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FCC Mapping Update, AT&T Axes Zero Rating In California, Zoom Files Request for Phone Numbers

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Photo of Managing Partner Jonathan Marashlian from The CommLaw Group web site

March 18, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission is working hard to implement new broadband mapping tools as quickly as possible, said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a blog posted Tuesday.

Rosenworcel focused on four key actions she said the FCC is taking to move forward with the new Digital Opportunity Data Collection system, a new broadband mapping fabric tool that will replace the Form 477 data, also called the Broadband Serviceable Location Fabric.

The four points Rosenworcel mentioned are first, creating a task force to “coordinate and expedite” the design of the systems needed to implement the law; second, put in place data architects and a design firm to build the website systems for the new fabric; third, the agency issued a request for information to “jump start the contracting process” for the new fabric; fourth, the FCC will create a new tool for consumers to learn more about the agency’s broadband mapping effort.

Rosenworcel did not give any specific dates for any of the four points, and in a recent letter to the commissioner, several Republican representatives pressed her on why she has changed her stance on the timeline for implementing the new fabric system. The GOP delegation referred to previous statements she made that the FCC could get the new system up and running within a few months, but now that she is acting chairwoman, she has extended that timeline to 2022, referring to her comments in the February FCC meeting.

AT&T announces service changes for California residents

AT&T announced Wednesday changes to services for California residents subject to the state’s yet-implemented new net neutrality law.

The new neutrality law means internet service providers cannot alter the traffic on their networks, which makes illegal providers accepting payment to give preferential treatment to services.

“California has enacted a ‘net neutrality’ law banning ‘sponsored data’ services that allowed companies to pay for, or ‘sponsor,’ the data usage of their customers who are also AT&T wireless customers,” the company said  in a blog post Wednesday. “Unfortunately, under the California law we are now prohibited from providing certain data features to consumers free of charge.

The company added that because the internet knows no borders, customers in states outside of California will also be seeing similar changes.

The California Internet Consumer Protection and Net Neutrality Act of 2018 is the first state law passed that seeks to protect online consumer data and enforce net neutrality. Held up in court until February by a lawsuit from broadband providers, it had not yet been implemented. The judge ruled against the providers, signaling a win from the viewpoint of several advocacy groups, including Public Knowledge and New America’s Open Technology Institute.

But telecom companies and others saw it as a defeat for consumers.

Similar laws are under consideration in other states, and Virginia recently joined California as the second state to target online data protection in the Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act, signed into law on March 2. The law goes into effect in 2023.

Zoom seeks direct numbers from FCC; may broaden debate about the so-called ‘Skype Loophole’

Teleconferencing company Zoom recently filed an application with the FCC to get direct access to phone numbers from the North American Numbering Plan Administrator.

“On the surface, Zoom’s application appears innocuous: it would like to be able to get telephone numbers for its users straight from the FCC’s numbering administrator, rather than through third-parties,” writes Jonathan Marashlian, managing partner of The CommLaw Group, in an opinion piece the firm’s web site. “However, it contains both an overt gesture and a read-between-the-lines message that may add to the acceleration of bringing One-Way VoIP operators under regulations requiring direct contributions to the USF.”

Since 2005, one-way Voice over Internet Protocol services have been exempted from contributing to the Universal Service Fund. That fee is collected on all telephone charges, including landline and mobile services.

The agency collecting the fees is the Universal Service Administrative Company, technically an arm of a non-profit organization, but taking instructions on the collection of fees from the FCC.

“Zoom, seemingly, has done a head spinning U-Turn on its earlier objection to One-Way VoIP being required to contribute to the fund, now appearing fully committed to USF contributions in its latest application,” Marashlian writes. “Zoom’s application effectively ramps-up the conversation about whether One-Way VoIP services should be brought under the regulatory sphere of services that must pay directly into the USF.”

In a similar story, the FCC recently announced an increase for the USF fee to 33.4 percent, the highest on record.

Broadband Roundup

Date Set for Sohn Hearing, Criticism of Tech Legislation, New ILSR Leadership

Sohn and Biden NTIA nominee Alan Davidson will undergo confirmation hearings next Wednesday.

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FCC commissioner nominee Gigi Sohn

November 24, 2021 – The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a confirmation hearing for President Joe Biden’s nominee for commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, Gigi Sohn, during a session next Wednesday.

