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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

Many States Receive Broadband Planning Grants, Complaints About Charter, Blockchain for Healthcare

Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, D.C, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, N.D., Pennsylvania, S.C., Virginia, and W.V. received awards.

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Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

December 8, 2022 — The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Thursday that Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia will receive planning grants under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

The allocations are made under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Act, as well as the Digital Equity Act grant provisions.

Alaska will receive $5.5 million in funding, Arkansas will receive $5.8 million in funding, Colorado will receive $5.9 million, District of Columbia will receive $5.4 million, Kentucky will receive $5.8 million, Maine will receive $5.5 million, Missouri will receive $2.9 million, North Dakota will receive $5.5 million, Pennsylvania will receive $6.6 million, South Carolina will receive $5.9 million, Virginia will receive $6.2 million, and West Virginia will receive $5.7 million.

Other states and territories that have received planning grants include Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Puerto Rico.

Complaints about Charter in Los Angeles

Government affairs and association management firm Joint California Advocates urged the Federal Communications Commission to seek comment about recent report findings that shows Charter Communications, also known as Spectrum, offered low-income Los Angeles County residents more expensive rates for service, compared to wealthier communities that received better rates, in an ex-parte letter sent on Monday.

Los Angeles-based non-profit California Community Foundation released a report called The Slower and More Expensive, which documents the advertising disparity of price, terms, and conditions between different neighborhoods in Los Angeles in Charter Spectrum’s identified service areas.

The foundation “explained that the data for the report demonstrated that the Charter Spectrum website routinely offered potential new customers in households in higher poverty neighborhoods more expensive rates for Charter Spectrum service than households in wealthier neighborhoods. Moreover, [foundation] explained that it found that Charter Spectrum’s promotional rates are “locked in” for half as long in high-poverty neighborhoods than in lower-poverty neighborhoods,” the letter read.

Blockchain will help protect health data, World Bank specialist says

In reference to the European Health Data Space anticipated for launch in 2025, a World Bank digital development specialist on Wednesday suggested blockchain technology to secure data sharing and collection in healthcare, according to a virtual event by the Center for Data Innovation.

Health information managers or medical caregivers can encrypt their patients’ data in the blockchain. Data breaches can be prevented by tracking a permanent timestamp left on the blockchain when companies seek data access.

The safety of data sharing and user transparency is an ongoing challenge in healthcare. According to European Patients’ Forum director of policy, Kaisa Immonen, the main concern for patients is their data shared for commercial purposes or with employers.

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Broadband Roundup

Maryland Bans TikTok on State Network, New Head of Open Technology Institute, UScellular Expands 5G

The ban will also apply to other Chinese and Russian technologies and applications.

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Photo of Lilian Coral, head of Open Technology Institute and Technology and Democracy Programs, via Esri User Conference

December 7, 2022 – Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said Tuesday that the state is banning the use of apps such as Chinese-owned TikTok in the executive branch of the government.

The emergency cybersecurity directive will impact Chinese and Russian-made communications and money applications, including Tencent Holdings’s QQ, QQ Wallet and WeChat; products from ecommerce giant Alibaba, such as AliPay; Russian cybersecurity software Kaspersky; and products from Huawei and ZTE.

The directive requires agencies to remove the products from state networks and implement measures so they cannot be installed, including blocking the apps entirely from the network.

“These entities present an unacceptable level of cybersecurity risk to the state, and may be involved in activities such as cyber-espionage, surveillance of government entities, and inappropriate collection of sensitive personal information,” a state press release said.

Last month, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations said TikTok posed a national security threat to the US, warning that the Chinese government – through its control of Chinese corporations – could siphon American data.

The Federal Communications Commission has also been working with Public Safety and Homeland Security to identify threats to national security by blacklisting certain Chinese entities from being used on U.S. networks. Late last month, the commission announced it is halting the authorization of equipment from these threats to the nation’s security.

New America names new head of Open Technology Institute

Think tank New America announced Wednesday that Lilian Coral is joining the organization’s technology program, the Open Technology Institute, as senior director and head of its technology and democracy program.

The OTI comes up with policy and regulatory reforms to support open source technology, which allows for interoperability of technologies, as opposed to just proprietary technologies held by a few players.

Coral previously worked at the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation as its director of national strategy and tech innovation, where she managed a portfolio of more than $55 million in investments that supported public spaces technology and data trust and accessibility.

