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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.

Former Assistant Editor Jericho Casper graduated from the University of Virginia studying media policy. She grew up in Newport News in an area heavily impacted by the digital divide. She has a passion for universal access and a vendetta against anyone who stands in the way of her getting better broadband. She is now Associate Broadband Researcher at the Institute for Local Self Reliance's Community Broadband Network Initiative.

Broadband Roundup

Commerce Vote on Sohn Wednesday, Facebook Abandoning its Crypto Technology, Low EBB Awareness

The Senate Commerce Committee will vote on Sohn’s renomination after confirmation efforts stalled last year.

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Photo of Gigi Sohn from March 2011 by the Stanford Center for Internet and Society used with permission

January 28, 2022 – On Wednesday the Senate Commerce Committee will vote on President Joe Biden’s nomination of Gigi Sohn to the Federal Communications Commission.

Sohn, the co-founder of intellectual property nonprofit Public Knowledge, was renominated by Biden earlier this month after the Commerce committee failed to advance her nomination at the end of last year.

Much of the opposition to Sohn’s nomination has centered around Republican pushback on comments Sohn had made about conservative media.

Additionally on Wednesday, the committee will vote on Biden’s nominee to the Federal Trade Commission Alvaro Bedoya.

Like Sohn, Bedoya saw his nomination stalled late last year as Republicans opposed comments he had made on conservative media.

Both the FCC and FTC are split 2-2 in terms of the partisanship of their voting members, limiting the ability of their Democratic chairs to enact their policy agendas.

Facebook’s cryptocurrency project fizzles

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that Facebook is selling the technology behind the Diem Association, the company’s cryptocurrency project, amid concerns over its ability to provide security and privacy.

Silvergate Capital Corporation, a California bank that works with bitcoin and blockchain companies, will reportedly buy the technology for $200 million.

In an earlier effort to appease regulators the bank and Diem had agreed to issue some stablecoins, which are considered less volatile and are backed by hard dollars.

Diem, previously called Libra, was originally conceived as a simple way for users to spend money and partnered with PayPal, Visa and Stripe to demonstrate institutional financial backing to officials and distance the venture from Facebook as criticisms against the platform mounted.

In October 2019, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told U.S. House members that he would support delaying the cryptocurrency’s release until all regulators approved of it.

AT&T survey on Emergency Broadband Benefit’s reach

An AT&T-commissioned survey found that as of October 2021 a majority of individuals in the company’s 21-state footprint were not aware of the Emergency Broadband Benefit, Fierce Telecom reported Wednesday.

Only 12% of survey respondents were aware of the program started by the FCC during the coronavirus pandemic to help fund low-income people’s internet connectivity.

The survey also found disparities in program awareness between different age groups and ethnicities.

Since administration of the survey, the EBB has been converted into the permanent Affordable Connectivity Program with Congress’ passage of its bipartisan infrastructure bill in November 2021.

The EBB was able to gain the participation of most internet service providers and roll over their participation to the ACP once it became available at the start of this year.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Axes China Unicom, Tucows Has New Software Business, Texas County Broadband Initiative

The FCC on Thursday revoked the operating authorization of China Unicom, in latest effort to weed out national security threats.

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Tucows CEO Elliot Noss

January 27, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday revoked the operating authority of telecom China Unicom Americas due to national security concerns.

In the press release, which coincided with the commission’s January open meeting, the FCC said China Unicom Americas must discontinue domestic and international services in the U.S. within 60 days of the order.

The decision was made, the release said, after nearly a year of review of the company’s responses to inquiries, the public record and a public interest analysis following a March 2021 finding by the commission that the company “failed to dispel serious concerns” about its ties to the Communist government in China.

The decision, which comes after an FCC vote in October to revoke the operating license of China Telecom, is part of a larger effort by the agency and President Joe Biden’s administration to weed out national security risks.

Tucows new communication service software

Toronto-based telecom Tucows on Thursday launched Wavelo, a software business it says will help other telecommunications companies aspects of their business, including the network and subscription and billing management.

“In today’s competitive landscape, operators need optionality from their software,” Wavelo CEO Justin Riley said. “They deserve solutions that keep pace with their network innovation and that are flexible enough to integrate seamlessly within their existing operations. Wavelo was launched to do just that.”

Gray County, Texas developing plan for better broadband

The Gray County Broadband Committee is asking the broader community Thursday for input through a survey on how it should develop a “technology action plan that will provide both immediate and long-term solutions for improving internet access.”

The committee, which includes stakeholders in business, education, government and healthcare, said in a press release it hopes to “identify unique challenges and opportunities for expanding high-speed internet” in the county.

The county said it is partnering with Connected Nation Texas on the initiative, which is funded by the Texas Rural Funders

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Broadband Roundup

Fear of Big Tech in Auto Industry, Montana Hires Lightbox, USTelecom Hires Media Affairs Director

Technology advocacy groups are concerned about big technology companies entering the auto industry.

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Montana Governor Greg Gianforte

January 26, 2022 – A letter signed by nearly 30 technology advocacy groups and sent to government and agency officials Tuesday is warning of the dangers of tech companies entering the automobile industry, The Hill reports.

“Make no mistake: The expansion of Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook into the auto sector spells trouble for workers and consumers…As automation expands, these [auto workers] jobs are at risk and Big Tech cannot be trusted to lead that transition,” the letter said, according to the report.

Recipients of the letter signed by the likes of the American Economic Liberties Project and Demand Progress include Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Lina Khan.

The Hill also reports that the groups are concerned about the treatment and usage of data and private information if these big technology companies do successfully expand their reach.

The letter comes as lawmakers and government agencies wrestle with what to do about the future of antitrust.

Montana is taking mapping matters into their own hands

Montana’s Department of Administration said Monday that is has hired location analytics company Lightbox to build a statewide broadband map, following in the footsteps of Georgia and Alabama in getting ahead of federal efforts to improving insight into what areas are underserved.

“The completed map will provide a detailed analysis of current broadband service levels throughout Montana while protecting proprietary data and will be used for allocating $266 million to unserved and underserved communities throughout Montana,” a press release said.

“Lightbox is a proven national leader in cost effective and efficient detailed mapping for state level broadband programs,” said Department of Administration Director Misty Ann Giles in the release. “This platform will serve as a key component to help ConnectMT reach its goal of deploying broadband throughout Montana to bridge the digital divide.”

Montana, which began searching for a data platform in October, is listed on data platform BroadbandNow as the worst state for broadband coverage and access, according to a November report.

USTelecom hires new senior director of media affairs and digital engagement

USTelecom, an association that represents telecom-related businesses, announced Wednesday the appointment of Emma Christman to senior director of media affairs and digital engagement.

Christman is joining the USTelecom communications team after working as the director of external affairs and engagement at Glen Echo Group. While there, USTelecom says she provided “a range of clients strategic counsel, content creation, media outreach and other services.”

Prior to her time at Glen Echo Group, Christman worked at Dewey Square Group as a senior associate and at Mobile Future as a community outreach director.

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