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Joe Biden’s Federal Communications Transition Team, C-Spire Expands, Elliott Management and AT&T

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Photo of Edward “Smitty” Smith II from the Washington Post

Four Federal Communications Commission veterans, including former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, have been appointed to President-elect Joe Biden’s FCC transition team, which was announced on Monday.

See “Mignon Clyburn, Coy on Future Federal Communications Commission Role, Says Agency Lacks Authority to Clarify Section 230,” Broadband Breakfast, August 6, 2020

The team will be led by John Williams who is senior counsel and parliamentarian at the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. He previously served as senior counselor and as a senior agency official for privacy at the FCC’s Office of the General Counsel.

Also on the team is Edward “Smitty” Smith II, a former aide to Chairman Tom Wheeler who currently is a managing partner of the Washington, D.C., law firm DLA Piper. Smith also previously worked for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and ran for the D.C. attorney general position in 2014.

Rounding out the team is Paul de Sa, a former FCC staff member who now works with Quadra Partners, a telecom consulting firm. While at the FCC, he served two terms, from 2009-2012 and 2016-2017, serving as chief of the Office of Strategic Planning, with a focus on merger reviews, spectrum policy and broadband.

The transition team for the FCC was noticeably absent from a list of agency review teams released by the Biden-Harris collective last week.

In a report for investors over the weekend, New Street Research Policy Advisor Blair Levin said the delay likely was not, as some believed, caused by an ideological split about who should be on the team, but caused by Williams appointment.

“The appointment of Williams appears to confirm our view that the hold up in naming the FCC team probably related to issues of detailing a current government employee to the transition when the General Services Administration had not certified the transition,” Levin said.

C-Spire expands MissiON research and education network

C-Spire, a privately-owned Mississippi-based technology company, is adding 15 community colleges to the Mississippi Optical Network, the research and education network supporting universities in the state.

The latest expansion of the network comes after C-Spire enhanced connections in 2018 for research arms at Ole Miss, the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Mississippi State, Jackson State, the University of Southern Mississippi, and other education institutions.

Leveraging its 10,000 route miles of high-capacity fiber optic infrastructure, C-Spire has designed the network to support more collaboration for the first time among the state’s research universities, regional universities and community colleges.

Community colleges in the state had been considering joining MissiON for some time and made the final decision to jump on the network as a result of complications brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move will support distance learning for more than 200,000 students in the community college system, according to an AP press release.

“We’ve deployed a high performance, geographically diverse network and offer the community colleges speeds up to 100 Gigabits per second, with plans to expand to 400 Gbps and beyond in the future,” said C-Spire CEO Hu Meena.

“As Mississippi’s leading broadband communications provider, C-Spire is proud to provide innovative, leading-edge technology and the latest fiber optic infrastructure to help expand the size of the MissiON network and enable researchers to pursue comprehensive solutions to 21st century challenges,” Meena said.

After rattling AT&T, Elliott Management divests its stake

Yesterday, Elliott Management, an American investment management firm, filed a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission 13F form, signaling its exit of AT&T. The hedge fund sold 5 million AT&T shares in Q3, valued at $151.15 million as of the previous quarter’s end, reported Fierce Wireless.

Elliott shook up AT&T last year when it sent an open letter to the telecom company’s board of directors, criticizing numerous aspects of AT&T’s business, including its attempted, but failed, purchase of T-Mobile and its acquisition of DirecTV. In the letter, the management firm further penned an entire section entitled “Poor Execution in Wireless.”

Elliott also wanted AT&T to conduct stock buybacks. In this way, the total number of AT&T shares would decrease, raising the price so that investors like Elliott could make a big profit.

In response, AT&T said it would work with Elliott, and said it was already in the process of making many of Elliott’s suggestions.

In early March, AT&T said it would be repurchasing $4 billion worth of its shares during the second quarter of 2020. The company had plans for more buybacks throughout 2020; however, when the COVID-19 crisis hit AT&T put its accelerated share repurchase plans on hold, likely triggering Elliott’s departure.

