January 20, 2021—“We must look forward to the future in our uniquely American, bold and optimistic way,” said President Joe Biden during his inauguration on Wednesday.
Recalling the words Abraham Lincoln uttered after writing the Emancipation Proclamation, Biden said “my whole soul is in this.” “The American story does not depend on just one of us, but on all of us,” Biden continued,” we the people who seek a more perfect union.”
Biden referred to his inauguration as a small event eclipsed by the country’s need for unity in a chaotic time. Looking back on the riot that invaded the U.S. Capitol on January 6, which marked President Donald Trump’s last days in office with disorder, Biden said “Here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could silence the voice of democracy. It did not happen. Not today. Not ever.”
In the midst of a pandemic that according to the Center for Disease Control has taken the lives of 400,000 Americans, Biden called on Americans to rise to the challenge in what he called this “winter of peril,” saying that few people have faced more difficulty than the world does now. As his first act as the new president, he asked for a moment of silent prayer for the lives lost to the COVID-19 virus.
Confronting the pandemic is at the forefront of the new White House administration, but major technology issues face the Biden administration.
In the aftermath of a riot fueled by social media, Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which grants immunity to social media platforms for content posted by their users, has once again taken center stage. It already faces scrutiny from both sides of the political aisle.
In further investigation of big technology companies, the Justice Department and several state attorneys general recently filed antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook, alleging the companies use anti-competitive business practices. The suits now become those of the Biden administration.
The digital divide between those with high-speed broadband access and those without continues to put pressure on the incoming administration, as the gap has become more apparent than ever during a time when many schools are closed. Part of the challenge is accurate broadband mapping, ensuring that policy is accurate and addresses the right needs.
Seeking resolutions to the challenges of the new administration, the Internet Innovation Alliance, a broad-based coalition of business and non-profit organizations that dedicated to improving broadband access across America, issued a statement congratulating Biden on his inauguration and encouraging cooperation between the public and private sectors, stating that “universal broadband is an essential part of the solution.”
Notably not in attendance at the inauguration was former-President Donald Trump, who took his final flight on Air Force One to Florida early-Wednesday morning, skipping the historic tradition of current presidents accepting the new president as they are sworn in.
Biden Signs Executive Order on Net Neutrality, Broadband Pricing Policy and Big Tech Merger Scrutiny
Executive order would kickoff new antitrust and net neutrality regulations.
July 9, 2021—President Joe Biden on Friday announced his intent to sign an executive order addressing an array of 72 initiatives, including net neutrality, and generally taking aim at big telecom and tech companies to address competition in the economy.
The White House released a fact sheet on the goals and the actions to be taken to achieve them.
The order would, among other things, task the Federal Communications Commission with reinstituting pre-Trump administration net neutrality rules.
Net neutrality refers to the concept that broadband providers must not block or throttle the content that consumers seek to access on the internet, or provide preferential access to content by business partners.
Under former President Barack Obama, the FCC in February 2015 enacted net neutrality rules promoting what his administration called “the open, fair, and free internet as we know it today.”
Broadband pricing policy
Biden’s order also tackled broadband policy and the digital divide more broadly.
It pointed to the 200 million Americans that live in regions with only one or two internet service providers and stated that this contributes to inflated internet service prices up to five times higher than in areas with more than two ISPs.
The order also condemned relationships between landlords and broadband providers that block new providers from expanding or improving broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved areas, and it urged the FCC to enact rules to ban such deals and relationships.
To improve price transparency, Biden also urged the FCC to implement a “Broadband Nutrition Label” and require that all broadband providers report their service plans and rates to the FCC for evaluation.
Additionally, the plan directed the FCC to address unreasonably high, early termination fees enacted by broadband providers. The Biden administration argues that these fees are often in place only to discourage consumers from switching to what may be a superior internet service.
Big tech a target, too
In addition to broadband policy, the order would also take aim at data collection and mergers by big tech companies. The factsheet specifically mentioned that the order would tackle “kill acquisitions” designed to stifle perceived competitive threats to tech companies and pointed out that federal regulatory bodies have not done enough to prevent these mergers.
