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In Law More Than a Year, MOBILE Now Advocates Say Act Requires Further Implementation for 5G Deployment

Masha Abarinova

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Photo of John Thune in January 2012 by Ed Demaria/Medill News Service used with permission

WASHINGTON, December 6, 2019 – Even though the so-called MOBILE NOW law has been effect since March 2018, former Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., highlighted ongoing implementation needs at a Thursday hearing.

Dubbed the Making Opportunities for Broadband Investment and Limiting Excessive and Needless Obstacles to Wireless Act, MOBILE NOW is designed to ensure that the market has access to both licensed and unlicensed spectrum, Thune said.

Under the law, Thune continued, 255 megahertz of spectrum were identified for mobile and fixed wireless use. MOBILE NOW also directed the Federal Communications Commission to evaluate commercial wireless use in mid-band spectrum.

The purpose of this hearing, said Thune, was to determine how MOBILE NOW’s provisions can quicken the deployment of 5G wireless services.

Lawmakers continue to say that they want ubiquitous broadband services and next-generation 911 infrastructure, said Ranking Member Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii. Yet Congress has not found the right funding mechanisms or economic incentives to achieve these goals.

Unlicensed spectrum must be an essential aspect of spectrum policy, Schatz said. Without accommodating unlicensed spectrum, 5G wireless speeds will only be available to a select number of people with an expensive data plan.

Committee Chairman Roger Wicker, R-Miss., touted the bipartisan MOBILE NOW law as building the foundation for 5G service. He said that the 5G Spectrum Act, a new bill introduced in November 2019 by Wicker that would require the FCC to conduct a public auction of C-Band spectrum, would put the United States on the most efficient path to win the 5G race.

Witnesses largely tout effects of MOBILE NOW, emphasize importance of 5G networks

The witnesses in attendance consisted of several policy analysts of technology and wireless communications. New America’s Open Technology Institute Director Sarah Morris encouraged the Subcommittee to recognize that while 5G networks are important, many Americans are still struggling without basic broadband.

Mobile networks, she said, are not a substitute for the fixed networks required to operate them. The MOBILE NOW Act can help foster stronger Wi-Fi connectivity, which in turn can expand 5G services for all users.

Paul Tenhaken, mayor of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said that cities in the Midwest and rural areas have the most to gain from rapidly expanding digital infrastructure. In November, Sioux Falls was one of the first mid-market cities to activate several small-cell towers in its downtown core.

In such cities, Tenhaken said, the fifth generation of mobile infrastructure is a necessity, not just a “nice to have” asset. The MOBILE NOW Act and the 5G Spectrum Act are a step in the right direction to communities, consumers and carriers. Furthermore, he added, this legislation can help remove unnecessary entry barriers to the 5G community.

Wireless Infrastructure Association CEO Jonathan Adelstein also praised the provisions of MOBILE NOW, which required the FCC and the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to jointly determine determine how to effectively share spectrum between federal and non-federal users.

MOBILE NOW is also combatting unharmonized spectrum application forms across different agencies, Adelstein continued. The NTIA is working on a common application form to bring more transparency to streamlining infrastructure.

Yet the wireless industry still needs to meet growing demands for broadband data, he said. In order to meet the challenges of 5G, Congress should focus on developing the workforce, so that they are properly trained to deploy these networks.

The MOBILE NOW Act can help facilitate an all-of-the-above approach to spectrum strategy, said Scott Bergmann, senior vice president of regulatory affairs at CTIA. The FCC can help allocate the best use of low, mid and high-band spectrum.

Bergmann advised the Subcommittee to continue focusing on the 42 gigahertz band for terrestrial wireless operations. Not only does that spectrum band have the potential for global harmonization, he said, but it can help drive down the cost of wireless equipment as the demand for wireless services increase.

Because of MOBILE NOW, the industry can more effectively discuss the need for new spectrum allocations, said Mary Brown, senior director of technology policy at Cisco. The bill also allows the unlicensed spectrum community to contribute to the rising demand of strong, robust broadband networks.

