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Reaction To Biden’s Broadband Plan A Mix Of Praise, Caution And Criticism

Tim White

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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.

Broadband Roundup

Faster Rural Broadband Bill, Tools For Robocalls, Opposition To Instagram For Kids

Senators introduce rural broadband legislation, FCC tackles robocalling, advocates ask Facebook to stop developing Instagram for kids.

Tim White

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Photo of Mark Kelly via Flickr.

April 15, 2021 – Sens. Steve Daines, R-Montana and Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, introduced the “Accelerating Rural Broadband Deployment Act” Wednesday to increase access to existing infrastructure that will allow easier and faster installation of broadband services.

The legislation, S.1113, would make it easier for broadband companies to receive federal right-of-way licenses to install broadband alongside existing infrastructure like federal highways, ensure costs of federal right-of-way licenses are fair market prices and increase transparency into the federal right-of-way license awarding process, according to the news release.

“Broadband coverage is essential to rural states like Montana as we work to close the digital divide. It helps support jobs, connects folks in every corner of our state, and makes life easier for working families,” Daines said in a statement. “I’m glad to work across the aisle on this commonsense, bipartisan legislation that will help expedite broadband deployment across Montana by capitalizing on existing infrastructure.”

“Broadband access is not just about staying connected, it’s how small businesses, hospitals, and students thrive in today’s economy,” Kelly said. “I’ve spoken to so many Arizonans, especially in rural areas, who have faced challenges because of poor internet access, and that’s why I worked with Republicans and Democrats to introduce this legislation that will cut red tape and help broadband projects move faster in rural communities. Every Arizonan deserves reliable broadband access.”

Several broadband organizations expressed support for the legislation, including the Internet and Television Association, the Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom, Advocates for Rural Broadband, Montana Telecommunications Association and Blackfoot Communications.

FCC calls on carriers to ensure free tools for consumers to protect against robocalls

Federal Communications Commission Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Tuesday the agency’s efforts to protect consumers from unwanted and scam robocalls and spoofed calls.

The FCC’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau wrote to major phone companies and issued a public notice to ask about what free robocall blocking tools they make available to consumers. The bureau seeks to learn more about the tools available to consumers, their effectiveness, and any potential impact on 911 services and public safety.

“No one wants more unwanted robocalls in their life.  I’m proud that we continue to find new ways to use all the tools at our disposal to make it clear to illegal robocallers that their days are numbered.  We want them to know that we’re advocating on behalf of consumers everywhere to put an end to these calls,” Rosenworcel said.

Additionally, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau issued two more cease-and-desist letters to phone service providers suspected of facilitating robocalls that market auto warranties and credit card debt reduction service, or falsely claim to be from the Social Security Administration or other well-known companies.

The robocall cease-and-desist letters instruct the voice providers to investigate and, if necessary, cease transmitting the identified traffic immediately and take steps to prevent its network from continuing to be a source of apparently illegal robocalls.

Lastly, Rosenworcel announced the launch of a new effort to track the agency’s actions to implement the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED Act). The new webpage outlines the agency’s progress in using its strengthened enforcement authority, progress on updated call blocking rules, and steps taken to implement new Caller ID authentication technology.  It also details the agency’s work to address one-ring scams, protect hospitals from illegal robocalls, and establish a reassigned numbers database.

Advocates Ask Facebook to stop development of an Instagram for kids

A coalition of almost 100 experts and advocates globally wrote a letter Thursday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to abandon the company’s plans to build an Instagram for kids under 13, reported USA Today.

Instagram, the popular social media app, currently does not allow users under the age of 13. Zuckerberg confirmed during a March congressional hearing that a new ‘Instagram for kids’ app was in the planning stage.

The advocates, led by several organizations including the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Humane Technology, Common Sense Media and the Center for Digital Democracy, wrote their concerns to Zuckerberg, saying that the app “preys on their fear of missing out as their ravenous desire for approval by peers exploits their developmental growth,” reported the USA Today article.

“The platform’s relentless focus on appearance, self-presentation, and branding presents challenges to adolescents’ privacy and well-being,” the letter said. “Younger children are even less developmentally equipped to deal with these challenges, as they are learning to navigate social interactions, friendships, and their inner sense of strengths during this crucial window of development.”

