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Input to FCC on Emergency Broadband, Ajit Pai’s Final Days at Agency, Accessing Resources, Richard Bates Dies

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Photo of Richard Bates from The Laughing Place

January 5, 2021 — The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireline Competition Bureau on Monday issued a request for public input on how best to administer the new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit Program created by Congress, to help low-income individuals access the Internet.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 — the $2.3 trillion spending bill that combines $900 billion in stimulus relief for the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States with a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill for the 2021 federal fiscal year — directed the agency to create the program, which will reimburse participating companies for providing discounted broadband service and connected devices to eligible households during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Act sets forth several requirements for participation in the program. To participate, a provider must be designated as an eligible telecommunications carrier or be approved by the Commission.

Participating providers will make available to eligible households a monthly discount, of up to $50, off the standard rate for Internet service and associated equipment. On Tribal lands, the monthly discount offered by participants will be up to $75 per month.

“We’re excited to get to work on this new program, which responds to my call last June for Congress to fund a program to advance the Keep Americans Connected initiative that we launched when the pandemic started,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, in a statement.

“The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program will go a long way ensuring that low-income American families and veterans are connected during the pandemic,” said Pai. “Our staff is moving quickly to stand up this program so we can direct funding to consumers who need help.”

In structuring the program, the Commission is seeking public input on a range of issues, including on which providers should be able to participate in the program, what reporting requirements are necessary, how the agency can promote awareness of the program, what rules are needed to ensure appropriate service on Tribal lands, and much more.

“We look forward to getting public input on how best to structure this effort,” said Pai.

What to watch during Chairman Pai’s last weeks at the FCC

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that he intends to leave the agency on January 20, 2021.

While the outgoing GOP Chair has yet to issue any plans for narrowing Section 230 liability protections for tech companies, which President Donald Trump and other conservatives have pleaded for, he’s been keeping busy.

Pai is attempting to knock out long-standing objectives by proactively circulating proposals for votes rather than holding formal votes during the FCC’s last official meeting under him, on January 13.

Among the items he’s circulating are a rulemaking looking at ways to free up 12 Gigahertz satellite airwaves for 5G wireless use, although the initiative has received pushback from SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

In October, SpaceX was part of a group of players arguing against a proposal by Dish Network that would have the FCC take a closer look at the rules for the 12 GHz band, reported Fierce Wireless. Last Wednesday, Pai circulated to his colleagues a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that, if adopted, would seek comment on whether to allow mobile services in the 12 GHz band.

Pai is also pushing forward on an objective to approve rules for auctioning off additional 2.5 Gigahertz airwaves, which he said he wants to happen in the first half of this year. Last week it was announced that the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau granted 22 additional applications for spectrum licenses to use the 2.5 GHz band to close the digital divide and to provide broadband and other advanced wireless services to rural Tribal communities.

Pai is further circulating proposals to finalize details around the grantees for a $100 million telehealth pilot program, reported Politico.

NDIA publishes overview of broadband provisions in COVID-19 relief bill

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance recently published an overview to help digital inclusion practitioners determine how best to access resources resulting from the recent COVID-19 relief legislation, such as those offered by the Emergency Broadband Benefits Program.

“People are going to have hundreds of questions,” said NDIA’s executive director Angela Siefer, during a recent NDIA webinar. Siefer detailed that NDIA’s goal is to consolidate critical information on federal benefits to save individuals from the pain of having to go through the bill, page-by-page.

The publication details everything individuals need to know about accessing broadband provisions included in the relief bill. Most notably, the document plainly lays out the eligibility requirements for each provision, and further, what types of initiatives suitable entities can request grant funds for.

NDIA’s guide also details the agency’s order priority for selecting those interested in accessing funds to expand broadband in underserved communities.

Richard Bates, Disney’s longtime director of government relations, dies at 70

Richard Bates, the longtime head of government relations for Disney, died December 31 at his home outside Washington, D.C. He was 70.

Bates had represented Disney in the halls of Congress and other public policy arenas since 1991.

Bates’ colleagues, Disney executive chairman Bob Iger and CEO Bob Chapek, said in a joint statement that the executive’s death was sudden and that they are “heartbroken” over Bates’ passing.

“As head of our Government Relations team in Washington, D.C., Richard was second to none in his field — widely respected for his incredible achievements and beloved for his extraordinary kindness, compassion, and irresistible wit,” Iger and Chapek wrote.

Many in the tech industry have voiced statements of commiseration.

“We have had the privilege of working closely with Richard for many years and saw up close his intelligence and leadership in representing Disney and other content creators. But beyond his many policy successes, Richard was a wonderful colleague and a dear friend to so many,” wrote Internet and Television Association President and CEO Michael Powell, in a statement.

