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Montana Democrats Push for Rural Broadband, Hints for Big Tech under Biden, Parler CEO Fired

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Photo of John Matze in Washington in June 2019 by Samira Bouaou of the Epoch Times

February 8, 2021—Montana state Democrats have announced a legislative package that aims to fill the rural broadband gap.

State Rep. Katie Sullivan has introduced LC 2670, a bill that would see the creation of either a broadband manager or an advisory board under the state’s executive.  The goal of this body would be to create a roadmap for future legislation designed to improve broadband infrastructure in Montana.

In addition to outlining plans for the future, Democrats are also trying to determine how best to secure investment in developing broadband infrastructure.

Rep. Tyson Running Wolf has put forward LC 1548, a bill that would seek to establish new lines of credit that could be used to fund various endeavors aimed at enabling broadband expansion. These lines of credit would be overseen by the broadband manager or advisory board Representative Sullivan aims to create.

Additionally, Rep. Derek Harvey has proposed a “dig once” initiative known as LC2940. Like other “dig once” policies from around the country, LC 2940 would require the Montana Department of Transportation to communicate with telecom providers to coordinate road construction and fiber laying activities to minimize cost.

An additional bill in this package is Representative Kelly Kortum’s LC 1539. This legislation would incentivize the production of new tech jobs by allowing communities to purchase broadband infrastructure. In addition to incentivizing tech jobs, this effort would also promote remote work, the bill says.

Adam Kovacevich offers thoughts for a new era of tech

There is no denying that the beginning of the Biden Administration signals the dawn of a new era for the tech industry.

The past four years represented a departure from the Obama Administration’s rose-tinted approach to tech policy, and now it is President Joe Biden’s chance to set the tone for how his administration will approach the issues facing the sector.

In his piece for ProtocolAdam Kovacevich outlined his recommendations for big tech and the course itcan chart alongside the administration. Kovacevich’s first recommendation to big tech was to seek out opportunities to help the Biden Administration accomplish its biggest goals, namely “beating the coronavirus, aggressive action against climate change, [and] tackling racial and income inequality.”

Kovacevich pointed to Amazon’s offer to aid in the distribution of vaccines as a prime example of the actions that this sector can be taking to aid the administration.

Kovacevich also recommended that if tech companies want to accomplish their goals, they need to hitch their wagon to progressive causes. During this administration, tech companies will need to be able to demonstrate that their goals (whether they are producing autonomous vehicles, investing in telemedicine, or expanding broadband coverage) can accomplish Biden’s stated goals, such as reducing inequality and emissions, increasing wages, and improving American infrastructure. Kovacevich points to these policy areas as crucial examples of opportunities that tech companies need to capitalize on.

As the new administration begins to settle in, Kovacevich also advised tech companies to begin to “wave the U.S. flag” and recommit to promoting U.S. interests and leadership on the world stage. He also sought to remind the tech industry that “Democrats like policymaking,” and that they need to be active at the policy-making table if they want to have input on issues such as consumer privacy and addressing the future of Section 230.

Kovacevich’s final piece of advice to the tech industry was to seek out “voluntary wins,” or actions taken by the sector to police themselves so that the federal government does not have to step in and do it.

One such example of the tech industry already engaging in this behavior is Apple dropping Parler, a platform that housed conspiracy theorists, from the Appstore—a move that has been lauded by progressives as taking a stand against extremism.

Parler CEO and founder John Matze out

Parler’s CEO and founder John Matze was fired by the website’s board. This came as the latest twist in the controversial platform’s short history, as it was dropped by Amazon in January following the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, in addition to providing a safe space for extremism and hateful speech.

In an interview with National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, Matze stated that he “did not participate in this decision,” and that he believes that his firing came because of a disagreement he had with conservative donor and board member, Rebekah Mercer.

Matze claimed that his vision for Parler would require the website to crack down on domestic terror groups, those who call for or attempt to incite violence, and even those who disseminate QAnon conspiracies.

