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Coronavirus Roundup: White House Messaging, Studios Stream ‘Box Office’ Films, and Broadband Speeds

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President Donald Trump announced a major partnership with the Ad Council, major media networks, and digital platforms to communicate accurate and timely information directly to the American people, according to a White House press release on Wednesday.

The partnership is another component of the “all-of-America” response to the coronavirus disease and will benefit high-risk populations and the general public with public service announcements (PSAs) around social distancing, personal hygiene, and mental health.

As a result of this announcement, the following products are created as a result of this partnership:

  • First Lady of the United States Melania Trump, Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx, and other administration officials will appear in national broadcast PSAs that communicate the most important ways Americans can protect themselves and those most at risk.
  • NBCUniversal will create a series of videos and graphics, available in both English and Spanish, to inform high-risk populations about the steps they can take to protect themselves and to inform the public how to help stop of the spread of coronavirus.
  • ViacomCBS is leveraging its portfolio of brands to deliver multi-channel, multi-platform PSA campaigns that educate audiences around public health imperatives related to COVID-19.
  • iHeartMedia will support messaging around social distancing and high-risk populations, among other important COVID-19-related topics, across their network of stations.
  • ABC/Walt Disney Television will promote priority messaging for parents and families for distribution across their channels and platforms.

The PSAs direct audiences to visit coronavirus.gov, a centralized resource that includes up-to-date information on the crisis

Major studio breaks with movie theaters to offer recent releases as in-home rentals

Universal Pictures is the first to break a 90-day exclusivity clause with movie theaters in order to offer its recent releases for at-home rental, Brookes Barnes and Nicole Sperling of The New York Times reports.

Movies that days ago were in theaters such as “The Invisible Man,” “The Hunt,” and “Emma” will now be available to stream for a premium of $20.

This move breaks with the longstanding Hollywood tradition of offering movie theater chains such as Regal and AMC a 90-day exclusivity period before studios begin selling direct to consumer. The move is likely to anger movie theaters, which rely on the exclusivity period as their main source of income.

Facebook adds coronavirus updates from trusted sources to news feed

Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook will soon add a “Coronavirus Information Center” Icon at the top of users’ News Feeds to aggregate information from trusted experts according to The New York Times. Facebook is hoping to have this feature launched within the next 12 hours in an effort to combat misinformation such as hoax assertions or false cures. Facebook will be pulling from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization to source their content.

“The top priority and focus for us has been making sure people can get access to good authoritative information from trusted health sources,” said Zuckerberg on a conference call this Wednesday.

Mixed signals from major cities on broadband speed during quarantine

No apparent trend has been discovered yet between the quarantine caused by coronavirus and broadband performance according to a report by BroadbandNow. The key findings of the report, published on Tuesday by Tyler Cooper, are listed below:

  • Six of the top ten U.S. cities by population have seen little to no change in median speed test results from the past 11 weeks leading up to the week of March 9th.
  • Four cities have seen degradation in speed, including Houston, New York City, San Diego, and San Jose.
  • Seattle, now regarded as the epicenter for the current pandemic, has seen a median download speed increase as of March 9, 2020.

 

Broadband Roundup

January 6 Committee Social Media Subpoenas, Iranian Hacks, Google Ad Auctions Lawsuit

Lawmakers chastised the companies for providing little information in response to past committee inquiries.

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Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

January 14, 2021 – The House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol has issued subpoenas to social media giants Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter, saying the companies’ responses to prior requests for information were inadequate.

The committee had previously reached out to the companies to assess their knowledge of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election, domestic extremism and foreign influence in the 2020 election that may have taken place on their platforms.

Central to the inquiry is whether the companies took any steps to “prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence,” said committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Iranian intelligence agency engaged in international hacks

U.S. Cyber Command said Wednesday that hacking group MuddyWaters is part of an Iranian intelligence agency which is responsible for several global cyberattacks.

The group, identified as part of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, has been labeled an “Iranian threat group” by authorities.

The information comes following a year of increased cyberattack activity from abroad in the U.S. including the prominent breach at Colonial Pipeline involving hackers with ties to Russia.

Allegedly, the group has targeted nations across the Middle East, Europe and North America in efforts to surveil opponents.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, between 2013 and 2017, Iranian hackers stole $3.4 billion in intellectual property from 170 universities and targeted U.S. officials and journalists as well as United Kingdom banks.

Google alleged to have misled publishers and advertisers

Newly unredacted allegations in a lawsuit by state attorneys general say that Google for years misled publishers and advertisers about pricing and processes in its ad auctions.

The lawsuit says Google created secret programs which deflated sales for some companies while increasing buyer prices, engaging in trust and monopoly-building activities.

The unredacted filing of the lawsuit occurred Friday in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York after a judge ruled and amended complaint from last year could be unsealed.

Google says the lawsuit is “full of inaccuracies and lacks legal merit,” and intends to file a motion for its dismissal next week, asserting that its advertising practices are competitive.

The suit is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and joined by over a dozen other states, alleging that Google’s practices inflate advertising costs which in turn create higher-priced products for consumers.

A separate antitrust case exists against Google from the U.S. Justice Department and over three dozen state attorneys general focusing on the company’s search services.

Additionally, a proposed bipartisan bill in the Senate with the support of a dozen lawmakers would treat Google’s search engine like a railroad operator and ban it from advantaging its own products and services at the expense of other businesses that rely on the platforms – just part of an ongoing adversarial relationship between Congress and the tech company.

