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Democrats Lead Georgia Senate Races, France Imposes Digital Tax, Annual IP Report, SHLB New Board Directors

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Photo of Raphael Warnock and Jos Ossoff from Newsweek

January 6, 2021 – Voters in Georgia showed out to polls in record amounts on Tuesday, surpassing the state’s all-time voting record set in 2008, with over 4 million votes counted in the Georgia Senate runoff elections so far.

While about 65,000 votes remain uncounted as of Wednesday morning — mainly from areas where Democrats typically perform well, such as from DeKalb, Fulton, Cobb and Henry Counties — the Associated Press has projected that Democratic candidates Reverend Raphael Warnock has defeated incumbent Sen. Kelly Loeffler.

Fellow Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff has a lead of just over 17,000 votes, or 0.4 percent of the total, over incumbent GOP Sen. David Perdue.

If Democrats win both seats, there will be a 50-50 split in the Senate. In the case of a 50-50 tie, Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the president of the Senate, will hold the breaking vote.

Much in the communications sector is riding on this high-stakes runoff election, which determines which party will control the Senate.

The Senate must confirm whoever President-elect Joe Biden nominates to fill the third Democratic slot at the Federal Communications Commission. The Senate’s recent push-through of Commissioner Nathan Simington might indicate that a Republican-led Senate would attempt to deadlock Biden’s FCC.

Many critiqued Simington’s rushed nomination, saying it appeared clearly designed to delay the Biden FCC from pursuing Democratic Party goals, such as the restoration of net neutrality rules.

How will the U.S. react to France’s digital services tax?

The U.S. Trade Representative is expected to act tomorrow with tariffs of $1.3 billion on French products in response to French digital taxes taking effect that Washington views as being discriminatory against American tech companies.

New 25 percent U.S. tariffs on French handbags, cosmetics and soaps will take effect Wednesday, barring a last-minute change of plans by the Trump administration. USTR announced these tariffs last summer, but suspended the collection on these tariffs for 180 days. France has begun collection on its national digital services tax.

The move may prompt the European Union to strike back on an equivalent amount of U.S. goods, making the U.S. response to the French digital tax all the more crucial.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association has testified against the discriminatory digital taxes and previously filed comments with USTR in response to it’s query on the French digital tax.

In a statement, CCIA President Matt Schruers said the need to resist France’s discriminatory taxes is urgent, and that action by USTR will send a clear message that foreign digital taxes will not go without an approportionate response.

“It is crucial to demonstrate that the U.S. takes it seriously when one of our trading partners enacts taxes clearly targeting U.S. companies,” said Schruers. “We appreciate USTR’s ongoing efforts to ensure a level playing field, enforce international commitments, and disincentivize discriminatory actions by trading partners.”

“Continued proliferation of national digital taxes like the one imposed by France undermines ongoing talks at the OECD to get an agreement on global tax reform for the digital age,” Schruers added.

Annual Intellectual Property Report for 2020

United States Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Vishal Amin issued the United States’ Annual Intellectual Property Report for 2020 this Monday.

The report details the actions taken over the past year by the government to promote and prioritize the United State’s innovative economy. The report states that during the past four years, the Trump Administration has taken significant actions to protect intellectual property.

In 2017, the Trump Administration adopted a four-part intellectual property strategy which provides a framework for sound intellectual property policy to advance innovation and ensure effective intellectual property protection and enforcement, domestically and abroad.

The Administration’s four-part strategic approach to intellectual property includes engagement with trading partners, effective use of legal authorities, expanded law enforcement cooperation and engagement and partnership with the private sector and other stakeholders.

“The actions that we have taken to protect American intellectual property have helped set the United States on a path to remain not only an economic leader, but a powerhouse of innovation, invention, and creativity for decades to come,” said Coordinator Amin.

SHLB Coalition announces new Board Directors, Officers

The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition announced the addition of five new members to its board of directors on Tuesday.

The board’s five newest members will be Cathy Cruzan, president of Funds For Learning; Karen Goff, executive secretary of the West Virginia Library Commission; Kim Klupenger, chief experience officer at OCHIN; Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance; and Beverly Sutherland, president and CEO of EdTechnologyFunds, Inc.

The incoming directors began three-year terms effective January 1, 2021. The 2020 SHLB board of directors appointed Cruzan, Goff, Klupenger, and Siefer, while SHLB members elected Sutherland.

In addition, the board appointed Microsoft’s Paula Boyd, former Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Rachelle Chong, the State E-rate Coordinators Alliance’s Debra Kriete, and Broadband Catalysts’ Jane Patterson to continue their exceptional service for another three years.

“The SHLB Coalition has always taken pride in the diversity of our membership, and we strive to ensure that our board of directors reflects that diversity,” said John Windhausen Jr., executive director of the SHLB Coalition. “We are delighted to welcome Cruzan, Goff, Klupenger, Siefer, and Sutherland to the board, each of whom brings a unique perspective and skillset. With the growth in SHLB’s membership and the expansion of our board of directors, I’m confident that the SHLB Coalition’s effectiveness will grow even stronger in 2021.”

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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