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Republicans on Big Tech USF Contribution, Permanent Broadband Solution After Covid, Mobile Mayo Clinic

Republicans on Big Tech pay into USF, leaders press for long-term digital divide solution, Mayo Clinic’s mobile WiFi clinic.

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Kevin McCarthy says Big Tech contribution to Universal Service Fund "thought-provoking"

June 29, 2021– Key Republicans commented Monday on a proposal to tax Big Tech to help pay for internet subsidy programs, Axios reported.

Americans pay a fee on their phone bills that goes into the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund (USF), which is used for broadband subsidy programs that bring basic telecommunications services to rural areas, schools, libraries, and hospitals.

Debate has been raging about how to sustain the fund because its money base is reliant on voice revenues that have been decreasing over the years. In an op-ed earlier this month, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr suggested big technology companies that benefit from the internet should pay into the fund.

GOP Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, called the proposal “thought-provoking” on Monday, according to Axios. His office noted that video streaming accounts for more than 50 percent of web traffic and online advertising is a $100 billion-a-year industry, Axios reported.

Top Republican on the Commerce Committee, Sen. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, said he thinks Congress should explore the idea, his office told Axios. Similarly, Washington Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, ranking Republican on the House Energy & Commerce Committee, thinks all options should be on the table, her office said.

On the other side, President Dane Snowden of The Internet Association, a trade group that includes Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Apple, said in a statement, “We hope the FCC will take a common-sense approach and not punish innovative, high-quality streaming services that are fulfilling consumer demand.”

Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel called the idea “intriguing” and that the FCC should be open to new ideas, but said Congress would need to take action.

Social justice leaders press for permanent solution to digital divide

The Internet Innovation Alliance launched a “Connected Roundtable” this month and pushed for the government to formulate a permanent plan to bridge the digital divide beyond the current short-term pandemic programs.

The group said there should be a permanent broadband subsidy to help low-income families afford broadband service, even after the Emergency Broadband Benefit runs out.

“There’s a window of opportunity while the Emergency Broadband Benefit is available to design a permanent broadband benefit that will keep low-income folks connected once the program ends,” said Joi Chaney, executive director of the National Urban League’s Washington Bureau. “Now is the time—while policymakers are acutely aware of the plight of the disconnected—to solve both rural and urban problems contributing to the digital divide.”

Dominique Harrison, director of technology policy for the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, said “With a subsidy amount of just $9.25 per month, some low-income families have to prioritize food and utilities over broadband and could never afford to be online—it’s time to boost the benefit.”

Mayo Clinic unveils new mobile health clinic

The Mayo Clinic unveiled a new mobile health clinic in the state of Minnesota on Monday.

The clinic has been set up to offer high-speed internet connections for patients in the rural area to access online services, do expressive care online, or participate in video visits with their providers within the Mayo Health community.

The mobile clinic includes two exam rooms and an onsite laboratory that will travel to communities across southern Minnesota. The clinic is designed for in-person visits and virtual care via onsite telehealth equipment.

The Mayo Clinic said it hopes this clinic will benefit communities by providing services including vaccinations, pediatrics, preventative services, and a variety of other options for virtual patients.

Broadband Roundup

Ye Suspended From Twitter, FCC Issues Licenses, Streamlining ReConnect

The musician recently announced a 2024 bid for the presidency.

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Screenshot of a masked Ye during an interview Thursday with Alex Jones

December 2, 2022 – Twitter suspended the account of Ye, formerly Kanye West, after the musician on Thursday tweeted a graphic of a swastika inlaid in a Jewish star.

In recent months, Ye has repeatedly alleged that a Jewish cabal controls the media and other powerful institutions. Ye has claimed that Jews have attempted to silence, imprison, and financially ruin him. These statements have drawn widespread backlash from a wide range of political commentators and public figures.

The musician recently announced a 2024 bid for the presidency and sparked controversy by partnering with antisemitic internet personality Nick Fuentes and alt-right defender Milo Yiannopoulos.

In an appearance on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show on Thursday, Ye stated, “I like Hitler.” He later added, “I love Jewish people, but I also love Nazis.” Ye elected to wear a mask throughout the appearance.

