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As Zuckerberg Continues Hill Testimony, Privacy Takes Backseat To ‘Censorship’ Accusations

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WASHINGTON, April 11, 2018 – Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg arrived at the Rayburn House Office Building Wednesday for the second day of his first trip to Capitol Hill as a witness, this time before members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. His prepared testimony was the same, but the atmosphere was quite different.

Not only did Zuckerberg have to contend with slightly more inquisitors – 55, compared with the 42 members of the Senate Commerce and Judiciary Committees he dealt with yesterday – but the atmosphere a more raucous one as well, stemming from the sometimes younger and more rabidly partisan nature of the so-called “people’s house.”

Some of the more tech-savvy committee members laid into Zuckerberg for his company’s record of privacy failures over the years. Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore, lauded Facebook as “an American success story” while invoking the company’s notorious – and retired – motto of “move fast and break things.”

“While Facebook has certainly grown, I worry it has not matured. I think it is time to ask whether Facebook may have moved too fast and broken too many things,” Walden said during his opening statement.

Same statement, different day

Zuckerberg, for his part, began his testimony with the same opening statement he gave at Tuesday’s Senate hearing, repeating word-for-word his apology for Facebook’s failures on privacy, “fake news,” and other issues that have been brought to light since Donald Trump’s shock victory in the 2016 election.

“It was my mistake, and I’m sorry. I started Facebook, I run it, and I’m responsible for what happens here,” he said, making his statement the latest in a string of similar apologies he’s had to make over the years.

But Zuckerberg’s audience appeared less impressed – and far less deferential – than their older colleagues in the more sedate upper chamber. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., whose role representing part of Silicon Valley makes her no stranger to technology, chided Zuckerberg for Facebook’s failure to spell out its privacy practices in “clear and pedestrian language.”

Her Democratic colleague from New Mexico, Rep. Ben Lujan, also noted that Facebook had allowed sometimes-malicious actors to scrape massive amounts of data from the site, and only disabled that ability a week before Wednesday’s hearing.

“Facebook knew about this in 2013 and 2015, but you didn’t turn the feature off until Wednesday of last week,” said Lujan said. “This is essentially a tool for these malicious actors to steal a person’s identity and put the finishing touches on it.”

Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chair Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., compared the data practices of Zuckerberg’s “cozy community” on Facebook’s data practices to the film “The Truman Show,” before asking: “Who owns the virtual you? Is it you or them?”

Zuckerberg began to repeat his answer from yesterday asserting that everyone owns their own data before Blackburn cut him off. “I can’t let you filibuster right now.”

Diamond and Silk take center stage, and stay there

Once she’d silenced Zuckerberg, Blackburn then changed the subject from privacy and consumer protection to that of two people who weren’t present for the hearing – but ended up being the unlikely stars of it nevertheless — pro-Trump social media personalities – and frequent Fox News guests – Diamond and Silk.

The pair, whose legal names are Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, are sisters, and two of President Donald Trump’s most vocal African-American supporters, who according to The Daily Beast, their frequent Fox News appearances have made them among Trump’s favorite TV talking heads. Earlier this week, they complained that Facebook had restricted their ability to push notifications of new content out to fans of their Facebook page because their content was deemed “unsafe to the community,” a decision which some conservative commentators and Republicans had incorrectly characterized as a “ban” or “censorship.”

“Diamond and Silk is not terrorism,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn wasn’t the first – or only — committee member to invoke Diamond Silk as unlikely heroes or open other lines of inquiry what conservatives call a battle against censorship from a tech industry based in predominantly-liberal Silicon Valley.

The subject of the sisters’ complaints about Facebook first made it into the hearing record when the committee’s former chairman, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, devoted his allotted question time to queries sourced from his constituents using his own Facebook page, appropiately enough.

“In that specific case, our team made an enforcement error and we have already gotten in touch with them to reverse it,” Zuckerberg said.

A ‘very important question’ about possible changes to the Facebook algorithm

Rep. Steven Scalise, R.-La., a computer scientist by training, asked what Zuckerberg called a “very important question” – whether Facebook executives directed any changes to the algorithm the site employs to determine which stories its’ users see that would bias it in any way against conservative content.

Zuckerberg’s response was unequivocal: There is absolutely no directive in any of the changes that we make to have a bias in anything that we do.

His denials, however, didn’t appear to convince Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., who sometime later returned the hearing’s focus to questions about Diamond and Silk, even going so far as to display a poster of the duo before apparently asking a question on their behalf.

“Diamond and Silk have a question for you, and that question is, what is unsafe about two black women supporting President Donald J. Trump?” Long asked.

“Nothing is unsafe about that,” Zuckerberg replied.

