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.”
Faster Rural Broadband Bill, Tools For Robocalls, Opposition To Instagram For Kids
Senators introduce rural broadband legislation, FCC tackles robocalling, advocates ask Facebook to stop developing Instagram for kids.
April 15, 2021 – Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana and Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, introduced the “Accelerating Rural Broadband Deployment Act” Wednesday to increase access to existing infrastructure that will allow easier and faster installation of broadband services.
The legislation, S.1113, would make it easier for broadband companies to receive federal right-of-way licenses to install broadband alongside existing infrastructure like federal highways, ensure costs of federal right-of-way licenses are fair market prices and increase transparency into the federal right-of-way license awarding process, according to the news release.
“Broadband coverage is essential to rural states like Montana as we work to close the digital divide. It helps support jobs, connects folks in every corner of our state, and makes life easier for working families,” Daines said in a statement. “I’m glad to work across the aisle on this commonsense, bipartisan legislation that will help expedite broadband deployment across Montana by capitalizing on existing infrastructure.”
“Broadband access is not just about staying connected, it’s how small businesses, hospitals, and students thrive in today’s economy,” Kelly said. “I’ve spoken to so many Arizonans, especially in rural areas, who have faced challenges because of poor internet access, and that’s why I worked with Republicans and Democrats to introduce this legislation that will cut red tape and help broadband projects move faster in rural communities. Every Arizonan deserves reliable broadband access.”
Several broadband organizations expressed support for the legislation, including the Internet and Television Association, the Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom, Advocates for Rural Broadband, Montana Telecommunications Association and Blackfoot Communications.
FCC calls on carriers to ensure free tools for consumers to protect against robocalls
Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Tuesday the agency’s efforts to protect consumers from unwanted and scam robocalls and spoofed calls.
The FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau wrote to major phone companies and issued a public notice to ask about what free robocall blocking tools they make available to consumers. The bureau seeks to learn more about the tools available to consumers, their effectiveness, and any potential impact on 911 services and public safety.
“No one wants more unwanted robocalls in their life. I’m proud that we continue to find new ways to use all the tools at our disposal to make it clear to illegal robocallers that their days are numbered. We want them to know that we’re advocating on behalf of consumers everywhere to put an end to these calls,” Rosenworcel said.
Additionally, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued two more cease-and-desist letters to phone service providers suspected of facilitating robocalls that market auto warranties and credit card debt reduction service, or falsely claim to be from the Social Security Administration or other well-known companies.
The robocall cease-and-desist letters instruct the voice providers to investigate and, if necessary, cease transmitting the identified traffic immediately and take steps to prevent its network from continuing to be a source of apparently illegal robocalls.
Lastly, Rosenworcel announced the launch of a new effort to track the agency’s actions to implement the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act). The new webpage outlines the agency’s progress in using its strengthened enforcement authority, progress on updated call blocking rules, and steps taken to implement new Caller ID authentication technology. It also details the agency’s work to address one-ring scams, protect hospitals from illegal robocalls, and establish a reassigned numbers database.
Advocates Ask Facebook to stop development of an Instagram for kids
A coalition of almost 100 experts and advocates globally wrote a letter Thursday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to abandon the company’s plans to build an Instagram for kids under 13, reported USA Today.
Instagram, the popular social media app, currently does not allow users under the age of 13. Zuckerberg confirmed during a March congressional hearing that a new ‘Instagram for kids’ app was in the planning stage.
The advocates, led by several organizations including the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Humane Technology, Common Sense Media and the Center for Digital Democracy, wrote their concerns to Zuckerberg, saying that the app “preys on their fear of missing out as their ravenous desire for approval by peers exploits their developmental growth,” reported the USA Today article.
“The platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and well-being,” the letter said. “Younger children are even less developmentally equipped to deal with these challenges, as they are learning to navigate social interactions, friendships, and their inner sense of strengths during this crucial window of development.”
During the March 25 congressional hearing when asked about the new app, Zuckerberg defended social media apps, saying they are a positive way for people to connect with each other. He also said the details of a kids’ version of Instagram was still being ironed out.
