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FCC February Meeting Targets 911 Fee Diversion and Replacing Foreign Telecommunications Equipment

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February 17, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission adopted two proposals in Wednesday’s meeting: Seeking comments on rule changes for 911 fee diversion, and also the secure and trusted network reimbursement program.

The first proposal seeks comment on a 911 fee diversion rule that would define what constitutes a diversion of those funds from their intended use. Part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, passed in December 2020, requires the FCC to issue these rules. Fees from 911 are levied by state and local governments to help pay for the operating costs of emergency services, which consumers pay through their phone bills.

The rule change intends to prevent states from diverting some of those funds for purposes other than 911 operations.

“Both Congress and the commission have long recognized that 911 fees should serve 911 purposes and have worked to combat fee diversion,” said Commissioner Geoffrey Starks.

According to the FCC’s 2020 report, five states diverted over 200 million dollars from the 911 fees they collected. The vast majority of fee diversions occur in New York and New Jersey, according to National Emergency Number Association’s Brian Fontes.

The second proposal seeks comment on the secure and trusted network reimbursement program, which subsidizes funds to companies for replacing communications equipment due to national security concerns.

Several of the commissioners expressed concern about Chinese companies Huawei and ZTE technologies being used in the United States due to their ties to the Chinese government.

The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 allocated $1.9 billion to “remove, replace, and dispose of communications equipment and services that pose a national security threat,” said the FCC’s news release.

Both proposals received 4-0 affirmative votes.

Also notable during Wednesday’s meeting was Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel’s announcement of a new task force to address poor broadband mapping data. Jean Kiddoo was named chair of the task force.

During a press call following the meeting, Rosenworcel said that she supports spectrum sharing, which would allow providers to share space in certain areas of the radio wave spectrum. There are a lot of entities interested in the popular bands of the spectrum, and we need to be creative and efficient in how we use that space, she said.

Rosenworcel’s position conflicts with the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association, a trade association comprised of many communication companies, which supports exclusive access to parts of the spectrum.

Wednesday’s meeting marks the first FCC meeting chaired by Rosenworcel in her new position as acting chairwoman. She can serve in that position until President Biden puts forward a candidate to serve as chairman or chairwoman, and that candidate is confirmed by the Senate. Because Rosenworcel was already confirmed as a commissioner, she can serve in that role until her term expires.

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Unrealistic Fears About Chinese Tech Distract From Real Privacy Concerns, Panelists Say

Panelists argued that ethical concerns about digital privacy and AI are not unfounded, but rather unfairly targeted at certain countries.

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WASHINGTON, January 23, 2023 — The TikTok bans that have been implemented by several state governments and universities illustrate a misguided approach to tech policy that targets certain countries at the expense of addressing broadly applicable privacy concerns, said panelists at a Broadband Breakfast Live Online event on Wednesday.

Some of the often-discussed security threats coming from Chinese tech products “are being imagined in a way that is completely detached from reality,” said Yangyang Cheng, a research scholar and fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center. This misdirected focus diverts attention away from other concrete risks presented by artificial intelligence and social media, she added.

In December, Rep. Mike Gallagher, R-WI, called for a national TikTok ban, calling the app “digital fentanyl” and claiming it was being utilized by the Chinese Communist Party to influence young Americans. Such allegations are unrealistic and xenophobic, Cheng said, but still have the power to broadly shape American society.

For example, several universities have now banned the use of TikTok on the schools’ Wi-Fi and equipment. Access to a particular social media app is not itself a fundamental right, but “fundamental rights with regards to academic freedom, freedom of expression, government’s role in a society are being shaped, and some fundamental freedoms are being infringed on… in the name of banning TikTok,” Cheng said. “That is the concrete harm here.”

The rhetorical focus on a potential TikTok ban and other “combative” issues takes away from more important discussions, such as the fact that the U.S. lacks comprehensive privacy legislation, said Kate Kaye, an independent tech journalist. Unlike the U.S., China has legislation allowing people to opt out of algorithmic social media targeting, she added.

Attempts to establish “very minor ethical guidelines” in U.S. artificial intelligence research have been met with significant pushback from researchers who question whether it is their responsibility to consider ethical questions or data privacy, Kaye said.

Cheng argued that ethical concerns about digital privacy and artificial intelligence are not unfounded, but rather unfairly targeted at certain countries. For example, the U.S. government has placed certain restrictions on Chinese digital surveillance firms, citing potential human rights violations, but similar technologies are being developed and used in the U.S. and Europe.

