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Broadband Roundup

Coronavirus Stimulus Omnibus Also Includes Consumer Protection Provisions, Elevating the Definition of ‘Broadband’

Jericho Casper

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Photo of Rep. Jan Schakowsky from June 2017 by Mobilus in Mobili used with permission

The House of Representatives passed an end of the year omnibus bill on Monday, which included six provisions from the Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee. The legislation aims to help protect consumers from harmful products and COVID-19 scams.

One of the provisions, the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, grants authority to the Federal Trade Commission to seek civil penalties for unfair and deceptive practices associated with the treatment, cure, prevention, mitigation, or diagnosis of COVID–19. This legislation is critical, as the pandemic era has created a world of new opportunities for scammers to exploit unprecedented fear, stress, and financial strain.

Also included is the American Competitiveness Of a More Productive Emerging Tech Economy Act, introduced by Consumer Protection and Commerce Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Washington and Representative Bobby Rush, D-Illinois.

The act directs the Department of Commerce and the FTC to conduct studies and submit reports on emerging technologies, including artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things, quantum computing, unmanned delivery services, and more. The studies include requirements to survey each industry and report recommendations to help safely implement new technology.

“We were happy the House passed an overall omnibus today that included important bills out of our Committee,” wrote Consumer Protection and Commerce Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, and Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, in a joint statement.  “We look forward to all of these important safety and consumer protection provisions becoming law.”

Fiber Broadband Association and NTCA petition FCC to raise broadband definition

In a joint letter to all five Federal Communications Commissioners, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and the Fiber Broadband Association proposed that the agency change its dated benchmark for “broadband” of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed just how essential high-performance and high-quality broadband is to participate in today’s society,” wrote Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, and Gary Bolton, CEO of FBA. Yet the FCC “persists in positing that a fixed broadband benchmark of 25/3 Mbps – the same benchmark it has used for the last five years – is good enough.

“By any measure, this benchmark does not reflect what American consumers need today, let alone tomorrow,” they said.

The said that their members urged that the FCC adopt a gigabit symmetrical benchmark “as the national objective for broadband deployment and availability” and at the very least, “should at least raise the minimum broadband performance benchmark for the [next] broadband deployment report to 100/100 Mbps.”

“Today, broadband is fundamental to virtual learning, working from home, practicing telehealth, and so much more. The reality of the COVID-19 pandemic is that the typical household connects multiple users, using multiple devices at the same time, all requiring higher-performance connections. Most virtual activities require reliable broadband connections with robust downstream and upstream bandwidth and low latency for normal use.”

The letter highlights that Americans on the wrong side of the digital divide do not have access to these connections, which keeps them from engaging in these activities today. A recent study shows that consumers in the lowest 20 percent broadband performance tier are required to do in-home rationing of their broadband service 48.7 percent of the time, losing 11 hours per week of productivity, due to online time waiting.

Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband.

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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Broadband Roundup

Hawley Calls For Ban On Large Corp Mergers, Chip Shortage Coming For Routers, Big Telecom Breakup

Derek Shumway

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Photo from the American Independent Institute

April 12, 2021 – Senator Josh Hawley, R-MO, shared with Axios a new proposal that would bar corporate giants from acquisitions and strengthen century-old antitrust laws.

“This country and this government shouldn’t be run by a few mega-corporations,” Hawley told Axios. The Republican Party “has got to become the party of trust-busting once again. You know, that’s a part of our history.”

Though he is among the Senate’s most conservative members, him attacking corporate power is not out of place when read with Senators Elizabeth Warren’s or Bernie Sanders’ agenda.

The “Trust-Busting for the Twenty-First Century Act” would include banning mergers and acquisitions by firms with a market cap over $100 billion. The threshold for prosecution under existing federal antitrust laws would be lowered, emphasizing the protection of competition instead of replacing consumer harm standards. Companies would also be required to forfeit all their profits resulting from monopolistic conduct that lose federal antitrust lawsuits. And the Federal Trade Commission would have new power to designate and regulate “dominant digital firms” in online markets.

If enacted, Hawley’s call to regulate mergers would affect far more than Silicon Valley. Its rules on mergers would also cover dozens of corporate giants in virtually every economic sector of the country.

If anyone is confused about the Republican “party of business” proposal being tough on business from one of its own kind, the Senator offered two responses: “’Trust-busting’ was a Republican concept originally, under Progressive-Era GOP president Teddy Roosevelt,” and “strong antitrust laws are ultimately about the sanctity of competition, and Republicans ought to embrace that.”

Axios reported that while his ideas might win some support from other populist Republicans, the broader party would need a sea-change in thinking to embrace it. Democrats, meanwhile, are likely to prefer their own bills, reported Axios.

Chip shortage could hit routers next

According to sources who spoke with Bloomberg, wireless routers “are poised to be the next piece of hardware to feel the effects of a global chip shortage currently disrupting the availability of the latest generation CPUs, GPUs, and game consoles.”

Internet service providers are already feeling the crunch in supply, with the sources stating ISPs are looking at delays for broadband router orders that will last up to 60 weeks—twice as long as the previous lead time.

PC Gamer reports that it has not seen any signs of chip shortages affecting standalone consumer routers for the of Wi-Fi 6 (802.11ax) and Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ac) models on shopping sites Amazon and Newegg, but warned things could turn on a dime, as other hardware has.

In some parts of the world, including Canada, carriers have complained that next-generation modems have been in short supply because of the chip shortage.

The reason behind the shortages? A series of unfortunate events, really. Karsten Gewecke, senior vice president of Zyxel, a major player in the router market, said the COVID-19 pandemic affected its supply chains. One of Zyxel’s manufacturing facilities in China temporarily stopped when COVID first hit over a year ago, and has been spotty ever since.

The situation has worsened due to increased consumer demand for broadband hardware as more people are working from home. And for a triple whammy: “Zyxel routers are among the cargo on Ever Given, the Evergreen-owned container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal and has now been detained,” reported PC Gamer.

Gewecke said ISPs could run out of router inventory in the next several months due to these events.

Does big telecom need a break-up?

First it was big tech, and now big telecom is coming under scrutiny for its concentrated market power, as “too big to trust” accusations are leveled against internet service providers (ISPs).

The overwhelming majority of connections are now controlled by a cartel, just a few companies dubbed “Big Telecom” — AT&T, Verizon, CenturyLink, Comcast, and Charter, reports telecom veteran Bruce Kushnick on Medium. Often, in addition to controlling broadband access, these companies have a bundled package that also includes phone and cable TV services.

Kushnick argued that in the United States, bundled service packages are 5-20 times more expensive than most of Europe, averaging $215/month compared to Europe’s $23-50/month. He said that “Many countries have wireless services for $35 with 1000 GB or more, what he called “truly unlimited.” The US price is about $90 with an ‘unlimited’ plan of 50GB, whose speed is throttled after that threshold.

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