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Chairs Of FCC and FTC Point To Achievable Common Grounds Amid Political Discord

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Screenshot taken from FCBA event

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.

Challenges ahead

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.

5G

Innovation Fund’s Global Approach May Improve O-RAN Deployment: Commenters

The $1.5 billion Innovation Fund should be used to promote global adoption, say commenters.

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Illustration about intelligent edge computing from Deloitte Insights

WASHINGTON, February 2, 2023 – A global approach to funding open radio access networks will improve its success in the United States, say commenters to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The NTIA is seeking comment on how to implement the $1.5 billion appropriated to the Public Wireless Supply Chain Innovation Fund as directed by the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022. The grant program is primarily responsible for supporting the promotion and deployment of open, interoperable, and standards-based radio access networks. 

Radio access networks provide critical technology to connect users to the mobile network over radio waves. O-RAN would create a more open ecosystem of network equipment that would otherwise be reliant on proprietary technology from a handful of companies.  

Global RAN

Commenters to the NTIA argue that in order for O-RAN to be successful, it must be global. The Administration must take a “global approach” when funding projects by awarding money to those companies that are non-U.S.-based, said mobile provider Verizon in its comments.  

To date, new entrants into the RAN market have been the center for O-RAN development, claimed wireless service provider, US Cellular. The company encouraged the NTIA to “invest in proven RAN vendors from allied nations, rather than focusing its efforts on new entrants and smaller players that lack operational expertise and experience.” 

Korean-based Samsung Electrontics added that by allowing trusted entities with a significant U.S. presence to compete for project funding and partner on those projects, the NTIA will support standardizing interoperability “evolution by advancing a diverse global market of trusted suppliers in the U.S.” 

O-RAN must be globally standardized and globally interoperable, Verizon said. Funding from the Public Wireless Innovation Fund will help the RAN ecosystem mature as it desperately needs, it added.  

Research and development

O-RAN continues to lack the maturity that is needed for commercial deployment, agreed US Cellular in its comments. The company indicated that the complexity and costliness of system integration results from there being multiple vendors that would need to integrate but are not ready for full integration. 

Additionally, interoperability with existing RAN infrastructure requires bi-lateral agreements, customized integration, and significant testing prior to deployment, the comment read. The complicated process would result in O-RAN increasing the cost of vendor and infrastructure deployment, claimed US Cellular, directly contrary to the goals of O-RAN. 

Several commenters urged the NTIA to focus funding projects on research and development rather than subsidizing commercial deployments.  

The NTIA is already fully engaged in broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas through its Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, said Verizon. The Innovation Fund will better advance its goals by funding projects that accelerate the solving of remaining O-RAN technical challenges that continue to delay its deployment, it continued. 

US Cellular argued that the NTIA should “spur deployment of additional independent testing and certification lab facilities… where an independent third party can perform end to end testing, conformance, and certification.” 

The Innovation Fund should be used to focus on technology development and solving practical challenges, added wireless trade association, CTIA. Research can focus on interoperability, promotion of equipment that meets O-RAN specifications, and projects that support hardware design and energy efficiency, it said. 

Furthermore, CTIA recommended that the Administration avoid interfering in how providers design their networks to encourage providers to adopt O-RAN in an appropriate manner for their company. Allowing a flexible, risk-based approach to O-RAN deployments will “help ensure network security and stability,” it wrote. 

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FCC

Proposed Rules to Improve National Alert System Unnecessary, Say Critics

Proposed rules to improve EAS security and operational readiness are unnecessary, say commenters.

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Photo of Federal Emergency Management Agency

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2023 – Participants to the national public warning system claim that the Federal Communications Commission’s October rulemaking to improve its security and operational readiness will unduly increase resource and monetary burdens on participants. 

The national warning system is composed of the Emergency Alert System, which transmits important emergency information to affected areas over television and radio, and the Wireless Emergency Alert System, which delivers that information to the public on their wireless devices. Participation in the system is voluntary for wireless providers, but radio and television broadcasters are required to deliver Presidential alerts via the EAS. 

