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Tech Groups Stand Fast With Section 230, Algorithmic Reform, Broadband Funding for States

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Photo of Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., from January 2019 by Internet Education Foundation used with permission

March 25, 2021 – The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has released a statement doubling down on the importance of internet liability protection under Section 230 ahead of a congressional hearing on disinformation Thursday.

“Section 230 has come under the regulatory microscope as Congress evaluates the impact of harmful online activity like disinformation and the role of online platforms in preventing and addressing this activity,” the group said in a Wednesday press release.

“Section 230 continues to be instrumental in enabling innovative online business models that rely on user-generated content and providing companies the liability protection necessary to allow them to moderate user content, it reads.

The release comes ahead of a hearing hosted by the House Energy and Commerce Committee studying “Disinformation Nation: Social Media’s Role in Promoting Extremism and Misinformation.”

ITIF has proposed a three-pronged approach to Section 230 reform that would expand federal criminal law around certain forms of harmful online activity, establish a good faith requirement to prevent bad actors from taking advantage of Section 230(c)(1)’s liability shield, and establish a voluntary safe harbor provision to limit financial liability for online services that adhere to standard industry measures for addressing illegal activity, the statement says.

Congress should enact targeted changes to Section 230 to ensure companies are taking responsibility for addressing harmful content and conduct on their platforms, including disinformation, while preserving Section 230’s benefits for innovation and free speech, the statement reads.

Some argue that amending Section 230 would come with serious consequences, however, including too much moderation of content, and loss of evidence as platforms remove that content.

Algorithmic reform for social media

Reps. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., and Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., reintroduced the Protecting Americans from Dangerous Algorithms Act, H.R. 2154, a bill intended to hold social media companies accountable for their “algorithmic amplification of harmful, radicalizing content that leads to offline violence,” according to a statement released Wednesday.

“When social media companies amplify extreme and misleading content on their platforms, the consequences can be deadly, as we saw on January 6th. It’s time for Congress to step in and hold these platforms accountable,” Eshoo said.

The legislation would amend Section 230 of the Telecommunications Act to remove liability immunity for a social media platform if its algorithm is used to amplify or recommend content directly relevant to three statutes: cases involving interference with civil rights, neglect to prevent interference with civil rights, and in cases involving acts of international terrorism. The bill would apply only to companies with 10 million or more platform users.

The three statutes have been cited in recent lawsuits against several fringe groups following the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol, and in a lawsuit against Facebook that alleges its data algorithm enabled foreign terrorist groups to connect with each other and caused violence against Americans.

Other members of Congress have proposed legislation that would amend Section 230 in other ways, such as keeping the immunity clause for companies, except for content the company pays for.

‘Eliminate the Digital Divide Act’ would distribute broadband funds to states

Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Joe Manchin, D-W.V., reintroduced the bipartisan Eliminate the Digital Divide Act of 2021, S.922, legislation to fund broadband projects for states.

A House version of the bill was introduced as H.R. 2183 by Reps. Roger Williams, R-Texas, and Jim Cooper, D-Tennessee.

The bill would distribute $10 billion to states for broadband infrastructure, targeted toward unserved areas. It includes a process to deliver funds based on the proportion of those geographic areas, and an additional $1 billion reserved for states with exceptional high-cost areas such as West Virginia.

“Now more than ever, access to reliable broadband services is critical for businesses, learning, healthcare and daily life. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the long-standing issue of reliable internet access across rural America,” said Manchin. “West Virginia has failed to see the benefits of federal programs that often serve the most easily accessible areas. That’s why my bill also includes $1 billion for high-cost areas like West Virginia where the cost to build broadband infrastructure is more expensive due to mountainous terrain and other factors,” he said.

“As we increasingly depend on digital communication to work, learn, and stay connected, we must not leave those without access to broadband in the dark,” Cornyn said. “This bill will help bridge the digital divide and ensure Texans have access to more affordable broadband options across the state. Allowing governors, not bureaucrats in Washington, to direct broadband dollars is crucial to ensuring Texans are connected,” he said.

Several other large broadband funding bills have been introduced recently, including the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act by Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., that would pour $100 billion funding into broadband projects. It has been incorporated into the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America (LIFT) Act, a larger infrastructure package.

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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Broadband Roundup

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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