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Broadband Roundup

New Map of Potential Rural Broadband Bidders, Problems With Lifeline, Twitter’s ‘Read Before’ Feature

Liana Sowa

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Photo of Suzanne Xie from 2011 courtesy We Are NY Tech

Cooperative Network Services, a consultant that works with broadband providers in the upper Midwest, recently created a map plotting the current service areas of bidders in the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction.

The map includes information from 366 of the 505 of providers who applied. This map does not include the nation’s largest cable companies and publicly held telcos, satellite providers, those bidding under disguised names, and “consortia or bidders that didn’t offer service as of when FCC broadband availability data was collected and for whom additional serving area information could not be found.”

Some of the large so-called “price-cap” carriers, such as Consolidated Communications, CenturyLink, Cincinnati Bell, Frontier, Verizon and Windstream, are not shown on the map, even though they still plan to bid in the auction.

Many of these companies did not perform well in the Connect America Fund II auction. They may or may not have success this time around.

A comparison of maps shows differences between the areas currently served and the areas available for bid in the auction.

Many unserved areas have potential bidders operating nearby, said CNS. Small rural telecos, rural electric companies, and some fixed wireless providers tend to bid on areas close to where they already operate.

Satellite providers may be more involved in this auction as ViaSat, one of the biggest winners in CAF II, plans to bid again, as well as its rival Hughes Network Systems, and Space X.

Problems with FCC’s changes in Lifeline program providing free phone and internet

The FCC’s changes to the lifeline program, specifically providing free phone and internet, have caused problems for service providers, according to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune in Florida.

The changes dictate that Lifeline’s mobile carriers will have to offer 4.5 GB of data each month, up from 3 GB, starting December 1, 2020.

The Lifeline program provides a $9.25 subsidy to those who receive federal help through Medicaid, Tribal Head Start, Federal Public Housing Assistance or similar programs, or can show earnings of less than 135% of the poverty line. This rate hasn’t changed since 2016 when Lifeline’s minimum service standards were created.

Senior TracFone executive Mark Rubin pointed out that the “asymmetry between the Lifeline subsidy amount – currently at $9.25 – and the retail price of service offerings that would meet the new service requirements,” would greatly impact consumer rates.

“Plans including that much data cost $25 to $40 per month,” explained John Heitmann, a lawyer representing the National Lifeline Association, who wrote a letter to the FCC including the prices of dozens of companies.

“There is simply no evidence in the docket to suggest that a 50% increase in the required mobile broadband data – with no corresponding increase in subsidy support – can be provided without forcing a copay on consumers,” He wrote.

Olivia Wein, an attorney with the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC), doubted that a copay could be successfully passed to consumers, as many of them have been unbanked or unhoused.

The story in the Sarasota, Florida, newspaper was produced came in a partnership with Aspirations Journalism, an initiative of The Patterson Foundation.

Twitter’s ‘read before’ feature is causing people to open articles before retweeting

Twitter recently announced that they will be rolling out a feature that asks people if they’ve read an article before they retweet it.

Since the feature began testing back in June, Twitter has found that people were 40 percent more likely to open articles after seeing the prompt and 33 percent more likely to read the article before retweeting, according to Mashable.

Twitter will make one more tweak to the feature before the launch: after users see the prompt the first time, subsequent prompts will show up smaller.

These changes fall in line with twitter’s recent efforts to improve quality content and fight fake news, as seen with their tightening of Covid-19 rules and flagging Trump’s election tweets. This was also supported by a recent MIT study that showed that people were more likely to repost fake news than real news.

“It’s easy for articles to go viral on Twitter. At times, this can be great for sharing information, but can also be detrimental for discourse, especially if people haven’t read what they’re Tweeting,” said Twitter Director of Product Management Suzanne Xie, reports TechCrunch.

Reporter Liana Sowa grew up in Simsbury, Connecticut. She studied editing and publishing as a writing fellow at Brigham Young University, where she mentored upperclassmen on neuroscience research papers. She enjoys reading and journaling, and marathon-runnning and stilt-walking.