The Media Institute, where Bates was a valued member of the Board of Trustees from 2010 to 2018, further expressed sorrow upon the news of his passing.

Broadband Roundup

Date Set for Sohn Hearing, Criticism of Tech Legislation, New ILSR Leadership

Sohn and Biden NTIA nominee Alan Davidson will undergo confirmation hearings next Wednesday.

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FCC commissioner nominee Gigi Sohn

November 24, 2021 – The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for President Joe Biden’s nominee for commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, Gigi Sohn, during a session next Wednesday.

Sohn, a former senior aide to President Barack Obama’s FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, will have her nomination considered along with Alan Davidson, Biden’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That same day, the Commerce Committee also plans to vote on the nomination of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to another term at the FCC.

Sohn’s nomination has already faced Republican criticism over her liberal policy positions.

Through nine months of the Biden presidency, the FCC has not been able to address key issues due to the vacancy on the commission resulting in a 2-2 split between Democrats and Republicans. Sohn’s confirmation would make for a full slate that prevents tied votes of the commission.

Going forward, net neutrality policy would be a key focus of the FCC, as Rosenworcel told senators during her confirmation hearing that she backed net neutrality rules yet did not offer many details on how she would rollback such rules by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Congress’ regulatory proposals would create even larger tech monopolies than already exist: Opinion

American Enterprise Institute published a blog post Wednesday by nonresident senior fellow Mark Jamison critiquing as unproductive recent government proposals to regulate competition among tech companies.

Jamison states that “dynamic” competition already exists between the companies often cited as the giants of the tech industry and smaller companies, and that proposed government policy could decrease industry competition from its current levels.

In his blog post, Jamison says that the Ending Platform Monopolies Act from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, would force Amazon to stop selling its own products, leading it to lose uniqueness and become almost identical to eBay in a digital market that cannot support two identical services. Jamison contends that should one site go under, small businesses would be left with less competitive options than before the introduction of the bill.

Further, Jamison holds that should Amazon comply with the bill and cease operations with small businesses, market statistics show that eBay would face even less competition as a platform for small businesses than Amazon does now.

Jamison said he believes that the Open App Markets Act – brought forth by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota – would make iPhones less secure by requiring that app stores other than Apple’s be permitted on phones. He says this would decrease users’ willingness to try new apps and diminish competition between Apple and Alphabet (Google) for app developers by removing developer options.

New ILSR community broadband outreach team lead

The Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance announced Tuesday that DeAnne Cuellar will serve as Community Broadband Outreach team lead.

Cuellar, a communications strategist, served as San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s digital inclusion appointee to the city’s Innovation and Technology Committee. In her work for the city, she acted on several policy and funding priorities to close the digital divide.

Additionally, she has worked as a social impact entrepreneur, co-founding several cross-sector nonprofit initiatives to advocating for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in historically underrepresented communities.

The Community Broadband Networks Initiative expects that they will see an increased workload as local, state and federal governments increase their efforts to find broadband solutions and an “unprecedented” amount of funding is made available by the government for broadband infrastructure projects over the next few years.

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Broadband Roundup

TPI New Broadband Map, Justice Dept. Stands for Section 230, Ericsson Looks to Acquire Vonage

TPI released their broadband map, which tracks speeds, availability, and adoption rates across the country.

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President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute Scott Wallsten speaking during the TPI Aspen Forum in August.

November 23, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute announced Monday the beta release of their “TPI Broadband Map,” which tracks bandwidth speeds, the availability of broadband, and adoption rates from across the country.

The map allows users to access published data from several sources, including FCC 477 forms, Emergency Broadband Benefit data, Ookla, Microsoft, and more.

The data can also be viewed on several different levels from the state and country level, all the way down to school districts, tribal tracts, and zip codes.

Three metrics can be viewed through the map: average maximum available download and upload speeds and the percent of households with broadband access. Users can also adjust the minimum upload and download speeds to suit their definition of broadband and are able to view the regional data going back to 2016.

During the TPI Aspen Forum in August, panelists agreed that mapping would play a crucial role in ensuring that marginalized, underserved, and unserved communities would get the coverage and resources they need from infrastructure legislation.

Though the website is still in its beta stage, those interested can request temporary access to view the data online.

Justice Department defends Section 230

In a departure from the previous administration’s agenda and President Joe Biden’s own past statements, Biden’s Justice Dept. made a point to defend Section 230 in a lawsuit brought against Facebook by Donald Trump.

In May, Biden had previously revoked one of Trump’s executive orders aimed at dismantling Section 230. Though his campaign and administration used it to a greater extent than many other politicians, Trump was a longtime critic of social media, often accusing it of censoring conservative voices in American politics.

