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Google Sued for Anti-Competitive Advertising, Trump Sued Over Section 230, Georgia Broadband Investment

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Photo of Ken Paxton by Shelby Knowles for the Texas Tribune

A lawsuit filed Wednesday by a coalition of ten Republican state attorneys general, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, accuses Google of making an “unlawful agreement” with Facebook, that gave special privileges to the social media giant, in exchange for promising not to support a competing ad system.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Texas, alleges that Facebook emerged in 2017 as a powerful new rival to Google, challenging the unit’s established dominance in online advertising.

The lawsuit claims that Google responded by initiating an agreement in which Facebook would curtail its competitive moves, in return for guaranteed special treatment in Google-run ad auctions.

Paxton announced the suit, saying Google is using its “monopolistic power” to control pricing of online advertisements, fixing the market in its favor and eliminating competition. “This Goliath of a company is using its power to manipulate the market, destroy competition, and harm you, the consumer,” Paxton said, in a video posted on Twitter.

Google denied engaging in any anticompetitive behavior and repeated its stance that it operates in highly competitive markets.

“Attorney General Paxton’s ad tech claims are meritless, yet he’s gone ahead in spite of all the facts. We’ve invested in state-of-the-art ad tech services that help businesses and benefit consumers,” a Google spokesperson said Wednesday, according to the Wall Street Journal. “We will strongly defend ourselves from his baseless claims in court.” The spokesperson said that the allegation about Facebook isn’t accurate and that the company doesn’t receive special data.

Texas is bringing the suit along with other Republican attorneys general from Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota and Utah. Noticeably absent were Democrats who had initially joined Texas in launching a bipartisan state investigation of Google last fall.

A separate, bipartisan group of state attorneys general is preparing another antitrust case against Google, which is expected to target its search business and could be filed as soon as Thursday.

Americans for Prosperity Foundation sues Trump administration for Section 230 records

The free-market oriended Americans for Prosperity Foundation sued the U.S. Department of Commerce late Monday, asking the agency to turn over records that could shine a light on the Trump administration’s push to narrow Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, eroding protections for social media platforms’ content moderation decisions.

According to the group’s complaint, filed in D.C. federal court, the Commerce Department’s telecom regulatory branch has failed to disclose the communications of two key officials related to the internet liability shield, including Nathan Simington, who was recently appointed to the Federal Communications Commission.

The foundation said it filed a federal records request in September seeking correspondence from the acting head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Adam Candeub, and Simington, who held the role of a senior adviser.

Although NTIA turned over some documents, the foundation claims that the agency has not been forthcoming with the requested records, reports Law360.

“The limited documents NTIA has disclosed from our Freedom of Information Act request contain numerous redactions, raising serious concerns about what NTIA is withholding,” said Eric Bolinder, the foundation’s policy counsel. “Mr. Candeub’s use of a private email for government business only heightens this concern.”

Georgia’s Public Service Commission approves measures to promote broadband investment

Efforts to provide broadband to unserved areas of Georgia took another step forward on Tuesday, following a Public Service Commission decision determining the fee paid by cable companies to attach wires and cables to electric membership cooperative utility poles.

In an administrative session, the Commission unanimously approved a motion requiring EMCs to lower the pole attachment rate for new attachments in areas of the state that are unserved by broadband to $1 per pole, per year, for six years. This financial incentive, called the One Buck Deal, will be given to any qualified broadband provider that will agree to deliver new high-speed internet service in an area that is determined to be “unserved” by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ Broadband Initiative Maps.

The Commission also established a cost-based pole attachment rate in areas of the state that already have broadband service and for existing attachments in unserved areas. The Commission voted to support reasonable terms and conditions with an enhancement to require faster repair of safety violations.

Together these measures will spur the expansion of broadband into rural areas through economic efficiency, certainty, and increased safety and reliability of attachments on EMC poles.

“With today’s vote, the Georgia PSC is giving broadband providers access to utility infrastructure at a cost of next-to-nothing, in the locations where Georgia needs broadband the most. The Commission also voted today to protect EMC members from unnecessary energy rate hikes,” said Georgia EMC President and CEO Dennis Chastain. “Georgia’s EMCs want to thank Commissioners Eaton, Echols, McDonald, Pridemore, Shaw and the PSC staff for their relentless hard work on this important issue.”

Broadband Roundup

High Demand for Middle Mile Grants, Local Concerns in FCC Process, Musk Agrees to Buy Twitter Again

The NTIA said it has received $5.5-billion worth of applications for the $1-billion middle mile program.

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Photo of Elon Musk

October 5, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Tuesday it received more than 235 applications worth more than $5.5 billion for money from the Enabling Middle Mile Infrastructure Grant Program.

The grant program, which is part of the larger Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and a number of other programs of the NTIA, only has $1 billion allocated to it.

“The volume of applications we received demonstrates the high demand for increasing middle mile capacity throughout the country,” Alan Davidson, head of the NTIA, said in a press release.

The applications were due on September 30 and will be awarded on a rolling basis by March 2023.

In response to current natural disasters, the NTIA has waived the deadline for entities that want to deploy middle mile infrastructure in Puerto Rico and parts of Florida, South Carolina and Alaska. The deadlines for these applications are set for November 1.

Next Century Cities says local government insights are overlooked

The non-profit advocacy group Next Century Cities on Tuesday released a report in which it highlighted the way that local government insights and concerns are often overlooked by the Federal Communications Commission.

The 21-page report, “Resounding Silence: The Need for Local Insights in Federal Broadband Policymaking,” said that municipalities often lack the capacity to participate in the FCC’s rule-making process.

In particular, the report highlights Next Century Cities’ concerns regarding the FCC’s “small cell” proceeding and  wireless infrastructure facilities. In particular, the report by Ryan Johnston, senior policy counsel, said that “communities are critical for broadband deployment, but not trusted to see it through.”

Another example of the argued neglect cited in the report concerns the FCC’s regulations regarding bans on exclusivity in the provision of broadband within multi-tenant environments. The Next Century City report says that local government efforts to ensure competitive access to these properties “have been only partially addressed.”

Musk agrees to buy Twitter – again

SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Monday through his lawyers that he is reinterested in buying Twitter at his original asking price of $44 billion, according to a letter from his firm, after he previously tried backing out of the deal.

The deal would end legal proceedings, which began when Twitter sued Musk after the billionaire said he would not be pursuing his original offer. Musk countersued in July, alleging the company couldn’t verify the number of fake accounts that are currently in its system. Twitter said it wouldn’t be able to calculate the number of fake accounts based on public information.

Twitter said it will go ahead with the deal, according to Bloomberg.

Last month, Peiter Zatko, a former Twitter employee, testified against Twitter saying the platform didn’t permanently delete user data from its system after users had deleted their accounts. The accounts were left susceptible to unlawful use by foreign governments and Twitter employees due to the lack of user security, the whistleblower testified.

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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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