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Senate Version of Stimulus Bill Has $2 Billion For Cybersecurity, Telecom Transparency, SpaceX Pilot

Samuel Triginelli

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Photo of the U.S. Senate

March 9, 2021 – The Senate’s approved version of the $1.9 trillion stimulus bill includes nearly $2 billion for cybersecurity and technology modernization programs.

Of the $2 billion, half will go toward the Technology Modernization Fund, intended to help the federal government launch new cyber and information technology programs; $650 million will go to support the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency increase its risk mitigation services; and $200 million will go to allow for the hiring of hundreds of experts to support the federal Chief Information Security Officer and U.S. Digital Service.

The money is the largest amount ever pledged to the Technology Modernization Fund, which disburses money for projects that make secure delivery of services to the public. To date, the fund has received $175 million from Congress, according to its website.

The Senate-passed bill, which is expected to be passed when it fields a vote from the House on Tuesday,  comes following the SolarWinds hack that is the subject of a Senate hearing.

The funding is shy of President Joe Biden’s cybersecurity funding proposal, which was part of his American Rescue Plan on his first day in office.

“In addition to the COVID-19 crisis, we also face a crisis when it comes to the nation’s cybersecurity. The recent cybersecurity breaches of federal government data systems underscore the importance and urgency of strengthening U.S. cybersecurity capabilities,” the plan said.

“President Biden is calling on Congress to launch the most ambitious effort ever to modernize and secure federal IT and networks. To remediate the SolarWinds breach and boost U.S. defenses.”

Telecom sale transparency bill introduced

Representative Angie Craig, D-Minn, introduced The Broadband Consumer Transparency Act of 2021 on Thursday to provide consumers with transparent information on broadband services available in the marketplace.

This bill would require sellers of broadband services to display information in a uniform and transparent manner at the point of sale to allow consumers to easily compare plans and understand what they are purchasing, and to protect consumers from unexpected or hidden fees, a press release said.

“Internet service providers are not transparent with consumers. Ask any customer of major telecom internet providers, and you are likely to hear complaints of hidden fees, surprise bills, and dense contracts,” said Joshua Stager, deputy director of New America’s Open Technology Institute.

“Congresswoman Craig’s bill cuts through this confusion by establishing truth-in-billing for broadband service. This bill is urgently needed as millions of people rely on the internet to work, learn, and live during the pandemic. Congress should pass this legislation as soon as possible. People need to know what they are paying for.”

Craig said the Act “would require detailed disclosures in an easily understandable format to help consumers better understand the services they are purchasing and protect against hidden fees and sub-standard internet performance. With record investments in broadband connectivity, including the Emergency Broadband Benefit, it is more important now than ever that we have accurate data to understand the true cost of internet services.”

The bill would require the following:

  • Price: Price points, including various charges like overage, equipment, early termination, and administrative fees.
  • Data Allowances: This is the carrier-defined plan limit after which consumers will face some consequences, such as additional charges or slowed data speeds.
  • Performance: Broadband speed and other performance metrics

Satellite internet pilot program to students in North Carolina

A pilot program created to improve students’ remote learning during the pandemic will launch in two North Carolina counties.

The program is funded by $200,000 in CARES Act Funding from The North Carolina Department of Information Technology and $64,000 in CARES Act Funding from the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Beside funding, the partners are also assisting the school districts with implementing the “Satellite Internet Technologies for Student Connectivity Pilot,” which will allow students to access Space Exploration Technologies Corporation’s, also known as SpaceX, Starlink internet service.

In a statement, Governor Roy Cooper said “innovative programs like this pilot with SpaceX can connect students and residents to high-quality, reliable internet service to help with remote learning, telehealth, job opportunities, and more.”

Starlink provides high-speed internet service via low earth orbit satellite technology. Through the pilot, school districts will test the feasibility of the service for K-12 students who live in areas with no broadband infrastructure or reliable cellular service.

