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Bill To Repeal Section 230 Introduced, Controversial FCC Order on Wi-Fi, Advice on Community Broadband

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Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham on Tuesday introduced legislation to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act if Congress doesn’t figure out how to revamp the legal shield by January 1, 2023. Graham’s bill is the first real effort to translate President Donald Trump’s call to fully revoke the law into legislative text.

Section 230, the 1996 law that grant’s legal protections to platforms for third party content posted on their sites, has recently faced increased scrutiny from both Democrats and Republicans, as social media giants are being forced to make decisions on how to moderate electoral and COVID-19 disinformation, posted to their websites.

“The time has come for these largely unregulated Big Tech giants to either be broken up, regulated, or subject to litigation for their actions,” said Graham. “It’s time we put the Section 230 protections these companies enjoy on the clock.”

Graham said two years is plenty enough time to find an alternative to the current protections for social media companies. Yet, a two-year window to revamp one of the internet’s most important laws could prove overly ambitious for a Congress that has been slow to advance legislation on an array of tech fronts.

Even some of Section 230’s biggest critics have balked at the prospect of a full repeal. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a recent press conference “I don’t like Section 230. I think it needs to be revised, but you cannot repeal it.”

Legislators only began to have bipartisan discussions on Section 230 revisions during last Thursday’s Senate Judiciary Committee meeting, where Graham scrapped a committee vote on the EARN IT Act, a bill he introduced aimed at amending Section 230, after realizing it would not pass.

During Thursday’s meeting, committee members agreed revising Section 230 will be a lengthy process, of which, they are at the very beginning stages.

FCC Order with potential to harm TV-band Wi-Fi generates controversy

Rural broadband advocates are lining up with free-market groups against a recent action taken by the Federal Communications Commissions aimed at expanding the signal boundaries of TV stations.

Around the time the agenda was released for the Commission’s December open meeting, Chairman Ajit Pai placed on circulation a Report and Order on distributed transmission service rules. Critics say the action will adversely affect the availability of TV white space spectrum, an important tool to expanding broadband connectivity in underserved areas, and further, that the action bucks Democrats’ “pens down” directive to Pai on partisan or controversial items.

At least 19 organizations, including Connect Americans Now, and voices for agriculture, veterans, rural communities, technology, broadband connectivity and more, have written to the FCC to oppose the order and express concern it could undermine positive progress made on TV white space technology as a tool to help bridge the digital divide, by limiting the availability of TVWS spectrum.

The proposed changes would allow broadcasters to transmit beyond their existing service area without a clearly defined need for such an expansion and undermine the Commission’s recent progress to unleash the full potential of TVWS technology as a critical tool to help eliminate the broadband gap in areas of low population density and challenging topography, wrote CAN representatives, in a recent letter to the Commission.

Craig Settles offers advice to federal broadband grant applicants

A recent report, entitled Show Me the Money, authored by Craig Settles, the director of Communities United for Broadband, who has over 30 years of experience being a thought leader on broadband deployment business strategies, gives key advice to federal broadband grant applicants and details how contenders cam make their federal grant applications stand out.

“At some point, your proposal is going to sit in front of a tired, blurry-eyed federal employee who has more proposals with the same technology, similar engineering designs and the same goal as yours, but this person may only be able to fund one that day,” writes Settles.

To set an application apart, Settles recommends stressing the goal of the project, over simply attempting to “problem-solve.”

“Creation orientation draws more dollars than just problem-solving,” writes Settles. “Your goal creates excitement, a different way of thinking about the tasks at hand that leads to more effective broadband projects.”

For projects lacking a comprehensive goal, “broadband and telehealth is a winning combo,” according to Settles. Congress and federal agencies are ready to spend billions of dollars on telehealth and broadband. The universality of the need for telehealth, its dependency on broadband, plus the lack of telehealth and broadband in low-income, unserved urban and rural communities means grant proposals that address both technologies directly or indirectly should be seriously popular, he writes.