During the March 25 congressional hearing when asked about the new app, Zuckerberg defended social media apps, saying they are a positive way for people to connect with each other. He also said the details of a kids’ version of Instagram was still being ironed out.

Members of Congress are also concerned about Facebook’s plans for a new children’s app. Sens. Ed Markey, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Kathy Castor, D-Florida, and Lori Trahan, D-Mass., wrote a letter to Zuckerberg on April 5 requesting details on the company’s plans.

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Broadband Roundup

Broadband Report Cards, Washington Muni Networks Bill, Supreme Court Fair Use Winners

AP releases infrastructure report cards, Washington passes bill removing muni networks limits, AEI says fair use case win for programmers.

Benjamin Kahn

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Photo of Drew Hansen, D-Washington

April 14, 2021— The Associated Press has released documents compiling report cards outlining infrastructure weaknesses in each state, including the state of broadband.

Mississippi is trailing behind the rest of the country in broadband coverage, the documents show, with 23 percent of Mississippians lacking a broadband subscription, compared to 6 percent nationally. Mississippi received a “D+” overall on it “infrastructure report card.”

Mississippi’s broadband coverage was only narrowly beaten by New Mexico and Arkansas with 21 and 20 percent of their populations lacking coverage, respectively.

The only region that performed worse than Mississippi in broadband coverage was Puerto Rico, where 40 percent of the population does not have access to a broadband subscription.

On the other end, Washington is leading the way in broadband coverage, with just 8.8 percent of Washingtonians lacking access to broadband services. Despite its leadership in this regard, Washington still only earned a “C” on its report card.

Washington was closely followed by Colorado and Utah, which both have populations without broadband under ten percent, at 9 percent and 9.2 percent, respectively.

Improving these numbers is part of the Biden Administration’s effort to ensure that every American has access to high-speed broadband.

Municipal networks triumph as Washington legislature rolls back regulations

Washington’s legislature voted Sunday to undo what Democratic Rep. Drew Hansen called “decades of bad policy” by passing a bill that allows municipalities to build their own broadband networks.

HB 1336, which was passed the state’s senate mostly along party lines, had Republican Brad Hawkins side with the Democrats to pass the bill.

According to Hansen, Washington was one of only 18 states that had laws preventing the state from providing broadband to its citizens.

Momentum for municipal broadband has been picking up in the state during the pandemic, where it has become clear that telework, telehealth and distance learning could no longer be approached as luxuries and need to be viewed as services that are integral to modern society.

“The pandemic has made it unmistakably clear,” Hansen said, “that is long past time to lift those restrictions and allow government to offer broadband directly to the public.”

Supreme Court fair use decision victory for programmers

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s 6-2 decision for Google, Michael Rosen of the American Enterprise Institute predicts the ruling as a victory for programmers.

Google’s argument that it satisfied fair use law because its use of some 12,000 lines of code from Oracle, which it said was used to craft a “new and transformative program” was accepted by the highest court in the land earlier this month. Fair use rules allow limited use of copyright material without permission for purposes including research and scholarship.

In a piece published by AEI Tuesday, Rosen said the conclusion to this decade-long struggle would make it easier for software developers to copy code during the creation of new products—something that Google argued is already common practice in the industry.

Rosen also pointed to the Computer and Communications Industry Association’s comment on the matter, which seemed to echo Google’s; both the CCIA and Google stated that, chiefly, this was a victory for consumers and interoperability at large.

All this considered, Rosen still tempered expectations, stating that the ruling was “unlikely to mark a fundamental change in how we conceive of computer code copyright issues.”

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Broadband Roundup

Speed And Mapping Bills, LinkedIn Data Harvested, Facebook Tackles Fake Review Groups

Delgado’s speed and mapping bills, 500M LinkedIn accounts for sale, and 16,000 Facebook groups axed for fake reviews.