Broadband Roundup

January 6 Committee Social Media Subpoenas, Iranian Hacks, Google Ad Auctions Lawsuit

Lawmakers chastised the companies for providing little information in response to past committee inquiries.

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Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

January 14, 2021 – The House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol has issued subpoenas to social media giants Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter, saying the companies’ responses to prior requests for information were inadequate.

The committee had previously reached out to the companies to assess their knowledge of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election, domestic extremism and foreign influence in the 2020 election that may have taken place on their platforms.

Central to the inquiry is whether the companies took any steps to “prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence,” said committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.

Iranian intelligence agency engaged in international hacks

U.S. Cyber Command said Wednesday that hacking group MuddyWaters is part of an Iranian intelligence agency which is responsible for several global cyberattacks.

The group, identified as part of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, has been labeled an “Iranian threat group” by authorities.

The information comes following a year of increased cyberattack activity from abroad in the U.S. including the prominent breach at Colonial Pipeline involving hackers with ties to Russia.

Allegedly, the group has targeted nations across the Middle East, Europe and North America in efforts to surveil opponents.

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, between 2013 and 2017, Iranian hackers stole $3.4 billion in intellectual property from 170 universities and targeted U.S. officials and journalists as well as United Kingdom banks.

Google alleged to have misled publishers and advertisers

Newly unredacted allegations in a lawsuit by state attorneys general say that Google for years misled publishers and advertisers about pricing and processes in its ad auctions.

The lawsuit says Google created secret programs which deflated sales for some companies while increasing buyer prices, engaging in trust and monopoly-building activities.

The unredacted filing of the lawsuit occurred Friday in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York after a judge ruled and amended complaint from last year could be unsealed.

Google says the lawsuit is “full of inaccuracies and lacks legal merit,” and intends to file a motion for its dismissal next week, asserting that its advertising practices are competitive.

The suit is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and joined by over a dozen other states, alleging that Google’s practices inflate advertising costs which in turn create higher-priced products for consumers.

A separate antitrust case exists against Google from the U.S. Justice Department and over three dozen state attorneys general focusing on the company’s search services.

Additionally, a proposed bipartisan bill in the Senate with the support of a dozen lawmakers would treat Google’s search engine like a railroad operator and ban it from advantaging its own products and services at the expense of other businesses that rely on the platforms – just part of an ongoing adversarial relationship between Congress and the tech company.

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Broadband Roundup

Digital Literacy Legislation, Scott Woods Interview, Kim Kardashian Crypto Scam

Brenda Lawrence, a democratic representative from Michigan, introduced new legislation that will help measure the nation’s digital literacy.

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Scott Woods, director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives in the National Telecommunications and Information Administration

January 13, 2022 — Representative Brenda Lawrence, D-Michigan, introduced legislation Wednesday that would bring government agencies together to address digital literacy.

The Digital Literacy and Equity Commission Act hopes to streamline the federal government’s approach to digital literacy by bringing together agency heads and experts to assess digital literacy in the United States, recommend how to measure digital literacy, and promote interagency cooperation. Right now there is no commonly used metric to measure digital literacy.

“As a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’re investing billions to expand access to broadband,” Lawrence said of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law in November. “Laying down the fiber is a strong first step to connect Americans around the country, but this effort won’t be as effective if people can’t use the online tools they’ve been given.”

The Digital Literacy and Equity Commission would be chaired by the Secretary of Education and the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel.

The legislation would require the commission to submit a report to Congress that contains recommendations on how to improve and maintain the digital and information literacy of individuals in the United States.

The commission will need to address low-income and disadvantaged areas and submit a final report with strategies to improve digital literacy through early education and community outreach.

