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Without Section 230, Digital Platforms ‘Would Not Be Able to Exist,’ Panelists Said



WASHINGTON, July 29, 2019 — Policy experts and tech executives emphatically defended the controversial Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act at an Internet Governance Forum conference on Thursday.

The statute, which has been the target of attacks from both sides of the aisle in recent weeks, paves the way for digital platforms to moderate content posted by users by giving them certain legal immunities.

“If we were held liable for everything that the users potentially posted…we fundamentally would not be able to exist,” said Jessica Ashooh, Reddit’s director of policy. “And that’s where this becomes a competitive issue, because at a time when we’re talking about antitrust investigations and we’re wondering if the biggest players are too big, the last thing we want to do is make a law that makes it harder for smaller companies to compete.”

The debate about content moderation is wrongfully cased in binary terms, Ashooh continued, explaining that there are many steps between leaving content up and taking it down. For example, Reddit uses a quarantine policy for material that doesn’t technically violate the content policy but could be reasonably called highly offensive or upsetting.

The policy also applies to certain content that is verifiably false, such as forums dedicated to Holocaust denial or anti-vaccination propaganda. Such content is hidden behind a warning screen and dropped out of user recommendations.

The First Amendment limits the government’s ability to counter the spread of disinformation, making it essential that Section 230 enables digital platforms to do so, said Emma Llansó, Director of the Free Expression Project at the Center for Democracy & Technology.

Without Section 230’s protection, content moderation would quickly become binary, Ashooh and Llansó warned.

The debate over content moderation is difficult because there is so much criticism in both directions, said Jeff Kosseff, professor of cybersecurity law at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Many argue that platforms are not doing enough moderation, a viewpoint that gained traction among Democrats when a doctored video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spread rapidly across the internet.

Others, including many Republicans, argue that platforms are using excessive content moderation to silence opposing political viewpoints, using the oft-repeated claim that Section 230 is premised on platforms having neutrality.

Section 230 is actually premised on not having neutrality, Kosseff said. Instead, it gives platforms the ability to implement and enforce their own content guidelines.

While some content is clearly criminal and should be taken down, there is plenty of content that falls into a gray area. The same words could potentially be viewed by some as valid political discourse and by others as violent hate speech.

Section 230 is important because it enables platforms to decide where to draw the line, Kosseff said. Although there’s no perfect way of making these difficult decisions, they are the responsibility of private companies, not the federal government.

We will “almost certainly” see changes to the statute in the near future—likely before the Senate passes privacy legislation, said IBM Technology Policy Executive Ryan Hagemann, saying that the question was not whether the law should be amended, but how it should be amended.

And Congress is starting to take note of the issue. Following a June proposal from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., to repeal Section 230 for big tech giants, Rep. Ed Case, D-Hawaii, on Thursday formally requested the House Energy and Commerce Committee to launch a probe of the law.

“When the statute was passed in 1996, it had an important role to play in fostering the internet’s growth,” Day told the committee. “But today’s massive internet platforms that offer services cannot be allowed to knowingly facilitate law breaking in our states and localities by hiding behind CDA 230 immunity.”

(Photo of conference by Emily McPhie.)

Development Associate Emily McPhie studied communication design and writing at Washington University in St. Louis, where she was a managing editor for campus publication Student Life. She is a founding board member of Code Open Sesame, an organization that teaches computer skills to underprivileged children in six cities across Southern California.


House Democrats Fight Against Anti-Crypto Measures in Senate-Passed Infrastructure Bill



Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif.

August 20, 2021 – Pro-crypto House Democrats pushed back against the Senate Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s inclusion of crypto regulatory language, seeking to make it less broad.

The additions of cryptocurrency taxes aim to generate revenue to pay for part of the infrastructure spending. Its authors intended to reduce fraud in reports to the IRS.

Democratic California Reps. Ro Khanna, Eric Swalwell, and Anna Eshoo joined cryptocurrency enthusiasts Rep. Bill Foster, D-Illinois, and Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., in urging to amend the infrastructure bill in the House.

In a letter released on August 12, Eshoo advocated to Pelosi that the House should “amend the problematic broker definition,” describing the existing language as “imposing unworkable regulations.”

