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Slaughter Named FTC Chair, Combatting Disinformation with Community Media, Kimmelman Departs Public Knowledge

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Screenshot of FTC Chair Rebecca Slaughter captured July 18, 2018, from House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Oversight Hearing

January 22, 2021—President Joe Biden designated Rebecca Slaughter as acting chair of the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday. Slaughter has served as an FTC Commissioner since May 2018.

As a commissioner, Slaughter championed aggressive use of the FTC’s authorities to combat the abuse of consumers’ data, growing threats to competition, and systemic racism. She has further advocated for greater resources for the FTC and promoted equity and inclusion efforts.

“I am deeply honored and grateful to lead an agency that is critical to helping the U.S. economy get back on its feet and function more fairly for all Americans,” Slaughter said in a statement released Thursday. “I want to express my sincere appreciation for the excellent leadership of Chairman Simons during a time of unprecedented challenges.”

Outgoing chairman, Joseph Simons, said on Tuesday that he would resign effective January 29, along with members of his senior staff, including Democratic Commissioner Rohit Chopra. With those departures, Slaughter will be left to work with two Republican commissioners, Noah Phillips and Christine Wilson, on pressing consumer protection issues.

The agency filed a big antitrust lawsuit against Facebook last month, which accused the social media giant of seeking to either buy or crush smaller competitors. The lawsuit is one of several filed by federal and state enforcers against Google or Facebook. The agency also has an antitrust investigation underway of Amazon.

Combating disinformation requires urgent, hefty investments in community media

The U.S. Capitol attack revealed that much work remains in determining the role of digital media platforms in exacerbating and weaponizing disinformation.

Indeed, many of our societal ills – the mainstreaming of white nationalism, losing parties attacking the legitimacy of certified elections, and a growing distrust of electoral and public health systems – can be traced to systems of disinformation that have proliferated through digital technologies and social media, wrote Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor of public policy at the University of California Riverside, in a CalMatters post.

While the events of January 6 revealed that oversight of social media platforms is pressing, Ramakrishnan notes that “we cannot rely on regulation alone,” arguing that in addition to stopping the virulent spread of disinformation through digital media, we also need to invest in the production of good, reliable information that can fill the void

Current efforts to reinvigorate non-profit journalism are minuscule, compared to the scale of the problem. Researchers at the University of North Carolina discovered a decline of 1,800 newspapers between 2004 and 2018, with losses particularly acute in suburban and rural areas.

Ramakrishnan writes that one promising option is to reinvest in community media clusters that proved critical for outreach on the 2020 Census.

For example, the state of California dedicated more than $46 million to its Census outreach and public relations campaign, with an emphasis on local ethnic media to “build a base of trusted messengers, break down language access barriers for non-English speakers and facilitate culturally appropriate engagement within communities.”

Ramakrishnan writes that it is imperative the U.S. pay urgent attention to investing in local, community media, as well as “ethnic media” or “media of color”, to build an ecosystem of reliable and trustworthy news that can serve the needs of our 21st-century democracy.

Senior Advisor Gene Kimmelman resigns from Public Knowledge to join Justice Department

Public Knowledge Senior Advisor Gene Kimmelman announced his resignation from the advocacy organization in order to serve a limited-duration position as senior counselor for Biden’s Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice.

Kimmelman’s leadership as Public Knowledge’s second president and CEO, and recently as a senior advisor, helped expand the issues the organization advocates for on behalf of technology users and consumers to include the importance of competition policy and antitrust law, beginning an organizational commitment to building a diverse generation of public interest advocates to follow his tenure.

“The entire Public Knowledge family is grateful for Gene’s seven years at our organization, part of Gene’s long career of working on behalf of the public interest in government and the nonprofit sector,” said Public Knowledge CEO Chris Lewis in a statement.

“With so many challenges to be faced in tech policy, we will continue to champion these priorities so that the average technology user is protected from harmful monopolies and gatekeepers; gains equitable access to communications tools and creative works; and enjoys free expression balanced against the powerful harms facing our society online,” Lewis said.

Broadband Roundup

Appeals Court Affirms FCC’s Spectrum Authority, FTC Privacy Rulemaking, (Root) Beer and Broadband

The Federal Communications Commission’s reallocation of intelligent transportation service spectrum was not arbitrary and capricious, the court held.

