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Price Caps on Prison Calls, Facial Recognition Act Gains Momentum, Free State Foundation Calls for TCPA Updates

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Photo of Sen. Ed Markey by the Knight Foundation used with permission

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is urging state governments to impose price caps on prison phone calls, Ars Technica reported.

Pai sent a letter to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners on Wednesday, saying that it was up to state governments to cap intrastate calling prices because the FCC lacks the authority to do so.

Critics argued that Pai could do more, especially given that three years prior, he helped kill Obama-era FCC rules that limited the price of intrastate calls.

Shortly after President Donald Trump appointed Pai in early 2017, Pai instructed agency lawyers to drop the commission’s court defense of a cap on intrastate calling rates.

That action led to a June 2017 court victory for Global Tel*Link, a prison phone company, in its lawsuit against the intrastate cap.

Pai’s letter to NARUC noted that in the absence of FCC regulation, intrastate prices have far exceeded interstate ones, maintaining that the FCC was powerless to address the issue.

Momentum builds to prohibit government use of facial recognition technologies

The Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act, introduced by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., is increasingly receiving support.

“As the country grapples with its past and decides what type of nation we want to be in the future, a growing group of individuals and organizations are saying loud and clear that it’s time to stop the proliferation of technologies that invade our privacy and put vulnerable populations in harm’s way,” Markey said.

The act would prohibit the use of facial recognition and other biometric technologies by federal entities, as well as barring the use of federal funding to build biometric surveillance systems.

It would also ban the use of information collected by these surveillance systems in any judicial proceedings.

Support for the act has been growing, with new sponsors and endorsers speaking out daily against federal use of biometric technologies in policing and surveillance.

“Facial recognition technology is fundamentally flawed, systemically biased and has no place in our society,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass.

Free State Foundation urges Congress to update Telephone Consumer Protection Act

The FCC reports that unwanted calls generate 60 percent of all consumer complaints received by the agency each year.

Robocalls have become so pervasive that they are drawing the Supreme Court’s attention, wrote Daniel Lyon, professor at Boston College Law School and member of the board of academic advisors at the Free State Foundation.

Three recent Supreme Court cases dealt with confusion surrounding different provisions of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a federal stature intended to protect consumers from unwanted robocalls, enacted in 1991.

Lyons argued that the text of the TCPA is awkward and has grown increasingly problematic, as highlighted by the trilogy of Supreme Court cases.

Lyons urged Congress to update the TCPA to reflect the realities of the modern telecommunications marketplace, recommending lawmakers consider focusing on technological solutions, rather than litigation, to protect American consumers.

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

Space Cybersecurity Concerns, USTelecom’s New Board, Agriculture’s $1.15 Rural Broadband Grant

Cybersecurity experts are concerned about space hacking, USTelecom elects new board, USDA makes $1B for rural broadband.

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Jaisha Wray of the NTIA.

October 25, 2021 — Cybersecurity experts raised concern Friday about the vulnerabilities of satellite technology to hacking at the FCBA’s cybersecurity lunch event.

“There’s a wide range of malicious activity that is disruptive to space activity,” said Jaisha Wray, associate administrator for international affairs at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Wray is raising alarm about the potential losses from bad actors in space missions. Space agencies risk the loss of mission data or even completely losing control of their space systems, Wray said. Space systems are defined as a combination of a ground control network, a space vehicle, and a user or mission network that provides a space-based service.

The problem, she said, is space systems are difficult to physically access while in orbit. The solution, panelists said, is to design cybersecurity features into space systems prior to launching into orbit. Cybersecurity should be integrated into “the full life cycle” of the space system to ensure systems are protected from bad actors, the panelists agreed.

Wray said that the U.S. must identify risks and coordinate with stakeholders to manage cybersecurity risks to space systems. “Information sharing [between government and suppliers] is key” to protecting U.S. data in space, she said.

Wray said that Space Policy Directive 5, signed in September 2020 by then-President Donald Trump, emphasized the need to improve cyber protections when developing space systems. Wray worked on the development of Space Policy Directive 5 as director of international cyber policy on Trump’s National Security Council.

