February 9, 2021 – The Justice Department on Monday withdrew its lawsuit against California for proposing net neutrality laws in the wake of a 2017 vote by the Federal Communications Commission that repealed those rules. The move signals a shift in how the White House and the new FCC could approach the issue.
“I am pleased that the Department of Justice has withdrawn this lawsuit,” Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a Monday statement. “When the FCC, over my objection, rolled back its net neutrality policies, states like California sought to fill the void with their own laws. By taking this step, Washington is listening to the American people, who overwhelmingly support an open internet, and is charting a course to once again make net neutrality the law of the land.”
The net neutrality rules in California are suspended pending a lawsuit brought by the industry challenging the legality of the proposal. That hearing will be held on February 23.
In 2017, the FCC under Chairman Ajit Pai reversed the Obama Administration-era neutrality rules that ensures telecoms cannot prioritize certain content over others, such as to slow them down or block them entirely.
Senate Democrats propose reform of Section 230
Senate Democrats Mark Warner, D-Virginia, Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. last week proposed changes to Section 230, the law governing liability of internet intermediaries.
The proposed legislation, known as the Safe Tech Act, would effectively keep the general spirit of the legislation, but with a caveat that content that the platform is paid to post – such as advertising — will not be protected from legal liability.
“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any speech provided by another information content provider, except to the extent the provider or user has accepted payment to make the speech available or, in whole or in part, created or funded the creation of the speech,” the proposal pitches.
This, the proponents say, will “allow social media companies to be held accountable for enabling cyber-stalking, targeted harassment, and discrimination on their platforms.”
Critics of the proposal, including Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., have said that, if enacted, the change would effectively create a new form of liability on commercial relationships that would force “web hosts, cloud storage providers and even paid email services to purge their networks of any controversial speech.”
Pandemic has put community broadband in focus
Increased dependence on remote learning has forced a deeper conversation about affordable and accessible broadband – and seeking stable models that don’t necessarily rely on private funding.
One such model is community broadband, where the municipality invests its own money to provide cheaper connectivity options to keep up with the increasing number of Americans turning to online learning for their education. However, according to a Broadband Now bulletin in May, 22 states have blocked or outlawed municipal broadband projects due to concerns about unfair competition, according to Bloomberg.
“The options in front of them looking at the affordability barrier were to pay for existing service — cellular through a hotspot, or wireline — or build something,” says Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. “And I think the folks who went with the build-it solution are the ones thinking, ‘This problem isn’t going away after the pandemic.’”
“Basically, try to offer free connectivity in areas that are heavily populated by people who cannot afford the connections that are available,” says Chris Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
With authorization from the FCC, a number of school districts in the western states have begun leveraging a band of the wireless spectrum known as Citizen Broadband Radio Service to establish high-speed wireless networks for students.
Information Technology and Innovation Foundation Director of Broadband and Spectrum Policy Mitchell Brake said, “It’s an exciting technology, but it’s also not clear to me that there is enough spectrum yet to be able to ensure that you can provide high-quality service.”
“One of the things I really hope the FCC does is create more spectrum that would be available to be shared in this way because I would worry that in many cities, it might be exhausted and congested very quickly.”
Brake says that it might be hard for some cities to afford the cost of building a CBRS system with the competitive agencies that are well place in the market, so he suggests communities invest as well on internet hotspots at public places. How these communities choose to overcome these challenges eventually depends on their needs and resources.
Former FCC Chair Joins Company Board, Twitter to Pay $150 million in Privacy Case, Telehealth Prescriptions
Tom Wheeler is joining the board of a mobile network company.
May 26, 2022 – Alef, a mobile network company, announced on Wednesday that Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, will join its board of directors.
According to the press release, Wheeler will “serve as an advocate for enterprises to rapidly adopt mobility inside the enterprise private network.”
Wheeler has more than 40 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. During his time at the FCC, he led efforts to adopt the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum band, net neutrality, and enhanced cybersecurity policies.
“Alef is a pioneer for the kind of competitive offering that we were envisioning when the FCC created CBRS, and thus it is an honor to join this Board of Directors,” said Wheeler in the press release.
In the same press release, Alef announced it also joined the OnGo Alliance, an organization designed to support the development of new solutions for the CBRS.