“I tried my best,” Twitter’s new owner Elon Musk tweeted in response to a Twitter user. “Despite that, [Ye] again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended.”

Musk bought Twitter promising to institute more-permissive content moderation policies. However, despite the worries of Musk’s detractors and some of Musk’s own public statements, Ye’s suspension suggests Twitter will maintain at least basic guardrails against egregious content.

In October, before Musk’s takeover, Twitter restricted Ye’s account following a tweet in which he stated he would “go death con [sic] 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.” He told Jones he sent the tweet under the influence of alcohol.

That same month, right-wing social-media platform Parler announced Ye planned to purchase the company.

FCC grants spectrum licenses in 2.5 GHz band

The Federal Communications Commission granted 51 long-form applications and issued 650 spectrum licenses in the 2.5 GigaHertz (GHz), the agency announced Thursday.

“This is important spectrum, especially for rural America. I am grateful to our team for moving forward quickly but carefully in processing these applications,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “We continue to focus on ensuring that mid-band spectrum is available for 5G and other next-generation wireless services.”

The FCC announced the winners of 2.5 GHz auction in September. The auction raised almost $420 million in net bids, the commission said.

Spectrum allocation has been of late a major issue for the FCC. In October, the agency approved a measuring seeking comment on the 12.7–13.25 GHz band, and Commissioner Brendan Carr the next month urged his colleagues to increase the rate of authorizations.

Over the summer, the commission released an updated memorandum of understanding with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the overseer of federally used spectrum. Many experts have called on federal agencies to relinquish unused spectrum for use in the private sector, which, they say, would drive the expansion of next-generation technologies such as 5G.

Senators introduce bill to “streamline” USDA’s broadband programs

On behalf of a bipartisan coalition, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., on Tuesday introduced a bill that would merge the Agriculture Department’s ReConnect program with the agency’s other broadband funding initiatives.

The coalition, including Sens. Ben Ray Lujan D-N.M., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Deb Fischer, R-Neb., argue the Rural Internet Improvement Act would facilitate the efficient dispatch of funding to rural areas. The bill would also limit the disbursal of ReConnect funds to areas in which at least 90 percent of households lack broadband service.

“High-speed, reliable broadband is critical for New Mexico families and businesses, but the digital divide leaves far too many rural and Tribal communities behind,” Lujan said. “I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to make USDA programs more efficient and ensure that unserved communities receive the investments they need.” 

Trade group NCTA – The Internet and Television Association voiced support for the bill.

“Senator Thune has long been a leader in promoting and sustaining better access to broadband in rural areas, and NTCA appreciates his continued interest and leadership in examining ways to improve the workings of USDA’s ReConnect loan and grant program,” said NCTA CEO Shirley Bloomfield.

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FCC December Agenda, Biden to Visit TSMC plant, Weak Economy Presents Cyber Problem

The December meeting includes digital discrimination prevention, phone service accessibility, and satellite application processes.

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Photo of Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-Hua, via Wikimedia Commons

December 1, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda for the agency’s open meeting on December 21.

The agenda will include digital discrimination prevention, phone service accessibility, and satellite application processes.

The FCC will consider, by vote, whether to have a public comment period on making changes in the satellite and earth station application process, possible requirement of wireless carriers to implement location-based routing on their networks to improve 9-1-1 calls and emergency response times, and next steps to close the digital divide in alignment with the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act.

Biden to visit TSMC plant in Arizona next week

The White House announced President Joe Biden will visit on December 6 Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company’s $12 billion semiconductor plant in Phoenix, Arizona, according to Reuters.

TSMC began construction of the plant in mid-2021 and is expecting it to be operational in 2023, according to AZCentral. TSMC is the world’s largest independent manufacturer of microprocessors valued at over $400 billion.

The purpose of Biden’s visit is to promote the domestic manufacturing of semiconductors, a key component in many technologies and a major component of the Chips and Science Act passed this summer. That law provides an incentive of $52 billion to get domestic manufacturing of the chips in the U.S.

