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COVID Relief Bill Provides $7 Billion for Broadband Access, Pew on Pandemic, Education Broadband Service Decision

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Photo of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from Inquisitr

Sunday evening, Congress announced reaching a deal on an emergency coronavirus relief package, which includes $7 billion in funding to support broadband internet access. The bill is expected to pass both the U.S. House and Senate on Monday.

The $7 billion for broadband set aside in the stimulus agreement will include a reported $3.2 billion for an emergency-broadband benefit that will be available to individuals and families who cannot readily afford essential internet connections, and up to $1.3 billion for broadband connectivity on tribal lands and in communities surrounding historically Black colleges and universities.

The funding also includes $1.9 billion for “rip and replace” efforts to remove Huawei and ZTE equipment from U.S. networks, $300 million for rural broadband deployment, $250 million for the Federal Communications Commission’s telehealth program, and $65 million to improve broadband mapping.

Most significant is the shift in legislators’ attention to the affordability crisis that predated the pandemic, but has become even more dire over the past 10 months. The broadband funding includes an Emergency Broadband Benefit that will provide $50 per month for broadband for low-income families, a provision based on legislation from Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.

The final legislation does not include other important broadband measures the House first passed in May as part of the HEROES Act. It also leaves out measures discussed in negotiations last week by the bipartisan group of senators who helped restart stimulus negotiations. Yet the broad eligibility criteria for the broadband benefit will provide assistance to many in need of financial assistance to get connected.

In response to the Congressional stimulus package, Chip Pickering, CEO of INCOMPAS, said that broadband funding in the stimulus package is an important band-aid to help keep Americans connected, but stresses “the pandemic makes clear that our networks require surgery.”

“Millions of families lack coverage, while the majority of Americans are forced to live with older networks that are too slow, over-congested and expensive where there is a lack of competition,” said Pickering, noting “other nations have taken massive steps forward to deploy faster speed networks with gigabit goals.”

Pickering called the next Congress and the Biden-Harris Administration to make universal, high-speed, affordability a top priority in the first 100 days, in order to prevent our economy getting ‘stuck in the slow lane’ for decades to come.

Pew Research Center studies reveal Americans’ views of technology during COVID-19

The coronavirus outbreak led to widespread shutdowns and stay-at-home orders throughout the country in March, forcing Americans to adapt and shift parts of their daily routines online.

To paint a full picture of Americans’ attitudes towards the role and effectiveness of various technologies, the Pew Research Center surveyed public opinion on tech over the course of the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.

A month into the pandemic, 87 percent of U.S. adults said the internet had been at least important for them personally during the outbreak, including 53 percent who deemed the internet as “essential” for them. According to a March survey, roughly half of adults, 49 percent, said that a major interruption in their internet or cellphone service during the coronavirus outbreak would be a very big problem for daily life in their household.

The research reveals that age and level of formal education are the main factors shaping American attitudes toward tech. Adults under the age of 65 were more likely than those 65 and older to say internet outages would be a very significant problem. Individuals with a bachelor’s or advanced degree were also more likely than those with lower levels of educational attainment to say this.

When it comes to data collection and digital privacy, only a minority of Americans said in April that they thought cellphone tracking would be beneficial for curbing the spread of the virus. Some 38 percent said that if the government tracked people’s locations through their cellphone during the coronavirus outbreak it would help at least a little in limiting the spread of the virus. A larger share, 60 percent, said this type of tracking by the government would not make much of a difference in limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

A majority of Americans, 64 percent, said that internet and phones would be useful, but not be an adequate substitute for in-person interactions.

SHLB disappointed in FCC Educational Broadband Service decision

On Thursday, the FCC denied a petition for reconsideration of the Transforming the 2.5 Gigahertz Band Report and Order, filed by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition and several education advocates. Friday, the SHLB Coalition expressed disappointment that the FCC rejected the Coalition’s call to award educational institutions an opportunity to acquire Educational Broadband Service in rural markets.

In the petition, the SHLB Coalition provided many examples of successful wireless deployments by schools working with private sector companies, and provided detailed economic evidence that awarding schools EBS licenses would promote economic growth and help address the homework gap.

“The FCC’s denial of our petition for reconsideration is quite disappointing,” said John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition, in a recent statement. “For many schools, access to EBS spectrum would have been their golden ticket to quickly deploy networks that reach their students without home internet access. It is extremely unfortunate that the Commission did not give schools and other educational organizations this opportunity.”

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Targets Spam Call Offenders, Disaster Assistance Requirements, U.S. 23rd in Fiber Development

For the first time, the FCC is proposing removing voice service providers for breaking spam call rules.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

October 4, 2022 – For the first time, the FCC proposed Tuesday that seven voice service providers be removed from receiving call traffic, after violating the commission’s new scam call framework.

