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Infrastructure Stimulus Bill Predictions, Call For Broadcast Reform, Big Tech Hearing Reactions

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Photo of Federal Communications Commissioner Mike O’Rielly in 2018 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

Panelists speaking on a Thursday Brookings Institution webinar expressed mixed views on the likelihood of Congress passing a federal infrastructure stimulus by the summer of 2021.

Tracy Ross, director of federal policy at PolicyLink, said she was confident that Congress would pass such a bill by next summer.

“There’s enough people pushing this movement towards important and critical legislation,” Ross said, emphasizing that people were being very clear about their demands.

“I’m saying we can do it,” she added.

Michael Pagano, dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said that the passage of an infrastructure bill depended on what happened in the coming weeks.

If the House Democrats’ HEROES Act or the GOP’s HEALS Act were to get passedl, Pagano said that he did not believe America would see any additional infrastructure bills in the near future.

Rebecca Higgins, senior policy advisor to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, expressed a similarly pessimistic view, pointing out that “there are a lot of easy things that can’t get through the Senate right now.”

“The money is there — we need to pull together rather than splitting ourselves apart,” Higgins said. “We’re making decisions about our priorities as a nation.”

Panelists said legislators should consider issues surrounding climate change and water and broadband accessibility in upcoming infrastructure bills.

Pagano urged legislators to work slowly in deciding which entities deserve funding, but noted that “there are lots of projects we can invest in today.”

Federal Communications Commissioner Mike O’Rielly calls for broadcast reform

In a conversation sponsored by the Media Institute’s monthly Communications Forum on Thursday, Federal Communications Commissioner Mike O’Rielly indicated that cable and broadcast reform are still top objectives, Multichannel reported.

In regard to broadcasting, O’Rielly said the current rules were outdated and failed to account for certain mergers “that are in the public interest and would provide increased local and live programming.”

“Over-regulation of broadcasting needs to be shredded,” he argued.

O’Rielly further observed that cable rules are “completely contrary to promoting network efficiencies and economies of scale, both of which are features that high-tech companies possess and use to compete head-to-head with legacy providers.”

O’Rielly denounced the existing lack of ownership diversity in broadcast media, saying, “make no mistake — the dearth of African American ownership of local broadcast properties is beyond embarrassing, resting in the low single digits.”

Reactions to the big tech House Judiciary Subcommittee hearing

The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google appeared via video chat to be interrogated about anti-competitive business practices by the House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee on Wednesday.

“We need to make this a regular practice — they need to be held accountable to the American people,” said Jessica González, CEO of Free Press, in a Knight Foundation event Thursday. “There are a lot of questions that remain unasked.”

Some tech experts complained that members of Congress missed an opportunity to adequately grill Google and Facebook on their massive consumer data reserves.

“All of them indicated that they use their massive data advantages to peek into what their competitors or people who rely on their platforms are doing,” Public Knowledge Adviser Gene Kimmelman told the New York Times.

While data privacy concerns came up a bit in the hearing, González said that she wished they had been focused on to a great extent.

Many viewers criticized members of Congress for failing to counter the CEOs’ rhetoric on how huge conglomerate corporations “benefit” consumers.

“There are so many great ideas yet to be fully explored by this committee,” González said.

While yesterday reinforced that there is hunger for accountability, many are arguing that Congress needs to do more, including Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

At the hearing, Zuckerberg called again for new legislative frameworks governing the internet that would include the input of all stakeholders in their creation.

“This is a multi-layered problem that requires a multi-layered solution,” González said.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Broadband Roundup

Court Strikes Social Media Law, Industry Likes Cyber Initiative, Meta Data Transparency Project

Key provisions in the social media law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis was found unconstitutional by an appeals court.

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Photo of Kelly Rozumalski, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, from Careers Info Security

May 24, 2022 – The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a unanimous 3-0 decision Monday that key provisions in Florida’s social media censorship law is unconstitutional, following a preliminary injunction granted by a Florida judge last year.

The social media law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, would have prohibited companies from banning politicians on their platforms and limit their content moderation and editorial decisions, claiming that social media platforms are suppliers of a platform who should have no hand in the flow of information. The law was adopted following a number of high-profile Republican figures were banned from social media platforms, including former President Donald Trump from Twitter.

But the court found that provisions that allowed for the law to prevent tech platforms from removing political figures and posts by political candidates – key provisions in the law – were unconstitutional, affirming the court’s decision when it temporarily stopped the law from taking effect until it made a final determination. The court, however, found some provisions regarding data and disclosure requirements to remain in force.

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit issued by NetChoice and Computer and Communications Industry Association.

The decision comes nearly two weeks after a federal appeals court temporarily lifted restrictions on a similar law in Texas until the courts can make a final determination.

