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Amie Stepanovich at Silicon Flatirons, Amazon Stores Voice Recordings, and Dish Network’s Spectrum Assets

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Silicon Flatirons announced Amie Stepanovich as the new executive director of the technology policy think tank based at the University of Colorado Law School. A noted cybersecurity and privacy law and policy expert, she plans to build upon Silicon Flatirons’ legacy of interdisciplinary conferences and programming. She begins on July 29, 2019, succeeding Flatirons’ founder Phil Weiser, who was elected attorney general of Colorado.

Stepanovich previously served as U.S. policy manager and global policy counsel at Access Now, where she was responsible for developing the organization’s U.S. policy and leading global projects at the intersection of human rights and government surveillance.

Prior to this, she was director of the Domestic Surveillance Project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Stepanovich is a board member of the Internet Education Foundation and an advisory board member for the Future of Privacy Forum.

Amazon continues to store information about conversations with Alexa on its devices

The Verge reports that Amazon doesn’t always delete the stored data that it obtains through voice interactions with the company’s Alexa and Echo device, even after a user chooses to wipe the audio files from their account. Amazon revealed this in a letter a letter to Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., dated June 28.

The answers were a follow-up to a request from Coons when he questioned how long the company retains voice recordings and transcripts from Echo interactions. Amazon confirmed some of the allegations. “We retain customers’ voice recordings and transcripts until the customer chooses to delete them,” the letter reads.

There was also a question about whether Amazon held on to text transcripts of voice interactions with Alexa, even after a user has chosen to delete the audio equivalent. In some cases, Amazon chooses to hold on to the data without telling the user.

In its response, Brian Huseman, Amazon’s vice president of public policy, said the company is engaged in an “ongoing effort to ensure those transcripts do not remain in any of Alexa’s other storage systems.” In other words, even if a user manually deletes the audio version, some text versions are still saved in separate storage systems for some unknown amount of time.

“The American people deserve to understand how their personal data is being used by tech companies, and I will continue to work with both consumers and companies to identify how to best protect Americans’ personal information,” said Coons in a statement.

Dish Network’s $20 billion in dormant spectrum could lie fallow longer under T-Mobile/Sprint asset spin off

Bloomberg reports that about $20 billion worth of wireless airwaves, owned by Dish Network Corp, are sitting dormant. If used, they could create more competition and supply millions more high-speed connections.

Dish is on track to get even more airwaves and other assets this year, this time as part of a side deal to T-Mobile US Inc.’s purchase of Sprint Corp. The idea is set up Dish, known for its satellite TV service, as a nationwide wireless carrier, creating a new competitor after the $26.5 billion T-Mobile-Sprint merger subtracts one provider from the U.S. market.

The Federal Communications Commission has been pressuring Dish’s owner Charlie Ergen, to use the spectrum he already has. The FCC has said it will move to take away licenses if Dish doesn’t meet requirements to begin offering mobile service on its existing airwaves holdings by 2020.

T-Mobile and Sprint would let Dish use their infrastructure for six or seven years until Dish can build its own network, people familiar with the matter said this week. That might appeal to the FCC because it would let Dish immediately enter the market, even though it might take more time to use its airwaves.

The agency denied a $3.3 billion discount on airwaves claimed at auction in 2015 by two Dish partners, saying that the firms weren’t independent of Dish. The company’s past misadventures may be on Chairman Ajit Pai’s mind as he weighs whether to entrust Ergen with the fate of the wireless market.

(Photo of Amie Stepanovich, former U.S. Policy Manager and Global Policy Counsel, Access Now, in June 2016 by New America Foundation used with permission.)

Broadband Roundup

Former FCC Chair Joins Company Board, Twitter to Pay $150 million in Privacy Case, Telehealth Prescriptions

Tom Wheeler is joining the board of a mobile network company.

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Photo of Tom Wheeler, by Mark Wilson

May 26, 2022 – Alef, a mobile network company, announced on Wednesday that Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, will join its board of directors.

According to the press release, Wheeler will “serve as an advocate for enterprises to rapidly adopt mobility inside the enterprise private network.”

Wheeler has more than 40 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. During his time at the FCC, he led efforts to adopt the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum band, net neutrality, and enhanced cybersecurity policies.

“Alef is a pioneer for the kind of competitive offering that we were envisioning when the FCC created CBRS, and thus it is an honor to join this Board of Directors,” said Wheeler in the press release.

In the same press release, Alef announced it also joined the OnGo Alliance, an organization designed to support the development of new solutions for the CBRS.

Working with OnGo, Alef will identify key issues and drive the development of LTE and 5G NR solutions for CBRS, the press release said. “This news demonstrates the company’s continued leadership across the telecom industry, ushering in a new era of capability delivered to the enterprise from the mobile edge,” stated the press release.

Alef gives enterprises and developers the ability to create, customize, and control their own private network infrastructure, the release said.

