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Aussie Law Would Make Tech Giants Pay For News, Loon’s Bubble Bursts, Peter Huber Dies

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Photo of Loon's balloons floating 20km above sea level, by Project Loon

January 25, 2021—Australia’s Parliament is considering legislation that would require certain U.S. internet companies to subsidize local news content producers by imposing obligations such as payment for links to news content.

The Australian government announced the legislation last month after an investigation found U.S. tech giants held too much market power in the media industry, a situation it said posed a potential threat to a well-functioning democracy.

In response on Friday, Google threatened to make its search engine unavailable if the Australian government approves the legislation forcing tech companies to pay for journalism shared on their platforms.

Facebook, which appeared with Google at an Australian Senate hearing, reaffirmed a threat of its own, vowing to block users in Australia from posting or sharing links to news if the bill passed.

The law is designed to address losses in advertising revenue affecting grassroots media outlets.  America’s trillion-dollar digital behemoths are threatening traditional news media with extinction, as for every $100 spent on online advertising—$53 goes to Google, $28 to Facebook and $19 to others, including print and traditional media.

The ad-based revenue system is causing many traditional media outlets to go bankrupt, resulting in ‘news deserts’ across the globe. Though subscription revenues partially offset advertising revenue losses, those gains are nowhere near enough to put a stop to the layoffs newsroom staff members and journalists are experiencing.

Reactions to the move have varied. The U.S. government has asked Australia to scrap the proposed laws.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association’s President Matt Schruers argued that this policy will “hurt readers, publishers, and advertisers, all of whom depend on links.” Schruers wrote that CCIA encourages dialogue towards a consensus solution that “does not attempt to re-design how the Internet works, or question basic principles of market-based economies.”

Alphabet is shutting down Loon, its ambitious internet balloon venture

After eight years of trying, Loon, a company attempting to expand broadband access via flying balloons, has been shut down by Alphabet, as the project was unable to produce a long-term, sustainable business model. When Google announced “Project Loon” in 2013, the project quickly turned into a running joke, as no Googlers believed a network of flying balloons was a feasible idea.

Google has finally come to realize that expanding broadband through flying balloons is indeed, not feasible. The shutdown of Loon comes after Google cited economic problems with Titan Aerospace , a strategy to deliver the Internet via drone, in 2017. At the time, Google said balloons would be a more promising delivery mechanism for bringing Internet access to remote and rural areas; however, now it appears Google will need to rethink its vision to deliver broadband entirely, as neither its drone or balloon projects have borne any fruit.

The name “Loon” came partly from the fact that the project utilizes flying balloons as a kind of ultra, low-orbit satellite. The balloons were flying cell phone towers that could deliver LTE signals down to smartphones, requiring no special equipment for the end user.

One issue that arose with utilizing floating balloons, was that the inflated equipment had no directional control and relied on differing wind directions at various altitudes. Another reason Loom never panned out is due to its unique equipment being too expensive.The project was supported by partnerships with AT&T, Telkom Kenya, and Telefonica in Peru.

At its height, Google launched up to 250 balloons a year that could stay floating for 300 days before needing to be recovered. Thankfully, not all of Project Loom’s life was a waste. In 2017, Loom managed to connect 200,000 people to the Internet in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria knocked out land-based infrastructure.

Peter Huber, author of “1987 Report on Competition”, passes at age 68

Peter W. Huber, credited with popularizing the term “junk science” and playing an instrumental role in communications’ antitrust lawsuits, passed away on January 8 at the age of 68 years old, having succumbed to frontotemporal dementia.

Huber’s work for the U.S. Department of Justice’s victory in its historic antitrust suit against AT&T in 1984 was miraculous. After AT&T, the country’s largest corporation at the time, was broken up, the DOJ promised to release a report every three years to document changes in the telecommunications sector, with the first report being due in 1987.

In 1986, the DOJ was unprepared to deliver its report. The DOJ had no team in the U.S. government that could understand the complex and enormous telecommunications market. Of the few consulting firms available for hire, there remained no options, as all the employees had previously worked for AT&T.

The DOJ turned to Huber, who never studied the communications sector before, to write the report. Known widely as “the massive Huber report,” The Geodesic Network: 1987 Report on Competition in the Telephone Industry was released and became a runaway bestseller for the Government Printing Office. Huber authored the report in 11 months and turned in the final product weeks early. The report detailed how technology was primed to crush old monopolies with new network disruptions—personal computers, software, and devices.

