The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday waived several rules and extended the filing deadlines for Rural Health Care applications, extending them to June 30, 2020. This order gives healthcare providers an additional two months to file their applications for broadband funding.
“At a time when healthcare providers are overwhelmed by an avalanche of coronavirus victims, the Commission has lightened their load,” said John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.
“We encourage the FCC to further help our nation’s hospitals and clinics by allowing health care providers to upgrade their broadband capacity immediately from their existing broadband providers. Let’s take care of our healthcare providers like they take care of us,” said Windhausen.
The SHLB Coalition requested the FCC extend the RHC program filing deadline in a February 27 letter. SHLB also asked for the deadline extension in its March 17 letter, and spoke about these concerns and proposed additional actions on the Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on March 18. which proposed 15 actions the FCC should take to address the COVID-19-driven connectivity crisis.
Public Knowledge launches tracking report on digital platforms and misinformation during pandemic
Public Knowledge on Friday announced the launch of our newest tracking report to log digital platform responses to misinformation during this pandemic.
The report monitors how major digital platforms like Twitter and Google respond to the crisis and analyzes their various approaches, helping policymakers, media, and the public to better explore what platforms are doing to combat the rising “infodemic,” which Public Knowledge described as “a dangerous onslaught of misunderstandings, inaccurate data, and lies about the coronavirus spread rapidly online.”
“Over the past three months, Americans have been forced to grapple with two potentially deadly epidemics: the novel coronavirus, and what the World Health Organization describes as an ‘infodemic’ of false and misleading information about it.,” said Lisa Macpherson, senior policy fellow at Public Knowledge:
“We started this report to understand how the major digital platforms were responding to the infodemic, and what it reveals about their capabilities to detect, analyze, and — when warranted — remove disinformation from their platforms. This should help us hold the platforms accountable for both the good work they’re doing, as well as for where they are falling short. It’s already clear that their capabilities may exceed what we have seen from their behavior in the past — but it’s also clear the virus presents unique challenges.”
AEI scholar says coronavirus demonstrates states folly of tech regulation
American Enterprise Institute Visiting Scholar Rosyln Layton writes that many onerous and outdated government regulations have been lifted during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting the “folly” of these regulations in the first place.
These regulations include the relaxing of rules by the Food and Drug Administration for COVID-19 testing, loosening medical privacy requirements to expand telemedicine, the tripling of the Transportation Security Administration’s liquid allowance for hand sanitizer, the relaxing of the Small Business Administration’s criteria for disaster assistance loans, easing of the Department of Education’s restrictions for online courses, and an extension of the tax filing deadline by the IRS.
Additionally, Layton notes efforts to deregulate health care by making it easier for health care practitioners to transfer their licenses across state borders.
She writes: “In the tech policy world, while we’ve argued in this space previously that regulations such as net neutrality, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, and California Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) were bad for people in the tech economy, the COVID-19 pandemic has only made this more clear.”
Biden Acts on Surveillance, Florida Broadband Maps, Free State Wants Constitutional Spectrum
The administration’s efforts are mostly directed at curtailing the Chinese government.
November 3, 2021 – The Biden administration announced on Thursday an initiative to prevent the use of technology for surveillance by authoritarian governments, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The Chinese government is among many authoritarian governments that rely on imported technology to conduct state surveillance.
Biden’s plans include creating a code of conduct for export licensing, which authorizes specific transactions and controls which technologies the U.S. ships out, as well as sharing with international allies vital information on technologies that are weaponized against political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and government officials, per WSJ.
The action comes after Biden in June banned Americans from investing in companies linked to Chinese military and surveillance activities, per Axios.
The administration’s new initiative will be announced at the inaugural Summit for Democracy gathering over 100 democratic governments to counter authoritarianism next Thursday and Friday. China and Russia have criticized the gathering following their exclusion from the event.
Florida added to Citizen’s National Broadband Map
Citizen’s National Broadband Map has added Florida to its expanding list of 15 state participants, GEO Partners said in a press release Thursday.