Matze stated that he felt as though the Capital riot was a clear indication that Parler had to take a more active role in moderating the content shared on the platform and that things would only get worse if the website failed to act.

Matze’s firing comes at a crucial time as various entities in the tech sector are attempting to navigate how they will work with or against President Biden’s goals during his administration.

Broadband Roundup

EU Passes Digital Regulations, Big Tech Shouldn’t Pay into USF, Christopher Ali Joins Penn State

The European Parliament passed two pieces of legislation that are intended to tackle anticompetitive behavior and content deemed illegal.

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Photo of Thierry Breton, the European Union’s internal market commissioner, via Wikipedia

July 6, 2022 – On Tuesday, the European Parliament passed two pieces of legislation that are intended to tackle anticompetitive behavior and content deemed illegal in the European Union.

The Digital Markets Act focuses on anticompetitive behavior and the Digital Services Act focuses on illegal content. Both are set to take effect in January 2024.

“The EU is the first jurisdiction in the world to set a comprehensive standard for regulating the digital space,” stated Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner.

The new rules could set a global benchmark for tech regulation,” stated a press release.

“The most far-reaching Western efforts to rein in technology companies in at least a generation,” the release added. “They build on the EU’s effort to expand its role as a global tech regulator and offer what proponents say is a road map for digital legislation in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

Trade associations ask FCC to drop idea of Big Tech contributing to USF

Trade associations have again told the Federal Communications Commission not to pursue a possible a decision that may lead to big technology platforms contributing to the Universal Service Fund, according to a news report.

The USF goes to support basic telecommunications in low-income and rural areas of America. The fund requires contributions from voice service providers, which have seen dwindling revenues as the agency seeks comments on how to improve the sustainability of the fund.

According to the news report, trade associations INCOMPAS, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, and the Digital Media Association said that since their last comments on the matter last year, there has been more opposition and no justification for getting the tech platforms to contribute to the fund.

“INCOMPAS, CCIA, and DiMA believe it is time for the FCC to close this aspect of the proceeding so as to not waste any additional resources of the Commission or stakeholders,” the report said.

However, as the USF continues to struggle to get funding, a press release states that as a big tech critic, Commissioner Brendan Carr said big tech should pay the fees to support the USF.

Christopher Ali heading telecom department at Penn State

On June 24, rural broadband expert Christopher Ali was selected to join the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications as the Pioneers Chair in the Department of Telecommunications at Penn State.

According to a press release, Ali has expertise in communications policy and regulation, comparative media systems, rural broadband, critical political economy and geography.

Ali’s current research on broadband policy and deployment in the rural United States includes his latest book, “Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity.”

“He’ll be a wonderful colleague and collaborator, a perfect fit to fulfill Penn State’s land-grant mission. The challenges and issues we’re facing with broadband matter across the commonwealth, and we’re now even better positioned to serve constituencies throughout Pennsylvania,” said Marie Hardin, dean of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

He is scheduled to start this fall, at the start of the 2022-2023 academic year.

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Broadband Roundup

FiberLight Buy, T-Mobile Shuts Down Older Networks, AT&T and Dish Lead US O-RAN Alliance

Digital investment firm Morrison & Co. said it agreed to acquire FiberLight.

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Photo of FiberLight CEO Christopher Rabii

July 5, 2022 – Morrison & Co, a digital investment firm, announced Thursday that it signed an agreement to acquire fiber infrastructure provider FiberLight, which will accelerate the providers’ network expansion, said a press release.

“With our existing backbone infrastructure and unmatched density across the markets we serve, FiberLight is well equipped to deploy a multitude of solutions to ensure our customers can meet their growing bandwidth needs,” said FiberLight CEO Christopher Rabii. “Morrison & Co is our ideal new partner to support our growth strategy due to its commitment of capital and resources and shared belief that fiber infrastructure is the key to bridging the digital divide and rapid expansion.”

FiberLight’s management team will continue to lead the business after the acquisition. The company comprises approximately 18,000 miles of fiber infrastructure in over 30 metropolitan areas in Texas and Northern Virginia.

