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.”
Tech Against Texas Social Media, Alabama Middle Mile Grant, IP3 Awards Bestowed
Two information technology industry groups are trying to stall implementation of Texas’ social media law.
September 30, 2022 – Plaintiffs NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Thursday petitioned the Fifth Circuit of Appeals to delay the implementation of a Texas law that limits social media companies’ ability to moderate content on their platforms.
The Texas law – H.B. 20 – would limit the ability of large social media companies to remove user speech from their platforms based on viewpoint. Supporters of the law say it will prevent platforms such as Twitter from discriminating against conservative political speech.
H.B. 20 was initially blocked by a federal judge last year, but the Fifth Circuit upheld the bill earlier this month. The plaintiffs say they will soon file a petition for a writ of certiorari at the Supreme Court. Thursday’s motion attempts to prevent H.B. 20 from taking effect before the High Court weigh ins.
“There is no question that a law that defies over two centuries of First Amendment protections warrants further federal court review,” said a statement from CCIA President Matt Schruers.
“If states like Texas are allowed to issue must-carry mandates, internet users can expect a torrent of dangerous content and misinformation, just as we head into an election season. Given the implications for the First Amendment and democratic institutions, we are asking the court to block this statute from taking effect until its constitutional problems have been heard.”
Alabama invests in middle-mile infrastructure
Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Tuesday a $82.45 million grant to Fiber Utility Network, a conglomerate of eight rural electric cooperatives.
The grant will fund a middle-mile network that is expected to connect nearly 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure within three years. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs’ Alabama Digital Expansion Division will administer the grant, the funds for which came from the American Rescue Plan Act.
“Achieving full broadband coverage is a journey, not a short trip, and today is an important step toward completing that journey. The Alabama Middle-Mile project – the infrastructure setting part of this journey – is going to lead our state to be the model for the nation when it comes to providing broadband capabilities,” said Ivey.
“In 2022, being able to be connected at home, work or on the on go is absolutely necessary, and this is certainly key to making that a reality.”
“The eight electric cooperatives that make up the Fiber Utility Network are honored to be a part of building a middle mile network to bring internet service closer to those Alabamians,” said Tom Stackhouse, president of the Fiber Utility Network. “We want to thank Governor Ivey and the staff at ADECA for the vision, leadership and assistance to make this a reality.”
Public Knowledge honors IP3 awardees, for Internet Protocol, Information Policy and Intellectual Property
Public Knowledge hosted the 19th annual IP3 Awards ceremony Thursday, honoring leading voices in technology and tech policy.
Public Knowledge presented the “Internet Protocol Award” to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., chair of the House Rural Broadband Taskforce, for his work promoting affordable broadband access. Notably, his work advanced the broadband-funding provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Emma Llanso, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Free Expression Project, received the “Information Policy Award” for her work promoting free expression online.
Kyle Courtney, copyright advisor at Harvard University, received the “Intellectual Property Award.” He works extensively on copyright and library-related legal issues.
Courtney developed the Copyright First Responders program to “help advance teaching, learning, and scholarship through community engagement with copyright.”
Shielding Broadband Grants from Taxes, American at ITU, Google Fiber Multi-Gig Speeds
Legislation introduced Thursday would shield federal broadband funding from being taxed.
September 29, 2022 – A bill introduced Thursday would shield federal broadband money from being taxed.
The Broadband Grant Tax Treatment Act, introduced by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., proposes to amend the Internal Revenue Code so that funding for broadband from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act won’t be considered taxable income.
“Grants awarded to industry for the purposes of broadband deployment are currently factored into a company’s income and will soon be subjected to additional taxes due to scheduled changes to the corporate tax code that kick in beginning next year – unless Congress acts now to address the problem,” a press release said.
Warner said in a press release that if these investments were taxed, the outcome would be counterproductive and would cause companies to not ask for grants if they knew they’d be receiving a higher tax upon receiving grants, adding it could “ultimately diminish efforts to give Americans access to high-speed internet.”
“We appreciate the leadership of Senators Warner and Moran for their efforts to eliminate the tax on broadband grants. With an eye toward 100 percent connectivity, Congress made a historic investment in the broadband grant program in 2021,” Brandon Heiner, senior vice president of government affairs at industry trade group USTelecom, said in a statement.
“However, requiring grant recipients to return as much as 20 percent of those grants in the form of taxes jeopardizes our shared goal of universal connectivity. It is vital that Congress move to eliminate this tax, as America’s broadband providers carefully plan and prepare to allocate resources to connect as many Americans as possible.”
Doreen Bogdan-Martin first female elected to lead ITU
American Doreen Bogdan-Martin was elected secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union Thursday, becoming the first female to take the lead role of the United Nations’ telecommunications regulator.
Bogdan-Martin, who will lead the ITU for the next four years, secured 139 votes to 25 for Russian challenger Rashid Ismailov in votes Thursday at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Bucharest, Romania.
“I believe we, the ITU and our members, have an opportunity to make a transformational contribution. Continuous innovation can and will be a key enabler to facilitate resolution of many of these issues,” Bogdan-Martin said in a statement.
