March 30, 2021 – With a change in administration comes a change in the party leadership structure for federal agencies, but that won’t sway the bipartisan tradition at the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission, according to the acting chairs of those agencies.
At a Federal Communications Bar Association event held Monday to celebrate Women’s History Month, the all-female panel of leaders spoke on the important bipartisan work their commissions were doing during the new Biden administration’s first few months in office.
“When we all work together, we go further and get more done,” Jessica Rosenworcel, Acting Chairwoman of the FCC, said in response to a question about political discord. Turning down the volume and finding ways to work in harmony will lead to success, she said.
Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, acting chairwoman at the FTC, expressed similar sentiment. There is a difference between strongly-held policy disagreements and personal vitriol, she said. Although we’ve had disagreements on policy, we maintain good relationships, she said, and those relationships are important to identifying where consensus is possible.
Both the FCC and FTC are comprised of five commissioners, selected by the president and approved by the senate. Three of the five members always share the current president’s political party. Because Joe Biden won the 2020 election, the majority party on each commission shifted from Republican to Democrat.
That’s not to say there aren’t disagreements, however, and how we see remedies and approach rulemaking at the FTC is “likely to change,” Slaughter said. She focused on a “whole-of-agency” approach to the challenges that have arisen from the COVID-19 pandemic, entering on racial justice and equity. Focus on COVID response and racial justice don’t need to be mutually exclusive, she said.
Slaughter added other challenges to that list, including ensuring small businesses have a fair competitive opportunity against big companies, issues with data privacy and telehealth, and fraud.
Congress has not been quiet about giving the FCC new responsibilities and challenges, Rosenworcel said, and we need to make those challenges a priority. Over $10 billion in funding has been appropriated for broadband programs for the agency to disburse, including the new Emergency Broadband Benefit Program and the Emergency Connectivity Fund. “We’re going to make a meaningful dent in the digital divide,” she said.
For Evelyn Remaley at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, they have the challenge of distributing three new grant programs funded through the Consolidated Appropriations Act, the Broadband Infrastructure Program, the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and the Connecting Minority Communities Program, aimed at expanding broadband for underserved Americans, including tribal lands, rural areas and minority communities.
A focus on female leadership
As a key component of the FCBA event was celebrating Women’s History Month, the three panelists were asked what it means to be a woman in their leadership positions.
Working during the pandemic has blurred the lines between work and home life, Remaley said. Men and women need to find ways to balance work and home and to be more productive in both, she said. We need to continue expanding our definition of leadership and bring in more diverse voices, she said, and that’s not unique to just women — men recognize this as well in leadership.
Slaughter, who gave birth to a child within days of getting her job at the FTC in 2018, said it’s an exciting challenge to balance work and family life, and provided her a unique opportunity to exemplify that the FTC is a workplace that values personal life as well. Having a personal life outside of work is important, and contributes to being a better at work, she said.
Being the only female commissioner at the FCC, that’s something you notice, Rosenworcel said. She expressed desire to see greater diversity at the agency, saying that more diversity leads to better decisions. She quoted Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress in 1968: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” That’s great professional advice, Rosenworcel said.
Both Remaley and Slaughter said they thought of the many unheard-of women who have paved the way for them to be where they are now, including Slaughter’s grandma who worked as a secretary in the senate and whom she had never met.
FCC Votes on Proposals Ranging From Emergency Response to SIM Swap Fraud in Open Meeting
The agency held an open meeting Thursday to hammer out votes on a range of issues.
WASHINGTON, September 30, 2021 — The Federal Communications Commission voted in an open meeting Thursday on several items, including expanding the E-Rate program and addressing SIM swap fraud and robocalls.
The commission voted to increase backup power to networks in case of emergencies and natural disasters and update outage reporting requirements. This follows an aggressive response from the agency during Hurricane Ida. The federal government lost $284 million of productivity during the winter storms last year.
Targeting robocalls from overseas, the FCC passed a set of rules for gateway voice service providers. Gateway providers will be asked to block calls from numbers the FCC lists, to authenticate caller ID and to submit to the FCC a certification of the practices they are using to block robocalls. This follows the June 30 deadline for large voice service providers to implement the STIR/SHAKEN regime, which requires telecoms to work to limit robocalls and ID spoofing or face fines and penalties.
In an effort to reduce SIM swapping and port-out fraud, rules were proposed which would require carriers to adhere to a set of secure methods of authenticating the identity of a customer before moving a customer’s phone number to another carrier or device.
SIM swapping is the act of identity theft whereby a person convinces a wireless carrier to transfer a victim’s cell service into the thief’s possession. Port-out fraud is when the thief creates an account with a new carrier and convinces the victim’s carrier to port out the victim’s service to the new carrier.
The notice also proposes that customers be alerted immediately whenever a SIM change or port request is made under a customer’s identity and account. FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel quoted senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, stating that “consumers are at the mercy of wireless carriers when it comes to being protected against SIM swaps.”
The FCC also updated the definition of library to include tribal libraries for use with their E-rate program, following a 2018 law from Congress. Many tribal libraries under the law were excluded from the program, which subsidizes broadband for schools and libraries, for over 20 years. Only 15 percent of tribal libraries reported having received E-Rate support.
The FCC also adopted and made transparent a series of questions that will be asked of foreign-owned companies wishing to participate in the US telecommunications market.