Florida will join the project which already includes states such as Washington, Minnesota, Maine, Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana and Nevada.
GEO is the integration of software and software derived services, specifically designed to perform broadband modeling, costing and financial analysis for localities.
GEO Partners says its platform “permits grant administrators to interactively verify the impact of their programs and intended targets in real-time, without relying on out-dated historical maps.”
“Crowdsourced mapping has the ability to determine if broadband deployments and related grant programs are meeting expectations,” says GEO Partners.
Free State Foundation says Constitution requires more market-based approaches to spectrum policy
The Free State Foundation, a free market think tank, wrote in an op-ed Friday that “foundational constitutional principles” require government approaches to spectrum policy to be more market-based than they are at the present.
The op-ed says that the government should move from its current practice of controlling large swaths of private spectrum to reallocation of government spectrum to both licensed and unlicensed private commercial use, consistent with what FSF says is a constitutional requirement for the government “to promote private property and private sector commerce.”
FSF urges licensing on an exclusive basis for spectrum bands suited to commercial licensing.
Additionally to fulfill government responsibilities, FSF suggests excluding “application of ‘hard caps’ on wireless providers’ acquisition of spectrum licenses” as well as rejecting “net neutrality” or “open access” restrictions.
The think tank believes federal agencies should relinquish, or at least share, government spectrum that they are underutilizing and “prioritize the 3.1-3.5 GHz band for examination and timely repurposing.”
Federal Court Blocks Social Media Law, Illinois Broadband Initiative, Fiber Leads for Telecom Giants
A Texas court blocked enforcement of a social media that would prevent companies from removing extreme speech.
December 2, 2021 – A federal court in Texas temporarily blocked a new state law that would prevent social media companies from removing political speech.
Federal district court judge Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas granted a preliminary injunction against the law which is set to take effect today.
The law, HB 20 targets companies with at least 50 million users in the United States, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Texas governor Greg Abbott signed the law in September, calling the measure a move to “protect Texans from wrongful censorship on social media platforms.”
The law would also allow Texas residents to sue companies in order to reinstate their accounts.
In his decision, Pitman ruled that social media companies have a First Amendment right to moderate users’ content on their platforms. “This Court is convinced that social media platforms, or at least those covered by HB 20, curate both users and content to convey a message about the type of community the platform seeks to foster and, as such, exercise editorial discretion over their platform’s content,” he decided.
Internet industry groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association filed to challenge the Texas law in September. CCIA president Matt Schruers said the ruling was “not surprising.” “The First Amendment ensures that the Government can’t force a citizen or company to be associated with a viewpoint they disapprove of, and that applies with particular force when a state law would prevent companies from enforcing policies against Nazi propaganda, hate speech, and disinformation from foreign agents.”
In June, a federal court judge imposed a temporary ban on a similar social media law signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis until the case is settled in court.
Illinois starts broadband investment initiative
Illinois announced Wednesday a broadband acceleration project that will help communities receive support and funding for broadband expansion.
Governor JB Pritzker, together with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Broadband Office, announced the Accelerate Illinois Broadband Infrastructure Planning Program – a collaborative program for local governments to receive expert support as they apply for and receive federal funding for broadband deployment.
Pritzker emphasized how his state is making broadband deployment a priority for towns in Illinois. “Keeping our communities connected has never been more important than it is today and this pilot will help communities play a direct role in delivering broadband infrastructure improvements to close the gaps on service,” he said. “With an historic amount of funding available thanks to our own Connect Illinois initiative and with new federal infrastructure dollars coming from Washington we are committed to reaching our goal of delivering universal broadband access across our state.”
The Accelerate Illinois program will offer 30 hours of free expert counsel provided by the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society. The Accelerate Illinois “Notice of Collaboration Opportunity” is open and accepting applications through December 30, 2021. The State expects to serve up to 12 communities as part of the initial pilot initiative.
Fiber leading telecom giants’ investment goals
Telecommunications companies are rushing to invest in fiber amid an “alternative networks” trend, according to a Wednesday story in the Financial Times.