These criticisms came to a head after Trump was banned from Twitter and several other social media outlets in January of 2021.

While on the campaign trail, Biden himself called for the revocation of Section 230.

Notwithstanding Biden’s and Trump’s dissatisfaction with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the Justice Department intervened to defend the section during litigation surrounding Trump’s Facebook lawsuit – one of three class action lawsuits Trump filed in July against Facebook, Twitter, and Google, along with their CEOs.

Ericsson eyes Vonage

Ericsson, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of 5G technology and hardware, is poised to purchase Vonage, a cloud communications provider, in a deal valued at approximately $6.2 billion.

“Ericsson and Vonage have a shared ambition to accelerate our long-term growth strategy,” said Vonage CEO Rory Read, ““We believe joining Ericsson is in the best interests of our shareholders and is a testament to Vonage’s leadership position in business cloud communications, our innovative product portfolio, and outstanding team.”

Ericsson said it intends to leverage Vonage’s presence in the communication platform as a service, or CPaaS, market to “democratize network access by offering [Application Programming Interface] enabled communications services.” Additionally, Ericsson stated that it expects the CPaaS market to reach $22 billion by 2025, growing 30 percent annually.

Should the deal pass successfully, Vonage will “become a wholly owned subsidiary of Ericsson and will continue to operate under its existing name.”

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband in Build Back Better, ISPs Customers Exposed to Hackers, Rural ISP Funding in Louisiana

Another $1 billion in broadband expansion funds could be available in the Build Back Better Act, which passed the House on Friday.

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President Joe Biden

November 22, 2021 — A total of about $1 billion could be made available for broadband under the Build Back Better Act.

Approved by the House on Friday, the $1.7 trillion legislation heads to the Senate for revision this week.

Out of the $1 billion allocated for broadband, the majority of the funds – $475 million – would be used to fund grants for devices like laptops and tablets administered through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency of the Commerce Department. Another $300 million would provide additional funds to the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund, which addresses distance learning needs at schools and libraries, while $100 million would fund the FCC’s outreach and education about its broadband affordability programs.

In its current form, the NTIA would also receive an additional $280 million in grants for public-private pilot projects to increase access to affordable broadband in urban communities.

Meanwhile, $12 million would be used to establish councils for further broadband expansion, including $7 million to create a Future of Telecommunications Council under the Commerce Department that would show how 6G wireless can serve low-income communities, and $5 million to create an Urban and Suburban Broadband Advisory Committee.

The final broadband provisions of the bill may be revised or removed once Senate negotiations begin. To pass the Senate, the bill needs the support of all 50 Democratic Senators and avoid partisan disruption.

Millions of broadband users exposed to hackers

Millions of Sky Broadband customers were vulnerable to hackers for over a year.

A software bug affected about six million of the U.K. company’s routers that allowed hackers to infiltrate home networks, Yahoo reported Friday.

The bug, which has since been fixed, took 18 months to address. A hacker would have been able to “reconfigure a home router” by directing the user to malicious website with a phishing email. According to Pen Test Partners, the security firm that found the bug, hackers could have “taken over someone’s online life” by stealing passwords for banking, investing, and social media.

“We take the safety and security of our customers very seriously,” Sky said.” After being alerted to the risk, we began work on finding a remedy for the problem and we can confirm that a fix has been delivered to all Sky-manufactured products.”

Pen Test Partners Ken Munro said he’s baffled by Sky’s delay in fixing the bug. “While the coronavirus pandemic put many internet service providers under pressure, as people moved to working from home, taking well over a year to fix an easily exploited security flaw simply isn’t acceptable,” he said. Munro recommends that anyone with a router should change the password from the default one.

Rural ISP owner aims to provide internet to rural Louisiana

The owner of a rural Louisiana internet service provider aims to bring broadband to St. Mary county.

Chris Fisher, owner of Cajun Broadband, detailed a grant submission he will submit to the Granting Underserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities program. The program, funded by the Louisiana Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity, oversees spending of $180 million in federal funds to supply broadband to 400,000 households in the state.

Fisher’s grant requests $800,000 to provide internet service to nearly 600 residents in St. Mary county. He says he has been the only ISP to address the county’s council on the opportunity since May.

“I didn’t realize the need for rural broadband until I started my company, which began initially because my kids couldn’t get internet,” Fisher said. Fisher estimates it will cost $10 to $15 million to connect the rural areas of the parish with internet.

A councilmember said that the plan is long overdue. “We’ve talked about this for years, and we all agree that we need to do something to increase access for all of the citizens of our parish, and not just the affluent ones. This is a do or die, once in lifetime opportunity.”

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