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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

TikTok Data Concerns, Broadband Data Collection System, Internet Access on COVID-19 Mortality

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr is requesting Apple and Google remove the TikTok app over data concerns.

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Photo of Brendan Carr

June 29, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr called for Apple and Google to remove Beijing-based popular video-sharing application, TikTok, from their app stores.

The app is run by ByteDance, a company that is “beholden to the Communist Party of China and required by Chinese law to comply with the PRC’s surveillance demands,” read the June 24 letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook and Google CEO Sunder Pichai.

“It is clear that TikTok poses an unacceptable national security risk due to its extensive data harvesting being combined with Beijing’s apparently unchecked access to that sensitive data,” said Carr, calling it a wolf in sheep’s clothing. “At its core, TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data” such as search histories, keystroke patterns and biometric identifies.”

Carr claims that TikTok’s pattern of conduct regarding persons in Beijing having access U.S. sensitive data violates policies that both companies require every app to adhere to as a condition of remaining available on the app stores. “I am requesting that you apply the plain text of your app store policies to TikTok and remove it from your app stores for failure to abide by those terms.”

TikTok has assured users that American’s data is being stored in the U.S. but, according to Carr, this statement “says nothing about where that data can be accessed from.”

FCC opens mapping data system for filers early 

The Federal Communications Commission released a public notice on Thursday announcing that filers of broadband availability data in its new maps may obtain early access of the system for registering filer information.

The filing window for the Broadband Data Collection opens June 30, but early access will enable users to register their entities in the system and become familiar with the system before that date, the FCC said.

“We are making this functionality available in advance of the opening of the filing window to enable filers to log in, register, and be ready to enter their availability data as early in the filing window as possible,” read the public notice.

The BDC program is said to help improve broadband mapping data to help funnel federal dollars to where broadband infrastructure is needed. Most fixed and mobile broadband providers will be required to file information in the system, but third parties and government entities are also encouraged.

Impact of internet access on COVID-19 mortality

New analysis released last week by private research university Tufts found that increased broadband access in the United States reduced COVID-19 mortality rates.

“Even after controlling for a host of other socioeconomic factors, a 1 percent increase in broadband access across the U.S. reduced COVID mortality by approximately 19 deaths per 100,000, all things equal,” read the report.

The study also found that the impact was felt more strongly in metro areas, where a 1 percent increase in broadband access reduced the deaths by 36 per 100,000.

By conducting a correlation analysis, Tuft researchers found that broadband access is negatively correlated with COVID mortality, even after controlling for other major factors such as health status, income, race and education.

The study only considered pre-vaccine number to account for inconsistencies.

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Rosenworcel Committed to Net Neutrality, Better Spectrum Coordination, Starlink Up in Internet Speeds

The FCC chairwoman reaffirmed her commitment to net neutrality at a conference on Friday.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – At a conference hosted by the American Library Association on Friday, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel reaffirmed her support for net neutrality rules.

According to a press release, Rosenworcel stated she wants to make a “return to common carrier regulation of internet service providers which aims to prevent ISPs from slowing down or blocking web traffic.”

Rosenworcel “fully backs” net neutrality rules passed under the Obama administration that were repealed during the Trump administration. “I opposed the last administration’s effort to roll it back, and I want it to once again become the law of the land,” she stated at the ALA.

A press release calls Rosenworcel ’s statement on net neutrality the “hallmark of her tenure” and says she faces opposition in her attempt to bring back net neutrality rules.

“It is just wrong for the internet to have slow lanes for people with less money,” Patty Wong, president of the ALA, said at the conference.

Better coordination needed for receiver performance 

On Monday, non-partisan think tank TechPolicy urged more coordination by the Federal Communications Commission with other agencies to better utilize spectrum assets during its receiver performance study, filing comments in response to the commission’s public consultation about that matter.

“The Commission has a considerable expertise and prior work to review in assessing whether it has the statutory authority in this area, and how to best incentivize all parties to build more robust receivers to operate in more and more congested spectrum,” the think tank said.

It suggested engaging with other agencies, such as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, as well as users of government receivers.

James Dunstan, general counsel of TechFreedom, stated, “the FCC cannot fine-tune spectrum management with only half the orchestra.” He added that if the FCC does not engage with government users, “there will be little progress made toward finding broad solutions to increased spectrum congestion.”

The FCC and the NTIA have already agreed earlier this year to coordinate on spectrum management.

Ookla finds Starlink increased speeds by 38 percent over the past year

Metrics company Ookla said Tuesday that, according to its review of Starlink satellite broadband service in the first quarter, the company saw an increase of 38 percent in internet performance in the United States over the past year, said a press release.

