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Instagram Launches TikTok Competitor, Starry Internet Pledge, Trump Claims Microsoft Will Pay U.S. For TikTok Purchase

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Illustration of TikTok by Max Pixel used with permission

Facebook has launched a competitor to Chinese social media app TikTok called Instagram Reels, Axios reported.

Embedded within Instagram, the service will allow users to create fifteen second videos with a variety of editing tools inside the app, accompanied by a library of music licensed by Instagram. However, unlike TikTok, Reels will allow users to utilize Instagram’s augmented reality effects.

However, there are already several competitors to TikTok, including Triller and Byte. Snapchat, one of Instagram’s biggest rivals, is reportedly testing their own version.

Facebook’s move comes as Microsoft is reportedly in talks to purchase Tiktok, after several weeks of the app standing on precarious ground in the United States. President Donald Trump has threatened to ban the app outright, while other government officials have characterized it as an instrument of the Chinese government to collect private American data.

But Instagram executives insist that they did not speed up the rollout of Reels to meet the moment.

“This has always been part of our plan,” said Vishal Shah, Instagram’s vice president of product. “We’ve been working on this for over a year.”

Starry Internet keeps users connected past “Disconnection Day”

Starry Internet, a Boston-based hybrid wireless internet service provider, announced Monday that it would keep its users connected past the end of the Federal Communication Commission’s Keep Americans Connected pledge.

The Fresh Start debt forgiveness program will cancel debt owed to Starry Internet by individuals who cannot pay and will offer zero-dollar balances at the beginning of August.

“Reliable, affordable broadband access has never been more important than during the COVID-19 health crisis,” said Virginia Lam Abrams, senior vice president of government affairs and strategic advancement at Starry. “Starry is proud to do our part to support our communities during this challenging time and while our pledge period has ended, our commitment to always being customer-first continues.”

Trump threatens to take chunk of TikTok sale price

President Trump said on Wednesday that Microsoft and other companies interested in purchasing social media app TikTok have agreed to pay the United States Treasury a portion of the sale price, Fox Business reported.

“But if you buy [TikTok], the United States, which is making it possible to buy, because without us they can’t do anything, should be compensated,” Trump said. “Properly compensated with a very big payment. So that money would go into the Treasury of the United States. And by the way, Microsoft, which is looking at it, and others, they all agreed to that.”

However, coverage from Axios characterized it as doubtful that such a merger would contain a payment to the U.S. Treasury.

Trump has cited security concerns for his reluctance to support the merger and has placed a September 15 deadline on it.

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

Rosenworcel Confirmed, Rohingya Meta Class Action, FTTH Builds Increase, WOW! Offers 1 Gig

FCC chairwoman cleared, refocusing attention on party tie-breaking nominee Gigi Sohn.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel at a Senate committee hearing last month

WASHINGTON, December 7, 2021 – The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Jessica Rosenworcel as commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

The chairwoman of the FCC had 68 votes in favor and 31 against and will serve another five-year term on the agency. She was pushed ahead by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee on Wednesday after being questioned by the committee last month.

“Chairwoman Rosenworcel has served as a tireless advocate for consumer protection in today’s digital landscape,” said Senator Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, in a press release. “Now more than ever, the FCC needs a chair who understands the importance of net neutrality and critical protections for broadband users, and I know Chairwoman Rosenworcel is up for the task.” Markey added that Rosenworcel is the “best person to lead” the administration of programs, including the Emergency Connectivity Fund and the E-Rate subsidy.

Other statements of support poured in on Tuesday following the approval.

Gigi Sohn, another President Joe Biden nominee for FCC commissioner, has yet to be confirmed. If so, the Democrat will be the fifth and tie-breaking commissioner on a commission that has been divided along party lines.

Meta facing class action from Rohingya

Meta, formerly Facebook, has been sued Monday by Rohingya refugees for $150 million for allegedly allowing anti-Rohingya hate speech that preceded mass killings.

The case has been brought as a class action in California court.