But there is some feeling that amendments to the bill in the House may not be necessary. According to a Treasury Department official, the agency plans to clarify its definition of a “broker” to be more specific.

Any amendments to the House would force the infrastructure measure back to the Senate.

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Digital Inclusion

Senators Reintroduce Bipartisan Digital Equity Act

Sen. Murray re-introduces bi-partisan that would provide grants to states pushing for digital equity.



Patty Murray, D-Washington

June 14, 2021– Three Senators have introduced legislation that would provide grants to states that create digital equity plans.

The proposed legislation, reintroduced on Thursday by Patty Murray, D-Washington, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Angus King, I-Maine, would set-aside $60 million to establish a State Digital Equity Capacity Grant within the Department of Commerce that would “promote the achievement of digital equity, support digital inclusion activities, and build capacity for efforts by States relating to the adoption of broadband by residents of those States.”

The funds from the Digital Equity Act in the Senate would be made available to all states, foundations, corporations, institutions, or agencies. The bill was first introduced by Murray in 2019.

Each state will receive a different grant amount depending on a formula that includes population and access to broadband across the state, to be spent within 5 years of receipt.

In addition to funding for states, the bill creates a  $125-million Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program. This program is also for state agencies and institutions but is more specifically geared toward those that are responsible for “adult education and literacy activities.”

Infrastructure portion

A final pillar of the bill is to create more infrastructure and resources for future development of policies that will continue to promote a bridging of the digital divide.

During a press conference on the bill, Murray told the Broadband Breakfast that she believes the bill will be successful because it gives states and local communities the ability to decide what their needs are. “We cannot dictate that in D.C.,” she remarked.

When asked why the bill will create more permanent solutions, she stated that it, “Provides for the diversity of needs that are going to continue to be out there.”

The senators co-sponsoring the bill said they are confident it will make its way into any infrastructure legislation passed by Congress.

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Senate Committee Hears High Symmetrical Internet Speeds, Up-To-Date Technologies For Future Of Rural America

NTCA’s Shirley Bloomfield on driving improvements for rural broadband.



Shirley Bloomfield

May 19, 2021– The head of the NTCA — Rural Broadband Association told a Senate Finance Committee that there are a number of improvements that can be made to broadband services and infrastructure for rural Americans, including higher symmetrical internet speeds, up-to-date network technologies, and better coordination of government funding to avoid overbuilding.

Shirley Bloomfield provided six different types of actions at Tuesday’s hearing that the government should take to improve broadband coverage in rural markets.

Bloomfield’s first suggestion was to build networks to last. She argued that building networks that provide insufficient speeds or utilize technology that is already outdated will not be sufficient to address the broadband needs of the future generation. During her testimony, Bloomfield specifically voiced support for 100 Mbps symmetrical service.

“We have a once in a generation opportunity—on the investment side—to do this right—to aim higher and to do better,” she said.

Her second suggestion was to take steps to limit overbuilding. To do this, she suggested that state and local governments coordinate with existing programs that provide mapping and funding for broadband projects. She clarified during her testimony that those without broadband service need to be prioritized before those with insufficient broadband service. She argued that the best way to do this would be ensuring that there is coordination with federal and state regulatory bodies with access to mapping data.

Bloomfield’s third suggestion was that network maintenance must be prioritized, and that modern networks will only stay modern and efficient if they are kept working and up to date.

Bloomfield also recommended clearer standards for broadband providers and that un(der)served rural communities should not be treated as “test labs” for new technologies. She stated that technologies should not be deployed until they have been sufficiently tested and established as viable strategies to serve communities in need of broadband. This includes not just the current needs of the communities in question, but also the projected needs of future generations.

Her sixth recommendation was to encourage consumers to look for local ISPs to provide broadband service. She noted that these smaller, local ISPs have cultivated relationships with the communities they serve, and those who work for the ISP often live among those they serve. She stated that it is this intimate connection that has allowed them to navigate the unique issues that these rural communities face.

Finally, Bloomfield encouraged the Committee to push for lower barriers to entry for broadband expansion projects, stating that bureaucracy and costs associated with many projects are simply too high. She also stated that a concerted effort must be made to sure-up supply chain issues that are currently applying significant pressure to ISPs and hampering expansion.

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