April 1, 2021 – In response to President Joe Biden’s new infrastructure “American Jobs Plan,” including $100 billion for broadband projects, many in the broadband industry are applauding the administration’s effort to bridge the digital divide, but with some caution and criticism as well.
“We share the administration’s belief that connectivity for all is a national priority of the highest order,” said USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter in a statement. “Let’s remember this: our shared communications networks are backed by $1.8 trillion in private investment that helped the country navigate the depths of the pandemic with reliable and resilient connectivity.
The plan, announced Wednesday, includes a pledge to provide broadband access to all Americans by 2030.
“Today’s broadband marketplace is also ultra-competitive, defined by increasing speeds, declining prices, new entrants and next generation technologies. Congress now should prioritize affordability and accessibility solutions that are fast and smart and incentivize continued private investment to get the job done. We shouldn’t lose this fundamental context as we drive toward our collective connectivity goals.”
John Windhausen, executive director at the advocacy organization Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition said in a statement that Biden’s plan “recognizes the importance of investing to connect 100 percent of Americans to broadband. It wisely calls for future-proof capacity, which will encompass the high-bandwidth demands of anchor institutions.”
Meanwhile, Christina Mason of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association said the organization is “greatly encouraged by President Biden’s push to create new jobs and rebuild much of America’s core infrastructure. The President’s focus is right on target.”
Some criticism, including impact on competition
The Internet and Television Association’s (NCTA) response to the new Biden plan was more critical. “The White House has elected to go big on broadband infrastructure, but it risks taking a serious wrong turn in discarding decades of successful policy by suggesting that the government is better suited than private-sector technologists to build and operate the internet,” CEO Michael Powell said.
“Government does have a critical role to play in getting networks to areas that lack service and helping low-income families afford it. However, those targeted, shared goals are not served by suggesting wrongly that the entire network is ailing and that the solution is either to prioritize government-owned networks or micromanage private networks, including the unfounded assertion that the government should be managing prices,” Powell said.
American Enterprise Institute’s Daniel Lyons also expressed caution over the proposal. “The plan accurately frames the multifaceted problem of America’s digital divide. But the devil is in the details — and the few details released so far cast significant doubt on how Biden hopes to achieve this goal,” he said.
Lyons calls out specific aspects of the plan, including future-proofing networks, which he says should not favor fiber over other broadband technology. “Picking winners and losers among network models undermines the intermodal competition that pushes all technologies forward and increases the chances of finding the most efficient way of serving individual pockets of unserved customers,” he said.
He also highlighted the importance of unserved over underserved areas. “Subsidizing a new company to compete directly against an unsubsidized competitor raises different issues than providing service where none currently exists, and it can effectively punish companies that have invested private dollars to connect hard-to-serve populations economically,” Lyons said.
He was also skeptical of possible rate regulation. “As I recently discussed in a piece about the Texas Blackout, political pressure to keep prices low can lead companies to forego investment in resiliency and innovation,” Lyons said.
Biden compared his broadband initiative to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, which provided loans to companies to get electricity to every unserved area at that time. But Lyons said the comparison to modern broadband fails because it was loans, not grants, that provided electricity to Americans. “This key control is lacking in today’s broadband buildout efforts, which may explain why America faces a broadband gap despite spending countless billions of dollars on buildout subsidies,” he said.
Congressional applause and disappointment
“There is no better way to rebuild our economy for the future than to modernize our badly aging infrastructure, and President Biden’s American Jobs Plan is exactly what our nation needs right now,” said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., chairman of the Energy and Commerce committee. “The President’s plan aligns with the LIFT America Act, which I introduced earlier this month with all Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats. Our legislation invests in clean and efficient energy, safe drinking water, expanded access to broadband, Brownfield cleanups, and improving our nation’s health care infrastructure,” he said.
But Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., ranking Republican member on the Energy and Commerce committee, took issue with the plan. “On broadband, President Biden is poised to waste billions of dollars and hurt private investment in our networks without actually closing the digital divide,” she said. Rather than promoting competition, President Biden’s plan will set rural America back even further and force higher costs on families. Instead, we should be turbocharging our public and private investments and encouraging competition by streamlining permitting processes,” she said.
