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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

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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Broadband Roundup

TikTok Data Concerns, Broadband Data Collection System, Internet Access on COVID-19 Mortality

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is requesting Apple and Google remove the TikTok app over data concerns.

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Photo of Brendan Carr

June 29, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores.

The app is run by ByteDance, a company that is “beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC’s surveillance demands,” read the June 24 letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sunder Pichai.

“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data,” said Carr, calling it a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data” such as search histories, keystroke patterns and biometric identifies.”

Carr claims that TikTok’s pattern of conduct regarding persons in Beijing having access U.S. sensitive data violates policies that both companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on the app stores. “I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms.”

TikTok has assured users that American’s data is being stored in the U.S. but, according to Carr, this statement “says nothing about where that data can be accessed from.”

FCC opens mapping data system for filers early 

The Federal Communications Commission released a public notice on Thursday announcing that filers of broadband availability data in its new maps may obtain early access of the system for registering filer information.

The filing window for the Broadband Data Collection opens June 30, but early access will enable users to register their entities in the system and become familiar with the system before that date, the FCC said.

“We are making this functionality available in advance of the opening of the filing window to enable filers to log in, register, and be ready to enter their availability data as early in the filing window as possible,” read the public notice.

The BDC program is said to help improve broadband mapping data to help funnel federal dollars to where broadband infrastructure is needed. Most fixed and mobile broadband providers will be required to file information in the system, but third parties and government entities are also encouraged.

Impact of internet access on COVID-19 mortality

New analysis released last week by private research university Tufts found that increased broadband access in the United States reduced COVID-19 mortality rates.

“Even after controlling for a host of other socioeconomic factors, a 1 percent increase in broadband access across the U.S. reduced COVID mortality by approximately 19 deaths per 100,000, all things equal,” read the report.

The study also found that the impact was felt more strongly in metro areas, where a 1 percent increase in broadband access reduced the deaths by 36 per 100,000.

By conducting a correlation analysis, Tuft researchers found that broadband access is negatively correlated with COVID mortality, even after controlling for other major factors such as health status, income, race and education.

The study only considered pre-vaccine number to account for inconsistencies.

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