The acquisition marks Morrison & Co’s first investment in the North American digital infrastructure market, read the press release.

T-Mobile shuts down 3G networks

T-Mobile shut down Sprint 4G networks and its own 3G networks Thursday and Friday to ensure that all its customers are moving to more advanced technologies and to free up resources and spectrum, said T-Mobile’s on its website.

T-Mobile officials estimated on an earnings call in April that around one million devices would be affected. AT&T suggest that its 3G shutdown affected 400,000 postpaid phones and cost operators $300 million. The company said affected customers with 3G devices have the option to upgrade to a new device at no cost.

This follows AT&T’s shutdown of its 3G network on February 22, and Verizon is scheduled to follow suit in December.

T-Mobile has yet to schedule a date to shut down its 2G network.

The company had been under pressure to delay the shut down of Sprint’s 3G network from Dish Network, which was the beneficiary of that company’s wireless assets in the deal that saw T-Mobile purchase Sprint.

AT&T and Dish lead US O-RAN Alliance

AT&T and Dish Network are leading the way in O-RAN Alliance activities in North America this year, said a new release from the organization Thursday.

The O-RAN Alliance is a world-wide community of operators, vendors and academic institutions operating in the Radio Access Network industry. Its mission is to direct the industry toward more intelligent, open, virtualized mobile networks through releasing RAN specifications and open software.

AT&T and Dish hosted O-RAN’s “PoCFest” testing efforts in four locations in the United States in coordination with several universities this year. “More than 20 unique O-RAN components were tested for conformance to O-RAN specifications,” said the release. (Open RAN specifications would open the market to many more telecom equipment vendors, rather than a small handful from proprietary providers.)

While Dish said it is building a 5G network using O-RAN specifications in the United States, AT&T said it has no plans to use the specifications in its US 5G network.

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband Prices Decline, AT&T’s Fiber Build in Texas, Conexon Partners for Build in Georgia

A USTelecom report finds that despite high inflation, broadband prices have been declining.

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Screenshot of Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association

WASHINGTON, June 30, 2022 – A USTelecom report released Wednesday found that broadband prices have been declining, despite high inflation.

The association’s 2022 Broadband Pricing Index Report found that broadband pricing decreased even with significant inflation of an estimated 8 percent in the past year, the most popular broadband prices dropped by 14.7 percent, and the highest speed broadband prices dropped by 11.6 percent from 2021-2022.

“Broadband prices at all speeds have decreased in the last five years,” it said.

The analysis also found that broadband prices are half of what they used to be in 2015. The most popular broadband services decreased by 44.6 percent, while the fastest broadband services decreased their prices by 52.7 percent from 2015-2022.

Lastly, the report found that the “consumer value of broadband services has never been higher.” As providers offer faster speeds at lower prices, the overall value to customers has dramatically improved, it said.

“This is great news for American broadband consumers,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association.

AT&T strikes deal in Amarillo, Texas for fiber project

AT&T struck a deal Wednesday with the city of Amarillo, Texas to extend its fiber reach.

A press release said the $24 million project in Amarillo will cover approximately 22,000 locations.

“The city of Amarillo broadband access plan is one of the more significant technological infrastructure advancements in city history,” said Amarillo mayor Ginger Nelson in the release.

It’s the latest partnership for AT&T, which is planning on reaching upwards of 60,000 locations via public-private partnerships in counties in Indiana, Kentucky and now Amarillo, Texas.

Conexon partners with Georgia electric company for broadband build

Georgia’s Ocmulgee Electric Membership Corporation partnered with internet service provider Conexon Connect on Tuesday to bring reliable, affordable, high-speed fiber broadband to rural Georgia.

The partnership will see the deployment of a network that spans 2,100 miles of fiber to the home for service to up to 8,000 members in centra Georgia, a press release said.

“I commend Ocmulgee EMC and Conexon for this exciting public-private partnership and their commitment to creating value for their communities,” said Governor Brian Kemp in a press release.

The project is estimated to take 2-4 years to complete and is set to start this September. The first customers expected to be connected in early 2023.

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