The Rohingya genocide has been ongoing in Myanmar since 2016. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled the country, and more than 25,000 have been killed. Marzuki Darusman served as the chairman of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission in Myanmar and stated that Facebook played a “determining role” in the genocide.

“[Facebook] was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own [Facebook pages] and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities,” said U.N. Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee, according to Reuters.

Telcos turn up heat with increased FTTH builds, Broadband Communities

According to data assembled by Broadband Communities on Monday, AT&T, Verizon, and other large telcos are continuing to grow their base of fiber users, with AT&T and Verizon gaining 289,000 and 98,000 fiber broadband subscriptions, respectively.

Broadband Communities Associate Editor Sean Buckley notes that even though more Americans rely on older coax cable for internet rather than fiber-to-the-home services, that difference is shrinking. Both Tier-1 and Tier-2 telcos are increasing their penetration across the country, with Frontier CEO Nick Jeffery stating that Frontier’s FTTH subscription number were up by a factor of five within the last year, as reported by Buckley.

“Fiber assets are likely to escalate, and that’s going to be a growing source of pressure for cable operators,” said Managing Partner of New Street Research Jonathan Chaplin, according to Buckley.

WOW! offers 1 Gbps download speeds to Michigan

WOW!’s fiber-to-the-neighborhood in mid-Michigan will provide gigabit download speeds for residential and business properties.

“We are thrilled to be able to bring our fastest internet speeds to our mid-Michigan service area and give our customers even more choices for how they connect to what matters to them most,” said WOW! CEO Teresa Elder in a statement. “For most people across the country, having access to a fast and reliable internet connection is essential to their everyday life, especially these days.”

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Broadband Roundup

CaptionCall $40 Million Settlement, World Bank Broadband in Rwanda, Tribal Broadband Money Not Enough

CaptionCall agreed to pay over $40 million over misuse of the free service for individuals with hearing disabilities.

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Matthew Rantanen, director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairman’s Association

December 6, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it reached a $40 million settlement with telecommunications relay service provider CaptionCall for its business dealings with health professionals.

Telecommunications Relay Service, or TRS, provides persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or have speech disabilities access to the telephone system at no cost, enabling communications with telephone users in a manner similar to other telephone users. Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS) allows users to read the other party’s words in real time with an internet-enabled device.

TRS is funded by mandatory contributions to the TRS Fund by telecommunications providers, who typically pass the costs to customers.

The FCC’s investigation revealed that Sorenson Communications’ subsidy CaptionCall “offered and provided incentives, including monetary contest awards and free meals” to Hearing Health Professionals, a clinic providing services to individuals that are deaf or hard of hearing. In return, Hearing Health Professionals referred users to CaptionCall IP CTS. CaptionCall at times gave Hearing Health Professionals gift cards and gift baskets to encourage future referral and “improperly reported costs associated with these wasteful practices” to the TRS Fund, the FCC wrote in its consent decree.

To settle these allegations, CaptionCall agreed to pay $28 million to the TRS Fund in addition to a $12,500,000 penalty. CaptionCall also agreed to a compliance plan in which the company’s staff must follow the TRS Fund rules.

World Bank funds broadband in Rwanda

Rwanda is set to receive $100 million from the World Bank to fund broadband, the bank said Friday.

The World Bank Group, the largest development bank in the world, provides loans to “developing” and transitioning countries.

“For Rwanda to leverage digital transformation as a driver of growth, job creation and greater service delivery, digital adoption needs to markedly improve,” said Isabella Hayward, team leader on the World Bank project.

The bank approved Friday to assist the Government of Rwanda advance broadband adoption across the country. The Digital Acceleration Project will expand digital access and inclusion initiatives, such as providing 250,000 households with financing to purchase smart devices. The project will also train three million people in digital literacy.

“Expanding digital access and adoption, enhancing digital public service delivery and promoting digitally enabled innovation are essential for Rwanda’s digital transformation which can in turn help drive a robust post-COVID-19 recovery,” said Rolande Pryce, World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda. “The Rwanda Digital Acceleration Project encompasses all these elements and will contribute to Rwanda’s vision to become a knowledge-based economy and upper middle-income country by 2035, by leveraging digital technologies to accelerate growth and poverty reduction.”