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August 12, 2022 – The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed the the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to reclassify radio frequency spectrum and make more of the 5.9 GigaHertz band available for broadband communication.

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission reallocated a part of the radio spectrum from use by intelligent transportation systems to use by unlicensed transmission devices such as Wi-Fi routers.

In a unanimous running by a three-judge panel, Judge Justin R. Walker wrote: “Several groups that want to retain their old use of the reallocated spectrum argue that the FCC’s reallocation was arbitrary and capricious. It was not.”

In the relatively brief 15-page decision in ITS America v. FCC, the court upheld the FCC’s manner of changing a band’s usage.

In 1999, the FCC gave the auto industry 75 MHz of spectrum exclusively for “Dedicated Short-Range Communications” for the purpose of improving public safety. After more than 20 years of waiting for the industry to deploy DSRC, in 2020 the FCC approved an Order to phase out DSRC and replace it with a new, more efficient technology called Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything.

Supporters of the FCC, including non-profit groups like Public Knowledge, argued that 30 MHz of spectrum the auto industry retained is more than sufficient for collision avoidance and safety purposes. Rather than allowing the auto industry to retain excess spectrum for commercial uses such as location-based advertising, the FCC repurposed the lower 45 MHz for unlicensed use which will enable next-generation Wi-FI.

“By reaffirming the FCC’s decision, the D.C. Circuit will ensure that our airwaves are being put to their best and most efficient use,” said Kathleen Burke, policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

FTC opens process to consider new privacy rules

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday announced proposals to go after businesses that collect and analyze personal-based information, and that don’t deploy the strong forms of data security.

“Firms now collect personal data on individuals at a massive scale and in a stunning array of contexts,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan. “The growing digitization of our economy—coupled with business models that can incentivize endless hoovering up of sensitive user data and a vast expansion of how this data is used—means that potentially unlawful practices may be prevalent.”

The agency’s press release went on to blast companies that “surveil consumers while they are connected to the internet – every aspect of their online activity, their family and friend networks, browsing and purchase histories, location and physical movements, and a wide range of other personal details.”

On July 20, the Senate Commerce Committee passed comprehensive privacy legislation a restricting collection and transfer of personal data of U.S. citizens without consent.

The measure has not yet passed the House, where Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said in Thursday response: “I appreciate the FTC’s effort to use the tools it has to protect consumers, but Congress has a responsibility to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation to better equip the agency, and others, to protect consumers to the greatest extent.

“Ultimately, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act is necessary to establish comprehensive national statutory privacy protections for all Americans and I’m committed to getting it passed and signed into law.”

(Root) Beer and Broadband episode features Broadband Breakfast’s Drew Clark

Bonfire Engineering and Construction on Thursday released a new episode of its “Beer and Broadband” podcast.

Featuring Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast, Russ Elliott, CEO of Siskiyou Telephone, and Megan Beresford of LDAGrants, the episode focused on “How Data & Policy Impacts Broadband Expansion.”

Nick Dinsmoor and Brian Hollister of Bonfire, hosts of the informal program, structured the roundtable series as a way to bring together leaders in the broadband and infrastructure space to share their thoughts without egos, agendas, or selling.

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Broadband Roundup

Grid Broadband Bill, Ting Gets Financing, Finley Engineering Has New CEO

A new bill would provide grants to providers who can quickly build middle-mile infrastructure along existing electrical grid system.

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Photo of Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., via Flickr

August 10, 2022 – A bill introduced in the Senate last week would make grants available to those who can build middle mile fiber infrastructure along existing municipal rights-of-way and use existing assets to reduce the financial, regulatory and permitting barriers to broadband buildouts.

The Grants to Rapidly Invest and Deploy Broadband Act is intended to use existing electrical infrastructure to quickly expand broadband infrastructure to the 120 million American households that don’t have adequate connectivity, according to a Wednesday press release from Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who co-introduced the bill with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

The legislation specifically notes that it would like to fund those that have existing partnerships with last-mile providers to connect homes and business and ensure that the technology is scalable for more advanced services, including accelerating 5G wireless infrastructure and making affordable gigabit broadband speeds.

The bill would also require that the network would support the security of the electric grid by installing a private communications network for grid operators.

