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Tech Industry Pushes Back Against EARNIT, Microsoft on Digital Divide, Satellite Analyzer-in-the-cloud

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Photo of Lindsay Graham from October 2015 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

The Computer and Communications Industry Association and four other internet trade groups sent a letter Thursday to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., to protest aspects of the proposed Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies (EARNIT) Act of 2020.

The EARNIT Act would establish a government commission that, the tech associations say, would dictate practices for online monitoring and content removal.

CCIA President Matt Schruers had the following to say about EARNIT:

“Technology providers need the flexibility to make digital products and services safer and more secure. Law enforcement needs the resources and direction to prioritize prosecuting bad actors.

“Everyone has a role to play in meeting our shared goal of reducing crime online. Unfortunately, creating a new federal commission to second-guess how private Internet companies manage content and secure their users is not the best way to fight crime,” Schruers said.

The other associations signing on to the letter were the Consumer Technology Association, the Internet Association, the Internet Infrastructure Coalition, and NetChoice.

Microsoft weighs in on digital divide

The digital divide is “wide but solvable,” says a blog post by Shelley McKinley, head of technology and corporate responsibility at Microsoft.

The blog criticized the FCC’s broadband map for being inaccurate. Referencing the BroadbandNow study finding that the actual number of those without broadband access is double the FCC’s estimates, McKinley cites Microsoft’s research “showing that 157.3 million people in the U.S. do not use the internet at broadband speeds.”

However, McKinley also gives credit to the FCC’s recent reevaluation of its data collection methodology, as well as its recent rulings that provide “positive and necessary” changes to TV white spaces regulation.

So called “white spaces” of unlicensed wireless transmission provide ISPs with another way to provide broadband to remote areas that are hostile towards cable-laying, she said. Importantly, its prices are dropping.

McKinley also plugged Microsoft’s Airband Initiative, which aims “to provide access to broadband to three million people in unserved rural areas of the United States by July 4, 2022.”

Microsoft has taken steps to do this by partnering with local ISP’s, such as Wisper Internet, which is working with Microsoft to bring internet to 1 million people in the states of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

The blog also ponders the next steps following 100% connectivity. “Rural communities need resources beyond infrastructure to rebuild and lift themselves up. That’s why much of our work goes well beyond connectivity.”

Analyzer-in-the-cloud via satellite

SatSignature launched a spectrum analyzer-in-the-cloud service this Monday, offering live 24/7 global satellite spectrum monitoring, recording, and analysis in web-based subscription packages.

The new service lets satellite networks and users instantly access spectrum monitoring on-demand across entire satellite regions around the world.

SatSignature services let satellite networks monitor their carriers of interest online — enabling them to save time and money, while improving quality of service. SatSignature users have access to typical spectrum analyzer functions, and can access spectrum plots quickly via web, mobile, and smartphone devices, said Zuhair Muakkit, Co-Founder of SatSignature.

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FTC and 17 States Sue Amazon, Gomez Sworn in at FCC, South Central Broadband

The FTC complaint alleges anti-discounting measures that deter sellers from offering lower prices.

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Photo of FTC Chair Lina Khan

September 26, 2023 – The Federal Trade Commission and 17 state attorney generals filed an antitrust lawsuit against Amazon on Tuesday alleging that online retail utilizes anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its dominance in e-commerce.  

The FTC and the states said that the global conglomerate is breaking the law through engaging in exclusionary conduct that prevents other companies from growing or emerging. It also cites that by constraining the competition through “price, product selection, quality, and preventing its current or future rivals from attracting a critical mass of shoppers and sellers” Amazon is ensuring there is no threat to its dominance. 

“Our complaint lays out how Amazon has used a set of punitive and coercive tactics to unlawfully maintain its monopolies,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said. “The complaint sets forth detailed allegations noting how Amazon is now exploiting its monopoly power to enrich itself while raising prices and degrading service for the tens of millions of American families who shop on its platform and the hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on Amazon to reach them. Today’s lawsuit seeks to hold Amazon to account for these monopolistic practices and restore the lost promise of free and fair competition.”

The FTC and states alleged that Amazon’s “anticompetitive conduct” occurs in the online superstore market and the market for online marketplace services. The tactics include, according to the complaint, “anti-discounting measures that punish sellers and deter other online retailers from offering prices lower than Amazon” and “conditioning sellers’ ability to obtain ‘Prime’ eligibility for their products,” which has limited their competitors’ ability to compete against. 

Additionally, the FTC and states cite Amazon’s overwhelming amount of paid advertisements, search results which favor their own products, and costly sellers’ fees as “enormous monopoly rents from everyone in its reach.” 

In a public statement responding to the lawsuit, Center for Law & Economics President and Founder Geoffrey A. Manne stated that it was “expected” but also argued that the “extreme demands greatly undermine the chances that the agency will prevail in court.”