USTelecom elects new mostly women-led board, officers, and leadership

Telecom trade association US Telecom announced Friday a number of telecommunications executives to the board of directors and leadership, making US Telecom’s board mostly women-led for the first time in the association’s 124-year history.

The elected positions represent “the full spectrum of US Telecom’s diverse and innovative membership” said CEO Jonathan Spalter.

Kathy Grillo, senior vice president of the public policy and government affairs group at Verizon, was elected as the new chair of the USTelecom board of directors. Calling this moment “a pivotal time” for broadband expansion, Grillo emphasized broadband’s impact on our economy and her call to action.

“Broadband during the pandemic, broadband helped sustain our economy,” Grillo said. “But we can do better. We must close the digital divide and ensure all Americans have access to broadband and the benefits it brings. Expanding broadband’s reach will fuel our nation’s future growth,” Grillo said.

The board also elected Julie Kearney, vice president of communications regulatory affairs and policy at Twilio. Other elected members include Jason Williams, CEO of Montana-based Blackfoot Communications, and Takami Abe, general manager at Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp.

USDA to make $1.15 billion available for broadband, distance learning grants  

Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Friday that the agency would make up to $1.15 billion available to fund broadband expansion nationwide.

Beginning November 24, the USDA will begin accepting applications to distribute the funds in loans and grants to expand the availability of broadband in rural areas through the ReConnect program.

“For too long, the digital divide” has left too many people living in rural communities behind: unable to compete in the global economy and unable to access the services and resources all Americans need,” Vilsack said. “As we build back better than we were before, the actions I am announcing today will go a long way toward ensuring that people who live or work in rural areas are able to tap into the benefits of broadband, including access to specialized health care, educational opportunities and the global marketplace.”

To be eligible for funding through the ReConnect program, an applicant must service an area without broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload). An applicant must also commit to building facilities capable of providing broadband service at speeds of 100 Mbps (download and upload) to every location in its proposed service area.

Vilsack also announced a $50 million investment in 105 rural distance learning and telemedicine projects in 37 states and Puerto Rico. The awards will be funded by USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program.

The announcement follows President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda by mobilizing federal agencies to invest in the nation’s infrastructure.

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Broadband Roundup

House Passes Ban on Chinese Equipment, 3.45 GHz Auction Reaches Reserve Price, Against a ‘Wi-Fi Tax’

Bipartisan Senate bill clears the House, FCC auction prices climb higher, tech groups oppose newly proposed fee

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Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florids

October 22, 2021—The House of Representatives passed the Secure Equipment Act of 2021 on Wednesday, with a goal of mitigating perceived national security threats from equipment manufacturers, particularly Chinese companies.

The bill would require the Federal Communications Commission issue rules prohibiting new equipment licenses to potentially dangerous companies on the agency’s “Covered Equipment or Services List.”

Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., initially introduced the act before its passage in the Senate. The House version of the bill was introduced by Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana.

Chinese state-backed firms Huawei and ZTE are among the companies included in the FCC’s list of technology companies that the agency has deemed a national security threat. The agency was required by the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act of 2019 to detail which companies it believes to pose a severe threat to U.S. safety.

The new measure would make it impossible for U.S. telecommunications carriers to continue using equipment from companies deemed threats by the FCC if that equipment was purchased with private or non-federal government dollars. That practice was previously allowed, even those using such equipment with federal funds had already been effectively banned.

FCC 3.45 GHz auction proceeds reach reserve price

The 3.45 GHz auction at the FCC hit the agency’s reserve price of $14.77 billion Wednesday.

Many doubts existed about whether the auction would not hit the reserve price and become the first to do so in the FCC’s history.

Should this auction follow the same progression as this year’s C Band auction, it is possible proceeds could reach $20 billion. Current proceeds total $16.43 billion.

Success of the auction would come as a large relief to AT&T, which is projected to be the auction’s largest spender ahead of T-Mobile and Dish.

Analysts at New Street Research stated that they believe it is likely that the auction will meet the reserve price and that the actions of the Department of Defense will serve as a strong indicator of the auction’s success because it uses the mid-band spectrum that is most sought after by carriers.

