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FTC’s Zoom Deal and Democrats, Vertical Bridge Buys Eco-site, Bill Would Extend CARES Act to 2021

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Photo of Zoom offices from My Tech Decisions

The Federal Trade Commission’s two Democrats laid out a plan to increase the institution’s data security and privacy enforcement in response to an objection to a recent non-monetary settlement with Zoom.

Earlier this month, Zoom revealed a new agreement in an effort to settle claims that it misled users about encryption and undermined browser security settings. The agreement aligned well with enforcement actions and solutions the FTC had put in place under Republican Chairman Joe Simons in recent years.

However, the agreement faced Democratic dissent.

“It’s likely we’ll see Democratic leadership take the authority that the commission currently has and really try to absolutely push it to its limits,” Janis Kestenbaum, partner at Perkins Coie and onetime senior adviser to Edith Ramirez, the agency’s last Democratic chair, told Law360.

Democratic Commissioners Rohit Chopra and Rebecca Kelly Slaughter criticized the agency’s current approach to data security and privacy enforcement, urging their colleagues to be more creative in their efforts to fine companies, set rules of the road, and merge privacy and cybersecurity issues using their existing authority.

While their opinion does not hold a lot of weight right now, experts say that this could change once President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20.

Vertical Bridge buys Eco-site

Network infrastructure company Vertical Bridge announced the completion of their merger with tower company Eco-Site on Tuesday. This move marks the Vertical Bridge’s second most recent expansion, increasing site portfolio to almost 290,000 sites through the 50 U.S. states and Puerto Rico and including more than 20,000 owned towers.

This past October, the company processed through the closing of a sale and leaseback transaction with radio company Cumulus Media, involving their broadcast communication towers, worth more than $200 million.

Founded in 2012, Eco-Site has won recognition as a fast-growing company, offering build-to-suit, co-location densification services. The company’s three co-founders will join the leadership team at Vertical Bridge—CEO Dale Carey will become EVP of strategy and convergence at Vertical Bridge, Bob Glosson will pivot from COO of Eco-Site to SVP of real estate solutions at Vertical Bridge, and Rich Stern will move from EVP of Eco-Site to SVP of real estate for Vertical Bridge.

“As a private, at-scale and permanent company, we have the flexibility and capital to be strategic in our growth model and we will continue to identify opportunities to expand our footprint that fit into our pure tower, pure U.S. strategy,” said Vertical Bridge CEO Alex Gellman.

https://www.rcrwireless.com/20201123/network-infrastructure/vertical-bridge-acquires-eco-site?utm_campaign=20201123%20RCRenewsMon&utm_medium=email&utm_source=Eloqua

Bill seeks to extend CARES act funding

Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, introduced new legislation on Tuesday (PDF) to allow unspent CARES act funds to be used through 2021.

Currently, unspent CARES act funds are set to expire December 30, 2020. The Bill, Enabling Extra Time to Extend Network Deployment (EXTEND) Act, would allow states to use CARES act money under the Coronavirus Relief Fund for grants to deploy broadband in “unserved” areas.

Believing the states should be allowed to use coronavirus relief funds to bridge the digital divide, Aderholt said, “This bill will help those rural areas that have been left behind by providing a pathway for states to determine which areas are particularly underserved, while also preventing overbuilding in areas where broadband access is widespread.”

Aderholt hopes this bill will set a precedent for funding bills going forward so rural areas can have the infrastructure buildout they need with no funds going to waste.

Congressman Bob Latta, R-Ohio, the lead co-sponsor said, “The EXTEND Act works to support the buildout of broadband infrastructure in areas that do not currently have broadband capabilities. It ensures funds from the CARES Act, which I supported earlier this year, can be granted by states for the deployment of broadband so all Americans, including people living in rural communities, have reliable internet connectivity. I’d like to thank my colleague Rep. Aderholt for his attention to this critical issue, and I am encouraged that with this bill, we are working towards a more connected future.”

Broadband Roundup

FCC Points to Congress on USF, Texas Hires LightBox, Lit Communities Hires Lindsay Miller

The FCC will let Congress make changes to its authority to add contributors to the Universal Service Fund.

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Photo of Lindsay Miller, who was hired by Lit Communities as consulting president

August 16, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is leaving it to Congress to institute legislative reforms to allow it to make changes to the contribution base of a fund that supports basic telecommunications services to Americans, according to its report to Congress released Monday.

The agency has been fielding comments about what it should do about the Universal Service Fund, a nearly $10-billion pot of money that goes to support broadband expansion in low-income and rural areas. The fund has been under scrutiny because it relies largely on declining voice service revenues – often passed down to customers – which has called into question its sustainability. Some have called on the agency to unilaterally expand the base to include broadband internet revenues.