Voice service providers Akabis, Cloud4, Global UC, Horizon Technology Group, Morse Communications, Sharon Telephone Company, and SW Arkansas Telecommunications and Technology have 14 days to show why the FCC should not remove them from the Robocall Mitigation Database.

The database is a filing portal voice service providers must use to inform the commission that they have implemented the STIR/SHAKEN framework, an FCC mandated caller identification technology that allows carriers to digitally validate the authenticity of a phone number, allowing a customer to be sure that the number seen on a caller ID matches the possible caller.

Removal from the database would require all other providers to cease carrying the offending companies’ traffic, meaning all calls from these providers’ customers would be blocked and no traffic originated by the provider would reach the called party, according to the release.

“These and other recent actions reflect the seriousness with which we take providers’ obligations to take concrete and impactful steps to combat robocalls,” Loyaan Egal, acting chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, said in the release. “STIR/SHAKEN is not optional. And if your network isn’t IP-based so you cannot yet use these standards, we need to see the steps taken to mitigate illegal robocalls. These providers have fallen woefully short and have now put at risk their continued participation in the U.S. communications system. While we’ll review their responses, we will not accept superficial gestures given the gravity of what is at stake.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel added in a statement that, “Fines alone aren’t enough. Providers that don’t follow our rules and make it easy to scam consumers will now face swift consequences,” saying this is a “new era.”

FCC adopts emergency carrier assistance rules

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it has adopted rules requiring wireless service providers to assist other carriers in the event of emergencies.

The commission codified certain terms from a voluntary program known as the Mandatory Disaster Response Initiative, which has been used by the carriers since 2016 to assist each other in emergency scenarios. The new MDRI requires providers arrange mutual aid, improve public awareness of restoration efforts, and mandate roaming agreements so that any carrier with network outage may get voice roaming on a carrier that is still operational during natural disasters. The new MDRI will be effective October 31.

The September order also requires that the carriers submit performance reporting to the commission in order to improve “reliability, resiliency, and continuity of communications networks during emergencies,” it said in the order.

On Tuesday, the FCC said also is seeking comment on whether MDRI reports to the commission “would benefit from standardization, and what it should entail.”

The FCC is seeking comments until October 31, 2022, with reply comments due on November 29.

United States in 23rd place for fiber development

Technology research group Omdia listed the United States in 23rd place on fiber development relative to other countries, according to a report released Tuesday.

“Only by maximizing investment in next-generation access can countries optimize their growth potential, and fiber-optic technology is key to that investment. Countries, such as the UK and the US, that are further down the list than many less developed countries, may need to consider policy reforms to ensure that it is easy to deploy infrastructure and that competition in the market remains high in light of mergers taking place,” said Omdia research director Michael Philpott in a statement.

Omdia’s Fiber Development Index measures fiber household coverage, household penetration, business penetration, mobile cell site fiber penetration, total fiber investment, and average download and upload speeds across 81 countries, its website says.

Singapore is ranked first in the Fiber Development Index, as it pushes to become the next “smart nation” by 2025, the report said.

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Broadband Roundup

Supreme Court to Hear Section 230 Case, Small Business Broadband Bill, TikTok Deal Pressure

The highest court in the land will hear a case about the scope of internet platform liability under Section 230.

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Photo of the U.S. Supreme Court building

October 3, 2022 – The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear a case from a petitioner who argues Google should be held liable in the death of his daughter during an ISIS attack in Paris in 2015.

Reynaldo Gonzalez sued Google under the AntiTerrorism Act for the death of Nohemi Gonzalez because the company’s video sharing platform, YouTube, allegedly hosted ISIS recruitment videos.

Large internet platforms are generally immune from the legal consequences of their users’ posts under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But the highest court in the land will now examine the scope of those protections in this case.

“These cases underscore how important it is that digital services have the resources and the legal certainty to deal with dangerous content online,” Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said in a statement Monday.

“Section 230 is critical to enabling the digital sector’s efforts to respond to extremist and violent rhetoric online, and these cases illustrate why it is essential that those efforts continue,” he added.

Senate passes small business broadband legislation

The Senate on Thursday passed legislation that would designate a broadband coordinator to improve programs to better assist small business customers in accessing broadband technology.

The Small Business Broadband and Emerging Technology Enhancement Act of 2022 directs the Small Business Administration to designate a senior Office of Investment and Innovation employee as the broadband and emerging technology coordinator, establishing measures to aid the productivity and competitiveness of small businesses with broadband access and other information technologies that emerge.