(Photo of Diamond and Silk with then-candidate Donald Trump, Creative Commons licensed from Flickr user mccauleys-corner)

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

Broadband Breakfast on October 27, 2021 — When ‘Greenfield’ Fiber Meets ‘Brownfield’ Multiple Dwelling Units

What options do owners of, operators in, and tenants within MDUs have for better-quality broadband?

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Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. You can watch the October 27, 2021, event on this page. You can also PARTICIPATE in the current Broadband Breakfast Live Online event. REGISTER HERE.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021, 12 Noon ET — “When Greenfield Fiber Meets Brownfield Multiple Dwelling Units”

Bringing fiber to the premises is sometimes only half the battle. For example, bringing fiber to an MDU may not mean that every tenant will get better-quality broadband. In the case of multiple dwelling units or multi-tenant housing, it isn’t easy to completely rewire an existing building with fiber-to-the-unit. Further, the Biden Administration and the Federal Communications Commission are pushing real estate owners to eliminate or minimize exclusive MDU broadband contacts. What options do the owners of, operators in, and tenants within MDUs have to enjoy both competitive and better-quality broadband?

Panelists:

  • Kevin Donnelly, Vice President, Government Affairs, Technology and Strategic Initiatives, National Multifamily Housing Council
  • Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel, Public Knowledge
  • Pierre Trudeau, President and Chief Technology Officer, Positron Access
  • Other Guests have been invited
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast

Kevin Donnelly is Vice President for Government Affairs, Technology and Strategic Initiatives at the National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC) and represents the interests of the multifamily industry before the federal government focusing on technology, connectivity, risk management and their intersection with housing policy. Kevin is a part of NMHC’s Innovation and Technology team and leads its Intelligent Buildings and Connectivity Committee.  Kevin has spent over 15 years in the public policy arena at leading real estate trade associations and on Capitol Hill. Kevin received his BA from Rutgers University and his Masters in Public Management from Johns Hopkins University.

Jenna Leventoff is a Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge, where she focuses on broadband deployment and adoption. Prior to joining Public Knowledge, Jenna served as a Senior Policy Analyst for the Workforce Data Quality Campaign (WDQC) at the National Skills Coalition, where she led WDQC’s state policy advocacy and technical assistance efforts on state data system development and use. She also served as an Associate at Upturn, where she analyzed the civil rights implications of new technologies, and as Manager and Legal Counsel of the International Intellectual Property Institute, where she led the organization’s efforts to utilize intellectual property for international economic development. Jenna received her J.D, cum laude, and B.A from Case Western Reserve University.

Pierre Trudeau is President and Chief Technology Officer, Positron Access.

Drew ClarkEditor and Publisher of Broadband Breakfast, also serves as Of Counsel to The CommLaw Group. He has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers negotiate telecom leases and fiber IRUs, litigate to operate in the public right of way, and argue regulatory classifications before federal and state authorities. He has also worked with cities on structuring Public-Private Partnerships for better broadband access for their communities. Drew brings experts and practitioners together to advance the benefits provided by broadband. He is also the President of the Rural Telecommunications Congress.

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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Education

National Non-Profit to Launch Joint Initiative to Close Broadband Affordability and Homework Gap

EducationSuperHighway is signing up partners and will launch November 4.

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Evan Marwell, founder and CEO of Education Super Highway.

WASHINGTON, October 18, 2021 – National non-profit Education Super Highway is set to launch a campaign next month that will work with internet service providers to identify students without broadband and expand programs that will help connect the unconnected.

On November 4, the No Home Left Offline initiative will launch to close the digital divide for 18 million American households that “have access to the Internet but can’t afford to connect,” according to a Monday press release.

The campaign will publish a detailed report with “crucial data insights into the broadband affordability gap and the opportunities that exist to close it,” use data to identify unconnected households and students, and launch broadband adoption and free apartment Wi-Fi programs in Washington D.C.

The non-profit and ISPs will share information confidentially to identify students without broadband at home and “enable states and school districts to purchase Internet service for families through sponsored service agreements,” the website said.

The initiative will run on five principles: identify student need, have ISPs create sponsored service offerings for school districts or other entities, set eligibility standards, minimize the amount of information necessary to sign up families, and protect privacy.

The non-profit said 82 percent of Washington D.C.’s total unconnected households – a total of just over 100,000 people – have access to the internet but can’t afford to connect.

“This ‘broadband affordability gap’ keeps 47 million Americans offline, is present in every state, and disproportionately impacts low-income, Black, and Latinx communities,” the release said. “Without high-speed Internet access at home, families in Washington DC can’t send their children to school, work remotely, or access healthcare, job training, the social safety net, or critical government services.”

Over 120 regional and national carriers have signed up for the initiative.

The initiative is another in a national effort to close the “homework gap.” The Federal Communications Commission is connected schools, libraries and students using money from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which is subsidizing devices and connections. It has received $5 billion in requested funds in just round one.

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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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