Working with OnGo, Alef will identify key issues and drive the development of LTE and 5G NR solutions for CBRS, the press release said. “This news demonstrates the company’s continued leadership across the telecom industry, ushering in a new era of capability delivered to the enterprise from the mobile edge,” stated the press release.
Alef gives enterprises and developers the ability to create, customize, and control their own private network infrastructure, the release said.
Twitter to pay $150 million to settle privacy suit
Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million fine following a privacy lawsuit settlement made public on Wednesday concerning allegations that the company improperly collected and handled user data between 2013 and 2019.
The settlement requires a court approval before being finalized.
The lawsuit, which was initiated by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, stated that Twitter had collected phone numbers and email addresses from platform users to secure accounts but allowed advertisers use the information to target ads without notifying users.
According to an FTC press release, Twitter used this personal information to “further its own business interests through its Tailored Audiences and Partner Audiences services.” This was in violation of a 2011 privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.
“As the complaint notes, Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads,” FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan said in a release.
The settlement, in addition to the fine, will require Twitter to “maintain a comprehensive privacy and information security program, notify users whose information was misused, limit employee access to personal data, and offer multifactor authentication options.”
Twitter apologized for the breach in 2019, claiming that the data “may have been inadvertently used for advertising.”
Damien Kieran, Twitter’s chief privacy officer, said in a blog post that “keeping data secure and respecting privacy is something we take extremely seriously, and we have cooperated with the FTC every step of the way.”
CVS, Walmart to stop telehealth prescriptions
CVS Pharmacy and Walmart will no longer be filling prescriptions for controlled substances ordered by telehealth companies Cerebral Inc. and Done Health in response to concerns from a review that CVS conducted on their prescription practices. Walmart, according to the Wall Street Journal, did not disclose why they made the decision.
“We recently conducted a review of certain telehealth companies that prescribe controlled substance medications,” said CVS in a statement to The Hill. It is “important that medications are prescribed appropriately.”
CVS reportedly was unable to resolve “concerns” they had with Cerebral and Done Health, but did not elaborate on the concerns.
Cerebral said in a statement to The Hill that CVS’s timing was unfortunate, noting that they had stopped prescribing controlled substances earlier this month. “In light of CVS’s decision, Cerebral is doing everything possible to ensure these patients get access to medications that their health care providers have determined they need.”
Cerebral said that they would reach out to every patient impacted by CVS’s decision to help them transition to another pharmacy “as seamless as possible.”
As reported by The Hill, pharmacists at other locations that have adopted similar policies “expressed concerns that telehealth companies were over-prescribing certain medications like Adderall.”
Digital Equity Foundation Guide, UScellular Selects Ericsson for 5G, Brightspeed Targets
A policy paper recommends how a federally funded digital equity entity should be funded and structured.
May 25, 2022 – A policy paper released Wednesday outlined recommendations for a federally funded Digital Equity Foundation, including how it should be structured and funded.
New America’s Open Technology Institute and the Philanthropic thru Privatization report recommends the foundation focus on having a stable endowment to maintain the its annual support, an ability to raise outside funds, to have advisory groups with a broad range of expertise to guide the foundation, and to have transparency principles that would see it have federal appointees and report regularly to the Senate and House commerce committees.
The paper comes after a joint note from New America and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies in April 2021 to Congress for funding for the foundation. At least 75 organizations support the Digital Equity Foundation.
“A federally funded Digital Equity Foundation isn’t a radical concept. Rather, it’s a common-sense policy solution to a longstanding national problem,” said Chuck Bell, a project associate for the PtP Project. “This proposed foundation would meet vital community needs, fit with longstanding legal precedents, and provide sustainable national funding to bridge the digital divide for millions of underserved Americans.”
Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project, said that even with the billions in broadband investments from the Infrastructure, Investment Jobs Act – which provides funding for digital equity – we won’t close the digital divide without “sustained investments in digital literacy and adoption efforts at the community level.”
UScellular selects Ericsson for C-band deployment
UScellular, the nation’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, announced Wednesday an agreement that will see Swedish telecom equipment supplier Ericsson help the telecom build out its 5G network using the C-band spectrum.
The telecom looks to use the spectrum to build out its fixed wireless network.
