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Funds for Online Learning During Pandemic, Tech and Black Lives Matter Protests, Infrastructure in Massachusetts

Elijah Labby

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Photo of Massachusetts State Sen. Michael Moore courtesy of the Office of Senator Michael O. Moore

Randy Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, called on the United States Senate to approve a House-passed bill that would provide $5 billion to American public schools.

The bill would focus on developing solutions for disconnected students affected by the coronavirus pandemic. It would also stop broadband providers from denying service to customers unable to pay.

The coronavirus has dealt a jarring blow to America’s education system, with millions of students across the country unable to attend school from a distance.

And despite calls from the Federal Communications Commission to keep those who cannot pay online, many broadband providers are cutting off services to unpaying customers.

Multiple bills have been introduced to address these issues, but it is currently unclear which, if any, will pass.

Americans feel positively about technology’s role in protests

A poll from Americans for Prosperity found that a majority of Americans believed technology played a positive role in the facilitation of recent protests.

Over a quarter of Americans reportedly believed that the protests would not have even taken place if it were not for digital organizing efforts.

Additionally, 67 percent of Americans polled thought that technology played a crucial role in increasing police accountability for the deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, and will continue to play such a role in the future.

“Technology enables people to share information and mobilize in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago,” said Billy Easley, Americans for Prosperity senior policy analyst.

“The positive takeaway here is not only that technology facilitates positive action around important issues,” he said, “but people recognize just how significant of a role it plays in the recent movements we’ve seen.”

Massachusetts approves $1.7 billion in broadband funding

The Massachusetts state Senate approved $1.7 billion in funding for the state’s infrastructure on Thursday of last week.

The money will go to supporting minority and low-income communities in the state, as well as enabling education providers to open safely amid the coronavirus.

“The passage of this bond bill will provide much-needed funding to the municipalities that I represent, as well as all those in the Commonwealth,” said Sen. Michael Moore.

“As a result, these towns will be able to add technology or improve on existing equipment that will benefit both local security and enhance remote learning for public schools,” he added.

The bill also provides $50 million in funding for increased telelearning access for K-12 students, as well as money for farming and agriculture distribution infrastructure.

Elijah Labby was a Reporter with Broadband Breakfast. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and now resides in Orlando, Florida. He studies political science at Seminole State College, and enjoys reading and writing fiction (but not for Broadband Breakfast).

Broadband Roundup

Verizon Expands 5G, U.S. And E.U. Diverge On Facial Recognition, New Drone Regulations

Verizon is expanding 5G in California and Texas, the U.S. and E.U. see differently on facial tech, FAA drone rules.

Benjamin Kahn

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April 21, 2021—Verizon plans to expand its 5G Ultra Wideband to additional cities in California and Texas on Thursday.

California cities of Fresno, New Orleans, and Riverside, as well as San Antonio, Texas will get the service, which will cap Verizon’s coverage at 33 cities, dubbed “5G Home Internet cities.”

Beginning on April 29, new customers may qualify for up to $500 to cover cancelation fees when switching to Verizon’s 5G Home Internet, as well as a Samsung Chromebook 4. Verizon is also offering to bundle in a free Stream TV device with Discovery+ for 12 months at no cost.

Those switching to Verizon internet who already have a mobile plan will have plans start at $50, while those without will start at $70.

This level of expansion was made possible following Verizon’s positive performance in the FCC’s C-Band Auction, where it picked up more than 3,500 licenses at $45.5 billion dollars.

The E.U. and U.S. diverging on facial recognition technology

On Tuesday, federal investigators arrested Stephen Chase Randolph for allegedly playing a role in the storming of the Capitol on January 6.

Photographs and videos of many people of interest were disseminated by law enforcement with the hopes that people would come forward with information. Though this has been the cast for some, Randolph was not turned in by a fellow human — according to the FBI, Randolph was identified on his girlfriend’s Instagram account by an “open-source facial comparison tool.”

This eventually led the FBI to Randolph’s social media accounts, his location, and culminated in his arrest. Randolph’s arrest is not unique, however. He is just one of many persons of interest who have been identified by artificial intelligence for a potential role in the unrest in DC.