Sohn, a former senior aide to President Barack Obama’s FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, will have her nomination considered along with Alan Davidson, Biden’s nominee to head the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That same day, the Commerce Committee also plans to vote on the nomination of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel to another term at the FCC.

Sohn’s nomination has already faced Republican criticism over her liberal policy positions.

Through nine months of the Biden presidency, the FCC has not been able to address key issues due to the vacancy on the commission resulting in a 2-2 split between Democrats and Republicans. Sohn’s confirmation would make for a full slate that prevents tied votes of the commission.

Going forward, net neutrality policy would be a key focus of the FCC, as Rosenworcel told senators during her confirmation hearing that she backed net neutrality rules yet did not offer many details on how she would rollback such rules by President Donald Trump’s administration.

Congress’ regulatory proposals would create even larger tech monopolies than already exist: Opinion

American Enterprise Institute published a blog post Wednesday by nonresident senior fellow Mark Jamison critiquing as unproductive recent government proposals to regulate competition among tech companies.

Jamison states that “dynamic” competition already exists between the companies often cited as the giants of the tech industry and smaller companies, and that proposed government policy could decrease industry competition from its current levels.

In his blog post, Jamison says that the Ending Platform Monopolies Act from Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Washington, would force Amazon to stop selling its own products, leading it to lose uniqueness and become almost identical to eBay in a digital market that cannot support two identical services. Jamison contends that should one site go under, small businesses would be left with less competitive options than before the introduction of the bill.

Further, Jamison holds that should Amazon comply with the bill and cease operations with small businesses, market statistics show that eBay would face even less competition as a platform for small businesses than Amazon does now.

Jamison said he believes that the Open App Markets Act – brought forth by Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota – would make iPhones less secure by requiring that app stores other than Apple’s be permitted on phones. He says this would decrease users’ willingness to try new apps and diminish competition between Apple and Alphabet (Google) for app developers by removing developer options.

New ILSR community broadband outreach team lead

The Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance announced Tuesday that DeAnne Cuellar will serve as Community Broadband Outreach team lead.

Cuellar, a communications strategist, served as San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg’s digital inclusion appointee to the city’s Innovation and Technology Committee. In her work for the city, she acted on several policy and funding priorities to close the digital divide.

Additionally, she has worked as a social impact entrepreneur, co-founding several cross-sector nonprofit initiatives to advocating for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion in historically underrepresented communities.

The Community Broadband Networks Initiative expects that they will see an increased workload as local, state and federal governments increase their efforts to find broadband solutions and an “unprecedented” amount of funding is made available by the government for broadband infrastructure projects over the next few years.

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Broadband Roundup

TPI New Broadband Map, Justice Dept. Stands for Section 230, Ericsson Looks to Acquire Vonage

TPI released their broadband map, which tracks speeds, availability, and adoption rates across the country.

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President and Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute Scott Wallsten speaking during the TPI Aspen Forum in August.

November 23, 2021 – The Technology Policy Institute announced Monday the beta release of their “TPI Broadband Map,” which tracks bandwidth speeds, the availability of broadband, and adoption rates from across the country.

The map allows users to access published data from several sources, including FCC 477 forms, Emergency Broadband Benefit data, Ookla, Microsoft, and more.

The data can also be viewed on several different levels from the state and country level, all the way down to school districts, tribal tracts, and zip codes.

Three metrics can be viewed through the map: average maximum available download and upload speeds and the percent of households with broadband access. Users can also adjust the minimum upload and download speeds to suit their definition of broadband and are able to view the regional data going back to 2016.

During the TPI Aspen Forum in August, panelists agreed that mapping would play a crucial role in ensuring that marginalized, underserved, and unserved communities would get the coverage and resources they need from infrastructure legislation.

Though the website is still in its beta stage, those interested can request temporary access to view the data online.

Justice Department defends Section 230

In a departure from the previous administration’s agenda and President Joe Biden’s own past statements, Biden’s Justice Dept. made a point to defend Section 230 in a lawsuit brought against Facebook by Donald Trump.

In May, Biden had previously revoked one of Trump’s executive orders aimed at dismantling Section 230. Though his campaign and administration used it to a greater extent than many other politicians, Trump was a longtime critic of social media, often accusing it of censoring conservative voices in American politics.

These criticisms came to a head after Trump was banned from Twitter and several other social media outlets in January of 2021.

While on the campaign trail, Biden himself called for the revocation of Section 230.

