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Florida Sued Over Social Media Bill, Verizon Wants Affordability Priority, Facebook Halts Manufactured Virus Ban

Tech orgs sue Florida for social media bill, Verizon wants focus on affordability, Facebook allows man-made virus posts.

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Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg

June 1, 2021—Two tech industry organizations, NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association, are suing Florida over a bill limiting social media companies’ power to monitor and remove content from their platforms.

The bill, signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis last week, makes it unlawful to ban any Floridan political candidate or journalistic effort, allows users to sue if they believe they were unjustly banned, and places companies that break the law on a “blacklist” that bars them from doing business with public entities in Florida.

The organizations, which represent companies like Amazon, Google, Intel, Samsung and Facebook, filed the suit on May 27 and argue that the legislation violates these private companies’ constitutional rights, calling it a “frontal assault on the First Amendment,” the Verge reported last Thursday.

They argue that Florida does not have legal authority to pass such a bill because it conflicts both with constitutional protections and federal legislation Section 230, which provides platforms liability protection against posts by their users.

“The law is crony capitalism masquerading as consumer protection,” Carl Szabo, NetChoice vice president, said.

Proponents of the bill argue that social media platforms have transformed into public spaces, and that deplatforming individuals and censoring content is therefore a violation of the First Amendment.

Verizon CEO wants government to prioritize affordability over accessibility

As the national discussion heats up regarding how best to close the digital divide following President Biden’s broadband infrastructure package, Verizon Communications CEO Hans Vestberg says that policy makers should work to prioritize the affordability of broadband over the accessibility.

Fierce Telecom reports Vestberg argued last week that the digital divide is fueled by three main tenets, including access to broadband, its affordability, and usability. He says that the government has already heavily invested in bringing broadband to un(der)served America, making it accessible for all, but has done little with regard to making it affordable.

Vestberg says that he thinks “the government should work on subsidy much more” to ensure families can actually afford quality broadband services before allocating money towards “building products that are actually not meeting the demands of those families.”

AT&T CEO John Stankey said at an online conference last week that, “If we get policy right for affordability, I think the infrastructure’s going to be there. It’s a question of do we do things to reform the Universal Service Fund and get policy right on affordability so those that maybe need a little bit of help to get on that robust infrastructure that’s being built in fact get a little bit of the help they need.”

Facebook no longer banning manufactured virus posts

Facebook announced it will no longer ban posts alleging Covid-19 of being manufactured in Wuhan, China, a shift in policy that comes in response to President Joe Biden’s order to investigate the origins of the viral outbreak.

“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer removed the claim that COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps,” Facebook said in a statement.

Posts alleging the virus to be man-made, as opposed to accidental, have previously been regarded as conspiracy theory, and Facebook blocked these kinds of posts to quell misinformation and halt the spread of hate toward Chinese people that spread in response to the pandemic.

However, Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he’s “not convinced” that Covid-19 developed naturally.

Broadband Roundup

Carr ‘Surprised’ by RDOF Denials, ‘New Normal’ on Supply Chain, $68M for Student Connectivity

Carr said he was notified via press release of the FCC decision to deny RDOF money to Starlink and LTD.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr

August 15, 2022 – Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr said he was surprised by the commission’s decision to deny Starlink funding from the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

“I am surprised to find out via a press release – while I am on a work trip to remote parts of Alaska – that the FCC has made this significant decision,” Carr said about Wednesday’s decision.

“I will have more to say because we should be making it easier for unserved communities to get service, not rejecting a proven satellite technology that is delivering robust, high-speed service today,” he said. “To be clear, this is a decision that tells families in states across the country that they should just keep waiting on the wrong side of the digital divide even though we have the technology to improve their lives now.”

Carr is a Republican who was on the Ajit Pai-led commission that awarded funding for the satellite provider and the LTD Broadband, which also saw its winnings revoked by the commission on Wednesday and told this publication that it is looking into next steps.

Gary Bolton, the head of the Fiber Broadband Association, meanwhile celebrated the decision Wednesday, saying it “provides clarity and a path forward for fiber and closing the digital divide, while returning $885.5M of this precious funding back into the RDOF fund for more appropriate broadband projects.”