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, chairwoman of the House Science, Space and Technology committee, commended the Biden plan’s impact on transportation, energy, a cleaner environment, climate change, American manufacturing, research and development, STEM workforce, and equitable engagement for all communities. “The American Jobs Plan is a great start to achieving that goal,” she said.
Court Strikes Social Media Law, Industry Likes Cyber Initiative, Meta Data Transparency Project
Key provisions in the social media law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis was found unconstitutional by an appeals court.
May 24, 2022 – The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a unanimous 3-0 decision Monday that key provisions in Florida’s social media censorship law is unconstitutional, following a preliminary injunction granted by a Florida judge last year.
The social media law, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis, would have prohibited companies from banning politicians on their platforms and limit their content moderation and editorial decisions, claiming that social media platforms are suppliers of a platform who should have no hand in the flow of information. The law was adopted following a number of high-profile Republican figures were banned from social media platforms, including former President Donald Trump from Twitter.
But the court found that provisions that allowed for the law to prevent tech platforms from removing political figures and posts by political candidates – key provisions in the law – were unconstitutional, affirming the court’s decision when it temporarily stopped the law from taking effect until it made a final determination. The court, however, found some provisions regarding data and disclosure requirements to remain in force.
The ruling came in response to a lawsuit issued by NetChoice and Computer and Communications Industry Association.
The decision comes nearly two weeks after a federal appeals court temporarily lifted restrictions on a similar law in Texas until the courts can make a final determination.
The court said in its decision that, “not in their wildest dreams could anyone in the Founding generation have imagined Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or TikTok. But whatever the challenges of applying the Constitution to ever-advancing technology, the basic principles of freedom of speech and the press, like the First Amendment’s command, do not vary when a new and different medium for communication appears.”
Industry commends Biden administration for progress on federal cybersecurity
Experts are applauding the White House’s progress in the year since President Joe Biden signed an executive order to focus on cybersecurity, according to The Hill, specifically highlighting the improvements in sharing threat information from government to private sector.
“I think the public-private partnership portion of the executive order has really been key,” said Kelly Rozumalski, senior vice president at IT consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, explaining that the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Alliance has now partnered with numerous companies in the private sector to push for cybersecurity.
“I’ve seen much more directive, actionable steps coming out now and I think the executive order is a big reason for that,” added Chris Wysopal, chief technology officer of Veracode. “[The order] sort of changed the status quo from best practices to practicality.”
The executive order in May of 2021 introduced several initiatives to secure federal networks and critical infrastructure against cyberattacks, which included sharing threat information, modernizing federal cybersecurity standards, and improving software supply chain security.
The order was enacted amid major cyberattacks, including oil transport company Colonial Pipeline and software company SolarWinds. As a result of the order, said The Hill, many companies are taking software security more seriously and require that suppliers sell them upgraded and secure software.
In March, Congress passed the Cyber Incident Reporting for Critical Infrastructure Act, which requires private sector companies to report incidents of cyberattacks to the federal government.
Meta announces data transparency project
Meta, the parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, announced on Monday the Facebook Open Research and Transparency project, which will grant access to researchers to data on how political advertising can be targeted on their platforms.
Meta, according to New York times, has given outsiders access into how political ads were used in the past, but only with certain restrictions. Meta claims that “by making advertiser targeting criteria available for analysis and reporting on ads run about social issues, elections, and politics, we hope to help people better understand the practices used to reach potential voters.”
The project will be initiated by the end of the month. The data will allow researchers to see what interest categories advertisers chose for each post. Meta will also include summaries of targeting information the Ad Library which is currently publicly available.
D.C. Attorney General Sues Zuckerberg, Carr Criticizes Infrastructure Bill Details, Vermont to Expand Fiber Builds
The lawsuit comes years after Facebook was found to have been used to harvest personal data for political purposes.
May 23, 2022 – On Monday, Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine sued Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg for alleged consumer privacy violations revealed during the Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke in 2018.
In his office’s filings with the D.C. Superior Court, Racine argued that “Facebook is far from a disinterested platform” and that it “[derives] enormous wealth from acquiring and monetizing the data of [billions of people] leading their lives in Facebook’s digital ecosystem.
“But even that is not enough,” the filing read. “Facebook is in a relentless pursuit to expand its reach on humanity and bring an ever-increasing number of people under its influence.”
To that end, the filings stated that “Cambridge Analytica used the Facebook Platform—in a way that Facebook and Zuckerberg encouraged—to influence and manipulate the outcome of a United States presidential election.”
