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Sen. Ed Markey Demands Answers from Facebook, Telia Carrier Reports, Google Maps Shows Vaccine Sites

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Screenshot of Senator Edward Markey delivering address

January 27, 2021—Senator Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, sent a letter Tuesday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

The letter pressed Zuckerberg to explain why Facebook continues to allow controversial political groups to be recommended to users. “Users organize and coordinate violent and anti-democratic efforts on these pages, but Facebook does not just allow these dangerous places to exist on its platform, it recommends them to users,” writes Senator Markey in his letter to Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg had previously responded to Senator Markey over the same issue at a hearing before the Committee on October 28, 2020, saying Facebook no longer recommended political groups. Since the hearing, media reports have said Facebook continues to recommend political groups that promote violence, including targeting elected officials.

“Unfortunately, it appears that Facebook has failed to keep commitments on this topic that you made to me, other members of Congress, and your users,” Markey said in the conclusion of the letter. Senator Markey requested a thorough explanation of Facebook’s commitments and practices, as well as clear steps the company will take to prevent political groups from being recommended to users. Markey requested these answers in writing by February 9.

On January 6, 2021, the U.S. Capitol was overrun with violence leading to an unprecedented insurrection. New reports have indicated some Facebook users created group pages to organize the violent, anti-democratic efforts, related to the insurrection. Even Facebook itself revealed in its own research that the platform’s recommendation tools are responsible for 64 percent of all extremist group joins.

What Europe’s broadband industry learned from COVID-19

The broadband industry was given a test like never before taken in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted virtually all aspects of life. As entire countries shut down, forcing school and work to go digital, network operators, carriers and suppliers were flooded with a demand that looked unlike anything they had ever seen.

Telia Carrier, a provider of telecommunication services based in Solna, Sweden, reported overall traffic volume rising by around 50 percent during March because of pandemic-driven shifts in network usage. Peak traffic levels increased about 35 percent in certain countries and regions. Over a matter of days, traffic for videoconferencing suppliers grew over 400 percent.

In previous years, Telia reported that traffic generally followed a weekly seasonal pattern where the highest load on the network per continent was Sunday evenings. In March 2020, every day looked like Sunday – with more traffic and a wider peak.

“Normal” office hours caused the largest traffic increases. European evening peak traffic, eventually blending with U.S. afternoon traffic increases, had global effects on each other as international audiences engaged online. Everyone was online working, streaming or staying in touch through some form of social media. The pandemic proved that networks need to be automated, scalable, and diverse, all while keeping up with capacity.

Telia said its priorities to fulfill ongoing and future business needs requires massive diversity and redundancy. As 5G mobile technology is deployed, there will be an exploding number of services relying on its connectivity, such as the internet of things, virtual reality, artificial reality, gaming, and other cloud offerings. Billions more devices will require increased automation and intelligence.

On the supply side, COVID-19 reminded suppliers to ensure they had both diverse networks and diverse supply chains. During times of uncertainty, it is dangerous to rely solely on a single vendor. Service providers need a better understanding of vendors’ supply chains. Having diversity down to a component level ensures the ability to meet unpredictable demands on capacity in the future.

Google Maps will soon display COVID-19 vaccination sites

Soon, netizens will be able to use Google Maps to find locations that administer COVID-19 vaccinations. Google announced Monday it is planning on rolling out the new feature to its Google Maps service in four states: Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.

Searches for “vaccines near me” have increased fivefold since the beginning of the year, and Google is trying to “provide locally relevant answers.” The search results will be shown in designated information panels. They will include details about whether an appointment is required, if the vaccine is only available to certain groups, and if there is a drive-thru. Google said it’s working with “authoritative sources” for the information, including local governments and retail pharmacies.

Information about vaccine sites will roll out to other states and countries later. Adding these features will help reduce rampant confusion about the vaccine. In a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 60 percent of Americans don’t know where or if they can even get it.

Vaccine availability problems in the United States have also been exacerbated by President Joe Biden, who has urged patience in the rollout process. President Biden has set a goal to deliver 100 million doses of the vaccine in his first 100 days in office. Adding the ability to better inform its users about the pandemic, in September last year, Google Maps began displaying seven-day averages of new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

Broadband Roundup

Many States Receive Broadband Planning Grants, Complaints About Charter, Blockchain for Healthcare

Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, D.C, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, N.D., Pennsylvania, S.C., Virginia, and W.V. received awards.