Bolton noted that the awarding of funding to Starlink in certain areas would have precluded those areas from getting fiber connections from the $42.5-billion broadband infrastructure program run by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

The federal government has previously made numerous reference to fiber as its preferred option for the future of broadband in the country.

Telecom head says there’s ‘new normal’ on supply chain

The CEO of Consolidated Communications said he sees a new view on the supply chain following disruptions in product supply over the pandemic, according to reporting Thursday from Fierce Telecom.

The backup in the supply chain on many products overseas has caused delays in shipments for telecom and technology equipment that have pushed back some broadband builds in the country. Some have suggested that telecommunications executives will now need to consider stocking up on inventory well in advance of construction to make sure projects are completed on time.

“I wouldn’t say you can guarantee it’s all behind us now, but we’ve got more visibility than we ever have into how to manage it and more forward information on when people are running into either demand challenge or raw material challenges,” said Bob Udell during a Cowen investor conference, according to Fierce.

“I think we’re in a new normal that will continue to stabilize to something different than what we’ve known in the past,” he’s cited as saying in the story.

The company is currently in the midst of a fiber expansion, which Udell said its diversity of suppliers put it in good shape to continue, the story said.

FCC commits another $68M to student connectivity

The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday it is committing another $68 million from the Emergency Connectivity Program, a fund intended to help students continue school work remotely.

The latest round will go toward funding broadband connections and devices for over 100,000 students across the country, including in California, Florida, North Carolina, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, according to the release.

“As we inch closer to the start of another school year, the Homework Gap remains a real concern for far too many students who lack internet access after the school day ends,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We’re working hard to fix this and support students as they prepare to return to the classroom in the coming weeks and this latest round of funding will help us do just that.”

So far the agency has committed over $5.7 billion from the $7.1 billion fund, which has gone toward nearly 12 million devices and seven million broadband connection to roughly 10,000 schools, 900 libraries, and 100 consortia.

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Appeals Court Affirms FCC’s Spectrum Authority, FTC Privacy Rulemaking, (Root) Beer and Broadband

The Federal Communications Commission’s reallocation of intelligent transportation service spectrum was not arbitrary and capricious, the court held.

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August 12, 2022 – The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed the the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to reclassify radio frequency spectrum and make more of the 5.9 GigaHertz band available for broadband communication.

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission reallocated a part of the radio spectrum from use by intelligent transportation systems to use by unlicensed transmission devices such as Wi-Fi routers.

In a unanimous running by a three-judge panel, Judge Justin R. Walker wrote: “Several groups that want to retain their old use of the reallocated spectrum argue that the FCC’s reallocation was arbitrary and capricious. It was not.”

In the relatively brief 15-page decision in ITS America v. FCC, the court upheld the FCC’s manner of changing a band’s usage.

In 1999, the FCC gave the auto industry 75 MHz of spectrum exclusively for “Dedicated Short-Range Communications” for the purpose of improving public safety. After more than 20 years of waiting for the industry to deploy DSRC, in 2020 the FCC approved an Order to phase out DSRC and replace it with a new, more efficient technology called Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything.

Supporters of the FCC, including non-profit groups like Public Knowledge, argued that 30 MHz of spectrum the auto industry retained is more than sufficient for collision avoidance and safety purposes. Rather than allowing the auto industry to retain excess spectrum for commercial uses such as location-based advertising, the FCC repurposed the lower 45 MHz for unlicensed use which will enable next-generation Wi-FI.

“By reaffirming the FCC’s decision, the D.C. Circuit will ensure that our airwaves are being put to their best and most efficient use,” said Kathleen Burke, policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

FTC opens process to consider new privacy rules

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday announced proposals to go after businesses that collect and analyze personal-based information, and that don’t deploy the strong forms of data security.

“Firms now collect personal data on individuals at a massive scale and in a stunning array of contexts,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan. “The growing digitization of our economy—coupled with business models that can incentivize endless hoovering up of sensitive user data and a vast expansion of how this data is used—means that potentially unlawful practices may be prevalent.”

