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Emergency Broadband Benefit Test Launch, FCC Robocall Database, West Virginia Broadband Legislation

FCC launches both the Emergency Broadband Benefit program and a database for robocalls, while West Virginia moves on broadband legislation.

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Photo of Daniel Linville, from WV legislature

April 20, 2021 – On Monday, the FCC announced that the agency is opening the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program to participating broadband providers for testing.

The $3.2-billion program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 that passed in December 2020. It is a temporary funding mechanism intended to provide relief to eligible consumers for broadband subscriptions through their providers during the Covid-19 pandemic. The program will expire when all funds are depleted or six months after the Health and Human Services secretary declares that Covid-19 is no longer a health emergency.

This important milestone will allow these providers to familiarize themselves with the program systems in anticipation of the impending consumer launch of the program, the press release said.

“As the agency continues to work to rapidly deliver much-needed relief to families across the country, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made in record time,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “I am thrilled that we have more than 600 providers now committed to the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program. Many have expressed interest in helping make sure consumer enrollments go as smoothly as possible as we near the program’s launch. For millions of families making the hard choice between paying a utility or internet bill or at risk of digital disconnection, help is on the way.”

FCC launches robocall database

The Federal Communications Commission announced Tuesday the launch of a database through which voice service providers are required to inform the agency of their robocall mitigation efforts.

Called the Robocall Mitigation Database, it includes a portal through which voice providers must file certifications regarding their efforts to stem the origination of illegal robocalls on their networks.

As of September 28, 2021, phone companies must refuse to accept traffic from voice service providers not listed in the new database.

“Protecting consumers from scammers that use robocall and spoofing tools is a top priority,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel.  “To succeed, we not only need an all-hands-on-deck response from government, but we need industry commitment and focus.  Our message to providers is clear: certify under penalty of perjury the steps you are taking to stop illegal robocalls, or we will block your calls.”

Last week, the agency announced that carriers must ensure free tools are available to consumers to mitigate such calls.

Call authentication, based on STIR/SHAKEN technological standards, enables voice service providers to verify that the caller ID information transmitted with a call matches the caller’s phone number.  Use of these standards will help combat scammers’ use of caller ID spoofing to mask their true identity and trick consumers by appearing to call from local or other trusted numbers.  It will also allow law enforcement, the FCC, and industry to more quickly and effectively trace back scam calls to their source.

The FCC previously required providers with IP-based phone networks to implement the STIR/SHAKEN framework by June 30, 2021. The agency also required voice service providers with non-IP network technology either to upgrade their non-IP networks to IP and implement these standards, or work to develop a non-IP caller ID authentication solution. Providers that received an extension of time to come into compliance with these STIR/SHAKEN obligations must adopt robocall mitigation programs.

West Virginia broadband legislation

The West Virginia legislature has passed a new broadband bill, House Bill 2002, aimed at speeding up broadband deployment and offering additional protections for consumers, reported the Gazette-Mail on earlier this month.

The legislative process was impacted by industry lobbyists trying to usurp parts of the bill, reported the Gazette. Daniel Linville, a state representative, said that “broadband lobbyists tried to take control of the bill when they decided they didn’t like some of the Legislature’s proposals,” according to the article.

“I hope that fixing the damn internet will be the priority we all say it is, and I don’t mean in a partisan fashion. Put in the work,” Linville said.

The state senate sent the bill to the state house chamber just a few hours before the close of the legislative session, forcing the house to take quick action on it.

The bill was originally introduced in a previous year but had changes that didn’t make it through that time, the Gazette reported.

In the current version, the legislation would “expedite the permit process and have broadband companies share in the cost of a project with utility companies and other entities that do work requiring digging in right-of-way areas maintained by the West Virginia Division of Highways,” the article said.

It would also “specify protections for broadband customers that would allow them to file complaints with the Consumer Protection Division in the state Attorney General’s Office.”

The bill is waiting for consideration by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice.

Reporter Tim White studied communication and political science at the University of Utah, and previously worked on Capitol Hill for a member of Congress. A native of Salt Lake City, he escapes to the Pacific Northwest as often as he can. He is passionate about politics, Star Wars, and breakfast cereal.

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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