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AT&T Settles Overcharging Complaint, DeSantis Social Media Bill, Ohio Broadband, The Case For Broadband for All

AT&T settles for $1.5 million, DeSantis signs social media law, Ohio broadband fund, and broadband for all.

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Attorney General of Washington D.C. Karl Racine

May 25, 2021 — Karl Racine, attorney general for Washington, D.C., announced Thursday AT&T agreed to pay $1.5 million for its failure to honor its contract with the District for cell phone and internet services, overcharging customers by millions of dollars.

The settlement, announced May 20, resolves a lawsuit filed in February by the Office of the Attorney General against the large telecom company for allegedly submitting false invoices that did not comply with contract requirements to provide cost optimization and the most cost-effective telecommunications plans available.

The office accused AT&T of allegedly knowingly sending fraudulent invoices with additional service charges, resulting in millions of dollars in improper charges that were paid with taxpayer funds.

The office alleged AT&T violated the District’s False Claims Act in their actions.

“My office filed suit against AT&T to ensure that it fulfilled its contractual obligation to provide the District government with the least expensive cell phone and data services available,” said Racine.

“We are pleased that after filing suit, AT&T immediately sought to resolve the case in a manner that results in making the District and its taxpayers whole.”

DeSantis signs social media bill into law

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill Monday that would allow Floridians with internet access to sue social media platforms and other online content publishers for removing content they deem inappropriate and for blocking political figures.

The measure comes in response to the Republican allegations that social media platforms are unjustly censoring conservative viewpoints and blocking Republican figures. It aims to bar social media platforms from removing political candidates from their platforms and discourages them from removing content from their sites—political rhetoric, hate speech, and misinformation included.

Proponents argue this will put any employed censoring techniques to rest. Critics argue the bill is unconstitutional, saying that private platforms reserve the right to publish and not publish whatever they wish. Critics also argue that the bill prevents social media platforms from protecting their users from hate speech, inappropriate content, and misinformation.

Several states have proposed similar legislation this session, including Kentucky, Utah, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. Most bills have already failed and one was vetoed.

Expanding broadband access in Ohio becomes law

Ohio has signed into law a bill that creates the state’s first-ever residential broadband expansion program.

This program is offering $20 million for grants to assist parts of the state where it is currently cost-prohibitive for telecommunications companies to extend high-speed internet access. This program is aimed to help Ohioans in every area in the state, but it will most likely impact rural communities the most.

“Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, access to broadband was critical to effective telehealth, long-distance education and telecommuting. During the pandemic, this reality came into starker relief,” said Greg Lawson, research fellow at The Buckeye Institute.

It is estimated that 700,000 Ohioans remain without internet access. This bill creates incentives for private investment in broadband infrastructure into underserved areas.

New players argue for broadband for all

Speaking at an Emergency Broadband Benefit event, Kate Ruane, ACLU senior legislative counsel argued that closing the digital divide is more than just an information, economic problem, but a civil rights problem.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit program aims to connect low-income households to quality broadband services through subsidizing up to $50 of any monthly internet plan and up to $75 for those living on reservations.

“Ensuring access to broadband is also a part of our systemic equality agenda, because lack of access to broadband is also a part of our systemic equality agenda, because lack of access to broadband as needed… is a civil rights issue at its core,” Ruane said.

Reporter Tyler Perkins studied rhetoric and English literature, and also economics and mathematics, at the University of Utah. Although he grew up in and never left the West (both Oregon and Utah) until recently, he intends to study law and build a career on the East Coast. In his free time, he enjoys reading excellent literature and playing poor golf.

Broadband Roundup

Biden’s Involvement in 5G, Residential 5 Gbps in Northwest, New Technology Advisory Council

The president urged wireless carriers to comply with the aviation industry’s requests for further delays on new network launches.

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January 21, 2022 – President Joe Biden says he pushed wireless carriers to accommodate aviation companies’ concerns about the networks’ launch of 5G that occurred Wednesday.

Biden encouraged carriers to give airlines even more time to examine their aviation equipment for possible interference with 5G before the new network updates were launched.

Verizon and AT&T announced Tuesday that they would limit 5G service around some airports, giving in to some of the aviation industry’s concerns.

Both companies had initially planned to launch their network changes on January 5 but further delayed launch at the request of airlines. January 5 was already a delayed launch date, with the companies having earlier planned rollout for 2021.

“What I’ve done is pushed as hard as I can to have the 5G folks hold up and abide by what was being requested by the airlines until they could more modernize over the years, so 5G would not interfere with the potential of a landing” said Biden following the events of Wednesday’s launch.

He says he spoke with Verizon and AT&T on the same day the launch took place.

The president did not mention any government fixes to the conflict, saying it was an argument between “two private enterprises,” despite speculation that following the messy fight the administration may develop a national spectrum strategy or the Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration may release updated memoranda on the issues.

Ziply Fiber offers 5 Gigabit per second residential service

Internet service provider Ziply Fiber announced it has begun offering ultra-high-speed 5 Gigabit per second (Gbps) and 2 Gbps residential fiber internet service to customers in several cities across the Northwest.

The expansion in Washington state, Oregon and Idaho makes Ziply Fiber the first company to introduce a 5 Gbps speed for residential services, the company said.

In its announcement Thursday, the company says the expansion will bring service to nearly 170,000 residential customer addresses across 60 cities and towns.

Ziply Fiber began building out fiber in Northwest markets in 2020 and has announced construction of 57 fiber projects since then.

The company plans to introduce its 5 Gbps and 2 Gbps service in Montana later in Q1 of 2022.

FCC sets stage for new TAC membership

The FCC has appointed a new group of members to serve on its Technology Advisory Council and set a February 28 date for its first meeting with the new class.