The agency’s press release went on to blast companies that “surveil consumers while they are connected to the internet – every aspect of their online activity, their family and friend networks, browsing and purchase histories, location and physical movements, and a wide range of other personal details.”

On July 20, the Senate Commerce Committee passed comprehensive privacy legislation a restricting collection and transfer of personal data of U.S. citizens without consent.

The measure has not yet passed the House, where Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said in Thursday response: “I appreciate the FTC’s effort to use the tools it has to protect consumers, but Congress has a responsibility to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation to better equip the agency, and others, to protect consumers to the greatest extent.

“Ultimately, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act is necessary to establish comprehensive national statutory privacy protections for all Americans and I’m committed to getting it passed and signed into law.”

(Root) Beer and Broadband episode features Broadband Breakfast’s Drew Clark

Bonfire Engineering and Construction on Thursday released a new episode of its “Beer and Broadband” podcast.

Featuring Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast, Russ Elliott, CEO of Siskiyou Telephone, and Megan Beresford of LDAGrants, the episode focused on “How Data & Policy Impacts Broadband Expansion.”

Nick Dinsmoor and Brian Hollister of Bonfire, hosts of the informal program, structured the roundtable series as a way to bring together leaders in the broadband and infrastructure space to share their thoughts without egos, agendas, or selling.

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Grid Broadband Bill, Ting Gets Financing, Finley Engineering Has New CEO

A new bill would provide grants to providers who can quickly build middle-mile infrastructure along existing electrical grid system.

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Photo of Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., via Flickr

August 10, 2022 – A bill introduced in the Senate last week would make grants available to those who can build middle mile fiber infrastructure along existing municipal rights-of-way and use existing assets to reduce the financial, regulatory and permitting barriers to broadband buildouts.

The Grants to Rapidly Invest and Deploy Broadband Act is intended to use existing electrical infrastructure to quickly expand broadband infrastructure to the 120 million American households that don’t have adequate connectivity, according to a Wednesday press release from Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who co-introduced the bill with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

The legislation specifically notes that it would like to fund those that have existing partnerships with last-mile providers to connect homes and business and ensure that the technology is scalable for more advanced services, including accelerating 5G wireless infrastructure and making affordable gigabit broadband speeds.

The bill would also require that the network would support the security of the electric grid by installing a private communications network for grid operators.

“Building out fiber along our nation’s existing grid will provide the communications capacity needed to modernize our energy system, make our grid more cybersecure, and bring affordable high-speed internet to tens of millions of hard-to-reach households,” Cantwell said in the release. “It’s a triple win solution for consumers because it leverages existing rights-of-way and private sector ingenuity and investment to deliver cleaner electricity, stronger cybersecurity, and more accessible broadband services.”

Ting Fiber gets $200M financing

Telecommunications company Ting Fiber announced Tuesday that it has secured $200 million in financing from Generate Capital, which the company said will help it deploy next-generation communications infrastructure to municipalities across the country.

“We chose Generate because we wanted more than just a financing partner. We wanted their project management expertise, sustainability expertise and the wide range of capital solutions they offer – all of which will help Ting as we continue to rapidly scale our operations,” said Elliot Noss, CEO of Ting and its parent Tucows.

The financing will be used to accelerate Ting’s network deployment and to take advantage of its move from coaxial to fiber technology.

Some of the financing, which was signed on Monday, will be forwarded as Ting achieved operational milestones, it said.

Finley Engineering announces new CEO

The board of directors of broadband and energy engineering and consulting firm Finley Engineering announced Wednesday that Ty Middleton will be the company’s next president and CEO.

Middleton will replace Mike Boehne, who is retiring after being in the job for 10 years, according to the press release.

The release notes that Middleton has experience in the cybersecurity, software-as-a-service, and telecommunications sectors, the latter of which he has 30 years experience.

“He joins Finley with extensive experience in cross-functional leadership roles including general management, field and business operations, sales, and business development,” the release said.

“Middleton has led high-growth, customer-centric, technology-fueled businesses from start-ups to Fortune 150, including time at MCI Telecommunications, Qwest Communications, and CenturyLink,” it added.

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