In the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC sought comment on ways to strengthen the operational readiness of the warning system by requiring EAS participants to report compromises of equipment and WEA participants to annually certify to having a cybersecurity risk management plan in place. It further asked that commercial mobile service providers “take steps to ensure that only valid alerts are displayed on consumer devices,” citing several instances where false alerts were given following a system hack. 

Measures are unnecessary 

Participants argued that such measures are unnecessary in reply comments to the Commission.  

The proposals in the Notice are “unnecessary and will not meaningfully enhance operational readiness or security of EAS,” stated the National Association of Broadcasters in its comments, claiming that the Notice “presents only scant evidence of EAS equipment failures and new security threats, and thus does not justify the myriad measures proposed.” 

Furthermore, NAB claimed, the notice fails to present a clear rationale for how the Commission’s heightened situational awareness would improve EAS readiness. 

ACA Connects, a trade association representing small and mid-sized telecom and TV operators, added that the Notice identifies only two EAS security breaches in the past ten years, which, as the company said, is “hardly an epidemic.” 

Participating mobile service providers have cyber risk management plans in place already, making any separate cyber certification requirement for WEA unnecessary and likely to cause fragmentation of service-specific plans, claimed wireless trade association, CTIA. 

Increased participant burden 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is responsible for national-level activation and tests of the systems, stated in its comments that it is concerned about the potential increased burden placed upon participants. 

EAS participants voluntarily and at no cost provide state and local alerts and mobile service providers voluntarily participate in WEA without compensation. FEMA argued that some stakeholders may “have difficulty justifying additional resources necessary to comply with increasing regulation.” 

The proposed reporting, certification, and cyber management obligations are far too complex for many EAS participants to implement, stated NAB, claiming that the Commission’s estimation of costs are “wildly unrealistic,” not considering additional hires such a plan would require. 

Mobile provider AT&T added that requirements for updating cybersecurity plans would divert valuable resources from the ongoing, broad cybersecurity efforts that participants engage in daily. The proposed authentication would inhibit the timely release of critical emergency alerts without completely eliminating false WEA messages, it continued.  

The Center for internet Security, however, supported the FCC’s proposed actions, claiming that it moves forward with “critically important” measures to protect the nation’s alert systems from cyber threats. 

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Funding

CES 2023: NTIA to Address Broadband, Spectrum, and Privacy, Says Alan Davidson

Alan Davidson asserted that marginalized communities are harmed disproportionately by privacy violations.

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Photo of NTIA Adminstrator Alan Davidson

LAS VEGAS, January 7, 2023 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s 2023 priorities will include the funding and facilitation of states’ broadband deployment programs, the development of a national spectrum policy, and actions to protect the privacy of marginalized groups, said Administrator Alan Davidson at the Consumer Electronics Show on Saturday.

The NTIA’s most high-profile task is to oversee the operations of the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program, a $42.45 billion slush fund for broadband-infrastructure deployments which will be divided among the governments of states and U.S. territories. Those governments will administer final distribution of the BEAD funds in accordance with the NTIA’s guidelines.

“This is our generation’s big infrastructure moment,” Davidson said. “This is our chance to connect everybody in the country with what they need to thrive in the modern digital economy, and we are going to do it.”

Davidson reiterated his agency’s stated intention to develop a comprehensive national spectrum strategy to facilitate the various spectrum interests of government and private industry. To allocate spectrum in a manner that fulfills federal needs and stimulates the growth of innovators, largely in the sector of 5G, the NTIA – the administrator of federally used spectrum – must coordinate with the Federal Communications Commission – the administrator of other spectrum.

Calling for a national privacy law, Davidson asserted that marginalized communities are harmed disproportionately by privacy violations. He stated that the NTIA will, possibly within weeks, request public comment on “civil rights and privacy.”

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