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Coronavirus Roundup: Microsoft on Contact Tracing Privacy, Romney on Payroll Protection, Open Markets on Antitrust

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Screenshot of Sen. Mitt Romney during Silicon Slopes webcast

Microsoft has some suggestions for how the government and health authorities should go about handling privacy while it collects people data in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus, according to a blog post on the company website.

It warned that the exciting applications of data to aid the three Ts: tracking, tracing, and testing, must be balanced with the following seven principles of data privacy:

  1. Obtain meaningful consent by being transparent about the reason for collecting data, what data is collected and how long it is kept.
  2. Collect data only for public health purposes. The data collected from an individual for purposes of tracing those who have been in physical contact with an infected person and other public health purposes is owned by the individual and should remain under that person’s control.
  3. Collect the minimal amount of data. Data that is collected by public health authorities for public health purposes, such as tracing, should be limited to only the specific data required.
  4. Provide choices to individuals about where their data is stored. The data must be wholly in the individual’s control, including allowing the individual to choose where to store this data, such as on a device or in the cloud.
  5. Provide appropriate safeguards to secure the data. Reliable security safeguards such as de-identification and encryption should be in place to protect people’s data from harmful exposure and hacking attempts.
  6. Do not share data or health status without consent, and minimize the data shared. An individual’s data or health status shouldn’t be shared with the individual’s contacts or others without securing the individual’s meaningful consent.
  7. Delete data as soon as it is no longer needed for the emergency.  None of the individual’s information should be retained by the authorities or others for future unrelated uses or purposes.

Sen. Mitt Romney expressed confidence in Paycheck Protection Program

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is “confident” that the next funding Paycheck Protection Program, which is allowing many companies to pay its employees during the epidemic, will be approved, but is not sure when. He said there was a 50-50 percent chance it gets approved this week, the senator said at a Silicon Slopes webinar on Monday.

After days of negotiations, on Tuesday House and Senate Democratic leaders and the Trump administration have reached agreement on a $484 billion package that will replenish the empty small business fund set up by the last coronavirus stimulus bill for companies with fewer than 500 employees to maintain their payrolls.

The Republican senator blamed the Democrats for the sluggishness of approving a “version 3.0” of the PPP. Romney identified two aspects that he said the Democrats were fixating on: Wanting to earmark some of the paycheck protection money for minority- and women-owned businesses, and want more money for the states.

Under the then-current version of the amorphous bill, states were to have received $150 billion. Democrats also want to reimburse businesses for the revenue they will lose as a result of the pandemic, he said.

Romney called the Democrat’s complaints “not unreasonable,” but he said they weren’t prioritizing speed. If the approval is not unanimous, then the Senate will need to reconvene at the Capitol to iron out its differences, pushing back the approval of the much-needed funds.

“The frustration you have is like mine,” the senator said regarding the sluggish movement toward passage. “It’s not a stimulus. It’s a rescue plan.”

Open Markets Institute urges Congress not to let up on regulating big tech

The Open Market Institutes sent a letter to the chairman of the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., to pressure antitrust law enforcers and Congress to break what it called a “dangerous concentration of power and control” by Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

The letter said that the key to protecting American democracy and prosperity is to apply traditional common carrier rules to these monopolists, “the same as Americans have done to every previous networked provider of essential services.” Enforcers and Congress should then prevent these corporations from competing with their own customers and should ensure that all networked services provided by these corporations be fully interoperable with rival systems.

“Illegal monopolization by Big Tech harms citizens as entrepreneurs, innovators, creators, employees, and consumers by reducing opportunity, imposing unfair business terms, driving down workers’ incomes, and robbing citizens of the choice, innovation, and quality that comes from true competition,” said Sally Hubbard, director of enforcement strategy at Open Markets Institute.

“Perhaps most importantly, tech giants have used illegal mergers and conduct to entrench their power and wield it in ways that disrupt the free press, fair elections, and the marketplace of ideas.”

The Institute also included bevy of proposed policies such as a temporary merger ban on all mergers by digital platforms, clearer rules barring exclusionary conduct, and protections for collective action by workers, professionals, small firms, and consumers against platform monopolists. “If left alone, the monopoly problem will continue to worsen,” warned the letter.

Broadband Roundup

Senate Bill Would Alter Google Advertising, DOJ Cybersecurity Policy Reversal, Comcast on Hybrid Fiber-Coax

Senate introduces bill breaking up Google’s digital advertising business

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Photo of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, from March 2016 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

May 20, 2022 – On Thursday a bipartisan group of senators on the Judiciary Committee introduced a bill that would force Google to break up its industry-leading online advertising exchange.

The Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act would prohibit large companies like Google from both operating an ad exchange and a supply- or demand-side platform, should they process more than $20 billion in ad transactions.

The bill would also require Facebook to divest some of its advertising business.

“Companies like Google and Facebook have been able to exploit their unprecedented troves of detailed user data to obtain vice grip-like control over digital advertising,” said bill sponsor Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

In late 2020, a coalition of 10 state attorneys general brought a lawsuit against Google alleging that its market dominance lets it overcharge businesses seeking to place ads online.

Justice Department changes directions on cybersecurity prosecution policy

On Thursday the Department of Justice announced it would reverse its charging policy on a federal computer fraud law, saying it will not prosecute “good-faith security research” efforts.

The change by the department relates to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, defining good-faith research as “accessing a computer solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability” without any intention of harming the public.

Last year, Georgia police sergeant Nathan Van Buren was successful in appealing his conviction under the CFAA to the Supreme Court.

DOJ argued that he should not have taken a bribe to access a woman’s license plate information during a 2015 Federal Bureau of Investigation sting operation, while Van Buren claimed that he had legitimate access to the database.

Comcast plans to release hybrid fiber-coaxial multi-gig speeds in the coming months.