Interview with Scott Woods at Broadband.Money

Scott Woods, director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives in the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, will meet on Friday with Broadband Breakfast reporter, Justin Perkins for an “Ask Me Anything!” style interview for Broadband.Money.

“Scott is a broadband funding, implementation and stakeholder engagement expert and a key member of the OIGC leadership team responsible for implementing the historic $65 billion broadband funding program authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA),” Broadband.Money said.

The Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives was established in 2021 to continue the work of the 2018 Minority Broadband Initiative. The intent of both the office and the original initiative was to close the digital divide in underserved communities by partnering with Historically Black Universities.

Woods’ office is the operator of a multitude of broadband and digital equity grant programs, which is why Friday’s conversation will center on providing opportunities for public and private partners wanting to strengthen broadband within their communities.

Kim Kardashian sued for crypto scam

Both celebrity Kim Kardashian and former boxer Floyd Mayweather are being sued by investors for allegedly falsely promoting a cryptocurrency called EthereumMax on their social media accounts.

CNN reports that a “class action lawsuit filed last Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California accuses EthereumMax and its celebrity promoters of working together to artificially inflate the price of the token by making “false or misleading statements” in social media posts.”

The lawsuit alleges that investors who purchased EthereumMax in the early summer of 2021 lost money as a result of the celebrities’ false advertising.

CNN reported that a spokesperson for EthereumMax disputed the lawsuit stating that it was “riddled with misinformation.” Furthermore, CNN said that “representatives for Kardashian and Mayweather were not immediately available when contacted.”

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Broadband Roundup

Facebook Objection Dismissed, Glo Fiber Expanding, Utopia’s Timmerman Advocates Gigi Sohn

A judge dismissed Facebook’s objection to the FTC’s investigation into the company’s alleged anticompetitive practices.

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FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan

January 12, 2022 – Facebook’s attempts to convince the court to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s anticompetition case against it have been rejected by D.C. District Court Judge James Boasberg, which advocacy group Public Knowledge said in a Tuesday press release is “great news.”

Facebook, now called Meta, filed a complaint in October asking the court to dismiss the case that alleges the company is a monopoly power that controls over 60 percent of the “person social networking services” market. But the court effectively ruled that there is evidence that can move the case forward against the company.

“This is great news for the fight to hold Big Tech accountable and to offer users a real alternative to Facebook… thanks to the FTC’s persistence on this important issue, even the previously skeptical Judge Boasberg now agrees these concerns deserve further scrutiny.”

Boasberg also dismissed that argument also dismissed the argument that Khan should be recused from her position because of past comments she’s made about big technology companies.

Glo Fiber expanding network to Blacksburg, VA

Glo Fiber will be expanding its fiber optic network to include Blacksburg, Virginia this year to increase internet speeds for over 7,000 households and businesses, according to a Tuesday press release.

Shenandoah Telecommunications Company, the parent of Glo Fiber, will offer three tiers of symmetrical internet services, as well as streaming TV and phone service.

The news comes after the city council of Stephens City in Northern Virginia entered into a franchise agreement with Shenandoah and Glo to provide internet service to towns in the area.

Utopia Fiber wants Gigi Sohn at FCC

Roger Timmerman, the executive director at Utopia Fiber, wrote an opinion piece for the Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday urging the Senate to push forth Gigi Sohn as the fifth Federal Communications Commission Commissioner because she would keep certain companies accountable in the market.

In the piece, he said that Sohn is best suited for this job because of her stance on big cable companies, her efforts to keep cable companies accountable, and her efforts to be a bipartisan voice in the world of telecommunications.

“If Gigi Sohn lands at the FCC, cable will need to be more accountable to consumers, businesses and taxpayers (who’ve subsidized their efforts for years with little in return)” Timmerman wrote. “Sohn wants to see policy that spurs innovation and investment, as well as economic development and jobs”.

Sohn has yet to be up for a Senate vote. If she’s approved, she will round-out the commission and provide the Democrats with the majority voice.

Utopia Fiber is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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