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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

Utah’s Monumental Fiber City, Google Fiber Advertising, Starry Jersey City Expansion

With 141,000 residents, West Valley City, Utah, is now the second largest city in the country fully connected to fiber.

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Photo of Roger Timmerman, CEO of UTOPIA Fiber, and Chief Marketing Officer Kim McKinley at Mountain Connect

May 27, 2022 – West Valley City, Utah, announced Tuesday that it had become the second largest city in the country fully connected to fiber, and the largest U.S. city connected via an open access network. With a population of 141,000, the city trails only Chattanooga, Tenn., as the largest fully-fiberized community in the country.

Utah’s largest city fully connected to fiber and one of the original 11 cities open-access network UTOPIA Fiber targeted in the state, city manager Wayne Pyle emphasized the importance of fiber to the city’s economy. Pyle also serves on UTOPIA’s board.

“Not only have we been able to attract and retain major employers,” he said, “now having fiber built to every home and business has enabled us to bridge the digital divide,” said Pyle.

“Our community has been a place where generations of families can enjoy a great quality-of-life, while new immigrants can join the community and prosper.”

Speaking about the milestone at Mountain Connect, UTOPIA Fiber CEO Roger Timmerman said that while believe that the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated the speed of the build, the open access fiber operator had been on a five-year expedited plan for finishing the city. “They were done waiting around,” Timmerman said of city officials. “And with today’s increased interest rates, and rising cost of construction, it’s a good time to finish these projects.”

Photo of West Valley City, Utah from August 2016 by An Errant Knight used with permission

Google Fiber will alter its advertising following challenges

Fierce Telecom reported Friday that Google Fiber, Google’s fiber-to-the-premises service, would alter its advertising following challenges from the National Advertising Division and cable company Charter Communications that offshoot company made a number of unsupported claims on its speeds.

Google Fiber asserted that it could provide “faster download speeds than you’d get with traditional cable,” and additionally that it offers up to 77x faster uploads and 12x faster downloads as well as that it has “fewer outages than cable internet.”

The company will respect the recommendations of the NAD despite the fact that it disagrees with the agency’s ruling.

In February, Charter was largely successful in challenging advertising from AT&T when the NAD recommended the latter stop saying it offers “better internet” than cable.

Starry oversees a housing community broadband expansion

Fixed-wireless provider Starry Internet announced Tuesday that it would be partnering with the Jersey City Housing Authority to provide residents of two housing communities in Jersey City, New Jersey with access to its digital equity program known as Starry Connect.

Residents will also be able to opt into the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program.

272 building housing units will have the opportunity to benefit from Starry’s program.

“We are ecstatic to partner with Starry to bridge this gap by building essential broadband infrastructure and offering high-speed, low-cost access to our residents,” said Vivian-Brady-Phillips, JCHA executive director.

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Broadband Roundup

Former FCC Chair Joins Company Board, Twitter to Pay $150 million in Privacy Case, Telehealth Prescriptions

Tom Wheeler is joining the board of a mobile network company.

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Photo of Tom Wheeler, by Mark Wilson

May 26, 2022 – Alef, a mobile network company, announced on Wednesday that Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, will join its board of directors.

According to the press release, Wheeler will “serve as an advocate for enterprises to rapidly adopt mobility inside the enterprise private network.”

Wheeler has more than 40 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. During his time at the FCC, he led efforts to adopt the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum band, net neutrality, and enhanced cybersecurity policies.

“Alef is a pioneer for the kind of competitive offering that we were envisioning when the FCC created CBRS, and thus it is an honor to join this Board of Directors,” said Wheeler in the press release.

In the same press release, Alef announced it also joined the OnGo Alliance, an organization designed to support the development of new solutions for the CBRS.

Working with OnGo, Alef will identify key issues and drive the development of LTE and 5G NR solutions for CBRS, the press release said. “This news demonstrates the company’s continued leadership across the telecom industry, ushering in a new era of capability delivered to the enterprise from the mobile edge,” stated the press release.

Alef gives enterprises and developers the ability to create, customize, and control their own private network infrastructure, the release said.

Twitter to pay $150 million to settle privacy suit

Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million fine following a privacy lawsuit settlement made public on Wednesday concerning allegations that the company improperly collected and handled user data between 2013 and 2019.

The settlement requires a court approval before being finalized.

The lawsuit, which was initiated by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, stated that Twitter had collected phone numbers and email addresses from platform users to secure accounts but allowed advertisers use the information to target ads without notifying users.

