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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.

Broadband Roundup

Tech Against Texas Social Media, Alabama Middle Mile Grant, IP3 Awards Bestowed

Two information technology industry groups are trying to stall implementation of Texas’ social media law.

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Photo of IP3 Award winner Kyle Courtney at Public Knowledge's award ceremony Thursday by Drew Clark

September 30, 2022 – Plaintiffs NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Thursday petitioned the Fifth Circuit of Appeals to delay the implementation of a Texas law that limits social media companies’ ability to moderate content on their platforms.

The Texas law – H.B. 20 – would limit the ability of large social media companies to remove user speech from their platforms based on viewpoint. Supporters of the law say it will prevent platforms such as Twitter from discriminating against conservative political speech.

H.B. 20 was initially blocked by a federal judge last year, but the Fifth Circuit upheld the bill earlier this month. The plaintiffs say they will soon file a petition for a writ of certiorari at the Supreme Court. Thursday’s motion attempts to prevent H.B. 20 from taking effect before the High Court weigh ins.

“There is no question that a law that defies over two centuries of First Amendment protections warrants further federal court review,” said a statement from CCIA President Matt Schruers.

“If states like Texas are allowed to issue must-carry mandates, internet users can expect a torrent of dangerous content and misinformation, just as we head into an election season. Given the implications for the First Amendment and democratic institutions, we are asking the court to block this statute from taking effect until its constitutional problems have been heard.”

Alabama invests in middle-mile infrastructure

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Tuesday a $82.45 million grant to Fiber Utility Network, a conglomerate of eight rural electric cooperatives.

The grant will fund a middle-mile network that is expected to connect nearly 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure within three years. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs’ Alabama Digital Expansion Division will administer the grant, the funds for which came from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“Achieving full broadband coverage is a journey, not a short trip, and today is an important step toward completing that journey. The Alabama Middle-Mile project – the infrastructure setting part of this journey – is going to lead our state to be the model for the nation when it comes to providing broadband capabilities,” said Ivey.

“In 2022, being able to be connected at home, work or on the on go is absolutely necessary, and this is certainly key to making that a reality.”

“The eight electric cooperatives that make up the Fiber Utility Network are honored to be a part of building a middle mile network to bring internet service closer to those Alabamians,” said Tom Stackhouse, president of the Fiber Utility Network. “We want to thank Governor Ivey and the staff at ADECA for the vision, leadership and assistance to make this a reality.”

Public Knowledge honors IP3 awardees, for Internet Protocol, Information Policy and Intellectual Property

Public Knowledge hosted the 19th annual IP3 Awards ceremony Thursday, honoring leading voices in technology and tech policy.

Public Knowledge presented the “Internet Protocol Award” to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., chair of the House Rural Broadband Taskforce, for his work promoting affordable broadband access. Notably, his work advanced the broadband-funding provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Emma Llanso, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Free Expression Project, received the “Information Policy Award” for her work promoting free expression online.

Kyle Courtney, copyright advisor at Harvard University, received the “Intellectual Property Award.” He works extensively on copyright and library-related legal issues.

Courtney developed the Copyright First Responders program to “help advance teaching, learning, and scholarship through community engagement with copyright.”

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Shielding Broadband Grants from Taxes, American at ITU, Google Fiber Multi-Gig Speeds

Legislation introduced Thursday would shield federal broadband funding from being taxed.

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Doreen Bogdan-Martin delivers her acceptance speech as ITU Secretary-General-elect. photo by Rowan Farrell, ITU

September 29, 2022 – A bill introduced Thursday would shield federal broadband money from being taxed.

The Broadband Grant Tax Treatment Act, introduced by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., proposes to amend the Internal Revenue Code so that funding for broadband from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act won’t be considered taxable income.

“Grants awarded to industry for the purposes of broadband deployment are currently factored into a company’s income and will soon be subjected to additional taxes due to scheduled changes to the corporate tax code that kick in beginning next year – unless Congress acts now to address the problem,” a press release said.

Warner said in a press release that if these investments were taxed, the outcome would be counterproductive and would cause companies to not ask for grants if they knew they’d be receiving a higher tax upon receiving grants, adding it could “ultimately diminish efforts to give Americans access to high-speed internet.”

“We appreciate the leadership of Senators Warner and Moran for their efforts to eliminate the tax on broadband grants. With an eye toward 100 percent connectivity, Congress made a historic investment in the broadband grant program in 2021,” Brandon Heiner, senior vice president of government affairs at industry trade group USTelecom, said in a statement.

“However, requiring grant recipients to return as much as 20 percent of those grants in the form of taxes jeopardizes our shared goal of universal connectivity. It is vital that Congress move to eliminate this tax, as America’s broadband providers carefully plan and prepare to allocate resources to connect as many Americans as possible.”

