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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

Senate Bill Would Alter Google Advertising, DOJ Cybersecurity Policy Reversal, Comcast on Hybrid Fiber-Coax

Senate introduces bill breaking up Google’s digital advertising business

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Photo of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, from March 2016 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

May 20, 2022 – On Thursday a bipartisan group of senators on the Judiciary Committee introduced a bill that would force Google to break up its industry-leading online advertising exchange.

The Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act would prohibit large companies like Google from both operating an ad exchange and a supply- or demand-side platform, should they process more than $20 billion in ad transactions.

The bill would also require Facebook to divest some of its advertising business.

“Companies like Google and Facebook have been able to exploit their unprecedented troves of detailed user data to obtain vice grip-like control over digital advertising,” said bill sponsor Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

In late 2020, a coalition of 10 state attorneys general brought a lawsuit against Google alleging that its market dominance lets it overcharge businesses seeking to place ads online.

Justice Department changes directions on cybersecurity prosecution policy

On Thursday the Department of Justice announced it would reverse its charging policy on a federal computer fraud law, saying it will not prosecute “good-faith security research” efforts.

The change by the department relates to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, defining good-faith research as “accessing a computer solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability” without any intention of harming the public.

Last year, Georgia police sergeant Nathan Van Buren was successful in appealing his conviction under the CFAA to the Supreme Court.

DOJ argued that he should not have taken a bribe to access a woman’s license plate information during a 2015 Federal Bureau of Investigation sting operation, while Van Buren claimed that he had legitimate access to the database.

Comcast plans to release hybrid fiber-coaxial multi-gig speeds in the coming months.

Comcast is preparing to roll out faster multi-gigabit speeds across its hybrid fiber-coaxial network, Fierce Telecom reported Thursday.

Multi-gig rollout is expected in the coming months.

At an investor conference Comcast CEO Dave Watson stated that his operator’s choice to roll out mid-split upgrades on the way to Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 4.0 technology will allow it to take speeds to the next level.

“We have a very fast, very efficient path to multi-gig symmetrical at scale that we can do,” said Watson.

He feels comfortable that despite Comcast fiber deployments in select locations, the company feels comfortable that its HFC network will remain competitive.

He also reiterated previous comments that fixed wireless access service is not a threat and that it does not materially impact churn from fixed wireless competitors.

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Broadband Roundup

AT&T and DISH Agreement, FCC Adds More States in Robocall Fight, $50M from Emergency Connectivity Fund

Dish said its customers will now have access to AT&T’s gigabit fiber services.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

May 19, 2022 – On Wednesday, AT&T and Dish Network announced an internet distribution agreement in which Dish customers will have access to AT&T internet services, including its gigabit fiber services.

“Adding AT&T Internet to our robust lineup of TV and home integration services enhances our ability to provide better overall service, technology and value to our customers,” Amir Ahmed, executive vice president of DISH TV, said in a press release.

“At AT&T, we’re constantly thinking of ways we can better serve and provide for our customers. Through this new arrangement with DISH, we’re able to do just that by seamlessly offering our super-fast broadband services to more customers across the nation,” said Jenifer Robertson, executive vice president and general manager of mass markets at AT&T Communications.

“This is another step towards our goal of becoming the best broadband provider in America,” said Robertson.

FCC adds more state partners to tackle illegal robocalls

The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday new partnerships with nine additional state attorneys general to combat illegal robocalls.

The agency said Iowa, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have all signed on to help with robocall investigations.

That raises the number of states that have signed a memoranda of understanding with the FCC to 36, after the agency last month signed on a handful more states for the initiative. The agency has already credited at least one state with helping it nail one suspected robocall violator.

As part of the agreement, the parties will “share evidence, coordinate investigations, pool enforcement resources, and work together to combat illegal robocall campaigns and protect American consumers from scams,” according to the FCC.

“We are better positioned to help protect consumers from scammers than ever before,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Together we are stronger. Together we will continue our work to protect American consumers.”

The FCC already has robocall investigation agreements with Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

FCC commits additional $50 million from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The FCC announced on Wednesday that it has approved an additional $50 million from the Emergency Connectivity Fund program that is intended to help students with virtual learning.

The FCC said this funding will go to help 46 schools, seven libraries and two consortia across the country for students in American Samoa, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The FCC estimates that, so far, nearly $4.9 billion has been committed to connect over 12.6 million students across the country.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel added in a press release that “this program is providing funding for nearly 11 million connected devices and 5 million broadband connections throughout the country and moving us closer toward closing the Homework Gap.

“With help from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, millions of students across the country now have online tools to support their education,” added Rosenworcel.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC June Meeting, Ookla Speeds at Airports, FCC Cautioned About Overstepping on Digital Discrimination

The FCC laid out its agenda for the June open meeting.

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Screenshot of TechFreedom President Berin Szóka

May 18, 2022 – In a press release Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda for its June 2022 open meeting.

The FCC will explore ideas for wireless innovation at sea following increasing demand for spectrum to support offshore operations. The FCC will consider offshore spectrum policies to ensure efficient use of scarce spectrum resources.

In 2018, the FCC launched an inquiry to explain why some wireless 911 calls were misrouted to the wrong call center. The past four years showed a decrease in the frequency of this error but not its elimination. The FCC will seek comment on improvements that would reduce misrouted 911 calls and improve emergency response time.

During the June open meeting, the FCC will also consider preserving established local radio programming on FM6 radio service, if they meet certain conditions.

Ookla speedtest shows divide on speeds for Wi-Fi at airports

Analytics company Ooka analyzed airport Wi-Fi speeds at some of the busiest airports in the world and found that all surveyed airports met the recommended speed for streaming on mobile, but found a large divide between them.

The four fastest free airport Wi-Fis were all located in the United States: San Francisco International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, and Chicago O’Hare International. Following that came Dubai International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and Los Angeles International.

According to Speedtest Intelligence data, there is a wide gap between median speeds of the first 8 airports and the other airports on the list with the fasted being 176.25 Mbps. Airport lounges were found to have faster Wi-Fi on average than the airport itself.

Ookla, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, used its Speedtest Intelligence, which provides global insights into fixed broadband and mobile performance data using billions of consumer-initiated tests.

Tech lobbyists says FCC must not overstep authority to prevent digital discrimination

Tech lobbyist TechFreedom filed comments on Monday claiming that the Federal Communication Commission is overstepping its authority to regulate digital discrimination, following the FCC’s inquiry on how to prevent such a practice.

“If Congress had wanted the FCC to implement a new civil right law for broadband, it would have legislated a clear prohibition on discrimination – the essential element in all civil rights laws,” TechFreedom President Berin Szóka said in a release. “Instead, Congress wrote a law entirely about ‘facilitation.’”

The FCC’s inquiry follows an order under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to make rules to “facilitate” equal access to broadband and “prevent digital discrimination.”

“It is simply not plausible that Congress could have intended to change how broadband deployment is regulated in an obscure amendment tacked onto a spending bill on the Senate floor with no discussion or legislative history,” Szóka argued.

He concluded that there are other routes the FCC can take to prevent digital discrimination and facilitate equal access. Szóka called on the commission to “focus on directing funding towards remedying unequal access to broadband and preventing potential digital discrimination- not only under the infrastructure act but also the FCC’s various other broadband programs.”

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