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Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

December 8, 2022 — The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Thursday that Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia will receive planning grants under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

The allocations are made under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Act, as well as the Digital Equity Act grant provisions.

Alaska will receive $5.5 million in funding, Arkansas will receive $5.8 million in funding, Colorado will receive $5.9 million, District of Columbia will receive $5.4 million, Kentucky will receive $5.8 million, Maine will receive $5.5 million, Missouri will receive $2.9 million, North Dakota will receive $5.5 million, Pennsylvania will receive $6.6 million, South Carolina will receive $5.9 million, Virginia will receive $6.2 million, and West Virginia will receive $5.7 million.

Other states and territories that have received planning grants include Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Puerto Rico.

Complaints about Charter in Los Angeles

Government affairs and association management firm Joint California Advocates urged the Federal Communications Commission to seek comment about recent report findings that shows Charter Communications, also known as Spectrum, offered low-income Los Angeles County residents more expensive rates for service, compared to wealthier communities that received better rates, in an ex-parte letter sent on Monday.

Los Angeles-based non-profit California Community Foundation released a report called The Slower and More Expensive, which documents the advertising disparity of price, terms, and conditions between different neighborhoods in Los Angeles in Charter Spectrum’s identified service areas.

The foundation “explained that the data for the report demonstrated that the Charter Spectrum website routinely offered potential new customers in households in higher poverty neighborhoods more expensive rates for Charter Spectrum service than households in wealthier neighborhoods. Moreover, [foundation] explained that it found that Charter Spectrum’s promotional rates are “locked in” for half as long in high-poverty neighborhoods than in lower-poverty neighborhoods,” the letter read.

Blockchain will help protect health data, World Bank specialist says

In reference to the European Health Data Space anticipated for launch in 2025, a World Bank digital development specialist on Wednesday suggested blockchain technology to secure data sharing and collection in healthcare, according to a virtual event by the Center for Data Innovation.

Health information managers or medical caregivers can encrypt their patients’ data in the blockchain. Data breaches can be prevented by tracking a permanent timestamp left on the blockchain when companies seek data access.

The safety of data sharing and user transparency is an ongoing challenge in healthcare. According to European Patients’ Forum director of policy, Kaisa Immonen, the main concern for patients is their data shared for commercial purposes or with employers.

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Broadband Roundup

Maryland Bans TikTok on State Network, New Head of Open Technology Institute, UScellular Expands 5G

The ban will also apply to other Chinese and Russian technologies and applications.

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Photo of Lilian Coral, head of Open Technology Institute and Technology and Democracy Programs, via Esri User Conference

December 7, 2022 – Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said Tuesday that the state is banning the use of apps such as Chinese-owned TikTok in the executive branch of the government.

The emergency cybersecurity directive will impact Chinese and Russian-made communications and money applications, including Tencent Holdings’s QQ, QQ Wallet and WeChat; products from ecommerce giant Alibaba, such as AliPay; Russian cybersecurity software Kaspersky; and products from Huawei and ZTE.

The directive requires agencies to remove the products from state networks and implement measures so they cannot be installed, including blocking the apps entirely from the network.

“These entities present an unacceptable level of cybersecurity risk to the state, and may be involved in activities such as cyber-espionage, surveillance of government entities, and inappropriate collection of sensitive personal information,” a state press release said.

Last month, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations said TikTok posed a national security threat to the US, warning that the Chinese government – through its control of Chinese corporations – could siphon American data.

The Federal Communications Commission has also been working with Public Safety and Homeland Security to identify threats to national security by blacklisting certain Chinese entities from being used on U.S. networks. Late last month, the commission announced it is halting the authorization of equipment from these threats to the nation’s security.

New America names new head of Open Technology Institute

Think tank New America announced Wednesday that Lilian Coral is joining the organization’s technology program, the Open Technology Institute, as senior director and head of its technology and democracy program.

The OTI comes up with policy and regulatory reforms to support open source technology, which allows for interoperability of technologies, as opposed to just proprietary technologies held by a few players.

Coral previously worked at the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation as its director of national strategy and tech innovation, where she managed a portfolio of more than $55 million in investments that supported public spaces technology and data trust and accessibility.

