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Senate Democrats Join With Collins To Force Vote On Restoring Obama Net Neutrality Rules

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WASHINGTON, May 9, 2018 — Senate Democrats on Wednesday announced plans to invoke a rarely-used Senate procedure to force a floor vote on a bill to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of Obama-era regulations preventing internet providers from blocking or throttling internet traffic.

“Today we are officially filing the discharge petition to force a vote on my Congressional Review Act resolution that would put strong net neutrality rules back on the books,” Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. said as he kicked off a Wednesday morning news conference. “The CRA resolution would fully restore the rules that ensure Americans aren’t subject to higher prices, slower internet traffic, and even blocked websites because the big internet service providers want to pump up their profits.”

“We’re here today because Democrats in the Senate are taking the final step to consideration of a bill to restore net neutrality,” added Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “We’re now one step away from allowing the American public to see where their elected officials stand on protecting their internet service.”

Markey’s bill would restore previous network neutrality rules

The bill in question is S.J. Res. 52, a so-called resolution of disapproval, which makes use of procedures laid out under the Congressional Review Act in order to roll back FCC rules in effect since April which repealed the Obama-era regulations put in place under then-chairman Tom Wheeler (D).

The regulations, formally known as net neutrality rules, prohibit broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from interfering with users’ internet traffic or prioritizing some traffic over others. Under Wheeler, the FCC did this by classifying broadband internet access services as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Their repeal was a priority for the current Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has long opposed strong net neutrality protections.

A rare opportunity for Democrats to hit back for the little guy

Schumer cast Markey’s bill as part of a broader response to how under Trump administration congressional Republicans frequently enact the priorities of big business into law at the expense of “average folks.”

“When the Republican-led FCC voted to repeal net neutrality in December, they handed the largest internet service providers all the cards, and left American families and small businesses helpless before these providers,” he said. “That’s why we Democrats are so concerned about net neutrality.”

“Our Republican friends say ‘let the free market prevail, let the big boys do whatever they want,’” he continued. “We don’t do that for highways, you can’t charge different toll rates for different people. We don’t do that for utilities. In the 21st century, the internet is every bit as important to average folks as highways and utilities have been through the 20th century, and we’ve learned through the years that average folks need some protection from the big boys.”

What Schumer called the “final step” is the filing of a discharge petition, which when signed by 50 senators, invokes a rarely-used parliamentary procedure to force a bill to be brought to the floor for a vote. The maneuver is necessary because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has not indicated any interest in bringing the resolution, which was introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.

Democrats are using one of the GOP’s favorite laws against it

Under the CRA, which was passed by the Republican-led Congress in 1996 and signed by then-President Bill Clinton, Congress can use a resolution of disapproval to repeal rules put in place by regulatory agencies like the FCC.

Such bills are joint resolutions, which require the president’s signature to become law. But unlike most bills, CRA resolutions cannot be filibustered in the Senate, meaning only 51 votes are required to pass them.

Though it had been only used once in the two decades since it became law, the CRA has found new life with a Republican Congress and a Republican in the White House.
Since the GOP-led 115th Congress began, it has sent President Trump fifteen resolutions, all of which he has signed. These repealed various Obama-era regulations pertaining to consumer protection, environmental protection, and gun safety.

One of these CRA resolutions is unlike the others

But while Democrats have complained that those resolutions lifted restraints on business, Markey said his use of the CRA will do the opposite.

“Passing this resolution will “send a clear message that this Congress won’t fall to the special interest agenda of President Trump and his broadband baron allies, but rather, will do right by the people who sent us here,” he said, adding that he was “pleased” that his bill has bipartisan support thanks to Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine.

Although there are only 49 Democrats in the Senate currently, the addition Collins gives Democrats enough signatures to force McConnell to hold a floor vote on Markey’s resolution.

Markey hopes pressure from constituents will convince one more Republican to vote ‘yes’

As for the 51st vote that would allow the bill to pass the Senate, Markey said a number of other Republicans had “expressed an openness” to voting for it, and that they might be swayed by constituent calls supporting the bill.

It’s likely that those senators will receive a number of those calls thanks to an online advocacy campaign including many popular websites, which are showing their users ads urging them to call their elected representatives in support of Markey’s bill.

But Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the choice of whether to support Markey’s bill or not “is not at all complicated.”

“if you want a free and open internet, which means that after you pay your internet access fee, you get to go where you want, when you want and how you want, you have to support the Markey measure,” said Wyden, a longtime advocate of network neutrality protections.

The alternative envisioned by FCC Chairman Pai, Wyden said, “[puts] the big communications monopolies in charge rather than the consumers.”

