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Trump Threatens to Veto Defense Bill Over Section 230, Verizon and Pole Attachments, One-Ring Robocalls

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Photo illustration courtesy the Daily Dot

President Donald Trump is threatening to veto a critical defense spending bill unless Congress agrees to repeal Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, the provision which grants social media companies a liability shield for content posted by third-party users.

The president ratcheted up the pressure on Congress in a pair of Tweets sent late Tuesday night, in which he threatened to nix the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act, unless it includes the specified repeal.

The president tweeted that Section 230 of the 1996 Act is “a serious threat to our National Security & Election Integrity” and called the provision “a liability shielding gift from the U.S. to Big Tech.”

The veto threat is merely one of the president’s latest moves against social media giants, such as Facebook and Twitter. The threat came the night before the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, was set to vote on Trump’s Federal Communications Commission nominee Nathan Simington.

Simington is a former telecom lawyer, who was criticized for acting as an arm of the president when he helped author the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s rulemaking calling for clarification of Section 230 in July. Trump directed the NTIA to file the petition after Twitter in May warned readers to fact-check his posts about unsubstantiated claims of fraud in mail-in voting.

Trump’s push for Simington to replace FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly has been criticized as another lame-duck action aimed at revoking Section 230. Trump and other conservatives believe tech companies are biased against conservative political views; however, the social media platforms say they are only trying to stop the spread of false claims and disinformation.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have largely rejected a wholesale repeal of Section 230. While legislators have proposed revisions, no concrete legislative steps have been taken.

Last nights move marks the second time Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA defense bill. Over the summer, Trump pledged to tank the bill over a provision to remove the names of Confederate leaders from Army bases.

FCC finds Verizon paid ‘unjust’ pole attachment charges

The FCC recently found that an electric utility company, operating in Maryland, made Verizon pay ‘unreasonable’ charges for attachments on their utility poles, as the Maryland company billed the maximum rate possible to the telecom giant.

The Commission concluded that the rates Potomac Edison Co. lodged against Verizon Maryland LLC were in violation of a 2018 order that made a preexisting competitive local exchange carrier rate a hard cap in order to “provide further certainty within the pole attachment marketplace” and “limit pole attachment litigation.”

In addition, the commission said Potomac Edison’s rate was particularly unjust compared to rates the company charged other cable companies to put attachments on the same poles as Verizon had.

Since the rate Potomac Edison charged Verizon was renewed and extended after the 2018 order, the FCC said the telecom giant was entitled to a rate “no greater” than the preexisting competitive local exchange carrier rate since January 2020.

The FCC calculated that rate to be $12.12 per year and ordered both companies to reach an agreement on how Verizon would be refunded the amount paid that exceeded the rate.

FCC acts to protect consumers from one-ring scams

On Monday, the FCC made clear that phone companies may block robocalls associated with one-ring scams. The decision builds on the Commission’s continued efforts to provide phone companies with safe harbors for blocking unwanted, illegal robocalls.

In a typical one-ring scam, a consumer is robocalled, with the scammer disconnecting after only one-ring to induce the consumer to call back. Despite appearing to come from a domestic United States number, one-ring scam calls generally originate outside the U.S. and consumers who call them back incur toll charges, of which the scammer gets a share. The scam can also rely on phony voicemail messages urging a consumer to call a number to “schedule a package delivery” or to notify a consumer about a purportedly “sick relative.”

The agency’s decision implements a portion of the Pallone-Thune Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act.

“Today’s action is just the latest step to stop illegal calls before they reach consumers’ phones,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “We are sending bad actors a clear message: We will use all available tools, including those in the TRACED Act, to protect American consumers.”

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband Prices Decline, AT&T’s Fiber Build in Texas, Conexon Partners for Build in Georgia

A USTelecom report finds that despite high inflation, broadband prices have been declining.

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Screenshot of Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – A USTelecom report released Wednesday found that broadband prices have been declining, despite high inflation.

The association’s 2022 Broadband Pricing Index Report found that broadband pricing decreased even with significant inflation of an estimated 8 percent in the past year, the most popular broadband prices dropped by 14.7 percent, and the highest speed broadband prices dropped by 11.6 percent from 2021-2022.

“Broadband prices at all speeds have decreased in the last five years,” it said.

The analysis also found that broadband prices are half of what they used to be in 2015. The most popular broadband services decreased by 44.6 percent, while the fastest broadband services decreased their prices by 52.7 percent from 2015-2022.

Lastly, the report found that the “consumer value of broadband services has never been higher.” As providers offer faster speeds at lower prices, the overall value to customers has dramatically improved, it said.

“This is great news for American broadband consumers,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association.

AT&T strikes deal in Amarillo, Texas for fiber project

AT&T struck a deal Wednesday with the city of Amarillo, Texas to extend its fiber reach.

A press release said the $24 million project in Amarillo will cover approximately 22,000 locations.

“The city of Amarillo broadband access plan is one of the more significant technological infrastructure advancements in city history,” said Amarillo mayor Ginger Nelson in the release.

It’s the latest partnership for AT&T, which is planning on reaching upwards of 60,000 locations via public-private partnerships in counties in Indiana, Kentucky and now Amarillo, Texas.