Broadband Roundup

Faster Rural Broadband Bill, Tools For Robocalls, Opposition To Instagram For Kids

Senators introduce rural broadband legislation, FCC tackles robocalling, advocates ask Facebook to stop developing Instagram for kids.

Tim White

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Photo of Mark Kelly via Flickr.

April 15, 2021 – Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana and Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, introduced the “Accelerating Rural Broadband Deployment Act” Wednesday to increase access to existing infrastructure that will allow easier and faster installation of broadband services.

The legislation, S.1113, would make it easier for broadband companies to receive federal right-of-way licenses to install broadband alongside existing infrastructure like federal highways, ensure costs of federal right-of-way licenses are fair market prices and increase transparency into the federal right-of-way license awarding process, according to the news release.

“Broadband coverage is essential to rural states like Montana as we work to close the digital divide. It helps support jobs, connects folks in every corner of our state, and makes life easier for working families,” Daines said in a statement. “I’m glad to work across the aisle on this commonsense, bipartisan legislation that will help expedite broadband deployment across Montana by capitalizing on existing infrastructure.”

“Broadband access is not just about staying connected, it’s how small businesses, hospitals, and students thrive in today’s economy,” Kelly said. “I’ve spoken to so many Arizonans, especially in rural areas, who have faced challenges because of poor internet access, and that’s why I worked with Republicans and Democrats to introduce this legislation that will cut red tape and help broadband projects move faster in rural communities. Every Arizonan deserves reliable broadband access.”

Several broadband organizations expressed support for the legislation, including the Internet and Television Association, the Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom, Advocates for Rural Broadband, Montana Telecommunications Association and Blackfoot Communications.

FCC calls on carriers to ensure free tools for consumers to protect against robocalls

Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Tuesday the agency’s efforts to protect consumers from unwanted and scam robocalls and spoofed calls.

The FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau wrote to major phone companies and issued a public notice to ask about what free robocall blocking tools they make available to consumers. The bureau seeks to learn more about the tools available to consumers, their effectiveness, and any potential impact on 911 services and public safety.

“No one wants more unwanted robocalls in their life.  I’m proud that we continue to find new ways to use all the tools at our disposal to make it clear to illegal robocallers that their days are numbered.  We want them to know that we’re advocating on behalf of consumers everywhere to put an end to these calls,” Rosenworcel said.

Additionally, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued two more cease-and-desist letters to phone service providers suspected of facilitating robocalls that market auto warranties and credit card debt reduction service, or falsely claim to be from the Social Security Administration or other well-known companies.

The robocall cease-and-desist letters instruct the voice providers to investigate and, if necessary, cease transmitting the identified traffic immediately and take steps to prevent its network from continuing to be a source of apparently illegal robocalls.

Lastly, Rosenworcel announced the launch of a new effort to track the agency’s actions to implement the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act). The new webpage outlines the agency’s progress in using its strengthened enforcement authority, progress on updated call blocking rules, and steps taken to implement new Caller ID authentication technology.  It also details the agency’s work to address one-ring scams, protect hospitals from illegal robocalls, and establish a reassigned numbers database.

Advocates Ask Facebook to stop development of an Instagram for kids

A coalition of almost 100 experts and advocates globally wrote a letter Thursday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to abandon the company’s plans to build an Instagram for kids under 13, reported USA Today.

Instagram, the popular social media app, currently does not allow users under the age of 13. Zuckerberg confirmed during a March congressional hearing that a new ‘Instagram for kids’ app was in the planning stage.

The advocates, led by several organizations including the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Humane Technology, Common Sense Media and the Center for Digital Democracy, wrote their concerns to Zuckerberg, saying that the app “preys on their fear of missing out as their ravenous desire for approval by peers exploits their developmental growth,” reported the USA Today article.