In the 2021 fiscal year, the bank provided nearly $100 billion in loans to developing countries.

Tribal broadband money in infrastructure bill isn’t enough, some say

The funds approved by the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is not enough for tribal lands, according to a Monday report in Wired.

About $2 million was approved to expand broadband access to tribal lands and reservations as part of the $1.3 trillion infrastructure bill, signed into law last month. However, 280 tribes have submitted requests totaling $5 billion for broadband finds, Wired reported Monday.

Matthew Rantanen, director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairman’s Association, estimates that closing the digital divide for Native peoples will cost around $8 billion.

“If you look at the fiber grid in the United States, there are some large communication deserts, and it just so happens that most of the tribes are in those spaces,” says Rantanen.

The problem is acutely felt in schools on tribal lands. At a school on the Duck Valley Indian Reservations, 300 students in the Shoshone-Paiute tribes struggle to stay connected for the sake of their learning. Most of the reservation covering 450-square-miles doesn’t have cell service: dial-up is still the only way for many residents to access the internet, the story said.

Rantanen says the $8 billion cost will rise once demand lowers the availability of fiber-optic cables. “What we’re looking to do is build robust networks,” he says. “We’re not trying to build with Band-Aids.”

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Broadband Roundup

Biden Acts on Surveillance, Florida Broadband Maps, Free State Wants Constitutional Spectrum

The administration’s efforts are mostly directed at curtailing the Chinese government.

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President Joe Biden

November 3, 2021 – The Biden administration announced on Thursday an initiative to prevent the use of technology for surveillance by authoritarian governments, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Chinese government is among many authoritarian governments that rely on imported technology to conduct state surveillance.

U.S. technology has been used in China to surveil citizens, modernize its military and target Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Biden’s plans include creating a code of conduct for export licensing, which authorizes specific transactions and controls which technologies the U.S. ships out, as well as sharing with international allies vital information on technologies that are weaponized against political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and government officials, per WSJ.

The action comes after Biden in June banned Americans from investing in companies linked to Chinese military and surveillance activities, per Axios.

The administration’s new initiative will be announced at the inaugural Summit for Democracy gathering over 100 democratic governments to counter authoritarianism next Thursday and Friday. China and Russia have criticized the gathering following their exclusion from the event.

Florida added to Citizen’s National Broadband Map

Citizen’s National Broadband Map has added Florida to its expanding list of 15 state participants, GEO Partners said in a press release Thursday.

Florida will join the project which already includes states such as Washington, Minnesota, Maine, Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana and Nevada.

GEO is the integration of software and software derived services, specifically designed to perform broadband modeling, costing and financial analysis for localities.

GEO Partners says its platform “permits grant administrators to interactively verify the impact of their programs and intended targets in real-time, without relying on out-dated historical maps.”

“Crowdsourced mapping has the ability to determine if broadband deployments and related grant programs are meeting expectations,” says GEO Partners.

Free State Foundation says Constitution requires more market-based approaches to spectrum policy

The Free State Foundation, a free market think tank, wrote in an op-ed Friday that “foundational constitutional principles” require government approaches to spectrum policy to be more market-based than they are at the present.

The op-ed says that the government should move from its current practice of controlling large swaths of private spectrum to reallocation of government spectrum to both licensed and unlicensed private commercial use, consistent with what FSF says is a constitutional requirement for the government “to promote private property and private sector commerce.”

FSF urges licensing on an exclusive basis for spectrum bands suited to commercial licensing.

Additionally to fulfill government responsibilities, FSF suggests excluding “application of ‘hard caps’ on wireless providers’ acquisition of spectrum licenses” as well as rejecting “net neutrality” or “open access” restrictions.

The think tank believes federal agencies should relinquish, or at least share, government spectrum that they are underutilizing and “prioritize the 3.1-3.5 GHz band for examination and timely repurposing.”

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