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Democrats Introduce Community Broadband Act, Lina Khan for FTC, Facebook Wants Lawsuits Dismissed

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Screenshot of Lina Khan from the BBC

March 11, 2021 – Democratic lawmakers have introduced new legislation to ensure their residents have broadband access by removing roadblocks for public-private partnerships and locally-owned broadband systems.

Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif. and Jared Golden, D-Maine, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J. introduced the Community Broadband Act on Tuesday.

“As our country deals with the ongoing public health crisis and my district prepares for yet another disastrous wildfire season, fast and affordable internet is a matter of life and death. Today, tens of millions of Americans completely lack high speed internet,” said Eshoo. “The Community Broadband Act will bridge the digital divide and help local governments enable connectivity, increase economic growth and create jobs.

“In so many corners of America, rural communities aren’t getting the broadband services they need to educate their kids, keep good jobs close by, and get quality health care. Many of them — like Calais and Baileyville in my state — are taking matters into their own hands and investing in their own broadband infrastructure with great success.

“This bill would help more local leaders take the same proactive approach to build out affordable, reliable broadband in their towns, and protect projects already underway in the states across the country,” said Golden.

Nineteen states have passed laws that either restrict or outright prohibit local communities from investing local dollars in building their own broadband networks, the press release reads. These laws shield incumbent internet service providers from competition and tie the hands of communities that want to improve broadband options or build-out to unserved areas which private providers refuse to connect, it reads.

Last month, House Republicans introduced a bill to outlaw municipally-owned broadband networks for fear it would stifle competition and investments.

Lina Khan for FTC position

President Joe Biden’s interest in Columbia law professor Lina Khan for the Federal Trade Commission is drawing both applause and disappointment.

The controversy surrounds Khan’s outspoken position on antitrust law against big tech companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook. She has previously worked with the House Antitrust Subcommittee in publishing a report targeting several tech companies for antitrust behavior, and also as a fellow in FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra’s office, and authored the article “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox.”

“Khan’s appointment leaves little doubt that the Biden administration is prepared to take a more aggressive approach towards enforcement and regulation of big tech and modernization of antitrust law,” reports National Law Review.

“We applaud President Biden for recognizing that Lina Khan is a once-in-a-generation legal mind,” said Sarah Miller, executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project. 

“Professor Khan is the intellectual architect of the bipartisan suits against Facebook and Google. She has exposed the dangerous concentration of power in the meat industry. She’s identified key national security concerns posed by our concentrated supply chains. And she has written thoughtfully about all of the tools the government should bring to bear to advance the interests of working people, smaller businesses, and local communities,” Miller added.

But others want Biden to rethink his choice for the FTC position.

“The FTC is not the place for ideological projects; it is a law enforcement agency,” said Progressive Policy Institute’s Neoliberal Project in a press release. “Appointments to such an institution should reflect that objective mission.”

“Just as Democrats rightly raised concerns when President Trump attempted to use the FTC to further his political goals, so too should Democrats be concerned that Ms. Khan’s nomination will politicize the FTC’s mission and undermine public trust in it,” PPI’s press release said.

Facebook wants antitrust lawsuits dismissed

Facebook filed motions Wednesday to dismiss antitrust lawsuits against them by the FTC and multiple state attorneys general.

The lawsuits were brought against the tech giant in December, alleging their acquisition of Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014 violated antitrust laws. However, both acquisitions were cleared by regulators when the mergers happened.

“Relying on a market definition that doesn’t make sense, these cases attempt a do-over — challenging acquisitions cleared by the FTC years ago, after enormous investment by Facebook to make them into the apps people enjoy today,” Facebook’s statement reads.

Facebook alleges that the FTC fails to establish a clearly-defined market in which Facebook operates and gains revenue. “The FTC purports instead to define a free ‘personal social networking’ user market with only the vaguest of limits and without reference to what consumers consider acceptable substitutes,” their statement reads.

Facebook also claims that the FTC fails to prove that the company has monopoly power because the social media platform is free to its users and the increase or restriction of prices is not applicable.

Regarding the separate lawsuit by states attorneys general, Facebook said that “like the FTC, the states focus their attacks on what Facebook did long ago. Their afterthought claims are brought by the wrong parties, are untimely, and are empty as a matter of antitrust law.”

Broadband Roundup

EU Passes Digital Regulations, Big Tech Shouldn’t Pay into USF, Christopher Ali Joins Penn State

The European Parliament passed two pieces of legislation that are intended to tackle anticompetitive behavior and content deemed illegal.

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Photo of Thierry Breton, the European Union’s internal market commissioner, via Wikipedia

July 6, 2022 – On Tuesday, the European Parliament passed two pieces of legislation that are intended to tackle anticompetitive behavior and content deemed illegal in the European Union.

The Digital Markets Act focuses on anticompetitive behavior and the Digital Services Act focuses on illegal content. Both are set to take effect in January 2024.

“The EU is the first jurisdiction in the world to set a comprehensive standard for regulating the digital space,” stated Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner.

The new rules could set a global benchmark for tech regulation,” stated a press release.

“The most far-reaching Western efforts to rein in technology companies in at least a generation,” the release added. “They build on the EU’s effort to expand its role as a global tech regulator and offer what proponents say is a road map for digital legislation in the U.S. and elsewhere.”

Trade associations ask FCC to drop idea of Big Tech contributing to USF

Trade associations have again told the Federal Communications Commission not to pursue a possible a decision that may lead to big technology platforms contributing to the Universal Service Fund, according to a news report.

The USF goes to support basic telecommunications in low-income and rural areas of America. The fund requires contributions from voice service providers, which have seen dwindling revenues as the agency seeks comments on how to improve the sustainability of the fund.

According to the news report, trade associations INCOMPAS, the Computer & Communications Industry Association, and the Digital Media Association said that since their last comments on the matter last year, there has been more opposition and no justification for getting the tech platforms to contribute to the fund.

“INCOMPAS, CCIA, and DiMA believe it is time for the FCC to close this aspect of the proceeding so as to not waste any additional resources of the Commission or stakeholders,” the report said.

However, as the USF continues to struggle to get funding, a press release states that as a big tech critic, Commissioner Brendan Carr said big tech should pay the fees to support the USF.

Christopher Ali heading telecom department at Penn State

On June 24, rural broadband expert Christopher Ali was selected to join the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications as the Pioneers Chair in the Department of Telecommunications at Penn State.

According to a press release, Ali has expertise in communications policy and regulation, comparative media systems, rural broadband, critical political economy and geography.

Ali’s current research on broadband policy and deployment in the rural United States includes his latest book, “Farm Fresh Broadband: The Politics of Rural Connectivity.”

“He’ll be a wonderful colleague and collaborator, a perfect fit to fulfill Penn State’s land-grant mission. The challenges and issues we’re facing with broadband matter across the commonwealth, and we’re now even better positioned to serve constituencies throughout Pennsylvania,” said Marie Hardin, dean of the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications.

He is scheduled to start this fall, at the start of the 2022-2023 academic year.

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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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