However, the company’s analysis also showed that Starlink’s upload speeds decreased nearly 33 percent in the U.S. from 16.29 Mbps in 2021 to 9.33 in 2022.

Ookla notes that even as consumers choose Starlink, competitors are not far behind. It mentioned as key developments FCC approval for Amazon’s Project Kuiper to test its satellite service this year, and Viasat getting closer to merging with Inmarsat for a constellation launch next year.

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Broadband Roundup

Data Export Bill, Chamber of Commerce’s BEAD Issues, Wisconsin Putting $125M for Broadband

A bill would have the Commerce Secretary identify categories of personal data that could harm national security if exported.

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Photo of Marco Rubio, R-FL

June 27, 2022 – A bipartisan group of senators, including Marco Rubio, R-FL., and Ron Wyden, D-OR., introduced a bill Thursday that would limit the selling or transferring of Americans’ sensitive data to high-risk foreign countries.

The Protecting Americans Data from Foreign Surveillance Act directs the Secretary of Commerce, in collaboration with other key agencies, to identify categories of personal data that could harm national security if exported. It directs the Secretary of Commerce to “compile a list of low-risk countries for which exports will be unrestricted and to require licenses for bulk exports of the identified, sensitive categories of personal data to other countries.”

In a press release, Rubio said, “It is common sense to prevent our adversaries from obtaining the highly sensitive personal information of millions of Americans. We cannot trust private companies to protect Americans’ private data, especially given how many of them do business in China. Our bill would address this massive national security threat and protect Americans’ privacy.”

Experts have warned the data from Chinese-company-owned apps like TikTok, one of the world’s most popular video sharing websites, could be used by the Communist government for nefarious purposes.

“Our bipartisan legislation sets common-sense guardrails to block bulk exports of private, sensitive information from going to high-risk foreign nations and protect the safety of Americans against foreign criminals and spies,” added Wyden. “It will empower the United States to build a coalition of trusted allies where information can be shared without fear of misuse by authoritarian actors.”

Exports to high-risk countries will be presumptively denied and risk status of countries will be determined on the adequacy of the country’s privacy and export control laws, the circumstances under which the foreign government can coerce a person in that country to disclose personal data, and whether that government has been hostile against the United States.

Chamber of Commerce takes issue with aspects of BEAD program

The United States Chamber of Commerce highlighted in a press release last week what it said are faults in the $42.5-billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program that will be distributed to states and territories for broadband deployment projects.

The Chamber of Commerce commended the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for focusing the BEAD program on serving unserved areas first, having strong subgrantee qualifications, enabling effective stakeholder engagement, and addressing the costs of broadband permitting.

“Despite the many positive aspects, the notice of funding opportunity contains numerous problematic provisions and mandates, which will hinder the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s objective to connect all Americans while running contrary to the law’s bipartisan approach,” said the release.

The first concern is that the NOFO promotes government-owned networks, despite the IIJA’s neutrality to the type of provider. NTIA imposes “burdensome requirements on eligible entities as well as pressuring states to waive laws that place restrictions on public sector broadband providers.”

The NOFO, said the release, “picks technology winners and losers” by strongly prioritizing fiber at the expense of other technologies like satellite and fixed wireless.

Furthermore, it incentivizes states to adopt net neutrality rules, in direct contrast to IIJA requirements, by ensuring that subgrantees do not “impose unjust or unreasonable network management practices.”

The Chamber of Commerce further added that the NOFO requires eligible entities to create a middle-class affordability program that is “ill-defined” and “opens the door to additional state-level intervention in the broadband marketplace.”

The NOFO also favors union-friendly policies that “have nothing to do with connecting all Americans and everything to do with advancing unrelated union priorities.”

Wisconsin awards $125M in rural internet service grants

The Wisconsin Public Service Commission on Thursday awarded $125 million in broadband expansion grants toward 71 projects that will reach over 87,000 underserved and unserved locations over 45 counties.

According to the press release, the grant awards will leverage $185 million of matching funds from the grantees. The PSC received 194 applications in March 2022 requesting a total of $495 million.

Since 2019, Wisconsin has committed to disbursing over $289 million toward expanding broadband, including $105 million in federal funding.

“Over the last three years, we’ve worked hard to invest state and federal funding in projects that will provide more than 387,000 homes and businesses with reliable, high-quality internet. These grants will go to ensure students, workers, business owners, families, and communities can access the internet in every part of our state,” said Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers in the release.

“We’ve made tremendous progress in the past three years towards getting people access to high-quality, affordable internet service,” said PSC Chairperson Rebecca Cameron Valcq. “We will continue to make the investments needed to ensure all in our state have access to affordable broadband.”

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