As co-founder, CEO, chairman, and majority voting shareholder (Zuckerberg holds 60 percent of Meta’s voting shares according to the filings), Racine stated that Zuckerberg “maintains an unparalleled level of control over the operations of Facebook,” and thus bears the responsibility for its actions.
FCC Commissioner Carr says NTIA broadband infrastructure details picks “winners and losers”
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr released a statement expressing concern that the application details for broadband funding under the infrastructure bill released this month prioritizes one technology over others.
“[The notices of funding opportunity] will prevent states from funding projects that could quickly bridge the digital divide using those high-speed technologies in nearly all cases—putting too much of a thumb on the scale for fiber builds that provide robust service but can take years to build out in certain cases,” Carr said in a statement Thursday, but added, “I have no doubt that fiber projects would demonstrate their value in the lion’s share of cases.”
The week prior, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s released those funding details, which included an answer to a question about its technology preference for the builds. “With respect to the deployment of last-mile broadband infrastructure, the Program prioritizes projects designed to provide fiber connectivity directly to the end user,” the Commerce agency said in the 98-page NOFO.
Carr stated that this will “undoubtedly waste taxpayer dollars and leave families waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide.”
The Republican commissioner also condemned what he perceived as rate regulation and overbuilding.
“In the end, the Administration’s decision to pursue those political goals—rather than focusing on connecting the largest number of people as quickly as possible—will exacerbate the supply chain challenges and workforce shortages that already pose a hurdle to getting the job done.”
Vermont governor announces fiber grants
On Monday, Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott announced broadband grants totaling more than $16 million.
The grants will be focused on deploying more than 9,000 miles of fiber across Bolton and several other towns in the northeast corner of Vermont.
Scott was set to be joined by Vermont’s at-large congressional representative Democratic Rep. Peter Welch at 12 noon ET in Jericho, Vt., to formally unveil the project in question.
Senate Bill Would Alter Google Advertising, DOJ Cybersecurity Policy Reversal, Comcast on Hybrid Fiber-Coax
Senate introduces bill breaking up Google’s digital advertising business
May 20, 2022 – On Thursday a bipartisan group of senators on the Judiciary Committee introduced a bill that would force Google to break up its industry-leading online advertising exchange.
The Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act would prohibit large companies like Google from both operating an ad exchange and a supply- or demand-side platform, should they process more than $20 billion in ad transactions.
The bill would also require Facebook to divest some of its advertising business.
“Companies like Google and Facebook have been able to exploit their unprecedented troves of detailed user data to obtain vice grip-like control over digital advertising,” said bill sponsor Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah.
In late 2020, a coalition of 10 state attorneys general brought a lawsuit against Google alleging that its market dominance lets it overcharge businesses seeking to place ads online.
Justice Department changes directions on cybersecurity prosecution policy
On Thursday the Department of Justice announced it would reverse its charging policy on a federal computer fraud law, saying it will not prosecute “good-faith security research” efforts.
The change by the department relates to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, defining good-faith research as “accessing a computer solely for purposes of good-faith testing, investigation, and/or correction of a security flaw or vulnerability” without any intention of harming the public.
Last year, Georgia police sergeant Nathan Van Buren was successful in appealing his conviction under the CFAA to the Supreme Court.
DOJ argued that he should not have taken a bribe to access a woman’s license plate information during a 2015 Federal Bureau of Investigation sting operation, while Van Buren claimed that he had legitimate access to the database.
Comcast plans to release hybrid fiber-coaxial multi-gig speeds in the coming months.
Comcast is preparing to roll out faster multi-gigabit speeds across its hybrid fiber-coaxial network, Fierce Telecom reported Thursday.
Multi-gig rollout is expected in the coming months.
At an investor conference Comcast CEO Dave Watson stated that his operator’s choice to roll out mid-split upgrades on the way to Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification 4.0 technology will allow it to take speeds to the next level.
“We have a very fast, very efficient path to multi-gig symmetrical at scale that we can do,” said Watson.
He feels comfortable that despite Comcast fiber deployments in select locations, the company feels comfortable that its HFC network will remain competitive.
He also reiterated previous comments that fixed wireless access service is not a threat and that it does not materially impact churn from fixed wireless competitors.
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