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Coronavirus Roundup: Georgia’s On the Mind of Public Access and Broadband Equity Advocates, Libra and Digital Dollar

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Photo of Meredith Rose of Public Knowledge from a Federal Trade Commission tweet in October 2018

On Monday the United States Supreme Court determined that Georgia’s state-codified annotation system of law is not eligible for copyright protection.

Public interest groups criticial of a “copyright maximalist” position applauded the decision, Georgia v. Public Resource.Org.

“Today’s decision is a resounding victory for public access to the law,” said Meredith Rose, Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge.

“The Supreme Court has held for over a century that edicts of government cannot be locked away under copyright protection,” said Rose.

“Today the Court held that to be true even when the act of compiling and composing those government works is outsourced to a private party under a work-for-hire agreement, and the legislators cannot be considered ‘authors’ under the Copyright Act when they are performing their official duties. Citizens have a fundamental right to access the law in its entirety; copyright law cannot, and should not, stand in the way.”

Libra drove e-currency talk in Congress, argues author in Forbes

Facebook’s attempt at cryptocurrency called “Poject Libra” drove the idea of the “digital dollar” that is currently circulating in Congress, argues Jason Brett of Forbes.

Two bills, the Banking For All Act and the Automatic BOOST to Communities (ABC) Act have recently been proposed. The benefits of a “digital dollar” in today’s world would be twofold: An easier way for the government to send monthly assistance checks to Americans, and to cut the spread of virus via paper money, which has been shown to harbor the disease for up to four days.

In May 10, 2019, the Senate Banking Committee requested more information from Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook’s cryptocurrency project. One July 15, the committee held a hearing on the project with David Marcus, head of the project at Facebook.

Now two bills have been proposed with very similar features as to Facebook’s Libra, such as providing a free e-Wallet and accompanying currency. However, many in the cryptocurrency industry agree that rushing out a digital platform would be a bad idea despite the great demand for such a tool.

”Realistically, the US will not implement a digital dollar in time to make a difference for the COVID-19 response,” said Kevin Werbach, Professor of Legal Studies and Ethics at Wharton University. “However, the current situation highlights why this country must move forward toward a modern digital currency capitalizing on blockchain technology.”

Stories from the digital divide include gaping holes in the ‘homework gap’

The Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, high-performance broadband, has been collecting unique perspectives about the importance of broadband in their “Digital Beat” column.

As a result of the new coronavirus, more than 300,000 students from Georgia’s university system have returned home to finish their courses online. Hence the homework gap is a real and pressing problem.

“Now more than ever, I have realized the great digital divide in our state, and because of it, high-achieving students, particularly in rural Georgia, are suffering immensely,” writes Briana Hayes, a third-year student at the University of Georgia.

Hayes recounts the story of Landon Clark, a Goldwater Scholar and student at the University of Georgia:

“I had to move back home in southwest Georgia, where my Wi-Fi is extremely bad and only one company offers cellular data services where I live. Because of this, my Internet often cuts in and out. When I try to watch a lecture video, it constantly buffers. To compensate for this, I have to download the videos, but I am finding that each video takes 6-8 hours to download onto my computer.

“I am afraid I will have to withdraw from classes that I am physically not able to complete due to being unable to attend lectures, take quizzes/tests, and watch any sort of online video. I live in Leesburg, Georgia, a town of two stoplights and less than 3,000 people. Adjacent to my city is Albany, Georgia, which currently has the highest deaths per capita in the United States. I am currently triple majoring in Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Genetics, and Biology.

“I currently have a 4.0 and was recently named a 2020 Goldwater Scholar, the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship in the natural sciences, mathematics, and engineering in America. However, I need to opt for the pass-fail system in order to not be overwhelmed or overly stressed.

“The USG is not ‘aiming to a higher standard’ by refusing pass/fail,” concludes Clark. In fact, it is doing the opposite. The USG is disadvantaging students living in rural Georgia who are effectively unable to complete their online classes due to poor Internet, favoring those from urbanized areas who have quality Internet access.”