“All other things being equal, the ability of your opening sentence to grip the imagination and stir the heartbeat of the reader plays a big role in raising your proposal above all others,” writes Settles. “Your proposal can be the key that unlocks millions of dollars.”

Broadband Roundup

NTIA Pushes FTC on Privacy, Broadband in Tough, NY, California Get NTIA Grants

‘NTIA is calling for rules that stop the unnecessary and harmful collection and use of personal information.’

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Screenshot of Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information, via C-Span

November 23, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Tuesday in a filing with the Federal Trade Commission that it wants privacy limits on the ways companies collect and use personal information.

The Commerce agency recommended companies minimize the data collected, restrict companies from using data for alternative purposes such as targeted advertising, take comprehensive approaches to new privacy protections, and consider stricter limits on biometric technologies.

The FTC is currently seeking comment on whether it should implement new rules on companies’ data collection and sales practices.

“NTIA is calling for rules that stop the unnecessary and harmful collection and use of personal information. Companies need guardrails about what they can build,” said NTIA head Alan Davidson.

In July this year, Davidson said privacy laws continue to be an issue in the US. He advocated for the first national federal privacy bill, which is currently before Congress.

Study finds telecoms in for rough patch with inflation

Analysys Mason, a management consultancy focused on telecommunication and technology, released a prediction Wednesday that said the telecommunication industry will face challenges, including inflation problems, in 2023.

Consumers may feel the pinch from higher retail prices due to inflation, the analysis finds, which could result in political pressure to moderate price increases, the study found.

“Combined with high investment costs and questions about potential returns, the market outlook is challenging as the telecoms industry tries to steer its path through price rises, rolling out network availability and launching new services,” said Larry Goldman, Analysys Mason chief analyst.

NTIA awards over $10 million in Rhode Island, California

The NTIA announced Tuesday that Rhode Island will receive $5.5 million to build high-speed internet infrastructure.

“The funding will advance a coordinated strategy to get all Rhode Islanders connected to high-speed, reliable, affordable broadband service and close the digital divide,” said Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed.

The money is coming from programs spawned by the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, which includes $65 billion for broadband infrastructure.

NTIA also said Tuesday that it awarded two grants of nearly $5.6 million to Merced Community College and California State University Sacramento from the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said these investments will help offer more online learning programs and train digital navigators in its program to work directly with surrounding communities on digital inclusion.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Bans First Voice Service Provider, ACP Outreach Program Funding, Ciena Buys Two Companies

Global UC is the first company to be removed by the FCC from receiving call traffic for robocall violations.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks

November 22, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday that telephone company Global UC will be cut off from other networks because it failed to meet the standards set out by the commission to prevent illegal robocalls and caller ID spoofing.

It is the first time the FCC has made such a decision, after it proposed in October to remove Global UC and other companies from receiving call traffic because of alleged violations of the robocall framework known as STIR/SHAKEN. Global UC will be removed from the Robocall Mitigation Database, which includes companies that share their call traffic with each other.

“We have reached the point where we are ready to remove companies if they fail to abide by the rules and heed our warnings,” Loyaan Egal, chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, said in a release.

“While this is a steep and impactful penalty, it underscores the importance we place on complying with our rules, which are designed to eliminate the ability of bad actors to use the U.S. communications networks to harm consumers,” Egal added.

New funding opportunities from ACP outreach programs

The Federal Communications Commission announced Monday a further two funding opportunities from two programs of its Affordable Connectivity Program.

On Thursday, the FCC announced four complementary grant programs to market the broadband subsidy program as well as the release of a notice of funding opportunity for both the National Competitive Outreach Program and the Tribal Competitive Outreach Program, worth up to $60 million and $10 million, respectively.

On Monday, the FCC announced the notice of funding opportunity for the remaining two programs, each offering up to $5 million in grants: the Your Home, Your Internet outreach grant and the ACP Navigator pilot program. Applications after due January 9, 2023.

The Your Home, Your Internet program provides funding to qualifying local, state and tribal housing agencies, non-profit organizations, community-based organizations, and tenant associations to encourage residents who receive federal housing assistance to apply for the ACP.

