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CARES Focused on Learning, States Alone on Privacy Laws, Texas’ Broadband Problem

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Photo of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

March 17, 2021 — Officials administering the Coronovirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES) prioritized immediate digital learning over long-term broadband deployment to help close the digital divide, according to a study released Monday by the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition.

The study, by Bailey McHale and Abigail Simmerman at SHLB, found “over half of the spending focused on digital learning for K-12 students, while a third was spent on broadband infrastructure.”

President Joe Biden signed the $1.98 trillion American Rescue Plan Act into law on Thursday . It provides $7 billion in E-Rate funding that extends internet subsidies to households.

Though welcomed by many, McHale and Simmerman report that “some believe that the March 2020 [CARES Act] already took care of the connectivity gap. After all, the legislation included significant capital to connect students at home…Yet nearly a year later, the nation still struggles with the digital divide.”

The two SHLB interns found that 43 states used some CARES Act funding for broadband on top of the two federal programs administered by the FCC and USDA—Lifeline and the Emergency Broadband Benefit programs.

South Dakota’s ’s K-12 Connect program stood out as an example where short-term and long-term needs were addressed by working with telecom companies to provide direct services to homes, while still giving free internet service to eligible K-12 students during the 2020-21 school year.

States going it alone on privacy legislation

Instead of looking to Congress to pass federal legislation for comprehensive data privacy laws, a growing number of states are going it alone, following California’s lead, which began enforcing its own net neutrality rules last February.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) signed the Consumer Data Protection Act into law earlier this month, joining Florida, Minnesota, New York, Oklahoma, and Washington State which had similar laws passed.

Writing for Perspectives for the Free State Foundation, Andrew Long said “the adoption of rival state data privacy laws similarly might drive companies to abide a Frankenstein’s monster assembled from the most onerous privacy regulatory requirements.” This would cause confusion among consumers and would cause “unreasonably burdensome and unjustifiably costly compliance obligations,” he said.

The federal government should thoroughly check these state-by-state approaches, because left unchecked, they can hurt effective compliance and “leave consumers uncertain as to their rights,” he said.

Long added that internet traffic knows no political, national, or international boundaries, and called for a “single set of data privacy rules” that should uniformly govern the United States.

9 million Texans don’t have broadband

March 17, 2021 – The Texas Tribune has reported on March 8 that some 9 million Texans don’t have broadband internet. This is due to broadband infrastructure not even reaching their homes or because Texans simply aren’t subscribed to a service.

Texas is one of six states that does not have a broadband plan to close the digital divide. According to a 2019 analysis of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, four of the five least connected cities in the country are in Texas.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott this year has designated broadband access as a top priority this legislative session to address internet access across the state.

A lot of the “digital divide” talk focuses on extending broadband to rural areas of the country, but there are needs in urban, too. In Harris County, nearly 200,000 households still don’t have internet in their homes, according to the Census Bureau. The six biggest urban counties in Texas have over 590,000 households with no internet subscriptions.

Jennifer Harris, the state program director for Connected Nation Texas, a broadband promotion organization, said that the challenge in rural areas of the state is definitely big, but urban challenges are overlooked.

Not only is it a challenge to get people connected or subscribed, ensuring they can even pay for broadband is a significant issue.

Income levels and race may be correlated to broadband access. According to the Pew Research Center, 44 percent of adults in households nationwide that earn $30,000 or less don’t have broadband.  A February report from the Texas Comptroller’s Office found that almost 90 percent of non-Hispanic whites in Texas have broadband access, compared to 80 percent of Black Texans and 78 percent of Hispanic Texans.

In calling for more resources and training for communities of color, Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, said “Federal resources have been allocated to rural areas and rural areas in the United States are mostly white. So those resources are not being distributed among the diversity of our population.”

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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Broadband Roundup

AT&T and DISH Agreement, FCC Adds More States in Robocall Fight, $50M from Emergency Connectivity Fund

Dish said its customers will now have access to AT&T’s gigabit fiber services.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

May 19, 2022 – On Wednesday, AT&T and Dish Network announced an internet distribution agreement in which Dish customers will have access to AT&T internet services, including its gigabit fiber services.

“Adding AT&T Internet to our robust lineup of TV and home integration services enhances our ability to provide better overall service, technology and value to our customers,” Amir Ahmed, executive vice president of DISH TV, said in a press release.