Twitter to pay $150 million to settle privacy suit

Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million fine following a privacy lawsuit settlement made public on Wednesday concerning allegations that the company improperly collected and handled user data between 2013 and 2019.

The settlement requires a court approval before being finalized.

The lawsuit, which was initiated by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, stated that Twitter had collected phone numbers and email addresses from platform users to secure accounts but allowed advertisers use the information to target ads without notifying users.

According to an FTC press release, Twitter used this personal information to “further its own business interests through its Tailored Audiences and Partner Audiences services.” This was in violation of a 2011 privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

“As the complaint notes, Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads,” FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan said in a release.

The settlement, in addition to the fine, will require Twitter to “maintain a comprehensive privacy and information security program, notify users whose information was misused, limit employee access to personal data, and offer multifactor authentication options.”

Twitter apologized for the breach in 2019, claiming that the data “may have been inadvertently used for advertising.”

Damien Kieran, Twitter’s chief privacy officer, said in a blog post that “keeping data secure and respecting privacy is something we take extremely seriously, and we have cooperated with the FTC every step of the way.”

CVS, Walmart to stop telehealth prescriptions

CVS Pharmacy and Walmart will no longer be filling prescriptions for controlled substances ordered by telehealth companies Cerebral Inc. and Done Health in response to concerns from a review that CVS conducted on their prescription practices. Walmart, according to the Wall Street Journal, did not disclose why they made the decision.

“We recently conducted a review of certain telehealth companies that prescribe controlled substance medications,” said CVS in a statement to The Hill. It is “important that medications are prescribed appropriately.”

CVS reportedly was unable to resolve “concerns” they had with Cerebral and Done Health, but did not elaborate on the concerns.

Cerebral said in a statement to The Hill that CVS’s timing was unfortunate, noting that they had stopped prescribing controlled substances earlier this month. “In light of CVS’s decision, Cerebral is doing everything possible to ensure these patients get access to medications that their health care providers have determined they need.”

Cerebral said that they would reach out to every patient impacted by CVS’s decision to help them transition to another pharmacy “as seamless as possible.”

As reported by The Hill, pharmacists at other locations that have adopted similar policies “expressed concerns that telehealth companies were over-prescribing certain medications like Adderall.”

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Digital Equity Foundation Guide, UScellular Selects Ericsson for 5G, Brightspeed Targets

A policy paper recommends how a federally funded digital equity entity should be funded and structured.

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Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project

May 25, 2022 – A policy paper released Wednesday outlined recommendations for a federally funded Digital Equity Foundation, including how it should be structured and funded.

New America’s Open Technology Institute and the Philanthropic thru Privatization report recommends the foundation focus on having a stable endowment to maintain the its annual support, an ability to raise outside funds, to have advisory groups with a broad range of expertise to guide the foundation, and to have transparency principles that would see it have federal appointees and report regularly to the Senate and House commerce committees.

The paper comes after a joint note from New America and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies in April 2021 to Congress for funding for the foundation. At least 75 organizations support the Digital Equity Foundation.

“A federally funded Digital Equity Foundation isn’t a radical concept. Rather, it’s a common-sense policy solution to a longstanding national problem,” said Chuck Bell, a project associate for the PtP Project. “This proposed foundation would meet vital community needs, fit with longstanding legal precedents, and provide sustainable national funding to bridge the digital divide for millions of underserved Americans.”

Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project, said that even with the billions in broadband investments from the Infrastructure, Investment Jobs Act – which provides funding for digital equity – we won’t close the digital divide without “sustained investments in digital literacy and adoption efforts at the community level.”

UScellular selects Ericsson for C-band deployment

UScellular, the nation’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, announced Wednesday an agreement that will see Swedish telecom equipment supplier Ericsson help the telecom build out its 5G network using the C-band spectrum.

The telecom looks to use the spectrum to build out its fixed wireless network.

“Ericsson’s advanced mid-band coverage extension functionality with Carrier Aggregation network solutions will increase coverage and capacity for UScellular customers both at home and on the go,” said a press release Wednesday.

“Ericsson has a valued, long-standing relationship with UScellular, and we share their commitment to providing a resilient and sustainable network through the use of industry-leading innovations, ultimately elevating the customer experience,” Eric Boudriau, Ericsson’s vice president and head of customer unit regional carriers, said in the release.

Brightspeed announces first-year build target for its fiber network

On Wednesday, telecom company Brightspeed announced first-year plans for its proposed $2 billion network transformation plan, including an aim to have one million new fiber passings across rural and suburban regions of the U.S. and reaching close to three million homes and businesses by the end of 2023.

The company said it is optimistic the first deployment will take place in North Carolina in a few weeks and will serve as a company blueprint for future applications.

“We have already begun design and construction preparations necessary to hit the ground running on day one. We will be well-equipped to quickly deliver on our mission to bring ultra-fast, reliable Internet and Wi-Fi to more homes and businesses” said Bob Mudge, CEO of Brightspeed.

The company said its network is expected to provide more than one gigabit per second download speeds.

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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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