The unlicensed industry is well-suited to testing new technologies, Brown said, as all unlicensed devices must prove that they adhere to FCC regulations. As the FCC continues to approve devices, she said, unlicensed spectrum holders have a strong stake in ensuring successful market entry.

Section 230

President Trump’s FCC Nominee Grilled on Section 230 During Senate Confirmation Hearing

Jericho Casper

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Photo of Nathan Simington during his Senate confirmation hearing

November 10, 2020 — Members of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation grilled President Donald Trump’s proposed nominee to the Federal Communications Commission, Nathan Simington, on his stance on the FCC’s jurisdiction to interpret Section 230, during a nominations hearing on Tuesday.

While there were two other nominees for federal agency’s present to testify, members of the Committee directed the majority of their questions to Simington, which he mostly attempted to deflect, saying he needed more internal information to answer.

“During your time working at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, you effectively acted as an arm of the president,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., highlighting Simington’s active involvement in crafting the Commerce Department’s petition to the FCC to force the agency to re-interpret Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

“Trump’s tweet makes it clear what he expects from you, which I think should deeply trouble us all,” said Blumenthal, referencing the president’s tweet to Committee Chairman Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, and others, before the hearing, which called for them to act now on Simington’s “important nomination” by confirming him to the FCC as soon as possible.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., during the hearing

Many doubted Simington’s nomination would be confirmed by January, but Tuesday’s hearing introduced a new sense of urgency behind the nomination. The tweets-in-real-time promotion by Trump seemed raise the specter pushing a confirmation – as with the Supreme Court – that, at least in the president’s mind, would bear upon decision-making in the wake of the election.

“The FCC should remain free from political interference,” said Blumenthal, adding that the agency may diminish its independence and become a tool of the outgoing president for the next 70 days.

Simington said he has not had discussions with White House about Section 230

Simington said early on in the questioning session that he supports the FCC’s jurisdiction to clarify Section 230 rulemaking, as proposed by Chairman Ajit Pai in mid-October.

“I do think Section 230 needs to be reformed,” said Simington. He said that he has not had any discussion with the White House on Section 230 legislative proposals.

While Blumenthal demanded that Simington commit to not voting on Section 230 rulemaking, Simington said he believed that such a pledge would be premature to make. However, Simington did promise his first action if nominated would be to talk the issue over with the FCC’s ethics counsel.

Simington promised to work to maintain a “free and open internet” in response to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, questioning his views on what Cruz called “censorship” by big tech companies. He maintained that censorship is “primarily not the concern of the FCC.”

During his opening statement, Simington committed to four values he intends to defend, if confirmed: Regulatory stability through vigorous competition, universal connectivity, national security, and public interest.

While Simington said he would fight for universal connectivity and the public good, he refused to commit to extending the FCC’s temporary interpretation of the E-Rate Program, which is currently enabling educational institutions to use federal funds to increase the internet access available to students who have been sent home.

“I’m troubled by your lack of specificity on expanding the E-Rate Program,” said Blumenthal in response.

Withdrawl of Michael O’Rielly’s nomination and background of Simington

Before his nomination, Nathan Simington was a senior adviser at the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the president’s policy arm for telecommunications policy.

In addition to his work at NTIA, Simington previously worked at the law firms of Mayer Brown, Kirkland and Ellis, and Chapman and Cutler.

Simington was nominated on September 16 to fill a vacancy after the White House withdrew Commissioner Michael O’Rielly’s nomination to serve another term at the FCC.

President Trump withdrew O’Rielly’s nomination on August 3, after the commissioner made comments expressing doubts over proposals that the FCC target social media companies for the way they regulate content.

If confirmed, Simington would fill the seat that will be vacated by O’Rielly, who has been on the commission since 2013. Both are Republicans, but O’Rielly told C-SPAN in July the he held deep reservations over proposals to target social media platforms for the way that they curate their content.

