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California Net Neutrality, Georgia Broadband Maps, New House Antitrust Bill

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Photo of California State Sen. Scott Wiener from Housing is a Human Right

February 24, 2021 – A California judge has rejected an attempt by internet service providers to prevent the state from enforcing its net neutrality rules, paving the way for its enforcement.

Judge John Mendez, in the Eastern District of California, issued the ruling Tuesday. The law provides Californians with the strongest net neutrality protections in the nation, which essentially prevents service providers from slowing or blocking certain websites and accelerating apps that pay them.

Democratic State Sen. Scott Wiener, the author of the law, said the judge’s ruling was a huge victory for open access to the internet, our democracy and our economy. Wiener advocated for allowing “ourselves to decide where we go on the internet and how we access information.”

Groups, including Public Knowledge and New America’s Open Technology Institute, who filed submissions in the case, celebrated the decision.

The ruling was seen as a blow to the telecom industry and its associations, who in a joint statement said they will review the judge’s decision “before deciding on next steps,” alluding to a possible appeal.

First signed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, California became the first state to pass a net neutrality law, hoping Congress and other states would do the same. The Trump administration sued to block it, which prevented it from taking effect while in court. But in early February 2021, the Justice Department under the Biden administration dropped the lawsuit.

In October, the Federal Communications Commission – before being headed by acting chairwoman and net neutrality advocate Jessica Rosenworcel voted again against Obama-era net neutrality rules.

Georgia Gets Ahead of FCC on Broadband Maps

Georgia state officials recognized three years ago it was grappling with bringing broadband to unserved areas in the state. The problem though, was no one knew where broadband gaps actually existed. Having no maps of its own, and not being able to rely on the precision of Federal Communications Commission maps, the officials took the issue into their own hands instead of waiting on the federal government.

Fast forward to today, and the state legislature has since formed the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative and passed a law that service providers agree with that would allow detailed information about mapping to be shared privately, without revealing key information to competitors.

“The states are the ones who are innovating on this,” says Peggy Schaffer, director of the Connect Maine Authority, the state’s effort to bridge its digital divide. “We know we can’t wait for the feds to fix it. We waited, we’re done, so we’re moving.”

In its first two years of the initiative, Georgia had built a map hailed as “one of the most granular in the nation.” And it wasn’t just Georgia who took it upon itself to act. Maine and Pennsylvania followed suit and built their own granular data that pinpointed gaps in broadband.

We took the approach of getting [data] more at an address- or a location-level approach to get a better understanding, said Deana Perry, executive director of the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative.

The federal government knows its broadband mapping efforts need serious repair. In July of 2020, the FCC approved measures aiming to improve the accuracy and speed of the agency’s data collection practices. These actions were part of the Broadband Data Act, which requires more granular data to be handed over about which areas have broadband coverage.

There must be more innovative tools for network builders to plan and operate their networks, which will speed up the pace of deployment and it will create an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability about what is being built with public dollars.

Cable companies want to sell broadband, but this segment of the industry has been reluctant to support improvements for the most granular-level broadband mapping because it infrequently offers service to low-density rural areas. Inaccurate federal government maps pose serious setbacks when determining how broadband funding should be allocated. The U.S. is allocating billions of dollars through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which the FCC called the “largest investment ever to close [the] digital divide.”

House antitrust chair to introduce reform bill 

House Judiciary Antitrust Subcommittee Chairman David Cicilline, D-R.I., who serves as the chairman of the House antirust panel, said Monday he will introduce an antitrust reform bill “very soon.”

The bill will seek to control large technology platforms’ power in the digital economy, as  reported by Bloomberg Quint.

Cicilline has been investigating tech giants for 16 months and said Monday he is crafting legislation with colleagues that can pass Congress in response to their findings.

His antitrust legislation fuels growing support on Capitol Hill that would give antitrust enforcers more power to block mergers and stop anticompetitive conduct.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., also introduced antitrust legislation in February 2020 that would seek to increase enforcement resources and prevent anticompetitive mergers.

Cicilline said at a small business webinar he intends for Congress to seize the moment to make significant progress to address the monopoly challenge that faces our country as failure to do so is not an option.

Broadband Roundup

NTCA Smart Rural Communities, International Telecommunications Union Conference, Carr on TikTok

‘How do we make sure that you can keep that home grown talent?’