Doreen Bogdan-Martin first female elected to lead ITU

American Doreen Bogdan-Martin was elected secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union Thursday, becoming the first female to take the lead role of the United Nations’ telecommunications regulator.

Bogdan-Martin, who will lead the ITU for the next four years, secured 139 votes to 25 for Russian challenger Rashid Ismailov in votes Thursday at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Bucharest, Romania.

“I believe we, the ITU and our members, have an opportunity to make a transformational contribution. Continuous innovation can and will be a key enabler to facilitate resolution of many of these issues,” Bogdan-Martin said in a statement.

The ITU develops international connectivity standards in communications networks and improving access to information and communication technologies for underserved communities worldwide.

“[Bogdan-Martin will be a tremendous leader for the [ITU],” Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said on Twitter. “We support her vision of open, free, secure and inclusive communications networks, available to all,”

In a statement, Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said, “We applaud the election of an expert veteran to lead the ITU, and support global efforts in maintaining internet freedoms that promote access to information and democracy.

“The ITU plays an important role in facilitating international connectivity in communications networks, and we look forward to working with ITU leadership to carry out the organization’s important mission.”

Last week, President Joe Biden announced his support for the American as a candidate for the position.

Google Fiber tests at 20 Gbps, will announce multi-gig service tiers

Google Fiber said in a blog post Tuesday that it will have announcements about upcoming multi-gigabit service tiers, after its fiber product hit download speeds of 20.2 gigabits per second in a home test in Kansas City.

The company said in the post that the new test is part of its move toward “dramatically” expanded multi-gigabit tiers of service, and an overall goal of hitting the 100 Gigabits per second download and upload milestone.

“We believe that many, if not most, communities across America will ultimately have at least two, if not three, fiber providers and an incumbent coax provider. We see it in communities we plan to build in, and expect investment in the industry to continue,” the post said.

“This means that a fiber network alone will no longer be the differentiating factor it once was for internet providers,” it added. “The unique selling points will be how that network is built to deliver symmetrical multi-gig speed at accessible pricing — all with a focus on enabling service that takes advantage of that speed not just to the home but in the home, as well.”

Google Fiber is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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NTIA Updates Website, New Head of FCC’s Native Affairs Office, Study Criticizes FTC Regulatory Reach

Updates to the Commerce agency’s website includes access to information about other federal broadband programs.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, via Flickr.

September 28, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration released an update to its Federal Funding website last week.

Advertised by the NTIA as a “one-stop-shop” for federal broadband-funding resources, the new site provides “funding opportunities and information on more than 80 federal programs across 14 federal agencies.”

“The [NTIA] has been working to expand access and increase connectivity across the U.S. through the Internet for All effort by increasing awareness of federal funding available for closing the digital divide,” the NTIA’s announcement said.

To navigate various funding and program types, the new site allows potential grant applicants to search by agency, eligible recipient–type, and “program purpose.” The NTIA’s announcement says the new site now includes fields for “Matching Requirements,” “Speed/Technical Requirement for Broadband Infrastructure,” and more.

“Notably, the site features many new programs, including those that were funded through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law including the Department of Commerce’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD), Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure, and Digital Equity Act programs,” it says.

New chief of FCC’s native affairs office

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Tuesday that Denise Bambi Kraus will be the next chief of the agency’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy.

The FCC’s announcement laid out four primary objectives for Kraus’s tenure at ONAP: Inclusion of tribal communities in the agency’s mapping initiative, tribal engagement in the E-rate program, promotion of the Affordable Connectivity Program in tribal communities, and “work[ing] to develop a framework for long term telecommunications infrastructure sustainability.”

Kraus is of Tlingit heritage and was the National Tribal Affairs advisor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency before being tapped to be ONAP’s chief.

“I am thrilled Bambi is joining us. Her wealth of experience will be an asset as we advance the agency’s work to ensure modern communications reaches us all, including Native communities,” Rosenworcel said.

Phoenix Center study argues the FTC is overextending itself

A new study from the Phoenix Center argues that Federal Trade Commission’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on “commercial service and data security” is overly broad, economically detrimental, and potentially in conflict with existing law.

According to the study, the ANPR – which contains 95 questions and was released for public comment in August – covers a wide range of topics but fails to account for many “factual complexities” native to those topics. In addition, the study says the ANPR suggests the introduction of a heavily regulatory burden that may be unmanageable for small companies.

The study also says the ANPR suggests regulations that, by considering issues outside of the “deceptive acts and practices as proscribed by the [Federal Trade Commission] Act,” exceed the agency’s statutory authority.

Finally, the study argues that the rules which may result from the ANPR would likely be vulnerable to legal challenge. Cited is Supreme Court’s recent decision in West Virginia v. EPA, in which the majority invoked the “major questions doctrine.” The major questions doctrine is the legal theory that administrative agencies cannot take it upon themselves to regulate on major policy questions absent a clear statutory mandate.

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