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New Antitrust Bills, NY’s $15 Broadband Blocked, Trump’s Subpoena to Apple

Congress introduces 5 antitrust bills, a federal judges blocks New York’s $15 internet, and Trump secretly subpoenaed Apple in 2018.

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June 14, 2021—Following a 16-month investigation by the Antitrust Subcommittee completed last year, Congress introduced a package of five new antitrust bills on Friday aimed at limiting the power of Big Tech companies, according to reports.

BBC News reports that the bills aim to prevent companies from manipulating marketplaces to promote their own products. They make it harder for companies to buy and kill off competitors. The bills make it easier to leave social media platforms and take your data to competitors. And they also give the DoJ and FTC the resources they need to police monopoly power without increasing burdens on taxpayers.

The antitrust committee investigation, which scrutinized the business practices of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook, led to a report that accused the tech giants of charging high fees, forcing small customers into low-quality contracts, and buying out smaller companies that posed a competitive threat.

The tail end of the investigation has led to the introduction of five bills, which aim to limit the power of large tech companies:

  • The American Choice and Innovation Online Act
  • The Platform Competition and Opportunity Act of 2021
  • The Ending Platform Monopolies Act
  • The Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching (ACCESS) Act of 2021
  • The Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act of 2021

The legislation comes in light of antitrust lawsuits filed against both Google and Facebook in the last quarter of 2020. In October, the Department of Justice sued Google, accusing them of using anticompetitive tactics to preserve a monopoly. The Federal Trade Commission sued Facebook in December for similar reasons, specifically over their acquisitions of rival companies like WhatsApp and Instagram.

Federal Judge Blocks New York State Broadband Affordability Act

On Friday, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction on a New York state law that would force internet service providers to provide affordable internet access to low-income residents, Ars Technica reported on Friday.

The bill would require ISPs to offer download speed of at least 25 megabits-per-second at no more than $15-per-month or download speeds of at least 200 megabits-per-second at no more than $20-per-month.

The law was passed by the state legislature in April and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. But lobby groups working for ISPs sued New York to block the law, which was slated to take effect starting on Tuesday. On Friday, the lobby groups received a preliminary injunction from New York’s Eastern District Judge Denis Hurley, temporarily stopping the bill from taking effect.

Hurley says that the law would cause “irreparable harm” and “unrecoverable losses” to smaller telecom companies who would face penalties if they failed to meet the requirements or would have to significantly cut their revenues by charging customers less, the Verge reports.

Hurley also says that the New York law interferes with the scope of the Federal Communications Commission because it “Regulates within the field of interstate communications.”

While Gov. Cuomo intends to move forward with the bill in court, Hurley says that ISPs are likely to win the lawsuit.

Trump Administration’s Secret Subpoena to Apple

The Justice Department secretly subpoenaed Apple in February 2018 for account information of the then-White House Counsel Don McGahn and his wife, securing a gag order to bar the company from telling McGahn about it, according to the New York Times.

Apple informed the McGahns of the subpoena last month when the gag order expired. Apple has not yet commented on the matter, and the Justice Department declined to comment.

NPR reports that an individual familiar with the matter, who asked to be kept anonymous due to the sensitivity of the information, says that it is unclear what the Justice Department was investigating or whether the prosecutors were able to obtain any of McGahn’s account information.

Top Democrats in Congress are calling on former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the subpoenas.

“The revelation that the Trump Justice Department secretly subpoenaed metadata of House Intelligence Committee Members and staff and their families… is shocking,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, in a statement on Friday. “This is a gross abuse of power and an assault on the separation of powers.”

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

Digital Equity Foundation Guide, UScellular Selects Ericsson for 5G, Brightspeed Targets

A policy paper recommends how a federally funded digital equity entity should be funded and structured.

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Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project

May 25, 2022 – A policy paper released Wednesday outlined recommendations for a federally funded Digital Equity Foundation, including how it should be structured and funded.

New America’s Open Technology Institute and the Philanthropic thru Privatization report recommends the foundation focus on having a stable endowment to maintain the its annual support, an ability to raise outside funds, to have advisory groups with a broad range of expertise to guide the foundation, and to have transparency principles that would see it have federal appointees and report regularly to the Senate and House commerce committees.

The paper comes after a joint note from New America and the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies in April 2021 to Congress for funding for the foundation. At least 75 organizations support the Digital Equity Foundation.

“A federally funded Digital Equity Foundation isn’t a radical concept. Rather, it’s a common-sense policy solution to a longstanding national problem,” said Chuck Bell, a project associate for the PtP Project. “This proposed foundation would meet vital community needs, fit with longstanding legal precedents, and provide sustainable national funding to bridge the digital divide for millions of underserved Americans.”

Michael Calabrese, director of New America’s Wireless Future Project, said that even with the billions in broadband investments from the Infrastructure, Investment Jobs Act – which provides funding for digital equity – we won’t close the digital divide without “sustained investments in digital literacy and adoption efforts at the community level.”

UScellular selects Ericsson for C-band deployment

UScellular, the nation’s fourth-largest wireless carrier, announced Wednesday an agreement that will see Swedish telecom equipment supplier Ericsson help the telecom build out its 5G network using the C-band spectrum.

The telecom looks to use the spectrum to build out its fixed wireless network.

“Ericsson’s advanced mid-band coverage extension functionality with Carrier Aggregation network solutions will increase coverage and capacity for UScellular customers both at home and on the go,” said a press release Wednesday.

“Ericsson has a valued, long-standing relationship with UScellular, and we share their commitment to providing a resilient and sustainable network through the use of industry-leading innovations, ultimately elevating the customer experience,” Eric Boudriau, Ericsson’s vice president and head of customer unit regional carriers, said in the release.

Brightspeed announces first-year build target for its fiber network

On Wednesday, telecom company Brightspeed announced first-year plans for its proposed $2 billion network transformation plan, including an aim to have one million new fiber passings across rural and suburban regions of the U.S. and reaching close to three million homes and businesses by the end of 2023.

The company said it is optimistic the first deployment will take place in North Carolina in a few weeks and will serve as a company blueprint for future applications.

“We have already begun design and construction preparations necessary to hit the ground running on day one. We will be well-equipped to quickly deliver on our mission to bring ultra-fast, reliable Internet and Wi-Fi to more homes and businesses” said Bob Mudge, CEO of Brightspeed.

The company said its network is expected to provide more than one gigabit per second download speeds.

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Broadband Roundup

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.

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Photo of Kelly Rozumalski, senior vice president at Booz Allen Hamilton, from Careers Info Security

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.

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Broadband Roundup

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.

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Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brenden Carr

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.

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