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Photo of Shirley Bloomfield, NTCA Rural Broadband Association CEO, at Monday's Fall Conference

September 26, 2022 –Rural Broadband Association CEO Shirley Bloomfield on Monday announced a partnership with the National Rural Education Association to promote educational opportunities for rural children.

Speaking at the launch of the NTCA trade show in San Francisco on Monday, Bloomfield said that the program will help educate kids about the value of rural broadband services.

Bloomfield said it will help address a common lament in rural areas: “How do we make sure that you can keep that home grown talent?”

The pilot program with the rural education group will help promote the importance of broadband jobs in rural areas.

Telecom officials to be in Hungary for ITU election

Key telecom agency officials are expected this week to attend the International Telecommunications Union conference, where the election of the new head of the United Nation’s telecom regulator will be selected.

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Alan Davidson, and deputy secretary of the Commerce Don Graves are expected in Bucharest, Romania, where American Doreen Bogdan-Martin is in the running against Russian challenger Rashid Ismailov.

Last week, President Joe Biden said he strongly supports the candidacy of Bogdan-Martin.

The ITU develops international connectivity standards in communications networks and improving access to information and communication technologies for underserved communities worldwide.

The conference is being held from September 25 – 29.

The FCC expressed concerns over TikTok security and big tech contributions

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in a statement Monday that he spoke with European Union officials in Brussels about the need for Big Tech to contribute to the development of broadband networks and about the alleged security risks of the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok.

Carr has previously said that big technology companies should contribute to the Universal Service Fund, a roughly $10-billion pot of money that goes to support basic telecommunications builds across the nation. Money for the fund comes from voice service providers, but critics have said that the fund’s base of contributors needs to be broadened for its sustainability.

Carr also reiterated his position that TikTok poses a security and privacy threat to Americans.

“TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data,” he said in the statement. “And recent reporting indicates that there is no check on this sensitive data being accessed from inside China.”

The security of TikTok has been an ongoing issue, with American Senators saying that TikTok may be collecting biometric data and storing it in an unknown database.

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Broadband Roundup

Kenosha Gets Fiber, Judiciary Committee Advances Journalism Bill, Rosenworcel Touts Women in Tech

SiFi Networks will construct an all-fiber network for 40,000 households in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

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Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, obtained from Kenosha.org

September 23, 2022 – The city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and SiFi Networks on Thursday announced the start of construction of an all-fiber network that is advertised to bring high-speed broadband to all 40,000 households, businesses, and other locations in the city.

The $100-million, privately funded project is scheduled to be completed in approximately three years and will provide speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps), SiFi Networks said. The project has been announced to be open access: Many service providers will simultaneously lease sections of the network. SiFi says this model will enhance competition and bring “the fastest speeds at the most competitive prices to the consumer.”

“Kenosha is a special city with wonderful residents who are ready for modern-day connectivity,” said Marcus Bowman, community relations manager at SiFi Networks. “SiFi Networks is delighted to make the long-term investment in Kenosha because we see how fiber networks transform communities into hubs of innovation, remote work, better healthcare, and smart city services.”

 “Kenosha residents and businesses will see a great benefit from the Kenosha FiberCity project, ensuring that affordable, high-speed internet service is available throughout the entire city,” Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian said.

Cruz and Klobuchar find agreement on Journalism bill

A bipartisan bill that would alter existing antitrust law to create a safe harbor for news outlets engaged in collective bargaining with big-tech platforms was approved Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Supporters of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act say it would give news outlets the influence necessary to obtain fair compensation for their work from large platforms such as Facebook and Google.

The bill was scheduled to advance out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this month. Its passage was delayed by sponsor Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., after the committee adopted an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, that would limit platforms’ ability to moderate content.

Cruz’s amendment would have outright removed the antitrust exemption if outlet–platform negotiations included content-moderation policies, which Klobuchar called the amendment a “get out of jail free card” for platforms. Instead, the version of the bill advanced Thursday states that bargaining shall be conducted “solely to reach an agreement regarding the pricing, terms and conditions.”

“This is a major win for free speech and it strikes a blow against the virtual monopoly that Big Tech has to limit the information that Americans see online,” said Cruz’s official statement on Thursday. “The bottom line is Big Tech hated this bill from the start and now they hate it even more.”