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Broadband Roundup

Digital Literacy Legislation, Scott Woods Interview, Kim Kardashian Crypto Scam

Brenda Lawrence, a democratic representative from Michigan, introduced new legislation that will help measure the nation’s digital literacy.

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Scott Woods, director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration

January 13, 2022 — Representative Brenda Lawrence, D-Michigan, introduced legislation Wednesday that would bring government agencies together to address digital literacy.

The Digital Literacy and Equity Commission Act hopes to streamline the federal government’s approach to digital literacy by bringing together agency heads and experts to assess digital literacy in the United States, recommend how to measure digital literacy, and promote interagency cooperation. Right now there is no commonly used metric to measure digital literacy.

“As a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’re investing billions to expand access to broadband,” Lawrence said of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law in November. “Laying down the fiber is a strong first step to connect Americans around the country, but this effort won’t be as effective if people can’t use the online tools they’ve been given.”

The Digital Literacy and Equity Commission would be chaired by the Secretary of Education and the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel.

The legislation would require the commission to submit a report to Congress that contains recommendations on how to improve and maintain the digital and information literacy of individuals in the United States.

The commission will need to address low-income and disadvantaged areas and submit a final report with strategies to improve digital literacy through early education and community outreach.

Interview with Scott Woods at Broadband.Money

Scott Woods, director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives in the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, will meet on Friday with Broadband Breakfast reporter, Justin Perkins for an “Ask Me Anything!” style interview for Broadband.Money.

“Scott is a broadband funding, implementation and stakeholder engagement expert and a key member of the OIGC leadership team responsible for implementing the historic $65 billion broadband funding program authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA),” Broadband.Money said.

The Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives was established in 2021 to continue the work of the 2018 Minority Broadband Initiative. The intent of both the office and the original initiative was to close the digital divide in underserved communities by partnering with Historically Black Universities.

Woods’ office is the operator of a multitude of broadband and digital equity grant programs, which is why Friday’s conversation will center on providing opportunities for public and private partners wanting to strengthen broadband within their communities.

Kim Kardashian sued for crypto scam

Both celebrity Kim Kardashian and former boxer Floyd Mayweather are being sued by investors for allegedly falsely promoting a cryptocurrency called EthereumMax on their social media accounts.

CNN reports that a “class action lawsuit filed last Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California accuses EthereumMax and its celebrity promoters of working together to artificially inflate the price of the token by making “false or misleading statements” in social media posts.”

The lawsuit alleges that investors who purchased EthereumMax in the early summer of 2021 lost money as a result of the celebrities’ false advertising.

CNN reported that a spokesperson for EthereumMax disputed the lawsuit stating that it was “riddled with misinformation.” Furthermore, CNN said that “representatives for Kardashian and Mayweather were not immediately available when contacted.”

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Broadband Roundup

Facebook Objection Dismissed, Glo Fiber Expanding, Utopia’s Timmerman Advocates Gigi Sohn

A judge dismissed Facebook’s objection to the FTC’s investigation into the company’s alleged anticompetitive practices.

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FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan

January 12, 2022 – Facebook’s attempts to convince the court to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s anticompetition case against it have been rejected by D.C. District Court Judge James Boasberg, which advocacy group Public Knowledge said in a Tuesday press release is “great news.”

Facebook, now called Meta, filed a complaint in October asking the court to dismiss the case that alleges the company is a monopoly power that controls over 60 percent of the “person social networking services” market. But the court effectively ruled that there is evidence that can move the case forward against the company.

“This is great news for the fight to hold Big Tech accountable and to offer users a real alternative to Facebook… thanks to the FTC’s persistence on this important issue, even the previously skeptical Judge Boasberg now agrees these concerns deserve further scrutiny.”

Boasberg also dismissed that argument also dismissed the argument that Khan should be recused from her position because of past comments she’s made about big technology companies.

Glo Fiber expanding network to Blacksburg, VA

Glo Fiber will be expanding its fiber optic network to include Blacksburg, Virginia this year to increase internet speeds for over 7,000 households and businesses, according to a Tuesday press release.

Shenandoah Telecommunications Company, the parent of Glo Fiber, will offer three tiers of symmetrical internet services, as well as streaming TV and phone service.

The news comes after the city council of Stephens City in Northern Virginia entered into a franchise agreement with Shenandoah and Glo to provide internet service to towns in the area.

Utopia Fiber wants Gigi Sohn at FCC

Roger Timmerman, the executive director at Utopia Fiber, wrote an opinion piece for the Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday urging the Senate to push forth Gigi Sohn as the fifth Federal Communications Commission Commissioner because she would keep certain companies accountable in the market.

In the piece, he said that Sohn is best suited for this job because of her stance on big cable companies, her efforts to keep cable companies accountable, and her efforts to be a bipartisan voice in the world of telecommunications.

“If Gigi Sohn lands at the FCC, cable will need to be more accountable to consumers, businesses and taxpayers (who’ve subsidized their efforts for years with little in return)” Timmerman wrote. “Sohn wants to see policy that spurs innovation and investment, as well as economic development and jobs”.

Sohn has yet to be up for a Senate vote. If she’s approved, she will round-out the commission and provide the Democrats with the majority voice.

Utopia Fiber is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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