Broadband Roundup

Faster Rural Broadband Bill, Tools For Robocalls, Opposition To Instagram For Kids

Senators introduce rural broadband legislation, FCC tackles robocalling, advocates ask Facebook to stop developing Instagram for kids.

Tim White

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Photo of Mark Kelly via Flickr.

April 15, 2021 – Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana and Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, introduced the “Accelerating Rural Broadband Deployment Act” Wednesday to increase access to existing infrastructure that will allow easier and faster installation of broadband services.

The legislation, S.1113, would make it easier for broadband companies to receive federal right-of-way licenses to install broadband alongside existing infrastructure like federal highways, ensure costs of federal right-of-way licenses are fair market prices and increase transparency into the federal right-of-way license awarding process, according to the news release.

“Broadband coverage is essential to rural states like Montana as we work to close the digital divide. It helps support jobs, connects folks in every corner of our state, and makes life easier for working families,” Daines said in a statement. “I’m glad to work across the aisle on this commonsense, bipartisan legislation that will help expedite broadband deployment across Montana by capitalizing on existing infrastructure.”

“Broadband access is not just about staying connected, it’s how small businesses, hospitals, and students thrive in today’s economy,” Kelly said. “I’ve spoken to so many Arizonans, especially in rural areas, who have faced challenges because of poor internet access, and that’s why I worked with Republicans and Democrats to introduce this legislation that will cut red tape and help broadband projects move faster in rural communities. Every Arizonan deserves reliable broadband access.”

Several broadband organizations expressed support for the legislation, including the Internet and Television Association, the Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom, Advocates for Rural Broadband, Montana Telecommunications Association and Blackfoot Communications.

FCC calls on carriers to ensure free tools for consumers to protect against robocalls

Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Tuesday the agency’s efforts to protect consumers from unwanted and scam robocalls and spoofed calls.

The FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau wrote to major phone companies and issued a public notice to ask about what free robocall blocking tools they make available to consumers. The bureau seeks to learn more about the tools available to consumers, their effectiveness, and any potential impact on 911 services and public safety.

“No one wants more unwanted robocalls in their life.  I’m proud that we continue to find new ways to use all the tools at our disposal to make it clear to illegal robocallers that their days are numbered.  We want them to know that we’re advocating on behalf of consumers everywhere to put an end to these calls,” Rosenworcel said.

Additionally, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued two more cease-and-desist letters to phone service providers suspected of facilitating robocalls that market auto warranties and credit card debt reduction service, or falsely claim to be from the Social Security Administration or other well-known companies.

The robocall cease-and-desist letters instruct the voice providers to investigate and, if necessary, cease transmitting the identified traffic immediately and take steps to prevent its network from continuing to be a source of apparently illegal robocalls.

Lastly, Rosenworcel announced the launch of a new effort to track the agency’s actions to implement the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act). The new webpage outlines the agency’s progress in using its strengthened enforcement authority, progress on updated call blocking rules, and steps taken to implement new Caller ID authentication technology.  It also details the agency’s work to address one-ring scams, protect hospitals from illegal robocalls, and establish a reassigned numbers database.

Advocates Ask Facebook to stop development of an Instagram for kids

A coalition of almost 100 experts and advocates globally wrote a letter Thursday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to abandon the company’s plans to build an Instagram for kids under 13, reported USA Today.

Instagram, the popular social media app, currently does not allow users under the age of 13. Zuckerberg confirmed during a March congressional hearing that a new ‘Instagram for kids’ app was in the planning stage.

The advocates, led by several organizations including the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Humane Technology, Common Sense Media and the Center for Digital Democracy, wrote their concerns to Zuckerberg, saying that the app “preys on their fear of missing out as their ravenous desire for approval by peers exploits their developmental growth,” reported the USA Today article.

“The platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and well-being,” the letter said. “Younger children are even less developmentally equipped to deal with these challenges, as they are learning to navigate social interactions, friendships, and their inner sense of strengths during this crucial window of development.”

