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Verizon’s Throttling of Santa Clara County Firefighters Discussed by Panel of Net Neutrality Advocates

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May 31, 2019 – Verizon Wireless’ slowdown of the Santa Clara County Fire Department’s data plan had a “significant impact” on the department’s ability to respond to last year’s wildfires, according to testimony by Fire Chief Anthony Bowden that featured prominently in a Thursday discussion at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society.

The incident from the summer of 2018, when county firefighters were battling one of a series of deadly California wildfires, was cited as a parable about the effects of the Federal Communications Commission’s December 2017 repeal of the Obama-era FCC’s net neutrality regulations.

In a declaration filed in the Mozilla v. FCC lawsuit over the repeal, Chief Bowden said that “Verizon imposed these limitation despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire’s ability to provide crises-response and essential emergency services.” He provided email documentation showing that delivery speeds of 20 Megabits per second (Mbps) down / 7 Mbps up had been throttled to 0.2 Mbps down / 0.6 Mbps up, “meaning it has no meaningful functionality.”

Net neutrality advocates at the event – including Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. – said that Verizon’s callous restriction on what the firefighters believed was an unlimited data use plan was a result of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s removal of neutrality regulations.

Verizon’s behavior in limiting the bandwidth of emergency firefighters was widely denounced at the time. The company disavowed its policy when the controversy hit the headlines in August 2018.

Some of Verizon’s defenders have said the company’s legal ability to restrict bandwidth would not have been forbidden under the 2015 rules, citing language in the agency’s since-repealed 2015 Open Internet Order which notes that the no-throttling rule “does not address a practice of slowing down an end user’s connection to the Internet based on a choice made by the end user.”

Net neutrality advocates Gigi Sohn and Ernesto Falcon, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, dispute that interpretation. Falcon wrote that “when the FCC repealed that order, it not just ended a ban on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, it also declared federal laws that would be directly applicable to Verizon’s conduct to no longer apply.”

The Stanford panel emphasized the perspective of net neutrality supporters, including a discussion about their tactical efforts to restore regulations.

Rep. Eshoo views bipartisan support for net neutrality

Eshoo, who represents an area near Stanford and in the heart of Silicon Valley, highlighted the bipartisan support that net neutrality has from the American people. A recent study from Comparitech found that 87 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans support net neutrality.

By contrast, the issue is fiercely partisan on Capitol Hill. The Democrats’ “Save the Internet Act,” which would restore the FCC’s 2015 rules by overruling the 2017 repeal, passed in the House of Representatives last month. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “dead on arrival in the Senate.”

At the Thursday event, Eshoo also discussed common arguments against net neutrality, such as the fear that it will kill investment. She pointed out that the Securities and Exchange Commission requires companies to inform shareholders of anything hurting profitability or investment potential, and companies have not reported being hurt by neutrality rules.

“Without net neutrality, companies like YouTube or Netflix would not exist,” said Reddit CEO Steve Huffman. “The protections that net neutrality provide allow companies that were once tiny to grow into very successful businesses.”

Also speaking at the event was FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted against the repeal. She highlighted the need for more broadband competition, and said half of American households have no choice in broadband provider, citing the FCC’s own data. That leaves them vulnerable to whatever policies their provider chooses to enforce.

Stanford Law Professor Barbara van Schewick emphasized that more competition would not necessarily solve the problem of net neutrality, citing the European Union’s simplification of internet laws in 2008.

Although there was a great deal of competition, the simplified laws “failed spectacularly,” leading to “widespread discrimination.” In 2015, the EU adopted a new policy modeled after the FCC’s open internet rules.

(Screenshot from Thursday’s event at Stanford Law School.)

Reporter Em McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for the student newspaper. In addition to agency and freelance marketing experience, she has reported extensively on Section 230, big tech, and rural broadband access. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer programming skills to underprivileged children.

China

New Leadership and Priorities for Republican-Led Energy and Commerce Committee

The new chair renamed three subcommittees, hinting at the GOP’s goals for the coming term.

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Photo of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2018 by Gage Skidmore, used with permission

WASHINGTON, January 27, 2023 — Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., recently named chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, announced on Wednesday the new Republican leadership and membership of each subcommittee, giving insight into which members of Congress will be at the forefront of key technology decisions over the coming term.

McMorris Rodgers also announced changes to the committee’s structure, renaming three subcommittees and shifting some of their responsibilities. The changes aim to “ensure our work tackles the greatest challenges and most important priorities of the day, including lowering energy costs, beating China and building a more secure future,” McMorris Rodgers told Fox News.

Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J. — now the committee’s ranking member after serving as chair for the past four years — announced on Friday each subcommittee’s Democratic membership and leadership, and named Rep. Kim Schrier, D-Wash., as the vice ranking member for the full committee.

Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., who will serve as the committee’s vice chair, is a vocal critic of Big Tech. In 2021, he was one of several Republicans who championed major reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

The committee’s new names hint at some of the ways that the committee’s priorities may shift as Republicans take control. The former Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee is now titled the Innovation, Data and Commerce Subcommittee and will be chaired by Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., alongside Ranking Member Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.

Bilirakis and McMorris Rodgers have already announced the subcommittee’s first hearing, which will focus on U.S. global technology leadership and competition with China.

