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Mitch McConnell Ties $2,000 Checks to Section 230 Repeal, WISPA and Multifamily Broadband Council, Predictions for 2021

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Photo of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from Wikipedia used with permission

Hours after blocking legislation to increase direct payments in the coronavirus stimulus legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday introduced a bill tying $2,000 stimulus checks to unrelated items on President Donald Trump’s agenda, including a full repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act and the creation of a new congressional committee to further investigate the integrity of the 2020 U.S. elections.

Early Tuesday, many Republicans seemed poised to support the increased stimulus checks which Trump called for Sunday evening after signing the coronavirus relief and government spending package.

Yet, in a floor statement made Tuesday afternoon, McConnell tied the increase in funds to the vote integrity measure and Section 230 repeal — either or both of which might be seen as a poison pill. “During this process, the president highlighted three additional issues of national significance he would like to see Congress tackle together. This week, the Senate will begin a process to bring these three priorities into focus.”

McConnell explained that the Senate plans to address Section 230 and election fraud this week, but by tying the increased payments to measures that Democrats oppose, the top Senate Republican’s bill will most likely sink efforts to get Americans additional COVID-19 relief.

McConnell’s legislation seemingly aligns Senate Republicans to do controversial aspects of Trump’s agenda, including his feud with high-tech platform companies including Google, Facebook and Twitter.

Some see the rift between Trump and big tech opening when he was flagged for a Tweet, in May, that contained misleading information about the voting process.

On Tuesday, Trump lashed out again against the law which enables online platforms to moderate content:

WISPA takes over the Multifamily Broadband Council, which will close its doors

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association and the Multifamily Broadcast Council signed a membership option agreement in December 2020, which will transition all active MBC members into WISPA effective January 1, 2021.

MBC is a trade association representing those who deliver unique, personalized broadband solutions to multifamily communities, multiple-dwelling units, and other multi-tenant environments. Its members are non-franchised companies and their vendors who specialize in deploying connectivity solutions for the multifamily marketplace. The goal of MBC was always to work to foster competitive communications and alternative broadband choices for multifamily communities across the U.S.

In a statement, WISPA wrote that the synergy between MBC and WISPA is strong and vibrant.

“As our organizations continued to work together, we saw more opportunities for alignment,” said Valerie Sargent, executive director for MBC. “WISPA had more members starting to venture into the MDU space yet had no aspect of its membership dedicated to multifamily needs. MBC had the 25 years of practical application, standards and experience working within that environment, and can lend these decades of knowledge to WISPA members.”

“The partnership is a natural fit,” reiterated Claude Aiken, president and CEO of WISPA. “WISPA and MBC members are small entrepreneurial operators that drive incredible value for consumers and recognize the tremendous need to close the urban and rural digital divide. We’re going to do all we can to open up the multifamily market to competitive entry and deliver the diverse competition that communities need and deserve.”

Telecom predictions for 2021

As we wrap up the chaos that embodied 2020 and embark on a new year, many are airing out their telecom policy hopes gearing up for the year 2021. While many are hoping for a clear skies and brighter futures ahead, CCG Consulting’s President Doug Dawson recently published a blogpost airing his 2021 telecom predictions, which may knock the wind out of some sails.

Among other predictions, Dawson anticipates that the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund will deliver far less high-speed broadband infrastructure than it promises to.

“The reverse auction was a disaster in many ways, with a lot of the money going to companies that can’t possibly do what they promised or companies that largely intend to make a profit by pocketing a lot of the grants,” writes Dawson. Although the FCC will have a chance to rectify some of the problems during the review of the long forms, Dawson believes that they won’t disqualify many of the winning bidders.

Dawson further predicts that the technician shortage will become much more noticeable, as telecom companies are currently struggling to hire and retain technicians.

Dawson gives readers a reality check, predicting that the pandemic will continue to slow down progress within the industry. “Even with a vaccine finally hitting the market, the first six months of 2021 will continue under pandemic restrictions,” Dawson writes.

Although $65 million in the coronavirus relief package was allocated to fixing the FCC’s broadband maps, Dawson believes the FCC maps aren’t going to get any better, as it may not be within the agency’s interest to improve them.

Dawson reiterates that the future of the next FCC is unpredictable until the Georgia Senate races conclude. “If the Democrats prevail in both races, then I predict that the new FCC will start the process of trying to bring back broadband regulation and net neutrality. But even then, I don’t expect much progress on the effort for most of 2021,” he concludes.

See also Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark’s piece with his observations and projections, “The Top 10 Broadband Stories of 2020, and What They Mean for 2021,” December 30, 2020

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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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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