During the March 25 congressional hearing when asked about the new app, Zuckerberg defended social media apps, saying they are a positive way for people to connect with each other. He also said the details of a kids’ version of Instagram was still being ironed out.

Members of Congress are also concerned about Facebook’s plans for a new children’s app. Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Kathy Castor, D-Florida, and Lori Trahan, D-Mass., wrote a letter to Zuckerberg on April 5 requesting details on the company’s plans.

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband Report Cards, Washington Muni Networks Bill, Supreme Court Fair Use Winners

AP releases infrastructure report cards, Washington passes bill removing muni networks limits, AEI says fair use case win for programmers.

Benjamin Kahn

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Photo of Drew Hansen, D-Washington

April 14, 2021— The Associated Press has released documents compiling report cards outlining infrastructure weaknesses in each state, including the state of broadband.

Mississippi is trailing behind the rest of the country in broadband coverage, the documents show, with 23 percent of Mississippians lacking a broadband subscription, compared to 6 percent nationally. Mississippi received a “D+” overall on it “infrastructure report card.”

Mississippi’s broadband coverage was only narrowly beaten by New Mexico and Arkansas with 21 and 20 percent of their populations lacking coverage, respectively.

The only region that performed worse than Mississippi in broadband coverage was Puerto Rico, where 40 percent of the population does not have access to a broadband subscription.

On the other end, Washington is leading the way in broadband coverage, with just 8.8 percent of Washingtonians lacking access to broadband services. Despite its leadership in this regard, Washington still only earned a “C” on its report card.

Washington was closely followed by Colorado and Utah, which both have populations without broadband under ten percent, at 9 percent and 9.2 percent, respectively.

Improving these numbers is part of the Biden Administration’s effort to ensure that every American has access to high-speed broadband.

Municipal networks triumph as Washington legislature rolls back regulations

Washington’s legislature voted Sunday to undo what Democratic Rep. Drew Hansen called “decades of bad policy” by passing a bill that allows municipalities to build their own broadband networks.

HB 1336, which was passed the state’s senate mostly along party lines, had Republican Brad Hawkins side with the Democrats to pass the bill.

According to Hansen, Washington was one of only 18 states that had laws preventing the state from providing broadband to its citizens.

Momentum for municipal broadband has been picking up in the state during the pandemic, where it has become clear that telework, telehealth and distance learning could no longer be approached as luxuries and need to be viewed as services that are integral to modern society.

“The pandemic has made it unmistakably clear,” Hansen said, “that is long past time to lift those restrictions and allow government to offer broadband directly to the public.”

Supreme Court fair use decision victory for programmers

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision for Google, Michael Rosen of the American Enterprise Institute predicts the ruling as a victory for programmers.

Google’s argument that it satisfied fair use law because its use of some 12,000 lines of code from Oracle, which it said was used to craft a “new and transformative program” was accepted by the highest court in the land earlier this month. Fair use rules allow limited use of copyright material without permission for purposes including research and scholarship.

In a piece published by AEI Tuesday, Rosen said the conclusion to this decade-long struggle would make it easier for software developers to copy code during the creation of new products—something that Google argued is already common practice in the industry.

Rosen also pointed to the Computer and Communications Industry Association’s comment on the matter, which seemed to echo Google’s; both the CCIA and Google stated that, chiefly, this was a victory for consumers and interoperability at large.

All this considered, Rosen still tempered expectations, stating that the ruling was “unlikely to mark a fundamental change in how we conceive of computer code copyright issues.”

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Broadband Roundup

Speed And Mapping Bills, LinkedIn Data Harvested, Facebook Tackles Fake Review Groups

Delgado’s speed and mapping bills, 500M LinkedIn accounts for sale, and 16,000 Facebook groups axed for fake reviews.