After analyzing Landon Clark’s perspective and combining it with her own research, Hayes notes that “a system that instructs students to “reach higher” without ensuring all students have sufficient access to the necessary resources is utterly broken. It is analogous to telling students to climb without offering a ladder first.”

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Fines TracFone, Rip and Replace Extensions, Kansas State Internet Exchange Point

The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has entered into a settlement with TracFone for subsidy program violations.

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Photo of Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly taken by K-State Research and Extension, 2023.

November 29, 2023 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday that the Enforcement Bureau and TracFone Wireless, a Verizon Subsidiary, have reached a $23.5 million settlement for TracFone’s violation of broadband subsidy program rules

After TracFone was acquired by Verizon, the company self-reported instances in which it violated the FCC’s regulatory rules for the Lifeline and Emergency Broadband Benefit programs, according to the agency  

During an investigation into TracFone, the agency found that the company reported improperly claiming support for customers jointly-enrolled in subsidy programs and improperly using inbound text messages to make claims for customers who had not been using those services for at least 30 days, according to a press release.

According to the FCC, TracFone also conceded that some of their field enrollment representatives used false tax documents to enroll customers in the lifeline and EEB programs.

“Whether attributable to fraud or lax internal controls, or both, we will vigorously pursue allegations of misconduct that harms critical FCC programs designed to help those most in need of communications-related services,” said Enforcement Bureau Chief Loyaan A. Egal.

As part of the settlement, TracFone has entered into an improvement plan agreement with the Enforcement Bureau.

Wireline Bureau grants more rip and replace extensions 

The FCC’s Wireline Competition Bureau announced in an order Wednesday that it has granted rip and replace extensions to Montana providers Triangle Telephone Cooperative Association Inc. and Triangle Communication System Inc.

The rip and replace program requires service providers to remove and replace any equipment they use that was manufactured by Huawei Technologies Company or ZTE Corporation that were installed prior to June 30, 2020, because of security concerns. 

Triangle Telephone filed for an extension on October 18 and on November 10th, requesting an extension to replace the equipment by Map 29, 2024 as opposed to their original deadline of November 29 of this year.

Triangle Communications filed their request for extension on October 18 and November 16 of this year requesting for additional time up until July 13, 2024, as opposed to January 13, 2024. 

Both petitioners cited supply chain disruptions and delayed equipment delivery as factors preventing them from replacing existing equipment alongside poor weather conditions and a decreasing number of employees. 

Both providers were granted the extensions they had requested. 

Additional funding from Congress has been requested by president Joe Biden to finance the rip and replace program, as a report published by the Federal Communications Commission in July of 2022 noted that the program’s initial $1.9 billion would not be enough to support providers. 

In October of this year the FCC’s Wireline Bureau issued extensions to two other providers who cited that they were unable to completely replace the equipment due to lack of funding. 

Kansas awards $5 million to internet exchange point 

Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Wednesday announced that the state had awarded $5 million to help fund the construction of the first carrier-neutral internet exchange point at Wichita State University.

The construction of this carrier-neutral internet exchange point will allow for the operation of cloud services and streaming content networks to operate more efficiently alongside local and regional internet networks, explained a press release. 

The endeavor will be undertaken by Connected Nation, a Kentucky non-profit, and Hunter Newby, founder of Newby Ventures investment firm, working with them to build and operate the internet exchange facility. 

Tom Ferree, CEO of Connected Nation, said that the exchange point will support Wichita State and the economy well “by improving the entire regional broadband landscape — preparing Wichita, and Kansas more broadly, for the future evolution of the Internet and all that it will enable.”

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Broadband Roundup

NTIA Awards $13 Million from Wireless Fund, New Ritter CTO, Middle Mile in Virginia and North Carolina

The NTIA has awarded $13 million to open network projects.

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Photo of Victor Esposito from Ritter Communications.

November 28, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Tuesday that it is committing $13 million in grant funding from the $1.5 billion Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund. 

“The transition to open, interoperable wireless networks is now well on its way — bringing with it greater security, competition, and resiliency,” said NTIA Alan Davidson in a press release announcing the funding, adding the fund will accelerate the transition toward open and interoperable wireless by financially backing research and development. 

