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Eric Schmidt Worries About 5G, Rural Progress Tool, Arkansas Expands Broadband Deployment

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Photo of Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson from September 2019 by Shane McCoy used with permission

February 10, 2021 – The United States and its allies are already far behind China in investing in 5G mobile telecommunications networks, said the former chief executive of Google, who is worried the C-Band spectrum proceeds won’t go to 5G deployment.

Though it raised a record-breaking $81 billion, and is being celebrated as a win for 5G, Schmidt said he is not proud of the FCC’s C-band spectrum auction held last month and calls it a “digital setback that America and its allies can ill-afford.”

The concern comes from the lack of “meaningful requirements” needed to ensure mobile telecommunications companies will actually spend money on 5G network development. Schmidt downplayed the significance of the money raised by the auction, saying that $81 billion was “merely a trifle on the government scale, equivalent to less than a month of US debt issuance, and the money is unlikely to be spent on the 5G network the country needs.”

The auction’s result, Schmidt said, will be that Americans will face higher prices and weaker digital services, which was seen in the European 3G auctions early 2000s where telecoms paid more than they should’ve. Schmidt did praise the U.S. for its world-leading technology companies today as they positioned their software to succeed by building core components of high-speed data infrastructure for 4G LTE.

But it’s a different story when it comes to 5G. The U.S. has apparently focused more on marketing 5G rather than actually creating change in data speeds, said Schmidt. The next generation of technology giants — and the products and services they build — are not going to be European or American but Chinese, he said. Schmidt said future U.S. spectrum auctions must include an insistence on developing infrastructure. Future auctions must require high standards and penalties for underperformance, he added.

New progress mapping for rural fund

A new resource has been released by BroadbandNow that helps visualize and check the progress of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The new resource includes an interactive map that highlights in red every census block in the U.S. without a terrestrial broadband provider. It also lists all RDOF auction winners, with emphasis on the top 10 winners, and lists a chronological timeline of significant events since the RDOF began. It also summarizes goals and challenges. 

The RDOF is a Federal Communications Commission program will inject $20.4 billion over 10 years in two phases in the building of rural broadband networks.

In the first phase, up to $16 billion will be made for providers, and will include census blocks that are currently unserved by an existing broadband provider, or is currently underway. The second phase, consisting of about $4.4 billion, will connect any remaining areas not covered in the first phase.

The RDOF seeks to provide broadband speeds of 35 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and upload speeds of up to 4 Mbps. It also promotes future-proofing of technologies and services by placing priority on networks with faster speeds and lower latency, which determines the speed at which technologies communicate with each other.

The FCC has said by doing this, robust technologies like fiber will “ensure that those benefiting from these networks will be able to use tomorrow’s internet applications as well as today’s.”

The FCC still claims its processes are “technologically neutral,” which offers multiple levels for service providers to bid on.

Trying to determine exact standards and eligibility requirements is an ongoing challenge when specifics and exceptions are brought up, but the FCC “plans to make funds available for providers to build service out in census blocks where no provider ‘is offering, or has committed to offering, either via the CAF II auction, the USDA ReConnect program, or state-specific programs, service of at least 25/3 Mbps.’”

Another concern about making sure funds are allocated in the best possible manner is when poor broadband maps and records are rampant. Even if just one address within a block is truly wired to service , providers can mark the entire census block as “serviced,” which can cause massive over-reporting of communities with service.

Arkansas passes law expanding government broadband deployment powers

The Arkansas General Assembly has unanimously voted to give government agencies new powers deploy and adopt advanced communications services and facilities across the State.

The Senate voted 35-0 and the House voted 94-0 to approve t he measure after the chambers discussed how residents who don’t have adequate broadband for video and wireless services also suffer from a lack of access to healthcare and other essential services.

The new law allows government entities to provide communications services or facilities to support a wide range of emergency management, law enforcement, education, and healthcare activities.

It adds flexibility to funding issues by granting government entities and its private partners the ability to apply for grants or loans that will help extend service to unserved areas across the State. Options to provide video, voice, and data services will expand as government agencies will be allowed multiple new ways to provide them.

It will be funded by issuing general obligation bonds and levying special taxes to build and deploy needed wireless services. Due diligence in accordance with industry standards will equally be required when funding and costs are determined.

Public hearings and time for public notices have been built in as well to allow open feedback and transparency.

The emergency legislation, SB74, enjoyed strong support and sped through the legislature and the Governor’s office. Five Republican sponsors introduced it – State Sens. Ricky Hill, Breanne Davis, and Missy Irvin, and Reps. Brian Evans and DeAnn Vaught. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the bill into law as Act 67 on February 4, 2021.

Broadband Roundup

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.

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Photo of Kelly Rozumalski, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, from Careers Info Security

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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Broadband Roundup

D.C. Attorney General Sues Zuckerberg, Carr Criticizes Infrastructure Bill Details, Vermont to Expand Fiber Builds

The lawsuit comes years after Facebook was found to have been used to harvest personal data for political purposes.