“We need to ensure every American has access to an internet that is open, safe, and helps uplift communities,” Coral said in a press release. “But we all recognize that access alone is not sufficient. This means developing guardrails to make sure we all benefit from the opportunities the internet affords—and imagining a truly democratic digital public realm that is a key pillar in renewing the promise of America.”

UScellular expands 5G network to more Americans

UScellular announced Wednesday that a software update will allow it to expand its 5G network in multiple states, providing 1.4 million more Americans with access to its services.

A press release said the update allows for better coordination between cell sites and will use 4G and 5G features to extend existing 5G service to neighboring sites.

“These updates allow us to get more out of our investment and enhance our customers’ experience whether they are accessing our 5G network on their smartphone, tablet or for home internet,” Robert Jakubek, UScellular vice president of engineering and network operations, said in the release.

In May, the country’s fourth-largest wireless carrier partnered with 5G equipment provider Ericsson to provide 5G fixed-wireless services using the C-band spectrum.

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Broadband Roundup

Talent for Growth Taskforce, ‘Grave Mistakes’ in FCC Maps, Lumen Expanding Fiber

The U.S. and EU representatives announced a taskforce to share insights into growing the workforce in tech.

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Photo of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

December 6, 2022 – The United States and European Union Trade and Technology Council announced Monday the creation of the Talent for Growth Task Force, which is intended to share information and recommendations on expanding talent development and training in technology industries on both sides of the Atlantic.

The task force will comprise workforce training organizations, business leaders, government officials and labor union leaders. Roles and responsibilities of the taskforce include promoting programs to small- and mid-sized companies, spreading knowledge of in-demand opportunities for young people in underserved communities, and showcasing training opportunities in the U.S. and other countries under the European Union.

Members of the Task Force will be announced in early 2023.

“Competition for technological leadership today demands a well-trained workforce,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, co-chair of the TTC, said in a release. “Training is key to creating broad participation in today’s economy. With the Talent for Growth Task Force, we will learn from each other’s successes and create new opportunities that recognize the talent of our people.”

Industry in the U.S. has identified workforce development as key to keeping up with massive federal funding initiatives intended to boost infrastructure. In October, the Fiber Broadband Association and the Wireless Infrastructure Association, for example, announced a partnership to promote the development of the broadband workforce, as the industry awaits billions of dollars in new money coming from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

West Virginia senator points out FCC map errors

Senator Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., told reporters in a virtual meeting last week that the Federal Communications Commission’s preliminary broadband map released last month has made “grave mistakes” on unserved areas in her state, according to reporting from The Inter-Mountain.

“The FCC has just published recently … broadband maps that actually show which parts of West Virginia have service, which homes have service and which don’t,” the West Virginia senator said, according to the story. “I feel that they have some pretty grave mistakes. What would that impact? It would impact our ability to get larger funding to extend to unserved and underserved areas.”

As an example of her claim, Capito, according to the story, mentions a particular mountainous region in West Virginia where 130,000 households are represented as covered by the satellite broadband service Starlink. But Capito says “… their service is non-existent, it’s spotty, and it’s very expensive. To me, that’s an underserved or unserved area. Those are the kinds of disputes we need to make because it will affect funding and we won’t get to that last home if we don’t have the accurate maps.”

In 2020, Capito worked with the West Virginia Broadband Enhancement Council to create its own state-administered map to quantify the digital divide, according to the story. According to Broadband.Money, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, West Virginia has 896,585 broadband serviceable locations, 243,761 of which are unserved and 411,602 that are underserved.

Lumen expanding intercity network by six million fiber miles

Telecom Lumen Technologies said Tuesday it is planning to invest in another six million miles of fiber in its intercity network project.

The project, which will drive fiber through 50 major cities across the country, is expected to be installed by 2026, according to a press release on Tuesday.

“As demand for optical fiber increases and technology evolves, Lumen’s multi-conduit infrastructure means we can install the latest fiber type quickly and economically. It’s difficult to upgrade legacy intercity networks without multiple conduits,” said Lumen Chief Technology Officer Andrew Dugan.

“These networks end up being stuck with older fiber technology,” Dugan added. “Lumen is fixing that issue with our upgraded technology. We can extend signal reach to help reduce equipment costs and increase bandwidth capacity.”

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