The report notes that while some investors are funding a new generation of “alternative networks” – networks deployed using fiber-to-home, fixed wireless networks, hybrid networks, and satellite broadband services to bring broadband solutions to urban and rural areas – incumbent telecoms providers are pushing for more fiber investments.
William Hare, an analyst with technology consulting firm Omida, said fiber has become more important over the past two years. “Through the pandemic, fiber has become much more of a priority.”
The Times reports that the speed and resilience offered by a full-fiber network matches consumer expectations. “Fiber really outperforms copper,” says Hare. “The raw speed is one thing; but reliability and stability is the real advantage.”
Omida predicts that the United States will be among the countries with the most fiber growth by 2024, behind Spain, China, and Egypt. For 5G markets, the US, South Korea, and Finland will see the biggest growth.
A barrier to wider worldwide deployment of 5G in some countries is the availability of smartphones, especially in some African countries, the report said.
Sohn Broadcast Ties Questioned, Broadband in Baltimore, Facebook Asked to Sell Giphy in U.K.
The National Association of Broadcasters raised concern about FCC nominee Gigi Sohn’s ties to defunct streaming service Locast.
December 1, 2021 – The National Association of Broadcasters has this week raised what it calls “serious concerns” regarding President Joe Biden’s Federal Communications Commission nominee Gigi Sohn and potential ties to streaming service Locast.
Locast was a nonprofit service which used statute within the Copyright Act to retransmit local broadcast signals to its 2.8 million registered users for free, but shut down its services in September following a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. Locast had operated in 35 U.S. markets.
The organization stated that it is “confident that these concerns can be resolved,” though it contends that the ethics agreement Sohn submitted to the Senate does not adequately address the conflict of interest between her role with Locast and her nomination to the FCC.
A district court dismissed Locast’s argument that it could not be sued for copyright violations before it shut down.
Mayor of Baltimore commits to closing digital divide in city by 2030
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott has committed to closing the digital divide in his city by 2030 and plans to use current funding made available by President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act to make investments in Baltimore’s digital infrastructure.
The first $6 million in funding that the city receives will be used to expand fiber access to 23 recreation centers and create 100 Wi-Fi hotspots in 10 west Baltimore neighborhoods.
“The COVID-19 pandemic showed us that internet access is critical, basic public infrastructure,” said Mayor Scott.
Overall, the city plans to use $35 million in ARPA funds, with more details on specific allocation to come in early 2022.
The city also plans to hire a digital equity coordinator and staff with significant knowledge of Wi-Fi, fiber engineering, operations and tech support.
Its approach to ending the digital divide will focus on root causes of broadband inequality by constructing open-access fiber infrastructure across the city.
UK competition watchdog asks Facebook to sell Giphy
The United Kingdom’s Competition and Markets Authority is asking Facebook’s parent company Meta to sell Giphy, a GIF-sharing platform, marking the first time that the antitrust watchdog has attempted to end a tech deal, according to the Associated Press.
Per CNBC, the watchdog group found that if Facebook were able to limit other social platforms’ use of Giphy’s content and decrease competition, Facebook’s “already significant market power” would increase.
“By requiring Facebook to sell Giphy, we are protecting millions of social media users and promoting competition and innovation in digital advertising,” said Stuart McIntosh, inquiry chair of the Competition and Markets Authority.
A Meta spokesperson said the company disagrees with the watchdog’s request.
Meta and the watchdog group have entered into a legal fight over Facebook and Giphy’s deal, reportedly worth about $400 million.
- Congressional Witnesses Say Lack of Agency Resources is Holding Back Government Cybersecurity Efforts
- Biden Acts on Surveillance, Florida Broadband Maps, Free State Wants Constitutional Spectrum
- Sen. Alex Padilla Emphasizes Billions in Broadband Funds for California
- Ask Me Anything! Friday with Craig Settles, Community Telehealth Pioneer at 2:30 p.m. ET
- Frances Haugen, U.S. House Witnesses Say Facebook Must Address Social Harms
- Pole Access Delays Cost Americans Millions a Month, Report Claims
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