But in its report on the future of the USF, the agency said its authority on making such a change to the base is not that clear.

“On review, there is significant ambiguity in the record regarding the scope of the Commission’s existing authority to broaden the base of contributors,” the report said.

“As such, we recommend Congress provide the Commission with the legislative tools needed to make changes to the contributions methodology and base in order to reduce the financial burden on consumers, to provide additional certainty for entities that will be required to make contributions, and to sustain the Fund and its programs over the long term.”

Experts have previously argued that the commission has the authority to broaden the base without requiring congressional approval. Other recommendations to support the fund include having the entire fund supported by general taxation, while another suggests having big technology companies that rely on the internet to contribute to it.

For the latter to happen, the report notes that there would need to be an examination and application of the definition of “telecommunications” to those big technology companies.

“We recommend that in considering changes to the contributions base, the Commission should closely evaluate this record and take efforts to avoid raising the cost of broadband service and shifting the financial burden from corporations to consumers at a point in time when the federal government is working to address affordability challenges contributing to the digital divide,” the report said.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who raised the idea of a contribution from Big Tech, said he was pleased the report recommends Congress provide the tools necessary for changes, including possibly expanding the base to include those new contributors.

Texas hires LightBox for broadband map

The Texas Comptroller’s Office announced this month that it is contracting LightBox, a location data company, to develop the state’s broadband availability map.

The map is said to help the comptroller’s Broadband Development Office determine which areas are in most need of broadband connectivity and thus where to invest public money. It will feature addresses including homes, businesses, public and charter schools, governmental entities, anchor institutions, military bases, community colleges and tribal areas, an August 8 press release said.

“When this map is complete, the BDO along with community leaders and members of the public will be able to extract information from the map to better understand the needs of their regions and to make better decisions establishing programs related to broadband development,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said in the release.

LightBox, which is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, also has partnerships with Georgia, Alabama and Montana to develop broadband coverage maps. The company’s vice president of government solutions told Broadband Breakfast that states are making their own maps to also challenge any deficiencies in the Federal Communications Commission’s own upcoming maps – which could mean more or less federal dollars.

Lit Communities hires broadband attorney consulting president

Fiber broadband consulting company Lit Communities announced Tuesday it has hired Lindsay Miller, a parnter at Ice Miller LLP, as president of consulting.

The Alabama-based fiber construction and design firm said in a press release it frequently collaborates with Miller’s law firm on “consulting engagements that include community broadband interest assessments, service access mapping, incumbent provider analysis, and financial and network modeling.

“Lindsay Miller is well known in the community broadband space and we’re delighted to have her join our team and devote her energy and knowledge full-time to the broadband industry,” Lit founder and CEO Brian Snider said in the release. “Her passion for the business and deep connections with its many, diverse stakeholders will serve Lit and, most importantly, all of our current and future clients.”

With over 15 years of experience in broadband initiatives, Miller advises municipalities on how to utilize public-private partnerships for fiber and wireless expansion.

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Broadband Roundup

Carr ‘Surprised’ by RDOF Denials, ‘New Normal’ on Supply Chain, $68M for Student Connectivity

Carr said he was notified via press release of the FCC decision to deny RDOF money to Starlink and LTD.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

August 15, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said he was surprised by the commission’s decision to deny Starlink funding from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“I am surprised to find out via a press release – while I am on a work trip to remote parts of Alaska – that the FCC has made this significant decision,” Carr said about Wednesday’s decision.

“I will have more to say because we should be making it easier for unserved communities to get service, not rejecting a proven satellite technology that is delivering robust, high-speed service today,” he said. “To be clear, this is a decision that tells families in states across the country that they should just keep waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide even though we have the technology to improve their lives now.”

Carr is a Republican who was on the Ajit Pai-led commission that awarded funding for the satellite provider and the LTD Broadband, which also saw its winnings revoked by the commission on Wednesday and told this publication that it is looking into next steps.

Gary Bolton, the head of the Fiber Broadband Association, meanwhile celebrated the decision Wednesday, saying it “provides clarity and a path forward for fiber and closing the digital divide, while returning $885.5M of this precious funding back into the RDOF fund for more appropriate broadband projects.”

Bolton noted that the awarding of funding to Starlink in certain areas would have precluded those areas from getting fiber connections from the $42.5-billion broadband infrastructure program run by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The federal government has previously made numerous reference to fiber as its preferred option for the future of broadband in the country.

Telecom head says there’s ‘new normal’ on supply chain

The CEO of Consolidated Communications said he sees a new view on the supply chain following disruptions in product supply over the pandemic, according to reporting Thursday from Fierce Telecom.

The backup in the supply chain on many products overseas has caused delays in shipments for telecom and technology equipment that have pushed back some broadband builds in the country. Some have suggested that telecommunications executives will now need to consider stocking up on inventory well in advance of construction to make sure projects are completed on time.