Conexon partners with Georgia electric company for broadband build

Georgia’s Ocmulgee Electric Membership Corporation partnered with internet service provider Conexon Connect on Tuesday to bring reliable, affordable, high-speed fiber broadband to rural Georgia.

The partnership will see the deployment of a network that spans 2,100 miles of fiber to the home for service to up to 8,000 members in centra Georgia, a press release said.

“I commend Ocmulgee EMC and Conexon for this exciting public-private partnership and their commitment to creating value for their communities,” said Governor Brian Kemp in a press release.

The project is estimated to take 2-4 years to complete and is set to start this September. The first customers expected to be connected in early 2023.

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Broadband Roundup

TikTok Data Concerns, Broadband Data Collection System, Internet Access on COVID-19 Mortality

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is requesting Apple and Google remove the TikTok app over data concerns.

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Photo of Brendan Carr

June 29, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores.

The app is run by ByteDance, a company that is “beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC’s surveillance demands,” read the June 24 letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sunder Pichai.

“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data,” said Carr, calling it a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data” such as search histories, keystroke patterns and biometric identifies.”

Carr claims that TikTok’s pattern of conduct regarding persons in Beijing having access U.S. sensitive data violates policies that both companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on the app stores. “I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms.”

TikTok has assured users that American’s data is being stored in the U.S. but, according to Carr, this statement “says nothing about where that data can be accessed from.”

FCC opens mapping data system for filers early 

The Federal Communications Commission released a public notice on Thursday announcing that filers of broadband availability data in its new maps may obtain early access of the system for registering filer information.

The filing window for the Broadband Data Collection opens June 30, but early access will enable users to register their entities in the system and become familiar with the system before that date, the FCC said.

“We are making this functionality available in advance of the opening of the filing window to enable filers to log in, register, and be ready to enter their availability data as early in the filing window as possible,” read the public notice.

The BDC program is said to help improve broadband mapping data to help funnel federal dollars to where broadband infrastructure is needed. Most fixed and mobile broadband providers will be required to file information in the system, but third parties and government entities are also encouraged.

Impact of internet access on COVID-19 mortality

New analysis released last week by private research university Tufts found that increased broadband access in the United States reduced COVID-19 mortality rates.

“Even after controlling for a host of other socioeconomic factors, a 1 percent increase in broadband access across the U.S. reduced COVID mortality by approximately 19 deaths per 100,000, all things equal,” read the report.

The study also found that the impact was felt more strongly in metro areas, where a 1 percent increase in broadband access reduced the deaths by 36 per 100,000.

By conducting a correlation analysis, Tuft researchers found that broadband access is negatively correlated with COVID mortality, even after controlling for other major factors such as health status, income, race and education.

The study only considered pre-vaccine number to account for inconsistencies.

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Broadband Roundup

Rosenworcel Committed to Net Neutrality, Better Spectrum Coordination, Starlink Up in Internet Speeds

The FCC chairwoman reaffirmed her commitment to net neutrality at a conference on Friday.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – At a conference hosted by the American Library Association on Friday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel reaffirmed her support for net neutrality rules.

According to a press release, Rosenworcel stated she wants to make a “return to common carrier regulation of internet service providers which aims to prevent ISPs from slowing down or blocking web traffic.”

Rosenworcel “fully backs” net neutrality rules passed under the Obama administration that were repealed during the Trump administration. “I opposed the last administration’s effort to roll it back, and I want it to once again become the law of the land,” she stated at the ALA.

A press release calls Rosenworcel ’s statement on net neutrality the “hallmark of her tenure” and says she faces opposition in her attempt to bring back net neutrality rules.

“It is just wrong for the internet to have slow lanes for people with less money,” Patty Wong, president of the ALA, said at the conference.

Better coordination needed for receiver performance 

On Monday, non-partisan think tank TechPolicy urged more coordination by the Federal Communications Commission with other agencies to better utilize spectrum assets during its receiver performance study, filing comments in response to the commission’s public consultation about that matter.

“The Commission has a considerable expertise and prior work to review in assessing whether it has the statutory authority in this area, and how to best incentivize all parties to build more robust receivers to operate in more and more congested spectrum,” the think tank said.

It suggested engaging with other agencies, such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as well as users of government receivers.

James Dunstan, general counsel of TechFreedom, stated, “the FCC cannot fine-tune spectrum management with only half the orchestra.” He added that if the FCC does not engage with government users, “there will be little progress made toward finding broad solutions to increased spectrum congestion.”

The FCC and the NTIA have already agreed earlier this year to coordinate on spectrum management.

Ookla finds Starlink increased speeds by 38 percent over the past year

Metrics company Ookla said Tuesday that, according to its review of Starlink satellite broadband service in the first quarter, the company saw an increase of 38 percent in internet performance in the United States over the past year, said a press release.

However, the company’s analysis also showed that Starlink’s upload speeds decreased nearly 33 percent in the U.S. from 16.29 Mbps in 2021 to 9.33 in 2022.

Ookla notes that even as consumers choose Starlink, competitors are not far behind. It mentioned as key developments FCC approval for Amazon’s Project Kuiper to test its satellite service this year, and Viasat getting closer to merging with Inmarsat for a constellation launch next year.

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