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Parler Returns Online, Shawnee Gets $22 Million for Illinois Build, Clubhouse’s Quantum Leap

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February 16, 2021 — After being abruptly removed from web servers by tech giants on January 10, the controversial social network Parler returned online on Monday.  

Parler is a social network dominated by right-wing users which, following the removal of former President Trump from Twitter, grew in popularity. It became the number one downloaded app on Apple and Google app stores.

The app was removed by the major app stores and its web host after its executives’ refused to tackle the problem of disinformation that grew on its platform.

The social network was able to get back online with the help of small web-hosting firm SkySilk, and a Russian company through DDoS-Guard, a firm that routes internet traffic and protects websites from cyberattacks. Experts said the concern with that arrangement is that the Russian government would be able to surveil Parler’s users.

On Monday, SkySilk chief executive Kevin Matossian released a statement defending the relationship with Parler saying:

  • SkySilk does not advocate nor condone hate, rather, it advocates the right to private judgment and rejects the role of being the judge, jury, and executioner. Unfortunately, too many of our fellow technology providers seem to differ,” he said. “While we may disagree with some of the sentiment found on the Parler platform, we cannot allow First Amendment rights to be hampered or restricted by anyone or any organization.”

More mainstream social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook expressed concern about the amount of misinformation and disinformation on their platforms when they took direct action to mute those who disseminated false information, hate speech and calls for violence. Since its removal from web servers, Parler has sued Amazon, accusing it of antitrust violations and breaking its contract.

Before the site’s return on Monday, Parler executives had said they were rejected by multiple web-hosting companies that either feared a public-relations backlash or a cyberattack if they agreed to support the site.

Shawnee Communications gets $22 million from Illinois broadband program

Shawnee Communications will get $22 million from the state-run Connect Illinois Program, which includes $7 million from the state.

This partnership brings greater broadband equity, enhanced access to critical health care and employment, and student access to speeds and the reliability necessary for education, especially in these difficult times,” Shawnee Communications CEO Mike Grisham said in a tweeted press release.

The Connect Illinois program was launched in August 2019 by Governor Jay Robert Pritzker as part of the Capital Development initiative to deliver statewide high-speed internet by 2028.

The initiative also includes a $400-million broadband grant program and a $20 million capital program for the Illinois Century Network. The next round of funding was announced in June of 2020 and the second one is accepting applications until March 1 of this year.

More than 2,550 residents in the Saline, Johnson, and Williamson counties will get broadband via an fiber-to-the-home network by 2023.

Projects such as that from Shawnee Communications account for 8 percent of what is termed “well served” municipally-enabled projects, according to a report released last July by consulting firm Altman Solon. The other 92% of well-served municipalities get broadband from private service providers.

The report showed that public and hybrid networks may be a viable way to bring broadband to communities that are not well served.

 Clubhouse’s quantum leap

The Clubhouse social app has become a town square for debates over free speech and politics.

Founded by Paul Davison and Rohan Seth, the San Francisco start-up that allows users to gather in audio chat rooms has raised more than $100 million in funding last month and was valued at $1 billion during a time that the app is still being tested and not widely available. The app’s team currently has an invitation-only policy for new users, so as to make sure “nothing breaks” with a heavy influx of users at once.

Its success – it has so-far been downloaded millions of times – is a product of the pandemic that has cut-off real-life social interactions.

There’s this feeling of access that’s really hard to replicate,” said Andy Annacone, an investor at TechNexus Venture Collaborative, which operates a fund that invested in Clubhouse.

Clubhouse’s success has forced others in the industry to take note of the changing dynamic of social media. Dave Morin, founder of the social network Path, believes this is a new chapter for social media, where different kinds of interactions – such as with audio – come to take their place.

This is a major change in how the social internet works,” Morin said. Facebook and Twitter are already working on similar features to compete with it.

Clubhouse, however, has been tied up with its own issues: it has spawned chatrooms discussing conspiracy theories and disinformation.

China has already blocked the app after the discovery of political conversations that bypassed the communist country’s tight internet controls.

Broadband Roundup

FCC December Agenda, Biden to Visit TSMC plant, Weak Economy Presents Cyber Problem

The December meeting includes digital discrimination prevention, phone service accessibility, and satellite application processes.

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Photo of Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-Hua, via Wikimedia Commons

December 1, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda for the agency’s open meeting on December 21.

The agenda will include digital discrimination prevention, phone service accessibility, and satellite application processes.

The FCC will consider, by vote, whether to have a public comment period on making changes in the satellite and earth station application process, possible requirement of wireless carriers to implement location-based routing on their networks to improve 9-1-1 calls and emergency response times, and next steps to close the digital divide in alignment with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.