“I wouldn’t say you can guarantee it’s all behind us now, but we’ve got more visibility than we ever have into how to manage it and more forward information on when people are running into either demand challenge or raw material challenges,” said Bob Udell during a Cowen investor conference, according to Fierce.

“I think we’re in a new normal that will continue to stabilize to something different than what we’ve known in the past,” he’s cited as saying in the story.

The company is currently in the midst of a fiber expansion, which Udell said its diversity of suppliers put it in good shape to continue, the story said.

FCC commits another $68M to student connectivity

The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday it is committing another $68 million from the Emergency Connectivity Program, a fund intended to help students continue school work remotely.

The latest round will go toward funding broadband connections and devices for over 100,000 students across the country, including in California, Florida, North Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, according to the release.

“As we inch closer to the start of another school year, the Homework Gap remains a real concern for far too many students who lack internet access after the school day ends,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We’re working hard to fix this and support students as they prepare to return to the classroom in the coming weeks and this latest round of funding will help us do just that.”

So far the agency has committed over $5.7 billion from the $7.1 billion fund, which has gone toward nearly 12 million devices and seven million broadband connection to roughly 10,000 schools, 900 libraries, and 100 consortia.

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Broadband Roundup

Appeals Court Affirms FCC’s Spectrum Authority, FTC Privacy Rulemaking, (Root) Beer and Broadband

The Federal Communications Commission’s reallocation of intelligent transportation service spectrum was not arbitrary and capricious, the court held.

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August 12, 2022 – The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed the the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to reclassify radio frequency spectrum and make more of the 5.9 GigaHertz band available for broadband communication.

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission reallocated a part of the radio spectrum from use by intelligent transportation systems to use by unlicensed transmission devices such as Wi-Fi routers.

In a unanimous running by a three-judge panel, Judge Justin R. Walker wrote: “Several groups that want to retain their old use of the reallocated spectrum argue that the FCC’s reallocation was arbitrary and capricious. It was not.”

In the relatively brief 15-page decision in ITS America v. FCC, the court upheld the FCC’s manner of changing a band’s usage.

In 1999, the FCC gave the auto industry 75 MHz of spectrum exclusively for “Dedicated Short-Range Communications” for the purpose of improving public safety. After more than 20 years of waiting for the industry to deploy DSRC, in 2020 the FCC approved an Order to phase out DSRC and replace it with a new, more efficient technology called Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything.

Supporters of the FCC, including non-profit groups like Public Knowledge, argued that 30 MHz of spectrum the auto industry retained is more than sufficient for collision avoidance and safety purposes. Rather than allowing the auto industry to retain excess spectrum for commercial uses such as location-based advertising, the FCC repurposed the lower 45 MHz for unlicensed use which will enable next-generation Wi-FI.

“By reaffirming the FCC’s decision, the D.C. Circuit will ensure that our airwaves are being put to their best and most efficient use,” said Kathleen Burke, policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

FTC opens process to consider new privacy rules

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday announced proposals to go after businesses that collect and analyze personal-based information, and that don’t deploy the strong forms of data security.

“Firms now collect personal data on individuals at a massive scale and in a stunning array of contexts,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan. “The growing digitization of our economy—coupled with business models that can incentivize endless hoovering up of sensitive user data and a vast expansion of how this data is used—means that potentially unlawful practices may be prevalent.”

The agency’s press release went on to blast companies that “surveil consumers while they are connected to the internet – every aspect of their online activity, their family and friend networks, browsing and purchase histories, location and physical movements, and a wide range of other personal details.”

On July 20, the Senate Commerce Committee passed comprehensive privacy legislation a restricting collection and transfer of personal data of U.S. citizens without consent.

The measure has not yet passed the House, where Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said in Thursday response: “I appreciate the FTC’s effort to use the tools it has to protect consumers, but Congress has a responsibility to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation to better equip the agency, and others, to protect consumers to the greatest extent.

“Ultimately, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act is necessary to establish comprehensive national statutory privacy protections for all Americans and I’m committed to getting it passed and signed into law.”

(Root) Beer and Broadband episode features Broadband Breakfast’s Drew Clark

Bonfire Engineering and Construction on Thursday released a new episode of its “Beer and Broadband” podcast.

Featuring Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast, Russ Elliott, CEO of Siskiyou Telephone, and Megan Beresford of LDAGrants, the episode focused on “How Data & Policy Impacts Broadband Expansion.”

Nick Dinsmoor and Brian Hollister of Bonfire, hosts of the informal program, structured the roundtable series as a way to bring together leaders in the broadband and infrastructure space to share their thoughts without egos, agendas, or selling.

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