“The platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and well-being,” the letter said. “Younger children are even less developmentally equipped to deal with these challenges, as they are learning to navigate social interactions, friendships, and their inner sense of strengths during this crucial window of development.”

During the March 25 congressional hearing when asked about the new app, Zuckerberg defended social media apps, saying they are a positive way for people to connect with each other. He also said the details of a kids’ version of Instagram was still being ironed out.

Members of Congress are also concerned about Facebook’s plans for a new children’s app. Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Kathy Castor, D-Florida, and Lori Trahan, D-Mass., wrote a letter to Zuckerberg on April 5 requesting details on the company’s plans.

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband Report Cards, Washington Muni Networks Bill, Supreme Court Fair Use Winners

AP releases infrastructure report cards, Washington passes bill removing muni networks limits, AEI says fair use case win for programmers.

Benjamin Kahn

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Photo of Drew Hansen, D-Washington

April 14, 2021— The Associated Press has released documents compiling report cards outlining infrastructure weaknesses in each state, including the state of broadband.

Mississippi is trailing behind the rest of the country in broadband coverage, the documents show, with 23 percent of Mississippians lacking a broadband subscription, compared to 6 percent nationally. Mississippi received a “D+” overall on it “infrastructure report card.”

Mississippi’s broadband coverage was only narrowly beaten by New Mexico and Arkansas with 21 and 20 percent of their populations lacking coverage, respectively.

The only region that performed worse than Mississippi in broadband coverage was Puerto Rico, where 40 percent of the population does not have access to a broadband subscription.

On the other end, Washington is leading the way in broadband coverage, with just 8.8 percent of Washingtonians lacking access to broadband services. Despite its leadership in this regard, Washington still only earned a “C” on its report card.

Washington was closely followed by Colorado and Utah, which both have populations without broadband under ten percent, at 9 percent and 9.2 percent, respectively.

Improving these numbers is part of the Biden Administration’s effort to ensure that every American has access to high-speed broadband.

Municipal networks triumph as Washington legislature rolls back regulations

Washington’s legislature voted Sunday to undo what Democratic Rep. Drew Hansen called “decades of bad policy” by passing a bill that allows municipalities to build their own broadband networks.

HB 1336, which was passed the state’s senate mostly along party lines, had Republican Brad Hawkins side with the Democrats to pass the bill.

According to Hansen, Washington was one of only 18 states that had laws preventing the state from providing broadband to its citizens.

Momentum for municipal broadband has been picking up in the state during the pandemic, where it has become clear that telework, telehealth and distance learning could no longer be approached as luxuries and need to be viewed as services that are integral to modern society.

“The pandemic has made it unmistakably clear,” Hansen said, “that is long past time to lift those restrictions and allow government to offer broadband directly to the public.”

Supreme Court fair use decision victory for programmers

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision for Google, Michael Rosen of the American Enterprise Institute predicts the ruling as a victory for programmers.

Google’s argument that it satisfied fair use law because its use of some 12,000 lines of code from Oracle, which it said was used to craft a “new and transformative program” was accepted by the highest court in the land earlier this month. Fair use rules allow limited use of copyright material without permission for purposes including research and scholarship.

In a piece published by AEI Tuesday, Rosen said the conclusion to this decade-long struggle would make it easier for software developers to copy code during the creation of new products—something that Google argued is already common practice in the industry.

Rosen also pointed to the Computer and Communications Industry Association’s comment on the matter, which seemed to echo Google’s; both the CCIA and Google stated that, chiefly, this was a victory for consumers and interoperability at large.

All this considered, Rosen still tempered expectations, stating that the ruling was “unlikely to mark a fundamental change in how we conceive of computer code copyright issues.”

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Broadband Roundup

Speed And Mapping Bills, LinkedIn Data Harvested, Facebook Tackles Fake Review Groups

Delgado’s speed and mapping bills, 500M LinkedIn accounts for sale, and 16,000 Facebook groups axed for fake reviews.