The ITU develops international connectivity standards in communications networks and improving access to information and communication technologies for underserved communities worldwide.
“[Bogdan-Martin will be a tremendous leader for the [ITU],” Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said on Twitter. “We support her vision of open, free, secure and inclusive communications networks, available to all,”
In a statement, Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said, “We applaud the election of an expert veteran to lead the ITU, and support global efforts in maintaining internet freedoms that promote access to information and democracy.
“The ITU plays an important role in facilitating international connectivity in communications networks, and we look forward to working with ITU leadership to carry out the organization’s important mission.”
Last week, President Joe Biden announced his support for the American as a candidate for the position.
Google Fiber tests at 20 Gbps, will announce multi-gig service tiers
Google Fiber said in a blog post Tuesday that it will have announcements about upcoming multi-gigabit service tiers, after its fiber product hit download speeds of 20.2 gigabits per second in a home test in Kansas City.
The company said in the post that the new test is part of its move toward “dramatically” expanded multi-gigabit tiers of service, and an overall goal of hitting the 100 Gigabits per second download and upload milestone.
“We believe that many, if not most, communities across America will ultimately have at least two, if not three, fiber providers and an incumbent coax provider. We see it in communities we plan to build in, and expect investment in the industry to continue,” the post said.
“This means that a fiber network alone will no longer be the differentiating factor it once was for internet providers,” it added. “The unique selling points will be how that network is built to deliver symmetrical multi-gig speed at accessible pricing — all with a focus on enabling service that takes advantage of that speed not just to the home but in the home, as well.”
Google Fiber is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.
NTIA Updates Website, New Head of FCC’s Native Affairs Office, Study Criticizes FTC Regulatory Reach
Updates to the Commerce agency’s website includes access to information about other federal broadband programs.
September 28, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration released an update to its Federal Funding website last week.
Advertised by the NTIA as a “one-stop-shop” for federal broadband-funding resources, the new site provides “funding opportunities and information on more than 80 federal programs across 14 federal agencies.”
“The [NTIA] has been working to expand access and increase connectivity across the U.S. through the Internet for All effort by increasing awareness of federal funding available for closing the digital divide,” the NTIA’s announcement said.
To navigate various funding and program types, the new site allows potential grant applicants to search by agency, eligible recipient–type, and “program purpose.” The NTIA’s announcement says the new site now includes fields for “Matching Requirements,” “Speed/Technical Requirement for Broadband Infrastructure,” and more.
“Notably, the site features many new programs, including those that were funded through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law including the Department of Commerce’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD), Enabling Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure, and Digital Equity Act programs,” it says.
New chief of FCC’s native affairs office
Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Tuesday that Denise Bambi Kraus will be the next chief of the agency’s Office of Native Affairs and Policy.
The FCC’s announcement laid out four primary objectives for Kraus’s tenure at ONAP: Inclusion of tribal communities in the agency’s mapping initiative, tribal engagement in the E-rate program, promotion of the Affordable Connectivity Program in tribal communities, and “work[ing] to develop a framework for long term telecommunications infrastructure sustainability.”
Kraus is of Tlingit heritage and was the National Tribal Affairs advisor for the Federal Emergency Management Agency before being tapped to be ONAP’s chief.
“I am thrilled Bambi is joining us. Her wealth of experience will be an asset as we advance the agency’s work to ensure modern communications reaches us all, including Native communities,” Rosenworcel said.
Phoenix Center study argues the FTC is overextending itself
A new study from the Phoenix Center argues that Federal Trade Commission’s advanced notice of proposed rulemaking on “commercial service and data security” is overly broad, economically detrimental, and potentially in conflict with existing law.
According to the study, the ANPR – which contains 95 questions and was released for public comment in August – covers a wide range of topics but fails to account for many “factual complexities” native to those topics. In addition, the study says the ANPR suggests the introduction of a heavily regulatory burden that may be unmanageable for small companies.
The study also says the ANPR suggests regulations that, by considering issues outside of the “deceptive acts and practices as proscribed by the [Federal Trade Commission] Act,” exceed the agency’s statutory authority.
Finally, the study argues that the rules which may result from the ANPR would likely be vulnerable to legal challenge. Cited is Supreme Court’s recent decision in West Virginia v. EPA, in which the majority invoked the “major questions doctrine.” The major questions doctrine is the legal theory that administrative agencies cannot take it upon themselves to regulate on major policy questions absent a clear statutory mandate.
- Tech Against Texas Social Media, Alabama Middle Mile Grant, IP3 Awards Bestowed
- State Broadband Maps Show Significantly Fewer Served Locations than Does FCC’s Map
- As LEO Industry Grows, FCC Adopts Rule to Limit Space Debris
- Shielding Broadband Grants from Taxes, American at ITU, Google Fiber Multi-Gig Speeds
- Public–Private Partnership Model ‘Most Effective Way’ to Address Digital Divide: AT&T Rep
- In Video Session, Christopher Mitchell Digs Into Community Ownership and Open Access Networks
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