The seven projects that will be awarded funding are expected to improve the networks’ security, energy efficiency, and allow them to leverage AI to automate the network testing process. 

The fund is supported by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, which aims to invest in domestic manufacturing to improve national supply chain resiliency. 

Ritter Communications new CTO

Telecom service provider Ritter Communications announced Monday that Victor Esposito will serve as the company’s chief technology officer, after having served as its vice president of engineering and network operations. 

In his new role, Esposito will lead all of Ritter’s technology-related teams, read a press release. 

“[Victor] has the leadership, skills and drive to keep us and our customers on the cutting edge of innovation as well as maintaining the company’s steep growth trajectory,” said Ritter Communications president Heath Simpson. 

Esposito joined Ritter Communications in April of this year and will succeed Greg Sunderwood, who served as CTO position for 11 years.

Middle mile to be built in Virginia and North Carolina 

Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative announced Tuesday that it is partnering with Ciena, a networking systems service provider, to help install middle mile infrastructure to serve more than 31,000 customers in Virginia and North Carolina.  

MEC currently services 4,511 square miles in those respective states with its electric distribution system and is partnering with Ciena to deliver low-latency connectivity and aggregate operation technology to better broadband, explained a press release. 

“During our network deployment, we will pass tens of thousands of homes, businesses, and organizations, and we found it unthinkable to miss the opportunity to extend this fiber resource to our communities,” said Dwayne Long, vice president of information technology at MEC. 

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Broadband Roundup

Broadcom Finalizes VMware, $191M for Wilkes Rural Broadband, Kinetic Fiber in Georgia

Broadcom announces the closing of their $69 billion acquisition of VMware.

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Photo of Broadcom Headquarters, taken 2007.

November 27, 2023 – Broadcom, a semiconductor and infrastructure solution company, announced Wednesday that it has finalized its $69-billion acquisition of VMware, a cloud computing company.

Broadcom will offer modernized VMware cloud services to enterprise customers, which will assist in helping applications deploy more efficiently and improve advanced security services, explained a press release.

“We are excited to welcome VMware to Broadcom and bring together our engineering-first, innovation-centric teams as we take another important step forward in building the world’s leading infrastructure technology company,” said Broadcom CEO Hock Tan.

Broadcom initially announced its intention to acquire VMware in May 2022, and underwent the process of receiving regulatory approvals from countries including  Australia, Brazil and Canada.

Wilkes gets $191M to complete rural broadband rollout

Internet service provider Wilkes Communications and its subsidiary RiverStreet Networks announced November 20 that they have secured a $191.1-million private loan to complete its rural broadband expansion in North Carolina and Virginia.

The financing comes from CoBank, which has a specific stream for rural broadband projects.

The fiber expansion project is expected to reach and service 100,000 locations by the time it is completed with a goal being to replace the remaining Wilkes infrastructure that relies on copper with fiber, read a press release.

“With this substantial financial backing, we are ready to break down barriers and bring the digital future within reach for even the most remote regions of North Carolina and Virginia,” said Wilkes Communications CEO Eric Cramer.

Wilkes has already received $270 million in funding from federal, state and local grants, which will go toward supplementing the loan from CoBank.

Kinetic lays out plan for Georgia buildout

Internet service provider Kinetic announced Tuesday its plan to rollout fiber to more than 70 percent of Colquitt County, Georgia in 2024.

The buildout will include nearly 440 miles of fiber – of which 180 has already been installed – meaning nearly 17,000 homes and 7,400 more customers will get fiber, the company said.

Kinetic said it is working with Colquitt Electric Membership Corp. to complete the $32.5-million fiber network, which includes $21.4 million in state money from the Local Fiscal Recovery Funds Program, which was backed by American Rescue Plan funds, and the remaining $11.1 million will come from Kinetic itself.

“We believe this transformation will open up new opportunities, including enhancing people’s qualities of life and driving economic growth,” said Michael Foor, president of Kinetic Georgia Operations, in the press release.

The company said currently 40 percent of the county is currently eligible to receive their fiber services.

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