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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

D.C. Attorney General Sues Zuckerberg, Carr Criticizes Infrastructure Bill Details, Vermont to Expand Fiber Builds

The lawsuit comes years after Facebook was found to have been used to harvest personal data for political purposes.

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Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brenden Carr

May 23, 2022 – On Monday, Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg for alleged consumer privacy violations revealed during the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke in 2018.

In his office’s filings with the D.C. Superior Court, Racine argued that “Facebook is far from a disinterested platform” and that it “[derives] enormous wealth from acquiring and monetizing the data of [billions of people] leading their lives in Facebook’s digital ecosystem.

“But even that is not enough,” the filing read. “Facebook is in a relentless pursuit to expand its reach on humanity and bring an ever-increasing number of people under its influence.”

To that end, the filings stated that “Cambridge Analytica used the Facebook Platform—in a way that Facebook and Zuckerberg encouraged—to influence and manipulate the outcome of a United States presidential election.”

As co-founder, CEO, chairman, and majority voting shareholder (Zuckerberg holds 60 percent of Meta’s voting shares according to the filings), Racine stated that Zuckerberg “maintains an unparalleled level of control over the operations of Facebook,” and thus bears the responsibility for its actions.

FCC Commissioner Carr says NTIA broadband infrastructure details picks “winners and losers”

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr released a statement expressing concern that the application details for broadband funding under the infrastructure bill released this month prioritizes one technology over others.

“[The notices of funding opportunity] will prevent states from funding projects that could quickly bridge the digital divide using those high-speed technologies in nearly all cases—putting too much of a thumb on the scale for fiber builds that provide robust service but can take years to build out in certain cases,” Carr said in a statement Thursday, but added, “I have no doubt that fiber projects would demonstrate their value in the lion’s share of cases.”

The week prior, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s released those funding details, which included an answer to a question about its technology preference for the builds. “With respect to the deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure, the Program prioritizes projects designed to provide fiber connectivity directly to the end user,” the Commerce agency said in the 98-page NOFO.

Carr stated that this will “undoubtedly waste taxpayer dollars and leave families waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

The Republican commissioner also condemned what he perceived as rate regulation and overbuilding.

“In the end, the Administration’s decision to pursue those political goals—rather than focusing on connecting the largest number of people as quickly as possible—will exacerbate the supply chain challenges and workforce shortages that already pose a hurdle to getting the job done.”

Vermont governor announces fiber grants

On Monday, Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced broadband grants totaling more than $16 million.

The grants will be focused on deploying more than 9,000 miles of fiber across Bolton and several other towns in the northeast corner of Vermont.

Scott was set to be joined by Vermont’s at-large congressional representative Democratic Rep. Peter Welch at 12 noon ET in Jericho, Vt., to formally unveil the project in question.

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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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