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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

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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