Biden to visit TSMC plant in Arizona next week

The White House announced President Joe Biden will visit on December 6 Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s $12 billion semiconductor plant in Phoenix, Arizona, according to Reuters.

TSMC began construction of the plant in mid-2021 and is expecting it to be operational in 2023, according to AZCentral. TSMC is the world’s largest independent manufacturer of microprocessors valued at over $400 billion.

The purpose of Biden’s visit is to promote the domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, a key component in many technologies and a major component of the Chips and Science Act passed this summer. That law provides an incentive of $52 billion to get domestic manufacturing of the chips in the U.S.

Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-Hua told reporters in Taipei that she thinks “…we [TSMC] will form a good supply relationship with the United States,” according to Reuters.

TSMC’s Chair Mark Liu had previously told CNN in August that there is a concern with the rising conflict between China’s recent “reunification” efforts with the sovereign island nation.

“Nobody can control TSMC by force,” Liu said. “If you take a military force or invasion, you will render [the] TSMC factory not operable. Because this is such a sophisticated manufacturing facility, it depends on real-time connection with the outside world, with Europe, with Japan, with U.S., from materials to chemicals to spare parts to engineering software and diagnosis.”

Norton sees economy having impact on cyber vulnerability

The weakening economy will make people more vulnerable to cyber crime in 2023, according to a new report from Norton, a brand of cybersecurity company Gen Digital.

“This year, inflation and other unfavorable macroeconomic factors are likely to make people particularly eager to find good deals and they may therefore be at greater risk than in previous years,” Kevin Roundy, Norton’s researcher and technical director, said in a release.

False government assistance programs, false e-stores and users who create deepfakes – manipulated media to appear like a person is saying or doing something – for romance scams pose a risk for users to disclose personal and financial information, Norton said.

“Taking a few proactive steps today could help you to be safer all year long,” Roundy said.

Norton recommends in a press release that users keep a balanced level of skepticism, avoid using the same password for multiple sites, and implement unphishable factors to two-step authentication, such as device-level security checks – verifying your identity on a different device.

Elsewhere, according to Norton’s cybersecurity analysis for 2023, companies that use weak two-factor authentication systems and/or are short-staffed on information technology support are more vulnerable for data breaches.

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Broadband Roundup

Vermont Challenges FCC Fabric, BTX Gets President, Starlink Performance Dip

Vermont said 22 percent of its known locations don’t appear on the FCC map.

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Starlink graphic from SpaceX website https://www.universetoday.com/156383/starlink-satellites-are-still-bright/

November 30, 2022 – Vermont has challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s preliminary broadband map, saying 11 percent of the FCC location data don’t match Vermont’s own map, according to a story from VTDigger.

Vermont said 22 percent of its known locations don’t appear on the map, according to the story. Vermont created its broadband maps that show 29 percent of houses went underserved last year.

“The difference seems to come from claims on the new FCC maps that satellite and fixed wireless broadband can reach huge numbers of folks—something that is not true in hilly and wooded Vermont,” the story reads.

Other states have created their own maps to challenge the FCC’s map, which was released earlier this month. New York said it is challenging some of the data.

New ISP BTX Fiber has a president

Lit Communities announced Tuesday that Richard Hogue has been named the new president of new subsidiary internet service provider BTX Fiber.

BTX Fiber is building a fiber network to provide high-speed broadband service to Brownsville, Texas. It launched in October and plans to install 100 miles of middle-mile cable and 500 miles of last-mile cable, including plans for other communities throughout the area, a press release said.

Hogue has over 20 years of telecommunications construction and management experience. His most recent position was the general manager of Point Broadband in Maryland.

“Brownsville is quite literally pushing out the leading edge in broadband internet availability to the community. BTX Fiber is thrilled to be crucial to this effort in partnership with the City of Brownsville,” said Hogue.

Starlink performance dropped in third quarter: Ookla

The download speeds of satellite broadband company Starlink dropped 17 percent in the U.S. in the third quarter compared to the last quarter, according to data released by metrics company Ookla on Wednesday.

Median download speeds dipped in the third quarter to 53 Mbps , and dropped by at least 14 percent in Canada.

“Over the past year, as we’ve seen more users flock to sign up for Starlink (reaching 400,000 users worldwide during Q2 2022), speeds have started to decrease,” Ookla writes. “Without a doubt, Starlink often can be a life-changing service for consumers where connectivity is inadequate or nonexistent.