The ACP Navigator pilot program, in partnership with the Universal Service Administrative Company, grants local schools districts and government agencies temporary access to USAC’s National Verifier— a centralized application system to quantify potential qualifying residents.

“Through federal housing assistance, millions of Americans have access to a home. It’s time to help them take advantage of ACP to access affordable Internet as well,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.

The agency announced this summer the Affordable Connectivity Outreach Grant Program to raise awareness for the $14.2-billion program, which subsidizes monthly internet bills – of up to $30 per month and $75 per month for residents on tribal lands – and provides a $100 discount on device purchases for low-income applicants. The commission has said that there are millions more Americans who are eligible but have not signed up — in part because they are not aware.

Ciena acquires two companies for network expansion

Software and network services company Ciena announced Tuesday it is buying California-based hardware supplier Tibit Communications for $210 million and Massachusetts-based software company Benu Networks for an undisclosed amount.

Tibit and Benu both deploy single-source fiber conduit to distribute broadband network access to multiple end users including residential, commercial and public, known as passive optical network technology.

Ciena said the acquisition will help expand PON connectivity to residential areas, businesses, and public transportation. The merger will be paid in cash and Ciena will agree to employee retention agreements, according to the release.

“The acquisitions of Tibit Communications and Benu Networks will extend our ability to support customers’ next-generation metro and edge strategies as service providers globally accelerate investments to modernize their networks and improve connectivity at the network edge,” Scott McFeely, senior vice president of Ciena global products and services, said in the release.

“Tibit’s high-speed PON technologies and Benu’s subscriber management products, combined with Ciena’s current access and edge portfolio, will enable us to offer broader, more complete, and fully integrated broadband access solutions that combine routing, subscriber management, and PON features and functionality.”

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Told No to C-Band Changes, New Tribal Entity Grants, Surfshark Report on Internet Value

The telecoms got into a rift with the FAA over interference possibilities with 5G deployments around airports.

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Photo of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

November 21, 2022 – UScellular told the Federal Communications Commission last week not to make changes to its C-band spectrum rules, following concerns that 5G signals would interfere with aircraft around airports.

The telecoms and the Federal Aviation Administration have been working together to mitigate concerns about 5G deployments around airports using the C-band spectrum causing interference with radio aircraft equipment. As such, telecom UScellular urged the FCC not to amend any of the spectrum’s rules.

“Uscellular recommended that the FCC reject calls for modifications to its C-band rules, as changes at this stage will certainly cause deployment delays despite making progress with the FAA, harming Americans who need 5G service the most,” the letter, dated November 19, said.

In May, UScellular said it would work with Swedish telecom equipment provider Ericsson to build out its 5G network using the C-band spectrum.

NTIA announces tribal grants

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Thursday in a press release that it awarded 18 grants worth about $225 million through the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program.

The new money is expected to connect over 21,000 unserved Native American households, businesses and anchor institutions. The states that received the new grants are Alaska, Arizona, California, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, South Dakota and Virginia.

“These grants – made possible by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law – highlighted the Biden administration’s unprecedented commitment to close the digital divide in Native communities,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in a statement.

With the latest grant, the program has awarded $1.5 billion to 112 tribal groups.

Surfshark study shows Mississippi’s internet is overpriced

Mississippi is reported to have the most overpriced internet in the country, according to a report from VPN provider Surfshark.

The company’s “Internet Value Index” is calculated by dividing each state’s internet speed by internet affordability to determine the states that are overpaying for internet access, according to a press release. The IVI is influenced by factors such as economic position, population density, percentage of urban area, and if a state is landlocked.

While the US average is near 0.6, Mississippi ranks below 0.4 on the IVI. New Jersey is 72 percent above the US average, ranking as having the most affordable internet that is fairly priced for residents. New Jersey’s IVI is precisely 1.0, according to the data from Surfshark.

“3 out of 4 rural states are at a disadvantage when it comes to getting fair internet prices, further isolating them from the opportunities that wealthier and more urban states have,” said Agneska Sablovskaja, lead researcher at Surfshark.

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