The “rhetorical China threat umbrella” has even been used to argue against such ethical regulations, with U.S. tech companies claiming that such restrictions will impede their ability to compete with their Chinese counterparts, Cheng said.

Concerns about economic competition are ‘repackaged’ as security risks

Potential risks related to technology can be divided into three categories, which are sometimes improperly conflated, Cheng said. First, technical risks can entail built-in design flaws that make devices or software vulnerable to hacking. While these problems are still complicated, they are relatively straightforward to observe and define.

Another category is regulatory risks, referring to the guidelines and restrictions that are placed on data collection, storage and usage.

Risks in these two categories are “not specific to any individual country or political system,” Cheng said. While the security concerns raised by the U.S. government about Chinese tech companies like Huawei and TikTok are “not necessarily unfounded,” those same risks are present in products from several other countries, she added.

“There is an overemphasis on the policing or surveillance capabilities of the Chinese state, without seeing the reality that data is being commodified and basically packaged as capital, so it can just be bought and sold relatively freely by data brokers and other third parties,” Cheng said.

This potential overemphasis on certain countries’ companies falls into the third risk category, which Cheng termed geopolitical risks. One such geopolitical concern expressed by some U.S. lawmakers is that it is harmful for a Chinese company like TikTok to have such a large market share.

However, this concern is sometimes couched in language about data privacy or security, Cheng said. “What we are seeing is that actual concerns about geopolitics or economic competition are being repackaged and somehow hand-waved to the first two types — technical or regulatory risks.”

Many of the national security conversations taking place in the U.S., on a bipartisan basis, are propelled by “profit-driven motives,” Kaye said.

Our Broadband Breakfast Live Online events take place on Wednesday at 12 Noon ET. Watch the event on Broadband Breakfast, or REGISTER HERE to join the conversation.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023, 12 Noon ET – Welcoming the Chinese New Year, Navigating a High Tech Cold War

Tensions between the U.S. and China are continuing to grow, and the battle over information technology and policy often appears to be at the heart of the conflict. Chinese telecommunications equipment giant Huawei has been effectively barred from the U.S. market for over a year, and the Federal Communications Commission recently tightened restrictions with a new rule that will keep Huawei, ZTE and other companies from surveilling American citizens. Meanwhile, ByteDance’s TikTok has been banned from U.S. government devices, and some politicians argue that it also should be banned from the devices of its 100 million U.S. users. How will this power struggle play out over the coming year, and what are the implications of both countries’ decisions?

Panelists:

  • Dr. Yangyang Cheng, Research Scholar in Law and Fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center
  • Kate Kaye, Independent Tech Journalist and Writer
  • Drew Clark (moderator), Editor and Publisher, Broadband Breakfast

Panelist resources:

Dr. Yangyang Cheng is a Research Scholar in Law and Fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center, where her work focuses on the development of science and technology in China and US‒China relations. Her essays on these and related topics have appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Atlantic, WIRED, MIT Technology Review, and many other publications. Trained as a particle physicist, she worked on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) for over a decade, most recently at Cornell University and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

Kate Kaye is a tech journalist who tells deeply-reported stories with words and sound. Her work has been published in ProtocolMIT Technology Review, CityLab, OneZero, Fast Company, and many other outlets, and it’s been heard on NPR, American Public Media’s Marketplace and other radio programs and podcasts. Kate covered AI and data as senior reporter for Protocol until the publication suddenly shut down in November 2022.

Drew Clark (moderator) is CEO of Breakfast Media LLC. He has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.

Graphic by Adobe Stock

WATCH HERE, or on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook.

As with all Broadband Breakfast Live Online events, the FREE webcasts will take place at 12 Noon ET on Wednesday.

SUBSCRIBE to the Broadband Breakfast YouTube channel. That way, you will be notified when events go live. Watch on YouTubeTwitter and Facebook

See a complete list of upcoming and past Broadband Breakfast Live Online events.

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Semiconductor Supply Chain Control is Critical, But Export Restrictions May Hurt U.S. Companies, Event Hears

The CHIPS and Science Act, while a good step, should not preclude developing a secure supply chain with other countries.

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Screenshot of Hudson Institute event panelists

WASHINGTON, January 12, 2023 — Gaps in the domestic microelectronics supply chain both expose potential U.S. vulnerabilities and highlight the importance of a multilateral approach with international allies, according to speakers at a Hudson Institute panel on Wednesday.

Semiconductors and microelectronics play a key role in computing, healthcare, military systems and countless other critical applications. But their manufacturing process is extremely complex and relies on a tenuous supply chain with several potential points of failure.