Comcast is preparing to roll out faster multi-gigabit speeds across its hybrid fiber-coaxial network, Fierce Telecom reported Thursday.

Multi-gig rollout is expected in the coming months.

At an investor conference Comcast CEO Dave Watson stated that his operator’s choice to roll out mid-split upgrades on the way to Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 4.0 technology will allow it to take speeds to the next level.

“We have a very fast, very efficient path to multi-gig symmetrical at scale that we can do,” said Watson.

He feels comfortable that despite Comcast fiber deployments in select locations, the company feels comfortable that its HFC network will remain competitive.

He also reiterated previous comments that fixed wireless access service is not a threat and that it does not materially impact churn from fixed wireless competitors.

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Broadband Roundup

AT&T and DISH Agreement, FCC Adds More States in Robocall Fight, $50M from Emergency Connectivity Fund

Dish said its customers will now have access to AT&T’s gigabit fiber services.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

May 19, 2022 – On Wednesday, AT&T and Dish Network announced an internet distribution agreement in which Dish customers will have access to AT&T internet services, including its gigabit fiber services.

“Adding AT&T Internet to our robust lineup of TV and home integration services enhances our ability to provide better overall service, technology and value to our customers,” Amir Ahmed, executive vice president of DISH TV, said in a press release.

“At AT&T, we’re constantly thinking of ways we can better serve and provide for our customers. Through this new arrangement with DISH, we’re able to do just that by seamlessly offering our super-fast broadband services to more customers across the nation,” said Jenifer Robertson, executive vice president and general manager of mass markets at AT&T Communications.

“This is another step towards our goal of becoming the best broadband provider in America,” said Robertson.

FCC adds more state partners to tackle illegal robocalls

The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday new partnerships with nine additional state attorneys general to combat illegal robocalls.

The agency said Iowa, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have all signed on to help with robocall investigations.

That raises the number of states that have signed a memoranda of understanding with the FCC to 36, after the agency last month signed on a handful more states for the initiative. The agency has already credited at least one state with helping it nail one suspected robocall violator.

As part of the agreement, the parties will “share evidence, coordinate investigations, pool enforcement resources, and work together to combat illegal robocall campaigns and protect American consumers from scams,” according to the FCC.

“We are better positioned to help protect consumers from scammers than ever before,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Together we are stronger. Together we will continue our work to protect American consumers.”

The FCC already has robocall investigation agreements with Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

FCC commits additional $50 million from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The FCC announced on Wednesday that it has approved an additional $50 million from the Emergency Connectivity Fund program that is intended to help students with virtual learning.

The FCC said this funding will go to help 46 schools, seven libraries and two consortia across the country for students in American Samoa, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The FCC estimates that, so far, nearly $4.9 billion has been committed to connect over 12.6 million students across the country.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel added in a press release that “this program is providing funding for nearly 11 million connected devices and 5 million broadband connections throughout the country and moving us closer toward closing the Homework Gap.

“With help from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, millions of students across the country now have online tools to support their education,” added Rosenworcel.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC June Meeting, Ookla Speeds at Airports, FCC Cautioned About Overstepping on Digital Discrimination

The FCC laid out its agenda for the June open meeting.

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Screenshot of TechFreedom President Berin Szóka

May 18, 2022 – In a press release Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda for its June 2022 open meeting.

The FCC will explore ideas for wireless innovation at sea following increasing demand for spectrum to support offshore operations. The FCC will consider offshore spectrum policies to ensure efficient use of scarce spectrum resources.

In 2018, the FCC launched an inquiry to explain why some wireless 911 calls were misrouted to the wrong call center. The past four years showed a decrease in the frequency of this error but not its elimination. The FCC will seek comment on improvements that would reduce misrouted 911 calls and improve emergency response time.

During the June open meeting, the FCC will also consider preserving established local radio programming on FM6 radio service, if they meet certain conditions.

Ookla speedtest shows divide on speeds for Wi-Fi at airports

Analytics company Ooka analyzed airport Wi-Fi speeds at some of the busiest airports in the world and found that all surveyed airports met the recommended speed for streaming on mobile, but found a large divide between them.

The four fastest free airport Wi-Fis were all located in the United States: San Francisco International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, and Chicago O’Hare International. Following that came Dubai International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and Los Angeles International.

According to Speedtest Intelligence data, there is a wide gap between median speeds of the first 8 airports and the other airports on the list with the fasted being 176.25 Mbps. Airport lounges were found to have faster Wi-Fi on average than the airport itself.

Ookla, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, used its Speedtest Intelligence, which provides global insights into fixed broadband and mobile performance data using billions of consumer-initiated tests.

Tech lobbyists says FCC must not overstep authority to prevent digital discrimination

Tech lobbyist TechFreedom filed comments on Monday claiming that the Federal Communication Commission is overstepping its authority to regulate digital discrimination, following the FCC’s inquiry on how to prevent such a practice.

“If Congress had wanted the FCC to implement a new civil right law for broadband, it would have legislated a clear prohibition on discrimination – the essential element in all civil rights laws,” TechFreedom President Berin Szóka said in a release. “Instead, Congress wrote a law entirely about ‘facilitation.’”

The FCC’s inquiry follows an order under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to make rules to “facilitate” equal access to broadband and “prevent digital discrimination.”

“It is simply not plausible that Congress could have intended to change how broadband deployment is regulated in an obscure amendment tacked onto a spending bill on the Senate floor with no discussion or legislative history,” Szóka argued.

He concluded that there are other routes the FCC can take to prevent digital discrimination and facilitate equal access. Szóka called on the commission to “focus on directing funding towards remedying unequal access to broadband and preventing potential digital discrimination- not only under the infrastructure act but also the FCC’s various other broadband programs.”

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