“Even as speeds slow, they still provide more than enough connectivity to do almost everything consumers normally need to do, including streaming 4K video and video messaging. The biggest thing you might have issues with is if you’re trying to play multiplayer online games — even being a low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite, latency still lags far behind low-latency fixed broadband connections,” it added.

Starlink provides global high-speed satellite internet coverage and aims to provide coverage to rural and remote areas. The FCC has already denied Starlink funding from the $9.2 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, in part because of its alleged unreliability. Starlink has since appealed.

In August, Starlink announced its partnership with T-Mobile in an effort to expand cell coverage to remote areas in the US.

Ookla is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Maps Inaccurate on Anchor Institutions, SpaceX Requests Licensing, New Consolidated CFO

SHLB told FCC not all anchor institutions use non-mass market internet providers, which are left out of mapping.

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Photo of John Windhausen, executive director of SHLB

November 29, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s new broadband maps inaccurately flag all community anchor institutions as non-broadband serviceable locations, according to the Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition in an ex-parte letter filed to the FCC on Monday.

According to an FCC website about the map, the agency’s broadband collection “only gathers information on the availability of mass-market broadband internet access service. The Commission has decided that because community anchor institutions generally subscribe to non-mass-market, enterprise-grade services, they would not be identified as BSLs in the initial version of the Fabric.”

But in a meeting with the FCC on November 22, the contents of which are captured in a post-meeting letter, SHLB told the commission that small-scale community institutions – which can include health care facilities, museums, fire stations, K-12 public schools, law enforcement facilities and public libraries – often purchase broadband services from incumbent providers.

If these institutions are not reflected in the map as a result, SHLB said it is concerned that providers will not report on the availability of these services in these locations despite subscription to their service. That could compromise future considerations for these institutions to receive federal broadband funding, according to SHLB.

“We understand that a CAI can challenge an individual location on the current version of the Broadband Map,” SHLB said in the letter. “But the challenge process does not allow a CAI to change its BSL Flag field to ‘True.’ The current location challenge process for a non-BSL location only allows the challenger the ability to change the building type to something other than a CAI (such as a residence or business).

“This process does not explicitly create a separate category for CAIs that subscribe to mass-market services, and will be confusing or misleading for many CAIs, as well as for anyone attempting to track broadband availability at CAI locations.”

SHLB is recommending the FCC’s next version of the fabric – the data underlying the maps – to include these institutions as BSL’s by default, “with the ability to flag locations that subscribe to enterprise services as non-BSL.”

SpaceX urges FCC move quickly on spectrum licensing

SpaceX has requested the FCC grant the company spectrum licenses “expeditiously” for their next generation of satellite broadband services, according to a letter to the FCC on November 23, which followed a meeting call.

“During the calls, SpaceX sought a status update on its Gen2 license application and urged the Commission to grant that application expeditiously and thereby enable rapid deployment of next-generation satellite broadband to American consumers and businesses, no matter where they are,” the letter said.

SpaceX acknowledged the FCC on recent orders, including reducing post-mission orbital life from 25 years to five to mitigate orbital debris.

“SpaceX also appreciates the Commission’s efforts to act on SpaceX’s proposal for fostering competition through updated rules that incentivize spectrum efficiency and good faith coordination among [Non-Geostationary Orbit] systems and urges the Commission to adopt these principles while using a Further Notice to better focus the record and determine what courses of action or defining criteria are appropriate,” the letter said.

Consolidated Communications hires new CFO

Internet service provider Consolidated Communications announced Tuesday it has hired former Comcast executive Fred Graffam as its executive vice president and chief financial officer starting December 1.

Graffam will replace Steve Childers, who stays with the company on an advisory basis until December 31, the company said in a press release.

“Fred has an exceptional track record of creating value with subscription-based communication service providers,” said Consolidated CEO Bob Udell. “His business acumen, industry, and public company expertise as well as his operating experience make him well qualified to help lead Consolidated as we continue the transformation to a fiber-first broadband Company. I’m incredibly pleased to welcome Fred to Consolidated during this pivotal transformation period.”

Graffam said in a statement that, “I strongly believe in Consolidated’s strategy to bring an exceptional fiber broadband service experience to its customers and look forward to helping the Company capitalize on the [fiber-to-the-premises] opportunity and create value for our stakeholders.”

Graffam previously was senior vice president of the North America/Asia Pacific regions at Level 3 Communications and served in finance and operating roles at Comcast. He has over 30 years in financial management, operational leadership and accounting expertise in the tech and telecom files for public and private companies, according to the release. He was most recently executive vice president and CFO at Brinks Home Security.

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