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of Antonio Delgado from YouTube

April 13, 2021 — On Monday, Representative Antonio Delgado, D-NY, reintroduced the Broadband Speed Act, which would require internet service providers to report accurate, yearly speed data to the Federal Communications Commission and introduced a new bill to improve flawed broadband mapping.

“Our rural communities need broadband internet that is accessible, reliable, and matches their internet needs,” said Delgado. “Slow broadband speeds are untenable for our young students taking classes online, web-based small business owners, and families working from home. The Broadband Speed Act would require internet service providers to deliver accurate speed data — not inaccurate estimates.”

Enforcing the Broadband Speed Act would require internet service providers to report to the FCC the actual speed they can provide, rather than the maximum speed that might be possible in 7-10 business days under the current law.

The FCC would use this data to determine which broadband connectivity areas offer the speeds advertised and which areas have gaps in service. This bill also requires that new FCC funding awards be used for speeds of 100 Mbps or greater.

The new bill to improve flawed broadband mapping was introduced as a bipartisan bill to address the digital divide and provide broadband service at affordable prices for rural Americans. It corrects mistakes in federal broadband mapping practice and empowers local communities to dispute incorrect FCC claims regarding internet service status, the bill said.

“Flawed service maps compiled by the FCC paint an inaccurate picture of upstate broadband access,” said Delgado. “The Community Broadband Mapping Act gives our communities the ability to collect their data on broadband coverage so that they can challenge the FCC’s inaccurate mapping. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, folks live without a reliable internet connection in the wealthiest county in the world. As the pandemic has made even more clear, broadband service isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity.”

The Community Broadband Mapping Act grants USDA Rural Utility Service grants to local governments, electric/telephone groups, economic development organizations, and small internet providers so that they can collect information on local broadband coverage. This will provide communities incorrectly identified by the FCC as having broadband access with the information they need to contest the FCC’s designation.

500 million LinkedIn Account Numbers Are Up For Sale on a Hacker Site

According to LinkedIn, data harvested from 500 million profiles are part of a database for sale on a site popular with hackers, CNN reports.

In the first report to surface about the sale, CyberNews said that an archive was being offered for auction on a forum, including user IDs, names, emails, phone numbers, genders, professions, and links to social networks.

LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, said the data for sale is an “aggregation from several websites and companies.” The LinkedIn user data does not include any information other than what has been made public on users’ profiles, according to LinkedIn.

“This is not a LinkedIn data breach, and no private member account data from LinkedIn was included in what we’ve been able to review,” the company said.

“When anyone tries to take member data and use it for purposes LinkedIn and our members haven’t agreed to, we work to stop them and hold them accountable,” LinkedIn added in a statement.

Thousands of Facebook Groups Have Been Removed for Trading Fake Reviews

Facebook has removed 16,000 groups for posting fake reviews on its platform in the United Kingdom, following criticism by the country’s regulator.

Facebook signed a deal with the Competition and Markets Authority in January 2020 to “better identify, investigate and remove pages and groups that have fake and misleading reviews, and prevent them re-appearing.”

Several unscrupulous traders engaged in a practice of buying fake positive reviews to boost sales on e-commerce sites – or leaving negative reviews on competitors’ sites – which was frequently coordinated on Facebook and Instagram, the CMA found.

Although Facebook agreed to act, a follow-up investigation showed that the “illegal trade in fake reviews” was continuing, the CMA said, and it had to intervene for a second time.

“Facebook must package size and scope all it can to stop the trading of such content on its platforms,” said Andrea Coscelli, the chief executive of the CMA. “After we intervened again, the company made significant changes – but it is disappointing it has taken them over a year to fix these issues.

If a user “repeatedly” creates fake review groups, Facebook asserts that it will suspend or ban the users and introduce new technology that flags affected review groups all by themselves. Facebook announced that finding and joining fake review groups will be more challenging.

“We have engaged extensively with the CMA to address this issue. Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews. Our safety and security teams are continually working to help prevent these practices,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

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