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of Antonio Delgado from YouTube

April 13, 2021 — On Monday, Representative Antonio Delgado, D-NY, reintroduced the Broadband Speed Act, which would require internet service providers to report accurate, yearly speed data to the Federal Communications Commission and introduced a new bill to improve flawed broadband mapping.

“Our rural communities need broadband internet that is accessible, reliable, and matches their internet needs,” said Delgado. “Slow broadband speeds are untenable for our young students taking classes online, web-based small business owners, and families working from home. The Broadband Speed Act would require internet service providers to deliver accurate speed data — not inaccurate estimates.”

Enforcing the Broadband Speed Act would require internet service providers to report to the FCC the actual speed they can provide, rather than the maximum speed that might be possible in 7-10 business days under the current law.

The FCC would use this data to determine which broadband connectivity areas offer the speeds advertised and which areas have gaps in service. This bill also requires that new FCC funding awards be used for speeds of 100 Mbps or greater.

The new bill to improve flawed broadband mapping was introduced as a bipartisan bill to address the digital divide and provide broadband service at affordable prices for rural Americans. It corrects mistakes in federal broadband mapping practice and empowers local communities to dispute incorrect FCC claims regarding internet service status, the bill said.

“Flawed service maps compiled by the FCC paint an inaccurate picture of upstate broadband access,” said Delgado. “The Community Broadband Mapping Act gives our communities the ability to collect their data on broadband coverage so that they can challenge the FCC’s inaccurate mapping. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, folks live without a reliable internet connection in the wealthiest county in the world. As the pandemic has made even more clear, broadband service isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity.”

The Community Broadband Mapping Act grants USDA Rural Utility Service grants to local governments, electric/telephone groups, economic development organizations, and small internet providers so that they can collect information on local broadband coverage. This will provide communities incorrectly identified by the FCC as having broadband access with the information they need to contest the FCC’s designation.

500 million LinkedIn Account Numbers Are Up For Sale on a Hacker Site

According to LinkedIn, data harvested from 500 million profiles are part of a database for sale on a site popular with hackers, CNN reports.

In the first report to surface about the sale, CyberNews said that an archive was being offered for auction on a forum, including user IDs, names, emails, phone numbers, genders, professions, and links to social networks.

LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, said the data for sale is an “aggregation from several websites and companies.” The LinkedIn user data does not include any information other than what has been made public on users’ profiles, according to LinkedIn.

“This is not a LinkedIn data breach, and no private member account data from LinkedIn was included in what we’ve been able to review,” the company said.

“When anyone tries to take member data and use it for purposes LinkedIn and our members haven’t agreed to, we work to stop them and hold them accountable,” LinkedIn added in a statement.

Thousands of Facebook Groups Have Been Removed for Trading Fake Reviews

Facebook has removed 16,000 groups for posting fake reviews on its platform in the United Kingdom, following criticism by the country’s regulator.

Facebook signed a deal with the Competition and Markets Authority in January 2020 to “better identify, investigate and remove pages and groups that have fake and misleading reviews, and prevent them re-appearing.”

Several unscrupulous traders engaged in a practice of buying fake positive reviews to boost sales on e-commerce sites – or leaving negative reviews on competitors’ sites – which was frequently coordinated on Facebook and Instagram, the CMA found.

Although Facebook agreed to act, a follow-up investigation showed that the “illegal trade in fake reviews” was continuing, the CMA said, and it had to intervene for a second time.

“Facebook must package size and scope all it can to stop the trading of such content on its platforms,” said Andrea Coscelli, the chief executive of the CMA. “After we intervened again, the company made significant changes – but it is disappointing it has taken them over a year to fix these issues.

If a user “repeatedly” creates fake review groups, Facebook asserts that it will suspend or ban the users and introduce new technology that flags affected review groups all by themselves. Facebook announced that finding and joining fake review groups will be more challenging.

“We have engaged extensively with the CMA to address this issue. Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews. Our safety and security teams are continually working to help prevent these practices,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

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