Rosenworcel speaks to Grace Hopper Celebration 

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel touted the importance of women in technology at the Grace Hopper Celebration networking event on Thursday. 

“The Grace Hopper Celebration is known for being the world’s premier networking event for women in technology,” Rosenworcel said. “It is great to see it and just be here.  Because in my two decades of working on technology policy, I have not been in a lot of rooms like this.  In fact, I have lost count of the times that I have been the only woman in the room.”

The FCC’s chairwoman called on colleagues to “pull up a chair” for other women in tech as well as struggling community members. Speaking of her time as a commissioner at the FCC, Rosenworcel said she was one of only a few officials working to close the “homework gap” before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She also committed to advance “issues that affect women in technology,” promising to promote telehealth solutions for maternity care, extend basic phone services to victims of domestic abuse, and scrutinize the privacy standards of mobile providers to ensure the privacy of women’s medical history.

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Broadband Roundup

ReConnect Funding, More Emergency Connectivity Fund Money, 5G Training Grant in South Africa

The Agriculture Department announced $502M will go to service providers in 20 states.

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Photo of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack

September 22, 2022 – The Agriculture Department announced Thursday it is committing from the ReConnect program $502 million to providers in 20 states for fiber-to-the-premises builds.

Recipients include rural and tribal lands in Alabama, Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

The largest recipients include Egyptian Telephone Cooperative Association (IL), which will receive a loan of $25,282,255; Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa (MI), which is receiving a grant of $24,944,355; Atlantic Telephone Membership Corporation (NC) will receive $24,664,687; and Big Bend Telephone Company Inc. (TX) will get $24,018,756.

“High-speed internet will improve the rural economy. It will help rural businesses grow and get access to new markets. It will help rural residents get access to more and better health care and educational opportunities. USDA knows rural America is America’s backbone, and prosperity here means prosperity for all,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

For ReConnect program funding, an applicant would serve an area where high-speed internet service speeds are lower than 100 Megabits per second download and 20 Mbps upload. The applicant must also commit to building facilities capable of providing access to symmetrical high-speed internet at speeds of 100 Mbps.

FCC commits additional funding from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday it is committing another $55-million in a third-round of funding from the Emergency Connectivity Fund program, which provides subsidized connectivity to keep students away from school connected.

“With the school year in full swing, kids need to be able to connect with teachers and homework assignments when they are away from school grounds,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a press release. “Our latest funding commitments will provide this support, and continue our ongoing progress to close the Homework Gap.”

The commission has so-far committed over $5.6 billion of the $7.1-billion program to 10,000 schools, 900 libraries, and 100 consortia, and provided nearly 12 million connected devices and over seven million broadband connections, the release said.

Wireless Infrastructure Association gets Commerce grant for 5G training in South Africa

The Wireless Infrastructure Association was awarded a grant by the Commerce Department Wednesday to put toward workforce training for the development of 5G infrastructure in South Africa.

“Through our Telecommunications Education Center, WIA has become a global leader in broadband and 5G training, and we’re honored by the opportunity to support this project to bring the benefits of efficient 5G rollout to South Africa and strengthen America’s leadership as an exporter of 5G technology,” the WIA said in a press release Wednesday.

The Commerce Department’s Market Development Cooperator program is intended to remove trade barriers and help American firms export. It includes a proposal called the Roadmap to 5G Success project to accelerate 5G deployment in South Africa and help drive business for American companies.

Wednesday’s announcement was part of a larger committed by the department, which awarded five other grantees for a total investment of $1.7 million. The grantees will need to invest $3.4 million of their own resources “and collaborate with International Trade Administration staff around the world to remove trade barriers and promote U.S. exports in their industries.”

“We have seen time and again that working with non-profit industry groups is key to reaching markets in different parts of the globe and generating exports that will ultimately serve our goal of strengthening the competitiveness of U.S. industry. We look forward to adding the six new projects to our successful MDCP program, which has a strong history of creating multiplier effects and producing a significant return on investment for U.S. business.”  Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said in a department release.

In March of this year, the Wireless Infrastructure Association issued telecommunications tower technician programs at Ohio State University. WIA acts as an in-house expert to aid in workforce education and implementation.

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