The administration would adopt a policy to greater scrutinize potential mergers, according to the White House fact sheet.
Additionally, the administration also condemned data collection policies by big tech companies, pointing to business models completely dependent on harvesting of sensitive consumer data. To address this, he tasked the Federal Trade Commission to draft new rules on consumer surveillance and data collection.
Net neutrality advocate at the FCC
FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has been a longtime advocate for strong net neutrality laws. Though her critics have argued that there have been precious few examples of companies throttling their consumers internet speed, Rosenworcel has supported initiatives that would classify internet service providers as “common carriers,” and would forbid them from interfering in a user’s internet speed or the content they view.
Vice President Kamala Harris Compares Administration’s Broadband Effort to Rural Electrification
The Biden administration aims to support broadband as the New Deal measure provided electricity in isolated rural areas.
May 24, 2021 – Highlighting the importance of broadband to the president, Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday compared the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to what the Biden administration aims to do with expanding internet infrastructure.
Harris said that the New Deal-era measure, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt almost exactly 85 years ago on May 20, 1936, provided federal support for the installation of electrical distribution systems for isolated rural areas of the United States.
It was necessary, she said, because private power companies were unwilling or unable to create an energy infrastructure at a reasonable cost.
“We must act in the same way,” she said.
Six panelists shared their experiences with broadband infrastructure at the administration event. The discussion emphasized the vitality and the need for reliable connectivity for telehealth, remote working, and small business having access to betters speeds in order to survive.
Breaking down barriers to broadband
Harris explained the three barriers to broadband infrastructure that the Biden-Harris Administration aims to overcome. These are the lack of support in rural and indigenous areas, the lack of competition and affordability, and broadband equity. Equity, she said, included both racial and income disparities with broadband.
One noteworthy panelist was Kimberly Vasquez, a student-advocate from Baltimore. She created Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society, a program that seeks to provide connectivity for communities suffering from the pandemic.
Vasquez’ family struggled to make decisions allowing her to get better internet connectivity in order to get an education, versus being able to put food on the table.
Harris said she was excited by Vasquez’ initiative and said she sympathized with her struggles. Harris asked questions to elicit answers about the how difficult it is to obtain good quality internet connectivity during the pandemic.
“We know what we need to do,” Harris said. She said the event proved the fundamental nature of broadband infrastructure. “This is doable.”
Harris concluded by saying that internet connectivity is both a civil rights and economic issue. It must be tackled to increase competition and advancement in all areas of the country.
The White House listening session is available on YouTube.
Treasury Announces Summer Deadline For Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund
$10 billion dollars are being made available to communities in need to better connect their communities.
May 10, 2021—The Treasury Department issued a statement Monday outlining the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund to address broadband access shortcomings, including setting a summer deadline for applications.
The fund is a component of the American Rescue Plan that is designed to help Americans, whether they are living in states, territories, or tribal lands. The ARP will provide $10 billion to carry out improvements to broadband infrastructure, with special attention to telehealth, telework, and distance learning within economically disadvantaged communities.
Applicants for the fund must provide a plan for how they intend to utilize potential funding, explain why their project is critical in nature, and how it will benefit un(der)served Americans.
The funds can be directed towards improving infrastructure, providing devices for telehealth and distance learning, or setting up equipment to facilitate the aforementioned goals.
Funds can also be made available to address the construction of community hubs that many municipalities established so that those without a broadband subscription can still access hotspots and devices.
The Treasury made available the Interim Final Rule for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. This is a separate pot of money that was designed to address many of the same goals as the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. The Treasury encouraged applicants to seek out public input in order to better explain the unique issues that are facing communities in need.
- Advocates Call for Universal Service Fund to Include Broadband Revenues
- Craig Settles Talks Telehealth, FCC Mapping Issues on States, Broadband’s Impact on Critical Infrastructure
- UTOPIA Fiber Completes Payson City Project and Publishes Results of Customer Feedback Survey
- FCC Watchdog Finds Evidence of Fraud in Emergency Broadband Benefit
- Date Set for Sohn Hearing, Criticism of Tech Legislation, New ILSR Leadership
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