Notwithstanding Biden’s and Trump’s dissatisfaction with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, the Justice Department intervened to defend the section during litigation surrounding Trump’s Facebook lawsuit – one of three class action lawsuits Trump filed in July against Facebook, Twitter, and Google, along with their CEOs.

Ericsson eyes Vonage

Ericsson, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of 5G technology and hardware, is poised to purchase Vonage, a cloud communications provider, in a deal valued at approximately $6.2 billion.

“Ericsson and Vonage have a shared ambition to accelerate our long-term growth strategy,” said Vonage CEO Rory Read, ““We believe joining Ericsson is in the best interests of our shareholders and is a testament to Vonage’s leadership position in business cloud communications, our innovative product portfolio, and outstanding team.”

Ericsson said it intends to leverage Vonage’s presence in the communication platform as a service, or CPaaS, market to “democratize network access by offering [Application Programming Interface] enabled communications services.” Additionally, Ericsson stated that it expects the CPaaS market to reach $22 billion by 2025, growing 30 percent annually.

Should the deal pass successfully, Vonage will “become a wholly owned subsidiary of Ericsson and will continue to operate under its existing name.”

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband in Build Back Better, ISPs Customers Exposed to Hackers, Rural ISP Funding in Louisiana

Another $1 billion in broadband expansion funds could be available in the Build Back Better Act, which passed the House on Friday.

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President Joe Biden

November 22, 2021 — A total of about $1 billion could be made available for broadband under the Build Back Better Act.

Approved by the House on Friday, the $1.7 trillion legislation heads to the Senate for revision this week.

Out of the $1 billion allocated for broadband, the majority of the funds – $475 million – would be used to fund grants for devices like laptops and tablets administered through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an agency of the Commerce Department. Another $300 million would provide additional funds to the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Connectivity Fund, which addresses distance learning needs at schools and libraries, while $100 million would fund the FCC’s outreach and education about its broadband affordability programs.

In its current form, the NTIA would also receive an additional $280 million in grants for public-private pilot projects to increase access to affordable broadband in urban communities.

Meanwhile, $12 million would be used to establish councils for further broadband expansion, including $7 million to create a Future of Telecommunications Council under the Commerce Department that would show how 6G wireless can serve low-income communities, and $5 million to create an Urban and Suburban Broadband Advisory Committee.

The final broadband provisions of the bill may be revised or removed once Senate negotiations begin. To pass the Senate, the bill needs the support of all 50 Democratic Senators and avoid partisan disruption.

Millions of broadband users exposed to hackers

Millions of Sky Broadband customers were vulnerable to hackers for over a year.

A software bug affected about six million of the U.K. company’s routers that allowed hackers to infiltrate home networks, Yahoo reported Friday.

The bug, which has since been fixed, took 18 months to address. A hacker would have been able to “reconfigure a home router” by directing the user to malicious website with a phishing email. According to Pen Test Partners, the security firm that found the bug, hackers could have “taken over someone’s online life” by stealing passwords for banking, investing, and social media.

“We take the safety and security of our customers very seriously,” Sky said.” After being alerted to the risk, we began work on finding a remedy for the problem and we can confirm that a fix has been delivered to all Sky-manufactured products.”

Pen Test Partners Ken Munro said he’s baffled by Sky’s delay in fixing the bug. “While the coronavirus pandemic put many internet service providers under pressure, as people moved to working from home, taking well over a year to fix an easily exploited security flaw simply isn’t acceptable,” he said. Munro recommends that anyone with a router should change the password from the default one.

Rural ISP owner aims to provide internet to rural Louisiana

The owner of a rural Louisiana internet service provider aims to bring broadband to St. Mary county.

Chris Fisher, owner of Cajun Broadband, detailed a grant submission he will submit to the Granting Underserved Municipalities Broadband Opportunities program. The program, funded by the Louisiana Office of Broadband Development and Connectivity, oversees spending of $180 million in federal funds to supply broadband to 400,000 households in the state.

Fisher’s grant requests $800,000 to provide internet service to nearly 600 residents in St. Mary county. He says he has been the only ISP to address the county’s council on the opportunity since May.

“I didn’t realize the need for rural broadband until I started my company, which began initially because my kids couldn’t get internet,” Fisher said. Fisher estimates it will cost $10 to $15 million to connect the rural areas of the parish with internet.

A councilmember said that the plan is long overdue. “We’ve talked about this for years, and we all agree that we need to do something to increase access for all of the citizens of our parish, and not just the affluent ones. This is a do or die, once in lifetime opportunity.”

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