The coordinator is expected to identify the best practices that relate to broadband and emerging technology to help small businesses, and coordinate SBA programs that assist small businesses so they can best adopt and use broadband and other emerging information technologies.

The bill, which makes its way to the House, requires Small Business Development Centers to assist in the access of broadband for small businesses.

Republicans promise hearings on TikTok security if successful in midterms

The upcoming midterm elections for control of the House and the Senate are putting pressure on the Biden administration to formalize an agreement with Chinese-owned TikTok to clamp down on security and privacy issues with the video-sharing app, as Republicans open the door to possible hearings on the matter if they are successful in taking back control of Congress, according to the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

The New York Times reported last week that the Biden administration and TikTok have come to a preliminary agreement to make changes to the app’s data security and governance without requiring the Chinese owner ByteDance to sell the company. The terms include storing American data on servers in the United States, with cloud company Oracle monitoring the app’s algorithms to see what content the app recommends to users.

But as the midterm elections near next month, the Journal, citing anonymous sources, is reporting that the talks have taken on an “added urgency,” as Republicans are promising hearings on the security of the app if they wrestle control from the Democrats on November 8.

“These people say a deal with TikTok owner ByteDance Ltd. aimed at erecting a wall between the U.S. and Chinese operations is close, but caution that hurdles remain—including operational challenges and possible opposition by China’s communist government,” the Journal reported, adding Republicans would challenge any agreement that falls short of “tough safeguards.”

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr has already chimed in on the preliminary agreement, saying it doesn’t go far enough for the alleged threat the app poses to the country’s national security.

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Broadband Roundup

Tech Against Texas Social Media, Alabama Middle Mile Grant, IP3 Awards Bestowed

Two information technology industry groups are trying to stall implementation of Texas’ social media law.

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Photo of IP3 Award winner Kyle Courtney at Public Knowledge's award ceremony Thursday by Drew Clark

September 30, 2022 – Plaintiffs NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Thursday petitioned the Fifth Circuit of Appeals to delay the implementation of a Texas law that limits social media companies’ ability to moderate content on their platforms.

The Texas law – H.B. 20 – would limit the ability of large social media companies to remove user speech from their platforms based on viewpoint. Supporters of the law say it will prevent platforms such as Twitter from discriminating against conservative political speech.

H.B. 20 was initially blocked by a federal judge last year, but the Fifth Circuit upheld the bill earlier this month. The plaintiffs say they will soon file a petition for a writ of certiorari at the Supreme Court. Thursday’s motion attempts to prevent H.B. 20 from taking effect before the High Court weigh ins.

“There is no question that a law that defies over two centuries of First Amendment protections warrants further federal court review,” said a statement from CCIA President Matt Schruers.

“If states like Texas are allowed to issue must-carry mandates, internet users can expect a torrent of dangerous content and misinformation, just as we head into an election season. Given the implications for the First Amendment and democratic institutions, we are asking the court to block this statute from taking effect until its constitutional problems have been heard.”

Alabama invests in middle-mile infrastructure

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Tuesday a $82.45 million grant to Fiber Utility Network, a conglomerate of eight rural electric cooperatives.

The grant will fund a middle-mile network that is expected to connect nearly 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure within three years. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs’ Alabama Digital Expansion Division will administer the grant, the funds for which came from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“Achieving full broadband coverage is a journey, not a short trip, and today is an important step toward completing that journey. The Alabama Middle-Mile project – the infrastructure setting part of this journey – is going to lead our state to be the model for the nation when it comes to providing broadband capabilities,” said Ivey.

“In 2022, being able to be connected at home, work or on the on go is absolutely necessary, and this is certainly key to making that a reality.”

“The eight electric cooperatives that make up the Fiber Utility Network are honored to be a part of building a middle mile network to bring internet service closer to those Alabamians,” said Tom Stackhouse, president of the Fiber Utility Network. “We want to thank Governor Ivey and the staff at ADECA for the vision, leadership and assistance to make this a reality.”

Public Knowledge honors IP3 awardees, for Internet Protocol, Information Policy and Intellectual Property

Public Knowledge hosted the 19th annual IP3 Awards ceremony Thursday, honoring leading voices in technology and tech policy.

Public Knowledge presented the “Internet Protocol Award” to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., chair of the House Rural Broadband Taskforce, for his work promoting affordable broadband access. Notably, his work advanced the broadband-funding provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Emma Llanso, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Free Expression Project, received the “Information Policy Award” for her work promoting free expression online.

Kyle Courtney, copyright advisor at Harvard University, received the “Intellectual Property Award.” He works extensively on copyright and library-related legal issues.

Courtney developed the Copyright First Responders program to “help advance teaching, learning, and scholarship through community engagement with copyright.”

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