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Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brenden Carr

May 23, 2022 – On Monday, Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg for alleged consumer privacy violations revealed during the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke in 2018.

In his office’s filings with the D.C. Superior Court, Racine argued that “Facebook is far from a disinterested platform” and that it “[derives] enormous wealth from acquiring and monetizing the data of [billions of people] leading their lives in Facebook’s digital ecosystem.

“But even that is not enough,” the filing read. “Facebook is in a relentless pursuit to expand its reach on humanity and bring an ever-increasing number of people under its influence.”

To that end, the filings stated that “Cambridge Analytica used the Facebook Platform—in a way that Facebook and Zuckerberg encouraged—to influence and manipulate the outcome of a United States presidential election.”

As co-founder, CEO, chairman, and majority voting shareholder (Zuckerberg holds 60 percent of Meta’s voting shares according to the filings), Racine stated that Zuckerberg “maintains an unparalleled level of control over the operations of Facebook,” and thus bears the responsibility for its actions.

FCC Commissioner Carr says NTIA broadband infrastructure details picks “winners and losers”

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr released a statement expressing concern that the application details for broadband funding under the infrastructure bill released this month prioritizes one technology over others.

“[The notices of funding opportunity] will prevent states from funding projects that could quickly bridge the digital divide using those high-speed technologies in nearly all cases—putting too much of a thumb on the scale for fiber builds that provide robust service but can take years to build out in certain cases,” Carr said in a statement Thursday, but added, “I have no doubt that fiber projects would demonstrate their value in the lion’s share of cases.”

The week prior, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s released those funding details, which included an answer to a question about its technology preference for the builds. “With respect to the deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure, the Program prioritizes projects designed to provide fiber connectivity directly to the end user,” the Commerce agency said in the 98-page NOFO.

Carr stated that this will “undoubtedly waste taxpayer dollars and leave families waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide.”

The Republican commissioner also condemned what he perceived as rate regulation and overbuilding.

“In the end, the Administration’s decision to pursue those political goals—rather than focusing on connecting the largest number of people as quickly as possible—will exacerbate the supply chain challenges and workforce shortages that already pose a hurdle to getting the job done.”

Vermont governor announces fiber grants

On Monday, Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced broadband grants totaling more than $16 million.

The grants will be focused on deploying more than 9,000 miles of fiber across Bolton and several other towns in the northeast corner of Vermont.

Scott was set to be joined by Vermont’s at-large congressional representative Democratic Rep. Peter Welch at 12 noon ET in Jericho, Vt., to formally unveil the project in question.

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Broadband Roundup

Senate Bill Would Alter Google Advertising, DOJ Cybersecurity Policy Reversal, Comcast on Hybrid Fiber-Coax

Senate introduces bill breaking up Google’s digital advertising business

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Photo of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, from March 2016 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

May 20, 2022 – On Thursday a bipartisan group of senators on the Judiciary Committee introduced a bill that would force Google to break up its industry-leading online advertising exchange.

The Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act would prohibit large companies like Google from both operating an ad exchange and a supply- or demand-side platform, should they process more than $20 billion in ad transactions.

The bill would also require Facebook to divest some of its advertising business.

“Companies like Google and Facebook have been able to exploit their unprecedented troves of detailed user data to obtain vice grip-like control over digital advertising,” said bill sponsor Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.

In late 2020, a coalition of 10 state attorneys general brought a lawsuit against Google alleging that its market dominance lets it overcharge businesses seeking to place ads online.

Justice Department changes directions on cybersecurity prosecution policy

On Thursday the Department of Justice announced it would reverse its charging policy on a federal computer fraud law, saying it will not prosecute “good-faith security research” efforts.

The change by the department relates to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, defining good-faith research as “accessing a computer solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability” without any intention of harming the public.

Last year, Georgia police sergeant Nathan Van Buren was successful in appealing his conviction under the CFAA to the Supreme Court.

DOJ argued that he should not have taken a bribe to access a woman’s license plate information during a 2015 Federal Bureau of Investigation sting operation, while Van Buren claimed that he had legitimate access to the database.

Comcast plans to release hybrid fiber-coaxial multi-gig speeds in the coming months.

Comcast is preparing to roll out faster multi-gigabit speeds across its hybrid fiber-coaxial network, Fierce Telecom reported Thursday.

Multi-gig rollout is expected in the coming months.

At an investor conference Comcast CEO Dave Watson stated that his operator’s choice to roll out mid-split upgrades on the way to Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 4.0 technology will allow it to take speeds to the next level.

“We have a very fast, very efficient path to multi-gig symmetrical at scale that we can do,” said Watson.

He feels comfortable that despite Comcast fiber deployments in select locations, the company feels comfortable that its HFC network will remain competitive.

He also reiterated previous comments that fixed wireless access service is not a threat and that it does not materially impact churn from fixed wireless competitors.

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