For example, 70 percent of the world’s capacity for photoresist — a light-sensitive polymer that plays an important role in the electronics industry — is concentrated in just four companies, all of which have operations in the same part of Japan, said Neal Anderson, strategy lead for the semiconductor market at chemicals company Chemours.

This is “not necessarily a single point of failure, but when you look at it from a geographic perspective, it presents the same amount of risk,” Anderson explained.

Chemours is the only U.S.-based manufacturer of PFA, a fluoropolymer that is “used pretty ubiquitously across the semiconductor infrastructure and semiconductor fabrication facilities,” Anderson said.

“Earlier this year we became aware of a $35 gasket that was holding up an $80 million tool that was holding up the opening of a semiconductor fab[rication plant]… It just really illustrated the challenges and how one simple piece like that can create fragility across that supply chain.”

In addressing this problem, the U.S. government should refine its priorities for domestic manufacturing and focus on developing “end segments” for critical industries, said Travis Kelly, president and CEO of Isola Group. “Once we define ‘Hey, these are the critical end segments that we want to have a resilient and secure supply chain for,’ we need to figure out what that demand signal is.”

Kelly, who also serves as chairman for the Printed Circuit Board Association of America, noted that recent legislative activity — including last summer’s passing into law of the CHIPS and Science Act, which subsidizes domestic semiconductor manufacturing — is a good step forward. 

However, it could be a mistake to prioritize domestic manufacturing at the expense of developing a secure supply chain between countries with distinct resources and technological advantages, he added. “You can’t bring everything back to the U.S. because that’s too much of a myopic view — it’s a global economy.”

New export restrictions may do more harm than good

An argument often raised in debates about the microelectronics supply chain is that the U.S. has lost its lead, but this applies only in very limited circumstances, said Rich Ashooh, vice president for global government affairs at Lam Research. While the volume manufacturing of chips has largely moved overseas, the U.S. maintains a lead in the tool industry, building the machines for chip fabrication facilities.

“It’s a very small number of companies that integrate these very complex technologies, and that does make for a fragile system, but the system has worked and the US is in the lead,” Ashooh said. “Now… U.S. policymakers have decided to change the system under which that lead was achieved.”

Ashooh was referring to export restrictions announced by the U.S. Commerce Department in October, prohibiting U.S. companies from exporting chip production technology and equipment to China. Industry leaders have warned that these restrictions risk making American companies less competitive in global markets.

“Everyone agrees that semiconductor leadership is a national security concern,” Ashooh said. “But if that’s the case, we need to ask ourselves seriously about whether or not the government is aware that they changed the system overnight and there is no clear replacement for it.”

If the U.S. puts excessive bilateral sanctions on China, this could have the “unintended consequence” of driving innovation in China and causing future problems for the U.S. market, Anderson said. A better approach would be multilateral, with the U.S. working alongside a “regional like-minded coalition.”

The importance of a multilateral approach was echoed by other panelists, including Bryan Clark, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and director of the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology.

If the supply chain is examined “from just the U.S. lens, it gets really complicated… but if you look at this instead as the lens of the U.S. and its allied countries, that seems like a coalition of both customers and providers that may be relatively self-contained,” Clark said.

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CES 2023: China Policy Must Account for Trade Concerns, Commissioner Simington Says

Commissioner Simington stated that the commission was in “a little bit of an emergency phase.”

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – As the Federal Communications Commission regulates to combat foreign cyberthreats, it must remain remain “flexible,” “adaptable,” and “responsive to industry,” Commissioner Nathan Simington told an audience Saturday morning at the Consumer Electronics Show.

Questioned on the FCC’s decision in November to halt its authorizations of foreign communications equipment that is considered dangerous to national security, Simington said that regulators must ensure that America remains open to global technology and trade, even as they strive to protect consumers from foreign surveillance.

The FCC’s action sought to limit U.S.-market access for Chinese technology companies – including Huawei and ZTE  – that have been accused of gathering Americans’ data and making them available to the Chinese Communist Party.

Simington stated that the commission was in “a little bit of an emergency phase.”

“Blanket bans are a tool of limited usefulness,” the commissioner said. “You always give something up when you do a blanket ban – that doesn’t mean it was an inappropriate policy tool at the time it was chosen.” Simington added that the commission should design future initiatives to be maximally permissive while still protecting American security interests.

To secure domestic devices, Simington in December proposed mandating that manufacturers provide iterative updates for their products over a set period of time. The need for robust cybersecurity, particularly since the popularization of Internet of Things devices, has been an oft-occurring theme at CES 2023. On Friday, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., called for increased federal investments in advanced technologies to keep pace with Chinese innovation.

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