Questions include whether the applicants or investors have been charged with felonies, been subject to penalties for violating regulations of the US government, have undergone bankruptcy, are on the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list and more.
FCC Commissioner Simington Says Universal Fiber to the Home Can Wait
Simington also raised idea of Big Tech contributing to Universal Service Fund.
WASHINGTON, September 29, 2021 – Federal Communications Commissioner Nathan Simington said Tuesday that adoption issues for fiber is delaying the need to make universal fiber to the home a priority right now.
“I think we can push back on fiber to the home universally, at least in noting that there are edge cases and adoption issues there and that some degree of wireless is going to have to be part of the broadband future,” Simington said in a one-on-one conversation with the Internet Innovation Alliance.
A large part of the discourse surrounding the future of broadband expansion in the country is what kinds of technologies are most prudent to ensure connectivity now and scalability in the future. The Wireless Industry Association has pressed the fact that multiple technologies, including wireless, have a play in broadband’s future, while the Fiber Broadband Association and others have said fiber buildout is the best, most scalable technology.
The last mile, where the cable physically attaches to the home or business, was said at the Digital Infrastructure Investment conference this week to be a goal for broadband expansion.
But Simington said that while fiber is a “robust technology,” there’s a chunk of Americans that may not want it.
“I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there are some users who are not particularly interested in fiber,” Simington said. “That might be people who are, for example, device-only users and they don’t want a home broadband connection — that’s about 20 percent of the national population (of broadband users), although the question of want is sort of up in the air.
“Obviously to a person who is device-only, the only use that fiber would have would be to provide hotspot. And if you’re spending your entire day out and about working, what matters to you is having adequate wireless coverage in your area,” he added.
Simington touches on Universal Service Fund
Modernizing the Universal Service Fund has been one of the hot topics for broadband this year. The fund, which extends basic telecom services to all Americans, has been called unsustainable due to its reliance on shrinking voice revenues.
Some have suggested that the fund’s reliance be wholesale replaced with general taxation from Congress, while others have said that the fund’s revenue base should be extended to include the increasing broadband revenues.
Simington prefaced his comments by saying he didn’t want to get ahead of Congress, which would set the parameters of a new regime, but raised previous recommendations – including from FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr – that part of the money can come from big technology companies, like Facebook and Google.
“We might also say that there are companies that have built their model on there being universal broadband and have been the beneficiaries of the buildout without having to do much to contribute to it…that’s something that has been raised on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
He added that another approach “would simply be to say that broadband is essentially the equivalent of a telephone service back in the day and therefore we are going to put it on everyone’s broadband bill instead of on the relatively small installed base of phone line subject to the USF. That would certainly be one approach. It would smooth things out somewhat, it would presumably broaden the base very substantially.”
In any case, Simington said the USF is “absolutely vital” and that it’s failure would be “at minimum…immensely disruptive.”
Spectrum strategies and future technologies
In his roughly hour-long chat, Simington touched on a myriad of other issues before the FCC, including the future of satellite technologies, spectrum strategies, and funding for programs to deliver telecommunications services to all Americans.
The commissioner noted that the FCC is prioritizing clearing spectrum for technologies including the next-generation 5G networks, and that the agency is looking to “squeeze every drop” of mid-band frequencies for that end. The FCC has already held a number of auctions for mid-band spectrum, including its massive C-Band auction.
FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said earlier this year that the mid-band spectrum is a priority for the agency over millimeter wave spectrum to close the digital divide.
Simington also said spectrum sharing will increase as technological advances are made. The FCC is fielding comments about how to handle the 12 GHz spectrum band, which is effectively pitting satellite providers who say it can’t be shared and 5G providers who say that it can.
Biden Looks to Bedoya to Replace Rohit Chopra on FTC, Report Says
Staunch privacy advocate Alvaro Bedoya appears to be Joe Biden’s pick for the FTC, Axios reports.
WASHINGTON, September 13, 2021—President Joe Biden is expected to bring on privacy stalwart Alvaro Bedoya for the open seat on the Federal Trade Commission, according to reporting from Axios.
Born in Peru and raised in New York, Bedoya attended Harvard University where he received his B.A. in Social Studies. He also holds a J.D. from Yale.
A longtime supporter of consumer privacy rights, Bedoya is the founding director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law. Previously, he served as chief counsel of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. While working in the Senate, much of his work centered on location and biometric privacy with regard to consumer protections.
As it stands now, there are three Democrats and two Republicans on the commission. In January of 2021, Biden tapped Rohit Chopra to serve as the Director of the Consumer Protection Bureau. Though Chopra’s term on the FTC expired in 2019, the commission allows incumbent members to sit until a replacement is appointed—in this case, Bedoya.
The Washington Post quoted Republican FTC commissioner Noah Phillips speaking fondly of Bedoya. “I don’t think of him as a person who just gets up and rants about entities he doesn’t like,” and described him as “without fail as bright and thoughtful a person as you could find.”
Phillips has been broadly critical of the direction he feels the FTC is going and has historically criticized political firebrands on both sides of the aisle.
As Big Tech faces mounting criticism from both Republicans and Democrats with regard to privacy, misinformation, and alleged censorship, Bedoya will be entering a tumultuous era for the FTC.
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