Ethical questions regarding AI and facial recognition are not new, but while the federal government appears to be comfortable leaning on the technology when it suits its efforts, the European Union appears to approach the technology with greater caution.

Back in January of 2021, the European Parliament released a report that mulled the use of facial recognition and other biometric technology by the military, healthcare, and justice sectors. This came ahead of the recent news reported by Ars Technica that E.U. regulators are reportedly in the process of drafting legislation that would significantly curtail the use of facial recognition by European authorities.

As facial recognition technology improves, privacy and security advocates have struggled to strike a balance between their prerogatives. Though many advocates concede that facial recognition should perhaps be allowed in extenuating circumstances like missing children or terrorist attacks, it may be difficult to determine whether it should be used for instances like those that occurred in DC on January 6.

Drones to see additional regulations

The regulatory landscape for drones is set to shift as the Federal Aviation Administration plans to implement a new section to its rules for both operators and designers.

Part 89 is a new component to the FAA’s rules that will seek to integrate unmanned aircraft into US airspace, and more fully recognize the significance of the roles that drones play in the American economy.

Among other things, it will require drone operators and designers to utilize remote ID technology that allows a drone to broadcast its relative position, unique ID signature, and other important in-flight information—much like commercial aircraft are required to do.

Designers will also be required to give their drones serial numbers, a means of compliance, a declaration of compliance, and sufficient labeling that indicates that the equipment in question is compliant with Part 89.

Though flying drones may have once seemed reserved to hobbyists and the military, the market for commercial drones has exploded in recent years, going from a mere $637.8 million in 2015 to becoming an industry valued at more than $10 billion today, as its use extends to multiple industries including agriculture, and delivery and emergency services.

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Broadband Roundup

Emergency Broadband Benefit Test Launch, FCC Robocall Database, West Virginia Broadband Legislation

FCC launches both the Emergency Broadband Benefit program and a database for robocalls, while West Virginia moves on broadband legislation.

Tim White

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Photo of Daniel Linville, from WV legislature

April 20, 2021 – On Monday, the FCC announced that the agency is opening the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to participating broadband providers for testing.

The $3.2-billion program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 that passed in December 2020. It is a temporary funding mechanism intended to provide relief to eligible consumers for broadband subscriptions through their providers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The program will expire when all funds are depleted or six months after the Health and Human Services secretary declares that Covid-19 is no longer a health emergency.

This important milestone will allow these providers to familiarize themselves with the program systems in anticipation of the impending consumer launch of the program, the press release said.

“As the agency continues to work to rapidly deliver much-needed relief to families across the country, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in record time,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “I am thrilled that we have more than 600 providers now committed to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Many have expressed interest in helping make sure consumer enrollments go as smoothly as possible as we near the program’s launch. For millions of families making the hard choice between paying a utility or internet bill or at risk of digital disconnection, help is on the way.”

FCC launches robocall database

The Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday the launch of a database through which voice service providers are required to inform the agency of their robocall mitigation efforts.

Called the Robocall Mitigation Database, it includes a portal through which voice providers must file certifications regarding their efforts to stem the origination of illegal robocalls on their networks.

As of September 28, 2021, phone companies must refuse to accept traffic from voice service providers not listed in the new database.

“Protecting consumers from scammers that use robocall and spoofing tools is a top priority,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel.  “To succeed, we not only need an all-hands-on-deck response from government, but we need industry commitment and focus.  Our message to providers is clear: certify under penalty of perjury the steps you are taking to stop illegal robocalls, or we will block your calls.”

Last week, the agency announced that carriers must ensure free tools are available to consumers to mitigate such calls.

Call authentication, based on STIR/SHAKEN technological standards, enables voice service providers to verify that the caller ID information transmitted with a call matches the caller’s phone number.  Use of these standards will help combat scammers’ use of caller ID spoofing to mask their true identity and trick consumers by appearing to call from local or other trusted numbers.  It will also allow law enforcement, the FCC, and industry to more quickly and effectively trace back scam calls to their source.

The FCC previously required providers with IP-based phone networks to implement the STIR/SHAKEN framework by June 30, 2021. The agency also required voice service providers with non-IP network technology either to upgrade their non-IP networks to IP and implement these standards, or work to develop a non-IP caller ID authentication solution. Providers that received an extension of time to come into compliance with these STIR/SHAKEN obligations must adopt robocall mitigation programs.