“The case could greatly harm consumers, all in an attempt to shift the course of U.S. antitrust policy against the will of Congress and the courts,” said Manne.

The 17 states that joined the lawsuit are Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin. 

Gomez sworn in as FCC Commissioner, appoints staff members

Anna Gomez on Monday was sworn in as an FCC Commissioner and announced the appointment of four staff members to her office.

“I am humbled and honored that President Biden and the United States Senate have entrusted me with the privilege to serve the people of the United States as a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission,” Gomez said. “I look forward to working with Congress, Chairwoman Rosenworcel, my fellow Commissioners, and the talented and dedicated FCC staff to ensure that every person in every community, of every geography and income, has access to modern telecommunications services.”  

Gomez’s staff will consist of Deena Shetler, acting chief of staff and legal advisor for media and international, Edyael Casaperalta, acting legal advisor for wireless, public safety and consumer protection, Hayley Steffen, acting legal advisor for wireline and space, and Anna Holland, acting executive assistant.  

“I am elated that these dedicated talented public servants have agreed to join my office,” Gomez said. “They bring extensive experience in communications policy, the Commission, and working with its broad range of stakeholders. I know they will provide outstanding advice and I look forward to getting to work with them to ensure the Commission’s actions meet the needs of all people.”

With Gomez now sworn in as a commissioner, Democrats at the FCC now have a 3-2 majority. 

Internet providers merge to create broadband company serving Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas 

Two internet service providers, 360 Communications and 903 Broadband, have merged together to create a new company, 360 Broadband, announced Thursday. 

360 Broadband’s mission is to provide affordable data, reliable voice and other related services to states in the South Central Region. The states receiving service are Oklahoma, where 360 Communications originated from, Texas, home of the former 903 Broadband, and Arkansas.

Upon merging in August, 360 Broadband had roughly 16,000 subscribers and 88 employees over 10,000 square miles and 30 counties, 20 in Oklahoma, six in Texas, and four in Arkansas. The company has an overall goal of reaching 50,000 subscribers in the three states.

“We are delighted to join forces to provide a high-quality, reliable broadband experience in rural and smalltown areas of Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas,” said George Breeden, CEO of 360 Broadband. 

Company officials said that will seek to receive local, state, and federal funding for rural broadband network expansions. 360 Broadband received over $33 million in private financing from Oklahoma City-based Fischer Industries.

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Broadband Roundup

Temporary Spectrum Auction Bill, Inflation Impact on Internet Bills, Omni in Pennsylvania

A bill would give the FCC a one-time authority to deliver spectrum licenses already won.

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September 20, 2023 — Senator John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, introduced legislation that would provide the Federal Communications Commission temporary authority to release already auctioned 5G spectrum to winners. 

Congress failed in March for the first time in history to extend the FCC’s spectrum auction authority, leaving winners of the 2.5 GHz spectrum without their licenses. 

Kennedy’s 5G Spectrum Authority Licensing Enforcement (SALE) Act, introduced Thursday, would give the FCC “one-time” temporary authority to release licenses purchased in auctions that occurred prior to March 9, 2023.

“My 5G SALE Act offers a simple solution for providing rural Americans with access to broadband by giving the FCC the authority to finish transferring already auctioned spectrum to companies who offer 5G coverage,” Kennedy said in a press release. 

These licenses are “the only way companies can legally use the radio waves that bring 5G to customers.

T-Mobile, which won 7,156 out of roughly 8,000 in 2.5 GHz spectrum licenses for over $304 million last summer, and other winning parties have been unable to obtain access to the spectrum, hindering their ability to expand 5G into rural communities.  

Survey finds inflation making it hard for adults to pay internet bills

A survey Tuesday found that 61 percent of U.S. adults said inflation has led to difficulties in paying their internet bill, while 39 percent cut their personal expenses to continue paying for their monthly internet service.

The U.S. News & World Report survey, which canvassed in August 3,500 U.S. adults on cost, speed, and value of their internet services, found that 53 percent paid between $20 and $60 a month when they initially signed up with their current internet service; now, 48 percent are paying between $41 and $80. 

The survey gathered data to find out the costs of internet service, the increase of their internet cost, and the overall impact the rise in internet costs had on their budget and ability to pay other bills. It also examined the quality of speed and value to consumers.

With internet speed, 36 percent reported having a download speed of 100 megabits per second or less per second, with 8 percent having less than 25 Mbps. The most common download speeds gathered were 101-300 Mbps at 31 percent, 25-100 Mbps at 28 percent, and 301-1,000 Mbps at 25 percent. For uploading, the most common speed was 21-50 Mbps at 30 percent, 11-20 Mbps at 25 percent, and greater than 50 Mbps at 20 percent.