“We need to ensure every American has access to an internet that is open, safe, and helps uplift communities,” Coral said in a press release. “But we all recognize that access alone is not sufficient. This means developing guardrails to make sure we all benefit from the opportunities the internet affords—and imagining a truly democratic digital public realm that is a key pillar in renewing the promise of America.”

UScellular expands 5G network to more Americans

UScellular announced Wednesday that a software update will allow it to expand its 5G network in multiple states, providing 1.4 million more Americans with access to its services.

A press release said the update allows for better coordination between cell sites and will use 4G and 5G features to extend existing 5G service to neighboring sites.

“These updates allow us to get more out of our investment and enhance our customers’ experience whether they are accessing our 5G network on their smartphone, tablet or for home internet,” Robert Jakubek, UScellular vice president of engineering and network operations, said in the release.

In May, the country’s fourth-largest wireless carrier partnered with 5G equipment provider Ericsson to provide 5G fixed-wireless services using the C-band spectrum.

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Broadband Roundup

Talent for Growth Taskforce, ‘Grave Mistakes’ in FCC Maps, Lumen Expanding Fiber

The U.S. and EU representatives announced a taskforce to share insights into growing the workforce in tech.

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Photo of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

December 6, 2022 – The United States and European Union Trade and Technology Council announced Monday the creation of the Talent for Growth Task Force, which is intended to share information and recommendations on expanding talent development and training in technology industries on both sides of the Atlantic.

The task force will comprise workforce training organizations, business leaders, government officials and labor union leaders. Roles and responsibilities of the taskforce include promoting programs to small- and mid-sized companies, spreading knowledge of in-demand opportunities for young people in underserved communities, and showcasing training opportunities in the U.S. and other countries under the European Union.

Members of the Task Force will be announced in early 2023.

“Competition for technological leadership today demands a well-trained workforce,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, co-chair of the TTC, said in a release. “Training is key to creating broad participation in today’s economy. With the Talent for Growth Task Force, we will learn from each other’s successes and create new opportunities that recognize the talent of our people.”

Industry in the U.S. has identified workforce development as key to keeping up with massive federal funding initiatives intended to boost infrastructure. In October, the Fiber Broadband Association and the Wireless Infrastructure Association, for example, announced a partnership to promote the development of the broadband workforce, as the industry awaits billions of dollars in new money coming from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

West Virginia senator points out FCC map errors

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., told reporters in a virtual meeting last week that the Federal Communications Commission’s preliminary broadband map released last month has made “grave mistakes” on unserved areas in her state, according to reporting from The Inter-Mountain.

“The FCC has just published recently … broadband maps that actually show which parts of West Virginia have service, which homes have service and which don’t,” the West Virginia senator said, according to the story. “I feel that they have some pretty grave mistakes. What would that impact? It would impact our ability to get larger funding to extend to unserved and underserved areas.”

As an example of her claim, Capito, according to the story, mentions a particular mountainous region in West Virginia where 130,000 households are represented as covered by the satellite broadband service Starlink. But Capito says “… their service is non-existent, it’s spotty, and it’s very expensive. To me, that’s an underserved or unserved area. Those are the kinds of disputes we need to make because it will affect funding and we won’t get to that last home if we don’t have the accurate maps.”

In 2020, Capito worked with the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council to create its own state-administered map to quantify the digital divide, according to the story. According to Broadband.Money, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, West Virginia has 896,585 broadband serviceable locations, 243,761 of which are unserved and 411,602 that are underserved.

Lumen expanding intercity network by six million fiber miles

Telecom Lumen Technologies said Tuesday it is planning to invest in another six million miles of fiber in its intercity network project.

The project, which will drive fiber through 50 major cities across the country, is expected to be installed by 2026, according to a press release on Tuesday.

“As demand for optical fiber increases and technology evolves, Lumen’s multi-conduit infrastructure means we can install the latest fiber type quickly and economically. It’s difficult to upgrade legacy intercity networks without multiple conduits,” said Lumen Chief Technology Officer Andrew Dugan.

“These networks end up being stuck with older fiber technology,” Dugan added. “Lumen is fixing that issue with our upgraded technology. We can extend signal reach to help reduce equipment costs and increase bandwidth capacity.”

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