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Congress

Senators Introduce Healthcare Broadband Bill as House Companion, Proposes $2 Billion Telehealth Expansion

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Photo of Sen. Kevin Cramer by Gage Skidmore used with permission

May 26, 2020 — On Friday, Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, John Boozman, R-Arkansas, Gary Peters, D-Michigan, Angus King, I-Maine, Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Ed Markey, D-Mass. introduced “Health Care Broadband Expansion During COVID-19 Act,” the Senate companion bill to H.R. 6474.

The bill would expand the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Health Care Program, which offers funding to eligible health care providers for broadband and telecommunications services.

House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee Chairwoman Anna G. Eshoo, D-Calif., had on April 10 introduced the House version of the bill with Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska

The House version of the bill would include mobile clinics and temporary health facilities deployed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The coronavirus has only increased the need for high-quality and reliable internet connectivity as healthcare is increasingly delivered through telehealth and healthcare professionals depend on broadband for every aspect of their operations,” Eshoo said.

Healthcare providers currently pay an average of over $40,000 per year for broadband connectivity. The FCC’s Healthcare Connect Fund Program subsidizes 65 percent of the cost of broadband for eligible public and nonprofit rural healthcare facilities.

The proposed House bill would expand the program to include rural, urban and suburban healthcare facilities and increases the subsidy rate to 85 percent. The bill also streamlines administrative requirements to ensure healthcare providers receive funding as quickly as possible.

“As technology has advanced, so too has the delivery of healthcare,” said Young. “Telehealth is a proven healthcare delivery method, but requires access to reliable broadband connectivity.”

coalition of 48 healthcare organizations endorsed the House bill and its companion in the Senate. Supporters include:

  • Stanford Health Care
  • California Telehealth Network
  • Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition
  • American Health Care Association
  • Association of Clinicians for the Underserved
  • Healthcare Leadership Council
  • Rural Health IT Corporation
  • College of Healthcare Information Management Executives
  • National League of Cities
  • National Association of Counties
  • ACA Connects—America’s Communications Association
  • USTelecom – The Broadband Association
  • NCTA — The Internet & Television Association
  • The Fiber Broadband Association

“Like the companion legislation introduced in the House, this plan recognizes that all of our country’s hospital systems and health care providers – no matters their zip code – should have cutting edge broadband and digital technology to diagnose and treat patients,” said Jonathan Spalter, US Telecom CEO.

“We are very pleased to see growing bipartisan support for legislation that addresses the urgent need to increase broadband capacity at both rural clinics and urban hospitals,” said John Windhausen, executive director of the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition.

Blockchain

Facebook Lobbying Congress on Blockchain Policy

The registration comes after the company rebranded to Meta, taking it beyond its social media origins.

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Photo from PX Fuel used with permission

WASHINGTON, November 18, 2021 – Facebook has registered this month to lobby Congress on blockchain policy, following a rebranding of the company that is intended to take the company beyond its social media roots.

The lobby registration was filed on November 4 and it comes after the infrastructure bill, signed into law this week, established tax reporting requirements for cryptocurrencies, which require the decentralized transaction ledger known as the blockchain to function.

The registration, which does not provide specifics on what the company hopes to discuss, also comes just days after the company rebranded as Meta, which is intended to broaden the company’s scope into new technologies that allow people to be together in the virtual space.

When the rebranding launched in late October, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wrote a letter that indicated that this new metaverse would require open standards and interoperability, including supporting crypto projects.

Meta also has a number of jobs that require knowledge of crypto and blockchain.

Facebook has set its sights on initiatives involving the blockchain for years. In 2018, head of Facebook Messenger David Marcus announced on Facebook that he would set up a small group to “best leverage Blockchain across Facebook, starting from scratch.”

On Thursday, a bipartisan group of House representatives introduced a bill – the Keep Innovation in America Act – that would better define who are crypto brokers for tax reporting purposes.

In a separate lobby registration, Facebook also specified that it would like to discuss specific funding for computer science education in legislation.

The company has previously registered to lobby Congress on Section 230, the law that shields tech platforms from legal repercussions for what their users post.