“The advisory council provides technical expertise to the Commission to identify important areas of innovation and develop informed technology policies,” according to the FCC.

Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced the new membership Wednesday with the commission’s press release calling them “a diverse group of leading technology experts.”

Dean Brenner, a former Qualcomm executive, will serve as chairman of the council, Michael Ha, chief of the policy and rules division in the Office of Engineering and Technology, will continue to serve as the designated federal officer and Martin Doczkat, chief of the electromagnetic compatibility division in the OET, is the alternate designated federal officer.

Rosenworcel highlighted that the council will work on advancing 6G research as well as numerous other issues such as examining both supply chain vulnerabilities and global standards development.

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Broadband Roundup

USDA Hires Lumen, Ligado Marketing Services, IRS Facial ID, New Public Knowledge Hire

The Department of Agriculture awarded Lumen a $1.2-billion, 11-year contract for data services.

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Lumen President and CEO Jeff Storey

January 20, 2022 – On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $1.2-billion network services contract with telecom Lumen Technologies.

The 11-year contract will provide the department with data transport service with remote access and cloud connectivity, leveraging Lumen’s fiber network to connect 9,500 USDA locations across the country and abroad to better manage agriculture in the country, the press release said.

“Lumen is bringing modern technology solutions that will make it easier for the USDA to accomplish its mission of promoting the production of nutritious food that nourishes our people, providing economic opportunity to rural Americans, and preserving our nation’s natural resources through smart forest and watershed conservation,” said Zain Ahmed, Lumen’s public sector senior vice president.

The contract was granted under the General Services Administration’s $50-billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions program.

Ligado Networks and Select Spectrum to strengthen critical networks

Mobile communications company Ligado Networks and spectrum brokerage and advisory firm Select Spectrum announced an agreement on Tuesday that will market and sell Ligado’s mid-band spectrum services for critical infrastructure.

“We know the critical infrastructure sector has an urgent need for dedicated access to licensed spectrum, and our mid-band spectrum, with both satellite and terrestrial connectivity, is uniquely positioned to meet this need and empower companies to operate private networks on a long-term basis,” said Ligado Networks’ CEO Doug Smith in a press release.

According to the agreement, Select Spectrum will search for those seeking to use Ligado’s licensed spectrum in the 1.6 GHz band in order to provide 5G capabilities to projects like power grid modernization and advanced transportation initiatives.

IRS to require facial recognition for taxes access

According to a Wednesday Gizmodo article, starting this summer online tax filers will have to submit a selfie to a third-party verification company called ID.me in order to make payments or file taxes online. Along with facial identification, users will also have to submit government identification documents and copies of bills to confirm their identity.

ID.me will use the selfie and compare it to the government identification document to verify the user. If the system fails to match the two documents, the user can join a recorded video to provide verification to the user.

Gizmodo’s article claimed that both the IRS and ID.me could not provide a method to access user accounts without providing a face scan. This could be problematic for tax filers that don’t have access to certain technologies.

Public Knowledge hires new senior policy analyst

Non-profit public interest group  Public Knowledge announced Tuesday that it has brought on Lisa Macpherson as senior policy analyst.

According to a press release, Macpherson’s “experience driving digital marketing transformation on behalf of brands led to concerns over the broader impacts of digital technology on individual well-being, civil society, journalism, and democracy.”

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Broadband Roundup

National Privacy Law, Digital Infrastructure Firm’s $8B Raise, Wicker Wants Spectrum Cooperation

Business groups are asking Congress to supersede state laws by passing privacy legislation that sets a national standard.

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Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi

January 19, 2022 – As states begin to pass their own privacy laws, business groups are asking the federal government to pass legislation that would mitigate confusion by creating a national standard, reports MediaPost Communications.

The Association of National Advertisers, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the U.S. Chamber of Congress are just a few of the business groups that are asking for a national privacy law.

“As the Federal Trade Commission considers a privacy rulemaking that would add a further layer of complexity to the state patchwork, it is critical that Congress pass one single national standard”, the groups stated in a letter that was signed by 15 national organizations and then by local business groups from across the country, the MediaPost report said.

California, Virginia, and Colorado are just a few of the states that have passed their own version of a privacy law, and while they all serve a similar purpose, they have various nuances that the business groups said they believe will be difficult to navigate for their businesses and for consumers across state lines, MediaPost reports.

In addition, there are members of Congress who are also asking for a national plan for consumer privacy.

Digital infrastructure firm DigitalBridge raises over $8 billion

DigitalBridge Investment Management, an investment firm in digital infrastructure, raised a higher-than-expected $8.3 billion, according to a Wednesday press release, illustrating interest in projects including fiber builds.

“The Fund has already invested in nine portfolio companies across towers, easements, hyperscale data centers, edge infrastructure, indoor DAS infrastructure and fiber, running reliable, mission-critical network infrastructure for many of the world’s leading hyperscale cloud providers and mobile network operators,” the release said.

The round comes as the federal government pushing billions of dollars into infrastructure, including broadband and as the pandemic has shown a need for remote capabilities driven by broadband.

Republican lawmaker calls for NTIA-FCC cooperation on spectrum

Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, sent a letter earlier this month to the head of the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration asking them to consider a renewed agreement to work together on spectrum management.

The January 13 letter to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and new NTIA head Alan Davidson said their “relationship can be strengthened” on matters related to the shared use of radiowaves between federal and non-federal users by refreshing the memorandum of understanding that was last updated in 2003.

“In light of recent disputes over spectrum allocations, it is more important than ever that the [FCC and NTIA] work together to promote spectrum policy that best serves the dual goals of furthering commercial innovation and enabling the mission-critical operations of federal agencies,” the letter said.

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