The Communications and Technology Subcommittee, now led by Chair Bob Latta, R-Ohio, and Ranking Member Doris Matsui, D-Calif., also emphasized competition with China in the announcement of a hearing on the global satellite industry.

Latta has previously spoken out against the total repeal of Section 230, but he has also expressed concerns about the extent to which it protects tech companies. In an April 2021 op-ed written jointly with Bilirakis, Latta accused social media platforms of engaging in “poisonous practices… that drive depression, isolation and suicide.”

The Environment, Manufacturing and Critical Minerals Subcommittee, formerly known as the Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, will be led by Chair Bill Johnson, R-Ohio and Ranking Member Paul Tonko, D-N.Y.

The Energy Climate, and Grid Security Subcommittee, formerly known as the Energy Subcommittee, will be led by Chair Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., and Ranking Member Diana DeGette, D-Colo.

The Health Subcommittee will be led by Chair Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. The Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee will be led by Chair Morgan Griffith, R-Va., and Ranking Member Kathy Castor, D-Fla.

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Digital Inclusion

CES 2023: Congressional Oversight, Digital Equity Priorities for New Mexico Senator

Sen. Lujan once again voiced concern that the FCC’s national broadband map contains major inaccuracies.

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Photo of Sen. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., in February 2018 by Keith Mellnick used with permission

LAS VEGAS, January 6, 2023 – Sen. Ben Ray Lujan on Friday endorsed “oversight at every level” of executive agencies’ broadband policies and decried service providers that perpetuate digital inequities.

Lujan appeared before an audience at the Consumer Electronics Show with Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., to preview the tech-policy priorities of the 118th Congress.

Among Washington legislators, Senators had CES 2023 to themselves: Representatives from the House of Representatives were stuck in Washington participating on Friday in the 12th, 13th and 14th votes for House Speaker.

Congress allocated $65 billion to broadband projects in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, the bulk of which, housed in the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, is yet to be disbursed. The IIJA funds are primarily for infrastructure, but billions are also available for digital equity and affordability projects.

Several federal legislators, including Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., have called for close supervision of Washington’s multitude of broadband-related programs. At CES on Friday, Warner argued that previous tranches of broadband funding have been poorly administered, and Lujan once again voiced concern that the Federal Communications Commission’s national broadband map, whose data will be used to allocate BEAD funds, contains major inaccuracies.

Affordable, high-speed broadband is now a necessity, stated Warner. Lujan argued that policy must crafted to ensure all communities have access to connectivity.

“The [Federal Communications Commission] is working on some of the digital equity definitions right now…. I don’t want to see definitions that create loopholes that people can hide behind to not connect communities,” the New Mexico senator said, emphasizing the importance of “the digital literacy to be able take advantage of what this new connection means, so that people can take advantage of what I saw today [at CES].”

At a Senate hearing in December, Lujan grilled executives from industry trade associations over allegations of digital discrimination.

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Congress

Omnibus Bill Includes FCC Spectrum Auction Extension, TikTok Ban on Government Devices

The spending package includes an extension of the FCC’s auction authority to March 2023.

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Photo of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-IL.

WASHINGTON, December 20, 2022 – A massive omnibus spending bill for fiscal 2023 released Tuesday includes a provision to extend the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auction authority at least until March 2023.

The commission’s authority has already been extended from September to December. But Tuesday’s $1.7 trillion appropriations bill to power the government through September would extend that authority further to March 9, 2023.

Experts and FCC officials have warned about letting lapse the commission’s authority to auction the valuable airwaves, which power wireless communications services.

Meanwhile, a bill introduced earlier this year, would extend the commission’s authority to March 31, 2024.

TikTok ban on government devices

The omnibus bill also includes a ban on video sharing app TikTok on government devices, cited in the bill as the “No TikTok on Government Devices Act.” The Chinese-owned company has been flagged as a possible national security threat because of its ties to the Chinese Communist government.

The provision requires that not later than 60 days after the bill’s enactment, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, in consultation with relevant agencies, “develop standards and guidelines for executive agencies requiring the removal of any covered application from information technology.”

The ban also covers any further apps developed or owned by TikTok parent company ByteDance.

Earlier this month, Maryland moved to eliminate the app from government devices and networks.

Consumer protection, cybersecurity measures

The sprawling bill also includes a provision to establish a national standard for online seller transparency and require the Federal Trade Commission to report on cross-border cyber attacks.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-NJ., and Jan Schakowsky, D-IL., advocated for enhanced protections in the bill that puts the FTC at its center. That includes a Schakowsky-authored provision establishing a national standard – enforced by the competition agency and state attorneys general – that requires online platforms to verify the identity of high-volume third-party sellers so that consumers can get basic identification on the sellers.

Another provision, also authored by Schakowsky — chair of the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee — would require the FTC to report on cross-border complaints about ransomware and other cyber attacked committed by foreign individuals, companies and governments, specifically Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.

Over the past two years, the U.S. has been the subject of major cyberattacks that struck financial services, oil transport, and software companies.

“This end-of-year package is in lock step with our Committee’s commitment to put consumers first,” said the representatives in a joint statement. “It includes legislation that will help curb the onslaught of counterfeit, defective, and unsafe products available to Americans shopping on third-party e-commerce sites—a major source of fake and unsafe goods. It also includes commonsense provisions to keep dangerous furniture products that can tip over on small children off the market and out of our homes.”

Congress is reportedly pushing for the passing of the bill before Christmas.

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