“Building out fiber along our nation’s existing grid will provide the communications capacity needed to modernize our energy system, make our grid more cybersecure, and bring affordable high-speed internet to tens of millions of hard-to-reach households,” Cantwell said in the release. “It’s a triple win solution for consumers because it leverages existing rights-of-way and private sector ingenuity and investment to deliver cleaner electricity, stronger cybersecurity, and more accessible broadband services.”

Ting Fiber gets $200M financing

Telecommunications company Ting Fiber announced Tuesday that it has secured $200 million in financing from Generate Capital, which the company said will help it deploy next-generation communications infrastructure to municipalities across the country.

“We chose Generate because we wanted more than just a financing partner. We wanted their project management expertise, sustainability expertise and the wide range of capital solutions they offer – all of which will help Ting as we continue to rapidly scale our operations,” said Elliot Noss, CEO of Ting and its parent Tucows.

The financing will be used to accelerate Ting’s network deployment and to take advantage of its move from coaxial to fiber technology.

Some of the financing, which was signed on Monday, will be forwarded as Ting achieved operational milestones, it said.

Finley Engineering announces new CEO

The board of directors of broadband and energy engineering and consulting firm Finley Engineering announced Wednesday that Ty Middleton will be the company’s next president and CEO.

Middleton will replace Mike Boehne, who is retiring after being in the job for 10 years, according to the press release.

The release notes that Middleton has experience in the cybersecurity, software-as-a-service, and telecommunications sectors, the latter of which he has 30 years experience.

“He joins Finley with extensive experience in cross-functional leadership roles including general management, field and business operations, sales, and business development,” the release said.

“Middleton has led high-growth, customer-centric, technology-fueled businesses from start-ups to Fortune 150, including time at MCI Telecommunications, Qwest Communications, and CenturyLink,” it added.

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Broadband Roundup

FTC Phillips Stepping Down, Chips Act Now Law, Alaskan Entities Getting $50M in Broadband Grants

Phillips told Politico that he is leaving the competition watchdog this fall.

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Screenshot of President Joe Biden before signing the Chips and Science Act into law on Tuesday

August 9, 2022 – Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips is stepping down from the competition watchdog, according to reporting from Politico.

The Republican commissioner – one of two on an agency with three Democrats – said he told President Joe Biden that he intends to resign this fall, according to the report.

Phillips has been critical of the direction the agency has taken under chairwoman and Big Tech critic Lina Khan, who was appointed by the president to lead the agency.

Phillips has expressed concern about the impact of antitrust rules on consumer prices, criticized the release of a report by the FTC that warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence to combat online harms, alleging that the commission did not consult outside experts, and broadly warned last year about the overall direction of the agency to turn away from the traditional way it viewed competition.

Others outside the agency have also expressed concern that the commission’s tilt, plus pieces of antitrust legislation before Congress, could harm the country’s global competitiveness in the tech industry.

Chips Act signed into law

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law legislation that would provide billions in incentives for the nation to invest in its own semiconductor manufacturing.

In comments delivered before the signing, Biden said the goal of the “once in a generation investment” is to help the country “lead the world in future industries and protect our national security.”

The Chips and Science Act of 2022, which passed the House late last month, is a broad bill with a specific provision that includes $52 billion to incentive domestic manufacturing of chips that power a range of technologies, including phones, watches, cars and laptops, as well as grants for the design and deployment of 5G networks.

Nations during the pandemic have struggled with getting a steady supply of the chips for products, thus contributing to a supply shortage on many important technologies. This triggered increasing concern about the country’s reliance on others for basic technologies.

Currently only 12 percent of global chips are made in the U.S., which is down from 37 percent in the 1990s, according to Senator Michael Bennett, D-CO.

Alaska getting $50 million in broadband grants

Two native entities in Alaska are getting $51 million for high-speed internet, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Monday.

The grants from the Commerce agency’s Internet for All program will go to Doyon Limited and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission to provide connectivity to 581 unserved households across villages in the Doyon region and in eight tribal governments in the Ahtna region for “activities including telehealth, distance learning, telework, and workforce development.”

“The digital divide on our tribal lands, especially in remote Alaska, is stark,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in a press release. “The necessary investment through the Biden-Harris Internet for All initiative provides real change to these communities to participate in the digital economy, whether it’s education, health or jobs.”

The release said NTIA head Alan Davidson is visiting Alaska this week and said it is “humbling to see first-hand how these grants will positively impact the daily lives of Alaskan Natives who have been disconnected for far too long.”

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