Members of Congress are also concerned about Facebook’s plans for a new children’s app. Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Kathy Castor, D-Florida, and Lori Trahan, D-Mass., wrote a letter to Zuckerberg on April 5 requesting details on the company’s plans.
Broadband Report Cards, Washington Muni Networks Bill, Supreme Court Fair Use Winners
AP releases infrastructure report cards, Washington passes bill removing muni networks limits, AEI says fair use case win for programmers.
April 14, 2021— The Associated Press has released documents compiling report cards outlining infrastructure weaknesses in each state, including the state of broadband.
Mississippi is trailing behind the rest of the country in broadband coverage, the documents show, with 23 percent of Mississippians lacking a broadband subscription, compared to 6 percent nationally. Mississippi received a “D+” overall on it “infrastructure report card.”
Mississippi’s broadband coverage was only narrowly beaten by New Mexico and Arkansas with 21 and 20 percent of their populations lacking coverage, respectively.
The only region that performed worse than Mississippi in broadband coverage was Puerto Rico, where 40 percent of the population does not have access to a broadband subscription.
On the other end, Washington is leading the way in broadband coverage, with just 8.8 percent of Washingtonians lacking access to broadband services. Despite its leadership in this regard, Washington still only earned a “C” on its report card.
Washington was closely followed by Colorado and Utah, which both have populations without broadband under ten percent, at 9 percent and 9.2 percent, respectively.
Improving these numbers is part of the Biden Administration’s effort to ensure that every American has access to high-speed broadband.
Municipal networks triumph as Washington legislature rolls back regulations
Washington’s legislature voted Sunday to undo what Democratic Rep. Drew Hansen called “decades of bad policy” by passing a bill that allows municipalities to build their own broadband networks.
HB 1336, which was passed the state’s senate mostly along party lines, had Republican Brad Hawkins side with the Democrats to pass the bill.
According to Hansen, Washington was one of only 18 states that had laws preventing the state from providing broadband to its citizens.
Momentum for municipal broadband has been picking up in the state during the pandemic, where it has become clear that telework, telehealth and distance learning could no longer be approached as luxuries and need to be viewed as services that are integral to modern society.
“The pandemic has made it unmistakably clear,” Hansen said, “that is long past time to lift those restrictions and allow government to offer broadband directly to the public.”
Supreme Court fair use decision victory for programmers
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision for Google, Michael Rosen of the American Enterprise Institute predicts the ruling as a victory for programmers.
Google’s argument that it satisfied fair use law because its use of some 12,000 lines of code from Oracle, which it said was used to craft a “new and transformative program” was accepted by the highest court in the land earlier this month. Fair use rules allow limited use of copyright material without permission for purposes including research and scholarship.
In a piece published by AEI Tuesday, Rosen said the conclusion to this decade-long struggle would make it easier for software developers to copy code during the creation of new products—something that Google argued is already common practice in the industry.
Rosen also pointed to the Computer and Communications Industry Association’s comment on the matter, which seemed to echo Google’s; both the CCIA and Google stated that, chiefly, this was a victory for consumers and interoperability at large.
All this considered, Rosen still tempered expectations, stating that the ruling was “unlikely to mark a fundamental change in how we conceive of computer code copyright issues.”
Speed And Mapping Bills, LinkedIn Data Harvested, Facebook Tackles Fake Review Groups
Delgado’s speed and mapping bills, 500M LinkedIn accounts for sale, and 16,000 Facebook groups axed for fake reviews.
April 13, 2021 — On Monday, Representative Antonio Delgado, D-NY, reintroduced the Broadband Speed Act, which would require internet service providers to report accurate, yearly speed data to the Federal Communications Commission and introduced a new bill to improve flawed broadband mapping.
“Our rural communities need broadband internet that is accessible, reliable, and matches their internet needs,” said Delgado. “Slow broadband speeds are untenable for our young students taking classes online, web-based small business owners, and families working from home. The Broadband Speed Act would require internet service providers to deliver accurate speed data — not inaccurate estimates.”