“What he’s about is building an info era aristocracy where the well-to-do get faster speeds…and the average person is on the road to digital serfdom,” he added, urging internet users to employ the same tactics used in the campaign to stop the Stop Online Piracy Act in 2011 and 2012.

Even if Democrats get a 51st vote for the bill, its prospects in the House are uncertain

While Markey noted that Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Pa. has introduced a companion bill in the House, H.J.Res. 129, that bill remains a long-shot despite having 160 co-sponsors, as it lacks Republican support.

When asked about whether there’d been much outreach to House Republicans by the bill’s Senate supporters, a source within Senate Democratic leadership said there hadn’t been much in the way of inter-chamber outreach at this point.

[The] first step is [the] Senate, where we’re still fighting to get 51,” said the source.

Even if Markey and Schumer’s gambit fails, however, there is still hope for advocates of the old rules, in the form of a federal lawsuit filed against the FCC by a number of public interest groups in hopes that a court will order Pai and his colleagues to return to enforcing common carrier regulations on broadband providers.

(Photo: Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., reads from a statement as Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ben Cardin, D-Md., look on. Image captured from video at https://www.facebook.com/EdJMarkey/videos/10155722134966379/)

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.

Broadband Roundup

Court Strikes Social Media Law, Industry Likes Cyber Initiative, Meta Data Transparency Project

Key provisions in the social media law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis was found unconstitutional by an appeals court.

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Photo of Kelly Rozumalski, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, from Careers Info Security

May 24, 2022 – The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a unanimous 3-0 decision Monday that key provisions in Florida’s social media censorship law is unconstitutional, following a preliminary injunction granted by a Florida judge last year.

The social media law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, would have prohibited companies from banning politicians on their platforms and limit their content moderation and editorial decisions, claiming that social media platforms are suppliers of a platform who should have no hand in the flow of information. The law was adopted following a number of high-profile Republican figures were banned from social media platforms, including former President Donald Trump from Twitter.

But the court found that provisions that allowed for the law to prevent tech platforms from removing political figures and posts by political candidates – key provisions in the law – were unconstitutional, affirming the court’s decision when it temporarily stopped the law from taking effect until it made a final determination. The court, however, found some provisions regarding data and disclosure requirements to remain in force.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit issued by NetChoice and Computer and Communications Industry Association.

The decision comes nearly two weeks after a federal appeals court temporarily lifted restrictions on a similar law in Texas until the courts can make a final determination.

The court said in its decision that, “not in their wildest dreams could anyone in the Founding generation have imagined Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or TikTok. But whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology, the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment’s command, do not vary when a new and different medium for communication appears.”

Industry commends Biden administration for progress on federal cybersecurity

Experts are applauding the White House’s progress in the year since President Joe Biden signed an executive order to focus on cybersecurity, according to The Hill, specifically highlighting the improvements in sharing threat information from government to private sector.

“I think the public-private partnership portion of the executive order has really been key,” said Kelly Rozumalski, senior vice president at IT consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, explaining that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Alliance has now partnered with numerous companies in the private sector to push for cybersecurity.

“I’ve seen much more directive, actionable steps coming out now and I think the executive order is a big reason for that,” added Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer of Veracode. “[The order] sort of changed the status quo from best practices to practicality.”

The executive order in May of 2021 introduced several initiatives to secure federal networks and critical infrastructure against cyberattacks, which included sharing threat information, modernizing federal cybersecurity standards, and improving software supply chain security.

The order was enacted amid major cyberattacks, including oil transport company Colonial Pipeline and software company SolarWinds. As a result of the order, said The Hill, many companies are taking software security more seriously and require that suppliers sell them upgraded and secure software.

In March, Congress passed the Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act, which requires private sector companies to report incidents of cyberattacks to the federal government.

Meta announces data transparency project

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, announced on Monday the Facebook Open Research and Transparency project, which will grant access to researchers to data on how political advertising can be targeted on their platforms.

Meta, according to New York times, has given outsiders access into how political ads were used in the past, but only with certain restrictions. Meta claims that “by making advertiser targeting criteria available for analysis and reporting on ads run about social issues, elections, and politics, we hope to help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters.”

The project will be initiated by the end of the month. The data will allow researchers to see what interest categories advertisers chose for each post. Meta will also include summaries of targeting information the Ad Library which is currently publicly available.

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Broadband Roundup

D.C. Attorney General Sues Zuckerberg, Carr Criticizes Infrastructure Bill Details, Vermont to Expand Fiber Builds

The lawsuit comes years after Facebook was found to have been used to harvest personal data for political purposes.

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Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brenden Carr

May 23, 2022 – On Monday, Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg for alleged consumer privacy violations revealed during the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke in 2018.