The court said in its decision that, “not in their wildest dreams could anyone in the Founding generation have imagined Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or TikTok. But whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology, the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment’s command, do not vary when a new and different medium for communication appears.”

Industry commends Biden administration for progress on federal cybersecurity

Experts are applauding the White House’s progress in the year since President Joe Biden signed an executive order to focus on cybersecurity, according to The Hill, specifically highlighting the improvements in sharing threat information from government to private sector.

“I think the public-private partnership portion of the executive order has really been key,” said Kelly Rozumalski, senior vice president at IT consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, explaining that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Alliance has now partnered with numerous companies in the private sector to push for cybersecurity.

“I’ve seen much more directive, actionable steps coming out now and I think the executive order is a big reason for that,” added Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer of Veracode. “[The order] sort of changed the status quo from best practices to practicality.”

The executive order in May of 2021 introduced several initiatives to secure federal networks and critical infrastructure against cyberattacks, which included sharing threat information, modernizing federal cybersecurity standards, and improving software supply chain security.

The order was enacted amid major cyberattacks, including oil transport company Colonial Pipeline and software company SolarWinds. As a result of the order, said The Hill, many companies are taking software security more seriously and require that suppliers sell them upgraded and secure software.

In March, Congress passed the Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act, which requires private sector companies to report incidents of cyberattacks to the federal government.

Meta announces data transparency project

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, announced on Monday the Facebook Open Research and Transparency project, which will grant access to researchers to data on how political advertising can be targeted on their platforms.

Meta, according to New York times, has given outsiders access into how political ads were used in the past, but only with certain restrictions. Meta claims that “by making advertiser targeting criteria available for analysis and reporting on ads run about social issues, elections, and politics, we hope to help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters.”

The project will be initiated by the end of the month. The data will allow researchers to see what interest categories advertisers chose for each post. Meta will also include summaries of targeting information the Ad Library which is currently publicly available.

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Broadband Roundup

D.C. Attorney General Sues Zuckerberg, Carr Criticizes Infrastructure Bill Details, Vermont to Expand Fiber Builds

The lawsuit comes years after Facebook was found to have been used to harvest personal data for political purposes.

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Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brenden Carr

May 23, 2022 – On Monday, Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg for alleged consumer privacy violations revealed during the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke in 2018.

In his office’s filings with the D.C. Superior Court, Racine argued that “Facebook is far from a disinterested platform” and that it “[derives] enormous wealth from acquiring and monetizing the data of [billions of people] leading their lives in Facebook’s digital ecosystem.

“But even that is not enough,” the filing read. “Facebook is in a relentless pursuit to expand its reach on humanity and bring an ever-increasing number of people under its influence.”

To that end, the filings stated that “Cambridge Analytica used the Facebook Platform—in a way that Facebook and Zuckerberg encouraged—to influence and manipulate the outcome of a United States presidential election.”

As co-founder, CEO, chairman, and majority voting shareholder (Zuckerberg holds 60 percent of Meta’s voting shares according to the filings), Racine stated that Zuckerberg “maintains an unparalleled level of control over the operations of Facebook,” and thus bears the responsibility for its actions.

FCC Commissioner Carr says NTIA broadband infrastructure details picks “winners and losers”

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr released a statement expressing concern that the application details for broadband funding under the infrastructure bill released this month prioritizes one technology over others.

“[The notices of funding opportunity] will prevent states from funding projects that could quickly bridge the digital divide using those high-speed technologies in nearly all cases—putting too much of a thumb on the scale for fiber builds that provide robust service but can take years to build out in certain cases,” Carr said in a statement Thursday, but added, “I have no doubt that fiber projects would demonstrate their value in the lion’s share of cases.”

The week prior, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s released those funding details, which included an answer to a question about its technology preference for the builds. “With respect to the deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure, the Program prioritizes projects designed to provide fiber connectivity directly to the end user,” the Commerce agency said in the 98-page NOFO.

Carr stated that this will “undoubtedly waste taxpayer dollars and leave families waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

The Republican commissioner also condemned what he perceived as rate regulation and overbuilding.

“In the end, the Administration’s decision to pursue those political goals—rather than focusing on connecting the largest number of people as quickly as possible—will exacerbate the supply chain challenges and workforce shortages that already pose a hurdle to getting the job done.”

Vermont governor announces fiber grants

On Monday, Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced broadband grants totaling more than $16 million.

The grants will be focused on deploying more than 9,000 miles of fiber across Bolton and several other towns in the northeast corner of Vermont.

Scott was set to be joined by Vermont’s at-large congressional representative Democratic Rep. Peter Welch at 12 noon ET in Jericho, Vt., to formally unveil the project in question.

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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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