of engaging in a phone conversation, said the FCC.

The agency urged Americans who need help during the transition to 988 should contact the Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-8255 (1-800-273-TALK) and through online chats.

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Senators, Citing Funding Influx, Press Need to Confirm Rosenworcel

Senators pointed to FCC’s initiatives on mapping, which will need to be good to maximize federal funds for broadband.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2021 – Senators tasked Wednesday with questioning Federal Communications Commission chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel as part of her confirmation hearing urged the Commerce, Science and Transportation committee to hurry her through the process so she can focus on implementing critical initiatives, including better broadband maps that will be used to effectively implement the billions allocated in the infrastructure bill passed into law this week.

Rosenworcel was selected by President Joe Biden to be the permanent head of the agency late last month after being selected as the interim head following his inauguration as president. She now must get confirmation from the Senate.

Wednesday’s largely welcoming hearing included members expressing urgency to confirm Rosenworcel to the FCC before her term expires on January 3, 2022.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to nominate someone who will effectively implement the infrastructure law to address the digital divide’s impact on disadvantaged communities,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut.

“[Rosenworcel] has been a distinguished champion, energetic and compassionate champion on a number of issues, including robocalls, net neutrality, and providing spectrum coordination.” Blumenthal, who said he was “honored to introduce [Rosenworcel] as the nominee,” has worked closely with Rosenworcel since her confirmation to the FCC as a commissioner in 2012.

Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, said it was “important” that Rosenworcel’s nomination goes through the committee’s markup process to expedite her confirmation.

The warm reception at committee was in line with a previous request from lawmakers representing 17 states urging Biden to nominate Rosenworcel as the permanent head of the agency.

Rosenworcel addresses mapping

Rosenworcel answered a number of questions from Senators about the FCC’s progress on completing its broadband mapping ahead of more federal funding to deploy broadband.

Rosenworcel told Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, that to overcome challenges in funding broadband programs from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – which became law this week – funding communities “requires good execution to do it well.

“We need to make smart decisions about where to fund and deploy,” she said. “All of the funding for the infrastructure bill depends on the mapping.” By confirming her nomination to the FCC, Rosenworcel says she would “get the money out quickly after getting mapping” and focus on “putting a premium on the projects we can complete fastest.”

The FCC released a statement of objectives this month to commission mobile wireless and fixed broadband data for better mapping. Mapping faults, such as that from relying on less-than-reliable internet service provider data, was most prominently seen from the fallout of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund’s reverse auction. The new initiative is part of the  Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act, which became law last year.

“We need to make sure 100 percent of us in this country have access to fast, affordable, and reliable broadband—every household, every business, every consumer, everyone, everywhere,” she said. ‘If confirmed, it will be an honor to lead this charge,” Rosenworcel said.

“If confirmed, I pledge to listen to this Committee, which not that long ago I had the great honor of serving as counsel. And if confirmed, I pledge more broadly to listen to the Congress, those with business before the FCC and above all—the American people.”

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