According to an FTC press release, Twitter used this personal information to “further its own business interests through its Tailored Audiences and Partner Audiences services.” This was in violation of a 2011 privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

“As the complaint notes, Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads,” FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan said in a release.

The settlement, in addition to the fine, will require Twitter to “maintain a comprehensive privacy and information security program, notify users whose information was misused, limit employee access to personal data, and offer multifactor authentication options.”

Twitter apologized for the breach in 2019, claiming that the data “may have been inadvertently used for advertising.”

Damien Kieran, Twitter’s chief privacy officer, said in a blog post that “keeping data secure and respecting privacy is something we take extremely seriously, and we have cooperated with the FTC every step of the way.”

CVS, Walmart to stop telehealth prescriptions

CVS Pharmacy and Walmart will no longer be filling prescriptions for controlled substances ordered by telehealth companies Cerebral Inc. and Done Health in response to concerns from a review that CVS conducted on their prescription practices. Walmart, according to the Wall Street Journal, did not disclose why they made the decision.

“We recently conducted a review of certain telehealth companies that prescribe controlled substance medications,” said CVS in a statement to The Hill. It is “important that medications are prescribed appropriately.”

CVS reportedly was unable to resolve “concerns” they had with Cerebral and Done Health, but did not elaborate on the concerns.

Cerebral said in a statement to The Hill that CVS’s timing was unfortunate, noting that they had stopped prescribing controlled substances earlier this month. “In light of CVS’s decision, Cerebral is doing everything possible to ensure these patients get access to medications that their health care providers have determined they need.”

Cerebral said that they would reach out to every patient impacted by CVS’s decision to help them transition to another pharmacy “as seamless as possible.”

As reported by The Hill, pharmacists at other locations that have adopted similar policies “expressed concerns that telehealth companies were over-prescribing certain medications like Adderall.”

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Broadband Roundup

Digital Equity Foundation Guide, UScellular Selects Ericsson for 5G, Brightspeed Targets

A policy paper recommends how a federally funded digital equity entity should be funded and structured.

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Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project

May 25, 2022 – A policy paper released Wednesday outlined recommendations for a federally funded Digital Equity Foundation, including how it should be structured and funded.

New America’s Open Technology Institute and the Philanthropic thru Privatization report recommends the foundation focus on having a stable endowment to maintain the its annual support, an ability to raise outside funds, to have advisory groups with a broad range of expertise to guide the foundation, and to have transparency principles that would see it have federal appointees and report regularly to the Senate and House commerce committees.

The paper comes after a joint note from New America and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies in April 2021 to Congress for funding for the foundation. At least 75 organizations support the Digital Equity Foundation.

“A federally funded Digital Equity Foundation isn’t a radical concept. Rather, it’s a common-sense policy solution to a longstanding national problem,” said Chuck Bell, a project associate for the PtP Project. “This proposed foundation would meet vital community needs, fit with longstanding legal precedents, and provide sustainable national funding to bridge the digital divide for millions of underserved Americans.”

Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project, said that even with the billions in broadband investments from the Infrastructure, Investment Jobs Act – which provides funding for digital equity – we won’t close the digital divide without “sustained investments in digital literacy and adoption efforts at the community level.”

UScellular selects Ericsson for C-band deployment

UScellular, the nation’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, announced Wednesday an agreement that will see Swedish telecom equipment supplier Ericsson help the telecom build out its 5G network using the C-band spectrum.

The telecom looks to use the spectrum to build out its fixed wireless network.

“Ericsson’s advanced mid-band coverage extension functionality with Carrier Aggregation network solutions will increase coverage and capacity for UScellular customers both at home and on the go,” said a press release Wednesday.

“Ericsson has a valued, long-standing relationship with UScellular, and we share their commitment to providing a resilient and sustainable network through the use of industry-leading innovations, ultimately elevating the customer experience,” Eric Boudriau, Ericsson’s vice president and head of customer unit regional carriers, said in the release.

Brightspeed announces first-year build target for its fiber network

On Wednesday, telecom company Brightspeed announced first-year plans for its proposed $2 billion network transformation plan, including an aim to have one million new fiber passings across rural and suburban regions of the U.S. and reaching close to three million homes and businesses by the end of 2023.

The company said it is optimistic the first deployment will take place in North Carolina in a few weeks and will serve as a company blueprint for future applications.

“We have already begun design and construction preparations necessary to hit the ground running on day one. We will be well-equipped to quickly deliver on our mission to bring ultra-fast, reliable Internet and Wi-Fi to more homes and businesses” said Bob Mudge, CEO of Brightspeed.

The company said its network is expected to provide more than one gigabit per second download speeds.

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