Enforcing the Broadband Speed Act would require internet service providers to report to the FCC the actual speed they can provide, rather than the maximum speed that might be possible in 7-10 business days under the current law.
The FCC would use this data to determine which broadband connectivity areas offer the speeds advertised and which areas have gaps in service. This bill also requires that new FCC funding awards be used for speeds of 100 Mbps or greater.
The new bill to improve flawed broadband mapping was introduced as a bipartisan bill to address the digital divide and provide broadband service at affordable prices for rural Americans. It corrects mistakes in federal broadband mapping practice and empowers local communities to dispute incorrect FCC claims regarding internet service status, the bill said.
“Flawed service maps compiled by the FCC paint an inaccurate picture of upstate broadband access,” said Delgado. “The Community Broadband Mapping Act gives our communities the ability to collect their data on broadband coverage so that they can challenge the FCC’s inaccurate mapping. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, folks live without a reliable internet connection in the wealthiest county in the world. As the pandemic has made even more clear, broadband service isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity.”
The Community Broadband Mapping Act grants USDA Rural Utility Service grants to local governments, electric/telephone groups, economic development organizations, and small internet providers so that they can collect information on local broadband coverage. This will provide communities incorrectly identified by the FCC as having broadband access with the information they need to contest the FCC’s designation.
500 million LinkedIn Account Numbers Are Up For Sale on a Hacker Site
According to LinkedIn, data harvested from 500 million profiles are part of a database for sale on a site popular with hackers, CNN reports.
In the first report to surface about the sale, CyberNews said that an archive was being offered for auction on a forum, including user IDs, names, emails, phone numbers, genders, professions, and links to social networks.
LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, said the data for sale is an “aggregation from several websites and companies.” The LinkedIn user data does not include any information other than what has been made public on users’ profiles, according to LinkedIn.
“This is not a LinkedIn data breach, and no private member account data from LinkedIn was included in what we’ve been able to review,” the company said.
“When anyone tries to take member data and use it for purposes LinkedIn and our members haven’t agreed to, we work to stop them and hold them accountable,” LinkedIn added in a statement.
Thousands of Facebook Groups Have Been Removed for Trading Fake Reviews
Facebook has removed 16,000 groups for posting fake reviews on its platform in the United Kingdom, following criticism by the country’s regulator.
Facebook signed a deal with the Competition and Markets Authority in January 2020 to “better identify, investigate and remove pages and groups that have fake and misleading reviews, and prevent them re-appearing.”
Several unscrupulous traders engaged in a practice of buying fake positive reviews to boost sales on e-commerce sites – or leaving negative reviews on competitors’ sites – which was frequently coordinated on Facebook and Instagram, the CMA found.
Although Facebook agreed to act, a follow-up investigation showed that the “illegal trade in fake reviews” was continuing, the CMA said, and it had to intervene for a second time.
“Facebook must package size and scope all it can to stop the trading of such content on its platforms,” said Andrea Coscelli, the chief executive of the CMA. “After we intervened again, the company made significant changes – but it is disappointing it has taken them over a year to fix these issues.
If a user “repeatedly” creates fake review groups, Facebook asserts that it will suspend or ban the users and introduce new technology that flags affected review groups all by themselves. Facebook announced that finding and joining fake review groups will be more challenging.
“We have engaged extensively with the CMA to address this issue. Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews. Our safety and security teams are continually working to help prevent these practices,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
- Huawei’s Success In China A Win For Washington, Expert Says
- Partnerships And Trust Go Long Way To Securing Financing For Broadband Projects, Panelists Say
- Faster Rural Broadband Bill, Tools For Robocalls, Opposition To Instagram For Kids
- Telecoms Should Actively Build Broadband Infrastructure Through Road Developments
- Openreach Partners With STL For Fiber Build
- FCC to Vote On Emergency Connectivity Fund Policies By Mid-May: Rosenworcel
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