In his office’s filings with the D.C. Superior Court, Racine argued that “Facebook is far from a disinterested platform” and that it “[derives] enormous wealth from acquiring and monetizing the data of [billions of people] leading their lives in Facebook’s digital ecosystem.

“But even that is not enough,” the filing read. “Facebook is in a relentless pursuit to expand its reach on humanity and bring an ever-increasing number of people under its influence.”

To that end, the filings stated that “Cambridge Analytica used the Facebook Platform—in a way that Facebook and Zuckerberg encouraged—to influence and manipulate the outcome of a United States presidential election.”

As co-founder, CEO, chairman, and majority voting shareholder (Zuckerberg holds 60 percent of Meta’s voting shares according to the filings), Racine stated that Zuckerberg “maintains an unparalleled level of control over the operations of Facebook,” and thus bears the responsibility for its actions.

FCC Commissioner Carr says NTIA broadband infrastructure details picks “winners and losers”

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr released a statement expressing concern that the application details for broadband funding under the infrastructure bill released this month prioritizes one technology over others.

“[The notices of funding opportunity] will prevent states from funding projects that could quickly bridge the digital divide using those high-speed technologies in nearly all cases—putting too much of a thumb on the scale for fiber builds that provide robust service but can take years to build out in certain cases,” Carr said in a statement Thursday, but added, “I have no doubt that fiber projects would demonstrate their value in the lion’s share of cases.”

The week prior, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s released those funding details, which included an answer to a question about its technology preference for the builds. “With respect to the deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure, the Program prioritizes projects designed to provide fiber connectivity directly to the end user,” the Commerce agency said in the 98-page NOFO.

Carr stated that this will “undoubtedly waste taxpayer dollars and leave families waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

The Republican commissioner also condemned what he perceived as rate regulation and overbuilding.

“In the end, the Administration’s decision to pursue those political goals—rather than focusing on connecting the largest number of people as quickly as possible—will exacerbate the supply chain challenges and workforce shortages that already pose a hurdle to getting the job done.”

Vermont governor announces fiber grants

On Monday, Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced broadband grants totaling more than $16 million.

The grants will be focused on deploying more than 9,000 miles of fiber across Bolton and several other towns in the northeast corner of Vermont.

Scott was set to be joined by Vermont’s at-large congressional representative Democratic Rep. Peter Welch at 12 noon ET in Jericho, Vt., to formally unveil the project in question.

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Senate Bill Would Alter Google Advertising, DOJ Cybersecurity Policy Reversal, Comcast on Hybrid Fiber-Coax

Senate introduces bill breaking up Google’s digital advertising business

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Photo of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, from March 2016 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

May 20, 2022 – On Thursday a bipartisan group of senators on the Judiciary Committee introduced a bill that would force Google to break up its industry-leading online advertising exchange.

The Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act would prohibit large companies like Google from both operating an ad exchange and a supply- or demand-side platform, should they process more than $20 billion in ad transactions.

The bill would also require Facebook to divest some of its advertising business.

“Companies like Google and Facebook have been able to exploit their unprecedented troves of detailed user data to obtain vice grip-like control over digital advertising,” said bill sponsor Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

In late 2020, a coalition of 10 state attorneys general brought a lawsuit against Google alleging that its market dominance lets it overcharge businesses seeking to place ads online.

Justice Department changes directions on cybersecurity prosecution policy

On Thursday the Department of Justice announced it would reverse its charging policy on a federal computer fraud law, saying it will not prosecute “good-faith security research” efforts.

The change by the department relates to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, defining good-faith research as “accessing a computer solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability” without any intention of harming the public.

Last year, Georgia police sergeant Nathan Van Buren was successful in appealing his conviction under the CFAA to the Supreme Court.

DOJ argued that he should not have taken a bribe to access a woman’s license plate information during a 2015 Federal Bureau of Investigation sting operation, while Van Buren claimed that he had legitimate access to the database.

Comcast plans to release hybrid fiber-coaxial multi-gig speeds in the coming months.

Comcast is preparing to roll out faster multi-gigabit speeds across its hybrid fiber-coaxial network, Fierce Telecom reported Thursday.

Multi-gig rollout is expected in the coming months.

At an investor conference Comcast CEO Dave Watson stated that his operator’s choice to roll out mid-split upgrades on the way to Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 4.0 technology will allow it to take speeds to the next level.

“We have a very fast, very efficient path to multi-gig symmetrical at scale that we can do,” said Watson.

He feels comfortable that despite Comcast fiber deployments in select locations, the company feels comfortable that its HFC network will remain competitive.

He also reiterated previous comments that fixed wireless access service is not a threat and that it does not materially impact churn from fixed wireless competitors.

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