CCIA opposes a proposed ‘Wi-Fi tax’

The Computer & Communications Industry Association on Thursday in submitting comments to the FCC on Thursday in opposition to a proposal that would charge regulatory fees to users of unlicensed spectrum.

The CCIA was joined in its opposition by the Internet Association, Digital Media Association and Incompas.

The organizations said that the FCC’s proposed fees would “effectively result in something like a Wi-Fi tax.”

CCIA said that the proposal would be “unworkable to implement” and that it exceeds the legal authority and mission of the FCC. Further, they state it would also harm innovators who use unlicensed spectrum to create services for consumers.

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Broadband Roundup

‘Squid Game’ Exposes Traffic Problem, Virginia’s $2B Broadband Investment, West Virginia Mapping

Netflix hit’s traffic struggle, Virginia expects $2B from P3, op-ed says FCC expects states to get good maps before FCC.

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings

October 20, 2021––A South Korean broadband company is suing Netflix to cover the cost of the surge in traffic from its hit television show “Squid Game.”

The show, which according to Netflix has more than 100 million streams, became a global hit last month.

The Financial Times reports that SK Broadband, owned by SK Telecom, South Korea’s largest mobile operator, argues that streaming platforms should pay for the congestion on its networks.

The company said that the traffic Netflix generated on its network increased to 1.2 trillion bits of data processing per second since September, an increase that’s equal to 24 times the company’s normal traffic over three years. The company said its network had to be upgraded twice to accommodate the traffic surge caused by customers streaming the show on Netflix.

Local law in South Korea requires the companies with more than 1 million users and using more than 1 percent of total network traffic to pay internet fees to distribute the maintenance costs incurred by broadband providers.

Netflix accounted for almost 5 percent of internet traffic in the fourth quarter and had more than 1.7 million paid subscribers. SK Broadband argues that Netflix must pay more in network usage fees.

Virginia announces $2 billion public-private broadband partnership

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said Tuesday that the state expects more than $2 billion in funding for high-speed broadband investments after announcing a public-private partnership with local governments and private internet service providers, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Northam announced that the state received requests to fund 57 projects to expand broadband across 84 localities across Virginia, totaling $943 million in grants. It would be matched by $1.15 billion in private and local government funds.

“Broadband is as critical today as electricity was in the last century,” said Northam. “Making sure more Virginians can get access to it has been a priority since I took office, and the pandemic has pushed us all to move even faster.

“Virginia is now on track to achieve universal broadband by [2024], which means more connections, more investments, more online learning and expanded telehealth options, especially in rural Virginia,” he said.

Northam and the Virginia general assembly appropriate $700 million of the $4.3 billion that Virginia received under the federal emergency aid package to accelerate Virginia’s universal broadband coverage goal. The expected completion has been moved up from 2028 to 2024.

The plan is expected to bring internet access to more than 250,000 homes and businesses.

The state is using federal emergency aid from the American Rescue Plan Act to close the digital divide in Virginia.

Op-Ed: West Virginia being asked to produce quality broadband maps before FCC

Advocates for more accurate maps say that the federal government is hypocritical in asking West Virginia for more accurate maps than the Federal Communications Commission can produce.

“The state is being asked to produce accurate maps, which the federal government knows full well its own agency did not produce” for the state the invest millions of dollars in federal American Rescue Plan funding for broadband expansion, writes a Wednesday op-ed in the Weirton Daily Times.

The FCC has been under fire for flaws in its broadband mapping data, which was relied upon to produce winners for the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which forced the commission to clean-up the result of the reverse auction after finding that some of the money would go toward wasteful spending.

West Virginia’s effort to expand broadband is led by the state Department of Economic Development. State Economic Development Secretary Mitch Carmichael said that if self-reported maps show no service in an area “you can bet your life there’s no service there.”

“There’s a lot more at stake as the department works to get these maps right. It is no exaggeration to say that the future of education and employment in West Virginia is riding on it,” said the Times. “Good luck, then, to Carmichael and his department as they work to clean up yet another federal government mess that has left the Mountain State struggling for too long.”

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