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House of Representatives

Telecom, Online Marketplace Consumer Protection Bills Pass House Committee

Among the bills sent to the House, the committee passed two on telecom and one on consumer safety.

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Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois

WASHINGTON, November 17, 2021 – The House Committee on Energy and Commerce passed several bills Wednesday, including two on telecom policy and one meant to address consumer safety when using online retailers.

H.R. 1218, the “Data Mapping to Save Moms’ Lives Act,” H.R. 2501, the “Spectrum Coordination Act,” and H.R. 5502, the “Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers Act” were all passed unopposed and without amendments.

H.R. 1218 is a bill intended to target broadband resources to areas where “telehealth may be useful in the monitoring and care of pregnant women,” bill co-sponsor Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-North Carolina, said during the hearing, adding “it is a moral imperative to address the maternal mortality crisis in the United States.” The bill’s other sponsors are Reps. Lisa Rochester, D-Delaware, and Gus Bilirakis, R-Florida.

“To effectively deploy 21st Century resources to address the shocking rates of maternal mortality, the nation must first identify which communities lack adequate Internet access and have high maternal mortality rates. That is exactly what this bill seeks to do,” said Rochester.

H.R. 2501, which is sponsored by Bilirakis, requires the National Telecommunications and Information Administration – an agency of the Commerce Department – and the Federal Communications Commission to update the memorandum of understanding on spectrum coordination, to ensure that spectrum is shared efficiently, and that a process is created to better resolve frequency allocation disputes.

H.R. 5502, co-sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D- Illinois, takes aim at online retailers that do not take responsibility for the products that third-party groups sell on their marketplace. Legislators supporting this legislation asserted that this has allowed bad actors to sell unsafe, counterfeit, or otherwise fraudulent goods on common marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy.

“What we’re saying now is very simply that online marketplaces will have to verify that the identity of their higher volume sellers, so they have to take some responsibility,” said Schakowsky. “It’s not just about counterfeiters, it’s not just about defrauding – we are talking about danger every year around this time.”

“This legislation is really going to help the consumers and legitimate businesses that are selling products and becoming victims themselves.”

Amazon has been on the wrong end of state court rulings recently that have made it liable for defective products. Experts on a Information Technology and Innovation Foundation event in May remarked that this could open the floodgates for these types of lawsuits, a contrast to when Section 230 liability protections for platforms have historically been used as strong defenses for these platforms.

Now that these bills have passed their committee, they will be sent to the House to be considered. Should they successfully be passed in the House, they will be sent to the Senate and undergo a similar procedure; if the bills are successfully passed in both the House and Senate, they will then be sent to President Joe Biden’s desk, where he can decide whether to sign them into law.

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FCC

Eighty Civil Society Groups Ask for Swift Confirmation of FCC, NTIA Nominees

The groups sent a letter emphasizing the need for internet access expansion ahead of Wednesday confirmation hearings.

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Photo of Alan Davidson from New America

WASHINGTON, November 16, 2021 – Eighty civil-society groups have penned a letter to Senate leadership requesting a swift confirmation process for President Joe Biden’s nominees to the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Groups representing interests spanning civil rights, media justice, community media, workers’ rights and consumer advocacy highlighted to Senate leadership the need for the agencies to shepherd internet access expansion on the heels of newly signed bipartisan infrastructure legislation.

Biden last month nominated Jessica Rosenworcel as chairwoman and Gigi Sohn as a commissioner of the FCC, as well as Alan Davidson for director of the NTIA. Rosenworcel and Sohn’s confirmations would make a full slate of commissioners at the FCC, ending the potential for 2-2 deadlocks.

Key Senate Republicans have since expressed concern over the nomination of Sohn, citing her liberal views on communications policy.

Signees of the letter emphasized that an ongoing global pandemic and “worsening climate crisis” raise the stakes for FCC and NTIA action, and that connectivity access issues are even further exacerbated among poor families and people of color.

Organizations on the letter included the American Library Association, Color of Change, the Communications Workers of America, Greenpeace USA and the Mozilla Foundation, among others.

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing for Rosenworcel on Wednesday.

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