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Senate

Senate Judiciary Committee Subpoenas Tech Giants on Controversial Content, Also Advances Supreme Court Nominee

Jericho Casper

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Screenshot from the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting

October 23, 2020 — Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee boycotted Thursday’s executive meeting, during which the committee, led by a Republican majority, advanced Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to be a justice on the Supreme Court. Additionally, the committee voted to authorize subpoenas relating to the Online Content Policy Modernization Act of Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Both Barrett’s nomination and Graham’s subpoena requests were met favorably by present members of the committee, receiving votes of 12-0.

The committee’s moves today advance Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination out of the committee and to the Senate floor for final voting. Graham called it a momentous day for conservative women and a groundbreaking, historic moment for the American legal and political community.

The legislators also approved subpoena requests for Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, and Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, relating to the the Online Content Modernization Act. “There is a lot of interest on the Democratic side for these subpoenas,” said Graham, “hopefully this will give us some leverage to secure their testimonies.”

Graham’s bill has been met with much criticism. So has the nomination of Barrett.

Many have called Graham’s Online Content Policy Modernization Act a threat to the open internet. It would rewrite Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. That would remove technology platforms’ immunity for the publication of objectionable third party content on their sites.

Instead, the act would insert a limited list of what kinds of content could be moderated without accountability, potentially making it harder for online platforms to take common-sense moderation measures like removing spam or correcting disinformation.

For the nomination of Barrett to the Supreme Court, President Donald Trump has been criticized for trying to push through an appointment before Election Day on November 3. Furthermore, many remember the Republican Party’s united front four years ago in blocking a vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill an election-year vacancy on the high court.

While Democrats continue to criticize the recent Republican move, apparent by today’s boycott, Republican members present claimed that the Democrats set the precedent, by ushering in an era of judicial filibusters.

“The era of mutual respect ended in 1987,” said Sen. Michael Lee, R-Utah, “when the Democratic Senate defeated the nomination of Judge Robert Bork.”

Chairman Graham noted that Democrats “changed the rules in 2013 when they utilized the filibuster for Justice Neil Gorsuch.” Graham said that the move set in motion patterns he has worried about for a long time.

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Cybersecurity

Senate Committee Moves to Ban Government Employees from Using TikTok

Elijah Labby

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Photo of Sen. Josh Hawley by Dominique Pineiro used with permission

July 24, 2020 — The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs voted to bar federal employees from downloading Chinese social media app TikTok on government-issued devices, Reuters reported.

The “No TikTok on Government Devices Act,” introduced by Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., passed unanimously on Wednesday.

TikTok allows its users, who are primarily teenagers and young adults, to perform dances, lip-sync and share their talents with other users online.

Despite the app’s massive usership, legislators have expressed concerns about TikTok’s relationship with the Chinese government. This concern is founded on a 2017 Chinese law which requires companies to cooperate with China’s national intelligence efforts.

Previously, the House of Representatives voted 336-71 to restrict government employees from downloading the app on their devices. The move was a part of a $741 billion defense bill.

Government officials have threatened to ban TikTok outright, but it is unclear how feasible such a move would be.

Jamie Favazza, spokeswoman for TikTok, said that the company highly values its users privacy.

“Millions of American families use TikTok for entertainment and creative expression, which we recognize is not what federal government devices are for,” she said.

The U.S.’s efforts to crack down on TikTok are part of a larger domestic attempt to hobble Chinese tech influence in the United States. Earlier this month, the Federal Communications Commission voted to designate Chinese tech companies Huawei and ZTE as national security threats and stripped them of potential millions in federal 5G funding.

However, critics of this stance say that the U.S.’s strategy toward Chinese tech could backfire and enable China to seize important developing markets.

Don Morrissey, Huawei’s director of congressional affairs, said that the U.S.’s policy toward the company is flawed.

“We recognize that network security needs to be addressed for every operator and host country,” he said. “And we’ve been advocating for national and global standards for third party testing to ensure the security of the supply chain. But from a cybersecurity perspective, it doesn’t make sense to single out an individual company.”

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