Samuel Triginelli

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Screenshot of Antonio Delgado from YouTube

April 13, 2021 — On Monday, Representative Antonio Delgado, D-NY, reintroduced the Broadband Speed Act, which would require internet service providers to report accurate, yearly speed data to the Federal Communications Commission and introduced a new bill to improve flawed broadband mapping.

“Our rural communities need broadband internet that is accessible, reliable, and matches their internet needs,” said Delgado. “Slow broadband speeds are untenable for our young students taking classes online, web-based small business owners, and families working from home. The Broadband Speed Act would require internet service providers to deliver accurate speed data — not inaccurate estimates.”

Enforcing the Broadband Speed Act would require internet service providers to report to the FCC the actual speed they can provide, rather than the maximum speed that might be possible in 7-10 business days under the current law.

The FCC would use this data to determine which broadband connectivity areas offer the speeds advertised and which areas have gaps in service. This bill also requires that new FCC funding awards be used for speeds of 100 Mbps or greater.

The new bill to improve flawed broadband mapping was introduced as a bipartisan bill to address the digital divide and provide broadband service at affordable prices for rural Americans. It corrects mistakes in federal broadband mapping practice and empowers local communities to dispute incorrect FCC claims regarding internet service status, the bill said.

“Flawed service maps compiled by the FCC paint an inaccurate picture of upstate broadband access,” said Delgado. “The Community Broadband Mapping Act gives our communities the ability to collect their data on broadband coverage so that they can challenge the FCC’s inaccurate mapping. It is unacceptable that in the 21st century, folks live without a reliable internet connection in the wealthiest county in the world. As the pandemic has made even more clear, broadband service isn’t a luxury—it’s a necessity.”

The Community Broadband Mapping Act grants USDA Rural Utility Service grants to local governments, electric/telephone groups, economic development organizations, and small internet providers so that they can collect information on local broadband coverage. This will provide communities incorrectly identified by the FCC as having broadband access with the information they need to contest the FCC’s designation.

500 million LinkedIn Account Numbers Are Up For Sale on a Hacker Site

According to LinkedIn, data harvested from 500 million profiles are part of a database for sale on a site popular with hackers, CNN reports.

In the first report to surface about the sale, CyberNews said that an archive was being offered for auction on a forum, including user IDs, names, emails, phone numbers, genders, professions, and links to social networks.

LinkedIn, which is owned by Microsoft, said the data for sale is an “aggregation from several websites and companies.” The LinkedIn user data does not include any information other than what has been made public on users’ profiles, according to LinkedIn.

“This is not a LinkedIn data breach, and no private member account data from LinkedIn was included in what we’ve been able to review,” the company said.

“When anyone tries to take member data and use it for purposes LinkedIn and our members haven’t agreed to, we work to stop them and hold them accountable,” LinkedIn added in a statement.

Thousands of Facebook Groups Have Been Removed for Trading Fake Reviews

Facebook has removed 16,000 groups for posting fake reviews on its platform in the United Kingdom, following criticism by the country’s regulator.

Facebook signed a deal with the Competition and Markets Authority in January 2020 to “better identify, investigate and remove pages and groups that have fake and misleading reviews, and prevent them re-appearing.”

Several unscrupulous traders engaged in a practice of buying fake positive reviews to boost sales on e-commerce sites – or leaving negative reviews on competitors’ sites – which was frequently coordinated on Facebook and Instagram, the CMA found.

Although Facebook agreed to act, a follow-up investigation showed that the “illegal trade in fake reviews” was continuing, the CMA said, and it had to intervene for a second time.

“Facebook must package size and scope all it can to stop the trading of such content on its platforms,” said Andrea Coscelli, the chief executive of the CMA. “After we intervened again, the company made significant changes – but it is disappointing it has taken them over a year to fix these issues.

If a user “repeatedly” creates fake review groups, Facebook asserts that it will suspend or ban the users and introduce new technology that flags affected review groups all by themselves. Facebook announced that finding and joining fake review groups will be more challenging.

“We have engaged extensively with the CMA to address this issue. Fraudulent and deceptive activity is not allowed on our platforms, including offering or trading fake reviews. Our safety and security teams are continually working to help prevent these practices,” a Facebook spokesperson said.

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