For provider speed and value, the survey concluded that 45 percent would pay $5 to $10 a month for a reliable and fast high-speed internet connection whereas 62 percent would pay $5 to $20, and 17 percent would pay $11 to $20.

Survey participants consisting of customers who utilized a “long list of internet service providers (ISPs)” revealed that the top five ISPs used in order were: Comcast’s Xfinity, Spectrum, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile. 

Ohio-based internet provider expands services to Pennsylvania

Omni Fiber announced its expansion of internet services into the state of Pennsylvania on Monday.

The Ohio-based internet provider will be servicing western Pennsylvania’s North Uniontown, South Uniontown, Uniontown, Connellsville and South Connellsville.

Construction is also set to begin shortly in Ohio towns Ashland, Ballville Township, Catawba Island, Crestline, Mansfield, Marblehead, Mount Vernon, New Washington, Norwalk, Ontario, Pataskala, and Upper Sandusky and have already broken ground in, Bucyrus, Defiance, Eaton, Fremont, Greenville, London, Monroeville, Mount Gilead, New Philadelphia, Perkins Township, Perrysburg, Sandusky, and Wooster. 

Residents and businesses are expected to have access to “affordable and high-speed broadband with fiber Internet plans up to 2 Gbps (2,000 Mbps), as well as traditional and streaming TV options, and phone service,” a press release said. 

Omni Fiber will be fully funding the multimillion-dollar build without any government funding or grants.

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Broadband Roundup

New ACP Survey, FCC Fines VoIP Provider, Fifth Congressional Hackathon

Less than half of low-income survey respondents without internet had heard of the ACP.

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Screenshot of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy at the hackathon

September 15, 2023 – A lack of familiarity with the Affordable Connectivity Program is a major barrier to the program’s adoption, according to a survey published on Thursday by the nonprofit Connected Nation.

More than one third of low-income respondents had not heard of the ACP, according to the survey. The number was higher for low-income people with no home internet service, almost half of whom were not familiar with the program.

The $14 billion program, part of the 2021 Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, provides a monthly internet subsidy of $30 for low-income households and $75 for residents of Tribal lands. More than 20 million households are enrolled in the program, only about half of the eligible population.

More than $6 billion is estimated to have been used up, with the remaining money expected to dry up in 2024. There have been repeated calls to renew the program, but it remains unclear whether Congress will do so.

The numbers come weeks after the Federal Communications Commission, the agency responsible for administering ACP funds, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced a partnership to promote the program in public housing properties.

The survey, produced with support from AT&T, was conducted in five major U.S. cities – Milwaukee, Cleveland, Dallas/Fort Worth, Charlotte, and San Francisco – and reached over 1,700 total households.

It also found eligibility concerns to be the biggest reason for eligible respondents not signing up for the program. Almost a third of low-income households who chose not to participate in the ACP did so because they did not believe they were eligible.

FCC announces filing violation fine

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Thursday a fine against Stage 2 Networks over $300,000 for failing to file mandatory Universal Service Fund forms.

The company provides voice services over the internet. Voice service providers are required to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, which spends roughly $8 billion each year on four programs that subsidize the internet for low-income households, healthcare providers, schools, and libraries. Providers submit forms to the FCC to determine their contribution requirements.

The FCC, responsible through the Universal Service Administrative Company for collecting and administering USF funds, said in its order that Stage 2 failed to file any of these forms from February 2020 through August 2023. The company also missed certification requirements and ignored a notice from the commission, according to the order.

The company will have 30 days to pay the fine or submit a statement seeking a smaller penalty, and must file the various forms it missed in the last three years.

Multiple court cases alleging the USF is unconstitutional are pending. The conservative nonprofit Consumers’ Research has cases before the Fifth, Eleventh, and D.C. circuit courts arguing Congress gave the FCC illegal authority to collect a tax when it set up the fund in 1996.

The Sixth Circuit already struck down a similar petition from the group.

Fifth congressional hackathon

Congress held its fifth hackathon on Thursday, with lawmakers, staff, advocates, hackers, and developers convening to discuss implementing new technology on the Hill.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-California, and Minority Leader Hakeem Jefferies, D-New York, hosted the event. The House’s Chief Administrative Officer Catherine Szpindor also hosted, in the office’s first show of support for the hackathon.

McCarthy emphasized using artificial intelligence to streamline government programs.

“Think about all the data that the government has,” McCarthy said in an introductory speech. “Where’s the way we could use AI to provide it to the public in a different way?”

The hackathon comes after a flurry of AI hearings in Washington, with multiple Senate committees and the National AI Advisory Committee calling witnesses and discussing potential guardrails for companies looking to use the technology to automate decision making.

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