“Ericsson’s advanced mid-band coverage extension functionality with Carrier Aggregation network solutions will increase coverage and capacity for UScellular customers both at home and on the go,” said a press release Wednesday.
“Ericsson has a valued, long-standing relationship with UScellular, and we share their commitment to providing a resilient and sustainable network through the use of industry-leading innovations, ultimately elevating the customer experience,” Eric Boudriau, Ericsson’s vice president and head of customer unit regional carriers, said in the release.
Brightspeed announces first-year build target for its fiber network
On Wednesday, telecom company Brightspeed announced first-year plans for its proposed $2 billion network transformation plan, including an aim to have one million new fiber passings across rural and suburban regions of the U.S. and reaching close to three million homes and businesses by the end of 2023.
The company said it is optimistic the first deployment will take place in North Carolina in a few weeks and will serve as a company blueprint for future applications.
“We have already begun design and construction preparations necessary to hit the ground running on day one. We will be well-equipped to quickly deliver on our mission to bring ultra-fast, reliable Internet and Wi-Fi to more homes and businesses” said Bob Mudge, CEO of Brightspeed.
The company said its network is expected to provide more than one gigabit per second download speeds.
Court Strikes Social Media Law, Industry Likes Cyber Initiative, Meta Data Transparency Project
Key provisions in the social media law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis was found unconstitutional by an appeals court.
May 24, 2022 – The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a unanimous 3-0 decision Monday that key provisions in Florida’s social media censorship law is unconstitutional, following a preliminary injunction granted by a Florida judge last year.
The social media law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, would have prohibited companies from banning politicians on their platforms and limit their content moderation and editorial decisions, claiming that social media platforms are suppliers of a platform who should have no hand in the flow of information. The law was adopted following a number of high-profile Republican figures were banned from social media platforms, including former President Donald Trump from Twitter.
But the court found that provisions that allowed for the law to prevent tech platforms from removing political figures and posts by political candidates – key provisions in the law – were unconstitutional, affirming the court’s decision when it temporarily stopped the law from taking effect until it made a final determination. The court, however, found some provisions regarding data and disclosure requirements to remain in force.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit issued by NetChoice and Computer and Communications Industry Association.
The decision comes nearly two weeks after a federal appeals court temporarily lifted restrictions on a similar law in Texas until the courts can make a final determination.
The court said in its decision that, “not in their wildest dreams could anyone in the Founding generation have imagined Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or TikTok. But whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology, the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment’s command, do not vary when a new and different medium for communication appears.”
Industry commends Biden administration for progress on federal cybersecurity
Experts are applauding the White House’s progress in the year since President Joe Biden signed an executive order to focus on cybersecurity, according to The Hill, specifically highlighting the improvements in sharing threat information from government to private sector.
“I think the public-private partnership portion of the executive order has really been key,” said Kelly Rozumalski, senior vice president at IT consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, explaining that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Alliance has now partnered with numerous companies in the private sector to push for cybersecurity.
“I’ve seen much more directive, actionable steps coming out now and I think the executive order is a big reason for that,” added Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer of Veracode. “[The order] sort of changed the status quo from best practices to practicality.”
The executive order in May of 2021 introduced several initiatives to secure federal networks and critical infrastructure against cyberattacks, which included sharing threat information, modernizing federal cybersecurity standards, and improving software supply chain security.
The order was enacted amid major cyberattacks, including oil transport company Colonial Pipeline and software company SolarWinds. As a result of the order, said The Hill, many companies are taking software security more seriously and require that suppliers sell them upgraded and secure software.
In March, Congress passed the Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act, which requires private sector companies to report incidents of cyberattacks to the federal government.
Meta announces data transparency project
Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, announced on Monday the Facebook Open Research and Transparency project, which will grant access to researchers to data on how political advertising can be targeted on their platforms.
Meta, according to New York times, has given outsiders access into how political ads were used in the past, but only with certain restrictions. Meta claims that “by making advertiser targeting criteria available for analysis and reporting on ads run about social issues, elections, and politics, we hope to help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters.”
The project will be initiated by the end of the month. The data will allow researchers to see what interest categories advertisers chose for each post. Meta will also include summaries of targeting information the Ad Library which is currently publicly available.
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