Huber was born in Toronto, Canada, and grew up in Geneva, Switzerland. At the age of 17, he enrolled in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he earned his doctorate. Hubert became an MIT professor at age 23 and received tenure just eight years later. He also earned a law degree at age 30, graduating first in his class from Harvard Law School.

In his law career, Huber clerked for Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. He greatly admired both and said Ginsburg was loyal to the logic of the law. “Her decisions were reproducible,” he said. Huber authored a biography, Sandra Day O’Connor: Women of Achievement, for young girls ages 9 to 12.

Broadband Roundup

Satellites Expected to Increase, $30 Million From Emergency Connectivity Fund, NTIA 5G Challenge

The U.S. must remain a market leader in the satellite sector, said Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone

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Photo of Lago Argentino Department, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

February 3, 2023 – The number of satellites in the communications marketplace will continue to increase, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr, D- N.J., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during opening remarks at a Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on Thursday.

“Wireless carriers and phone manufacturers continue to build this capability into their networks and phones,” Pallone said.

“Quite simply, failing to ensure that the United States remains a market leader in this sector risks our nation falling behind our counterparts across the globe, including China, in producing cutting-edge consumer innovations and fortifying our public safety and national security capabilities,” Pallone said.

FCC disbursing another $30 million from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Wednesday that it will commit more than $30 million from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which helps students stay connected to the internet when not in school.

The newly announced award is expected to fund applications from all three previous application windows, and will support more than 200 schools, 15 libraries, and 1 consortium.

Thus far, the program has provided support to approximately 10,000 schools, 10,000 libraries, and 100 consortia, plus more than =$12 million in connected devices. Around $6.5 billion in funding commitments have been approved to date, approximately $4.1 billion is supporting applications from the first funding window, $833 million from the second window and $1.6 billion from the third window.

$7 million competition by NTIA to promote development of 5G

National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced the launch of the 2023 5G Challenge with the Defense Department l. It’s purpose is to accelerate the adoption and development of an open and interoperable multi-vendor environment for the 5G wireless standard. “ Such an ecosystem will spur a more competitive and diverse telecommunications supply chain, drive down costs for consumers and network operators, and bolster U.S. leadership in the wireless sector.”

“A competitive wireless ecosystem is vital for our domestic and economic security. The research conducted from this competition will benefit everything from our cellphones to the secure radio networks needed for our national defense,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and head of the NTIA.

Participants are required to create 5G equipment prototypes and then test to see if their subsystems can connect to other contestant’s equipment. For specific application and registration information, see the NTIA website .

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Apple and Google Called ‘Gatekeepers,’ Huawei Trade Restrictions, Meta’s Antitrust Win

The NTIA claims that Apple and Google take advantage of their app stores to put unfair limitations on their competitors.

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Photo of NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson in 2017 by New America, used with permission

February 1, 2023 — Apple and Google are “gatekeepers” of the mobile app market, placing unfair limitations on competitors and ultimately harming consumers, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The app market is almost entirely confined to the app stores run by Apple and Google, and the report alleges that these companies create unnecessary hurdles for developers — such as restricting app functionality and imposing “slow and opaque review processes.”

The NTIA’s recommendations, issued at the direction of President Joe Biden’s 2021 executive order on competition, include prohibiting self-preferential treatment from app store operators. The report also recommends that consumers be allowed to set their own default apps, delete pre-installed apps and have access to alternative mobile app stores.

Many of the recommendations echo the Open App Markets Act, a bill that gained significant bipartisan support in the last Congress but was not ultimately included in the year-end spending bill.

Alan Davidson, head of the NTIA, said that the agency’s recommendations would “make the app ecosystem more fair and innovative for everyone.”

“This report identifies important ways we can promote competition and innovation in the app market, which will benefit consumers, startups, and small businesses,” said Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the White House’s National Economic Council.

Apple and Google have previously argued that their stores allow users to access millions of apps while being protected from predatory apps and spam.

The report fails to “grapple with the acknowledged risks regarding consumer privacy, security and content moderation,” said Krisztian Katona, vice president of global competition and regulatory policy for the Computer  and Communications Industry Association, which counts Google and Apple as members.

Further trade restrictions for Huawei

The Biden administration has blocked export license renewals for certain U.S. companies that provide essential components to Chinese tech giant Huawei, and some officials are reportedly advocating for a complete ban on sales to the company.

The move is “contrary to the principles of market economy” and constitutes “blatant technological hegemony,” said Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have raised concerns over alleged threats posed by Chinese technology to national security. At a Wednesday hearing about technological competition, Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., called China “the greatest threat to our country right now.”

However, some industry experts argue that China is being unfairly targeted for broad digital privacy risks that are not actually country-specific.

Amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and China, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew is set to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee in March, where he will respond to committee members’ accusations that the app “knowingly allowed the ability for the Chinese Communist Party to access American user data.”

Meta reportedly beats FTC antitrust challenge

A federal judge on Wednesday denied a request from the Federal Trade Commission to temporarily halt Meta’s acquisition of a virtual reality startup, according to Bloomberg, citing anonymous sources.

The FTC originally sued Meta in July, claiming the purchase would allow the company to dominate the emerging virtual reality industry. The case was unusual in that it focused on future competition, rather than the existing marketplace.

The decision marks a major loss for FTC Chair Lina Khan’s crusade against Big Tech monopolies. Under the direction of Khan, the agency has taken aggressive antitrust action against several tech companies, including a high-profile suit against Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard.

The agency now has a week to decide whether to appeal the ruling before the deal closes on Feb. 7.

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Broadband Roundup

Robocallers Disconnected, Connecting Minority Communities Grants, No Licenses for Huawei

The FCC said that MV Realty used the PhoneBurner dialing platform, and ordered Twilio to disconnect the companies.

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Photo of Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves

January 31, 2023 – Responding to a Federal Communications Commission order on January 24 to disconnect robocallers, internet voice service provider Twilio on Monday told Broadband Breakfast that it had blocked the accounts of MV Realty and PhoneBurner.

State attorneys general have filed suit against real estate firm MV Realty for alleged real estate scams via robocall. The FCC said that MV Realty used the PhoneBurner dialing platform, and ordered Twilio to disconnect the companies from its voice-over-internet-protocol network.

“We are continuing to cooperate with the FCC about our efforts to further mitigate illegal robocalls and to ensure the safety, reliability, and trust in our platform with regards to wanted communications by our customers and end users,” said Twilio Corporate Communications Director Cris Paden.

The FCC has been increasingly aggressive against alleged robocallers. On December 21, the agency proposed a near $300 million fine against an apparently fraudulent robocall and spoofing operation called “Cox/Jones Enterprise,” placing the largest fine of its type, according to the agency. The robocallers placed more than five billion calls in early 2021 to more than a half a million phones and using more than a million unique caller ID numbers, according to the FCC.

The agency in November took action to crack down on straight-to-voicemail robocalls and in October launched an inquiry into combatting calls on non-internet-protocol networks.

12 minority-serving colleges received more than $33.5 million

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration Monday awarded grants to 12 colleges as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program. The program is directing $268 million to Historical Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities and focusing on training potential information personnel.

Deputy Commerce Secretary Don Graves said that the program creates “opportunities for good jobs supported by equitable hiring, fair compensation, safe workplaces, and the tools and training needed for long-term success.”

The grants, totaling $33.5 million, will be used to upgrade campus technology settings, equipment, and increase digital literacy skills in 10 states.

Awardees include: H. Councill Trenholm State Community College in Alabama, University of Arizona, Loma Linda University in California, Broward College in Florida, St. Augustine College in Illinois, Dominican University in Illinois, Simmons College of Kentucky, Coppin State University in Maryland, Elizabeth City State University and Saint Augustine’s University in North Carolina, Central State University in Ohio and Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.

Biden administration stopping export licenses to Huawei

The Biden Administration is refusing to give licenses that would permit U.S. companies to sell semiconductors to Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei, according to a report  published by Reuters on Tuesday. Citing anonymous sources, the story said the Biden administration has stopped approving licenses for U.S companies to continue to export most items to Huawei.

The Commerce Department and other branches of the government have been increasingly restricting the access of Huawei to American-created technologies, at the same time they have also added 38 affiliates to the so-called “entity list”. A Commerce Department statement from August 2020, regarding the list imposed license requirement for items subject to Export Administration regulations and modified several Huawei entity list entries.

In March 2020, then-President Donald Trump signed into law the Secure Networks Act, requiring the FCC to prohibit the use of moneys it administers for the acquisition of designated communications equipment. The act promoted the removal of existing compromised equipment through a reimbursement program – called Rip and Replace – and further directed the commission to create and maintain the covered list.

In September 2022, the The Federal Communications Commission’s added Pacific Network Corp. and China Unicom Operations Ltd. to a growing list of communications equipment banned from the country on national security grounds.           

In December, the agency took additional action to prevent Chinese tech companies deemed to be national security threats – such as Huawei and ZTE – from gathering data on and surveilling American citizens.

And on January 10, 2023, House Republicans created a select committee on the strategic competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party designed to conduct investigations, hold public hearings, and submit policy recommendations on China’s “economic, technological, and security progress and its competition with the United States.”

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