West Virginia broadband legislation

The West Virginia legislature has passed a new broadband bill, House Bill 2002, aimed at speeding up broadband deployment and offering additional protections for consumers, reported the Gazette-Mail on earlier this month.

The legislative process was impacted by industry lobbyists trying to usurp parts of the bill, reported the Gazette. Daniel Linville, a state representative, said that “broadband lobbyists tried to take control of the bill when they decided they didn’t like some of the Legislature’s proposals,” according to the article.

“I hope that fixing the damn internet will be the priority we all say it is, and I don’t mean in a partisan fashion. Put in the work,” Linville said.

The state senate sent the bill to the state house chamber just a few hours before the close of the legislative session, forcing the house to take quick action on it.

The bill was originally introduced in a previous year but had changes that didn’t make it through that time, the Gazette reported.

In the current version, the legislation would “expedite the permit process and have broadband companies share in the cost of a project with utility companies and other entities that do work requiring digging in right-of-way areas maintained by the West Virginia Division of Highways,” the article said.

It would also “specify protections for broadband customers that would allow them to file complaints with the Consumer Protection Division in the state Attorney General’s Office.”

The bill is waiting for consideration by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.

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Broadband Roundup

NY’s $15 Internet Bill, Benton On Measures For Broadband Availability, T-Mobile Tops Availability In 45 Cities

Andrew Cuomo signs $15 internet bill, Benton calls for better broadband availability and adoption, and T-Mobile has best availability in 45 cities

Benjamin Kahn

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April 19, 2021—Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York on Monday signed a bill into law that would require internet service providers to provide basic $15/month “high-speed” internet plans for the citizens of NY.

In correspondence with Cuomo’s office, The Verge reported that ISPs must be able to provide either 25 Megabits per second or their existing low-income speed tier—whichever is greater—for $15.

These speeds are not considered by many to be sufficient, however, amid calls for the FCC to redefine “high-speed.” Though organizations have adopted different standards, the FCC has defined it as 25 Mbps download and three Mbps upload.

In an open letter to the FCC, Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Ohio, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-West Virginia, called on the FCC to apply a more rigid standard, raising the high-speed internet definition to meet the increased demands of modern internet operation.

“Our goal for new deployment should be symmetrical speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps), allowing for limited variation when dictated by geography, topography, or unreasonable cost,” the letter says. The bipartisan letter pays special attention to rural communities.

As it stands now, according to NY Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, the average cost of internet for New Yorkers is $50 per month.

Benton Institute calls for measures for broadband availability, adoption

The Benton Institute is calling for measures, including performance standards, better mapping, and education efforts for broadband availability and adoption.

In an edition last week of the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society’s weekly digest, Kevin Taglang said broadband availability can be tackled with a series of performance standards to determine underserved regions that should receive additional investment; better mapping, the elimination of the Eligible Telecommunications Carrier requirements; and a new series of subsidy auctions.

Taglang said adoption comes from better affordability and knowledge. Consumers must be able to afford internet access and understand how to use the tools and services that they have. He suggested improvements to the LifelineMobile program to further subsidize mobile, affordable broadband services, as well as changes to LifelineHome, which would provide various broadband services and education to low-income and unemployed people.

T-Mobile wins availability, but AT&T faster

T-Mobile came out on top among its large rivals for 5G availability in 45 cities, according to a study of internet coverage for the first half of 2021. RootMetrics compared AT&T’s, T-Mobile’s, and Verizon’s capabilities.

RootMetrics largely attributed this to T-Mobile’s rapid advance in the first half of 2021, expanding its use of mid-band spectrum real estate and covering every city tested, compared to AT&T’s 44 cities, and Verizon’s 43. T-Mobile, in its proposal to merge with Sprint a couple of years ago, argued that the combined entity would better compete in deploying 5G.

Though beaten out by T-Mobile in terms of overall coverage, AT&T won out on delivering the fastest average internet speeds recorded. Out of all the cities tested, AT&T had the fastest speeds in 14 cities, compared to T-Mobile’s six and Verizon’s three.

As far as reliability was concerned, AT&T and Verizon were tied for the most reliable network.

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