“At AT&T, we’re constantly thinking of ways we can better serve and provide for our customers. Through this new arrangement with DISH, we’re able to do just that by seamlessly offering our super-fast broadband services to more customers across the nation,” said Jenifer Robertson, executive vice president and general manager of mass markets at AT&T Communications.

“This is another step towards our goal of becoming the best broadband provider in America,” said Robertson.

FCC adds more state partners to tackle illegal robocalls

The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday new partnerships with nine additional state attorneys general to combat illegal robocalls.

The agency said Iowa, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have all signed on to help with robocall investigations.

That raises the number of states that have signed a memoranda of understanding with the FCC to 36, after the agency last month signed on a handful more states for the initiative. The agency has already credited at least one state with helping it nail one suspected robocall violator.

As part of the agreement, the parties will “share evidence, coordinate investigations, pool enforcement resources, and work together to combat illegal robocall campaigns and protect American consumers from scams,” according to the FCC.

“We are better positioned to help protect consumers from scammers than ever before,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Together we are stronger. Together we will continue our work to protect American consumers.”

The FCC already has robocall investigation agreements with Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

FCC commits additional $50 million from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The FCC announced on Wednesday that it has approved an additional $50 million from the Emergency Connectivity Fund program that is intended to help students with virtual learning.

The FCC said this funding will go to help 46 schools, seven libraries and two consortia across the country for students in American Samoa, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The FCC estimates that, so far, nearly $4.9 billion has been committed to connect over 12.6 million students across the country.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel added in a press release that “this program is providing funding for nearly 11 million connected devices and 5 million broadband connections throughout the country and moving us closer toward closing the Homework Gap.

“With help from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, millions of students across the country now have online tools to support their education,” added Rosenworcel.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC June Meeting, Ookla Speeds at Airports, FCC Cautioned About Overstepping on Digital Discrimination

The FCC laid out its agenda for the June open meeting.

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Screenshot of TechFreedom President Berin Szóka

May 18, 2022 – In a press release Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda for its June 2022 open meeting.

The FCC will explore ideas for wireless innovation at sea following increasing demand for spectrum to support offshore operations. The FCC will consider offshore spectrum policies to ensure efficient use of scarce spectrum resources.

In 2018, the FCC launched an inquiry to explain why some wireless 911 calls were misrouted to the wrong call center. The past four years showed a decrease in the frequency of this error but not its elimination. The FCC will seek comment on improvements that would reduce misrouted 911 calls and improve emergency response time.

During the June open meeting, the FCC will also consider preserving established local radio programming on FM6 radio service, if they meet certain conditions.

Ookla speedtest shows divide on speeds for Wi-Fi at airports

Analytics company Ooka analyzed airport Wi-Fi speeds at some of the busiest airports in the world and found that all surveyed airports met the recommended speed for streaming on mobile, but found a large divide between them.

The four fastest free airport Wi-Fis were all located in the United States: San Francisco International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, and Chicago O’Hare International. Following that came Dubai International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and Los Angeles International.

According to Speedtest Intelligence data, there is a wide gap between median speeds of the first 8 airports and the other airports on the list with the fasted being 176.25 Mbps. Airport lounges were found to have faster Wi-Fi on average than the airport itself.

Ookla, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, used its Speedtest Intelligence, which provides global insights into fixed broadband and mobile performance data using billions of consumer-initiated tests.

Tech lobbyists says FCC must not overstep authority to prevent digital discrimination

Tech lobbyist TechFreedom filed comments on Monday claiming that the Federal Communication Commission is overstepping its authority to regulate digital discrimination, following the FCC’s inquiry on how to prevent such a practice.

“If Congress had wanted the FCC to implement a new civil right law for broadband, it would have legislated a clear prohibition on discrimination – the essential element in all civil rights laws,” TechFreedom President Berin Szóka said in a release. “Instead, Congress wrote a law entirely about ‘facilitation.’”

The FCC’s inquiry follows an order under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to make rules to “facilitate” equal access to broadband and “prevent digital discrimination.”

“It is simply not plausible that Congress could have intended to change how broadband deployment is regulated in an obscure amendment tacked onto a spending bill on the Senate floor with no discussion or legislative history,” Szóka argued.

He concluded that there are other routes the FCC can take to prevent digital discrimination and facilitate equal access. Szóka called on the commission to “focus on directing funding towards remedying unequal access to broadband and preventing potential digital discrimination- not only under the infrastructure act but also the FCC’s various other broadband programs.”

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