Taiwan Economy Minister Wang Mei-Hua told reporters in Taipei that she thinks “…we [TSMC] will form a good supply relationship with the United States,” according to Reuters.

TSMC’s Chair Mark Liu had previously told CNN in August that there is a concern with the rising conflict between China’s recent “reunification” efforts with the sovereign island nation.

“Nobody can control TSMC by force,” Liu said. “If you take a military force or invasion, you will render [the] TSMC factory not operable. Because this is such a sophisticated manufacturing facility, it depends on real-time connection with the outside world, with Europe, with Japan, with U.S., from materials to chemicals to spare parts to engineering software and diagnosis.”

Norton sees economy having impact on cyber vulnerability

The weakening economy will make people more vulnerable to cyber crime in 2023, according to a new report from Norton, a brand of cybersecurity company Gen Digital.

“This year, inflation and other unfavorable macroeconomic factors are likely to make people particularly eager to find good deals and they may therefore be at greater risk than in previous years,” Kevin Roundy, Norton’s researcher and technical director, said in a release.

False government assistance programs, false e-stores and users who create deepfakes – manipulated media to appear like a person is saying or doing something – for romance scams pose a risk for users to disclose personal and financial information, Norton said.

“Taking a few proactive steps today could help you to be safer all year long,” Roundy said.

Norton recommends in a press release that users keep a balanced level of skepticism, avoid using the same password for multiple sites, and implement unphishable factors to two-step authentication, such as device-level security checks – verifying your identity on a different device.

Elsewhere, according to Norton’s cybersecurity analysis for 2023, companies that use weak two-factor authentication systems and/or are short-staffed on information technology support are more vulnerable for data breaches.

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Vermont Challenges FCC Fabric, BTX Gets President, Starlink Performance Dip

Vermont said 22 percent of its known locations don’t appear on the FCC map.

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Starlink graphic from SpaceX website https://www.universetoday.com/156383/starlink-satellites-are-still-bright/

November 30, 2022 – Vermont has challenged the Federal Communications Commission’s preliminary broadband map, saying 11 percent of the FCC location data don’t match Vermont’s own map, according to a story from VTDigger.

Vermont said 22 percent of its known locations don’t appear on the map, according to the story. Vermont created its broadband maps that show 29 percent of houses went underserved last year.

“The difference seems to come from claims on the new FCC maps that satellite and fixed wireless broadband can reach huge numbers of folks—something that is not true in hilly and wooded Vermont,” the story reads.

Other states have created their own maps to challenge the FCC’s map, which was released earlier this month. New York said it is challenging some of the data.

New ISP BTX Fiber has a president

Lit Communities announced Tuesday that Richard Hogue has been named the new president of new subsidiary internet service provider BTX Fiber.

BTX Fiber is building a fiber network to provide high-speed broadband service to Brownsville, Texas. It launched in October and plans to install 100 miles of middle-mile cable and 500 miles of last-mile cable, including plans for other communities throughout the area, a press release said.

Hogue has over 20 years of telecommunications construction and management experience. His most recent position was the general manager of Point Broadband in Maryland.

“Brownsville is quite literally pushing out the leading edge in broadband internet availability to the community. BTX Fiber is thrilled to be crucial to this effort in partnership with the City of Brownsville,” said Hogue.

Starlink performance dropped in third quarter: Ookla

The download speeds of satellite broadband company Starlink dropped 17 percent in the U.S. in the third quarter compared to the last quarter, according to data released by metrics company Ookla on Wednesday.

Median download speeds dipped in the third quarter to 53 Mbps , and dropped by at least 14 percent in Canada.

“Over the past year, as we’ve seen more users flock to sign up for Starlink (reaching 400,000 users worldwide during Q2 2022), speeds have started to decrease,” Ookla writes. “Without a doubt, Starlink often can be a life-changing service for consumers where connectivity is inadequate or nonexistent.

“Even as speeds slow, they still provide more than enough connectivity to do almost everything consumers normally need to do, including streaming 4K video and video messaging. The biggest thing you might have issues with is if you’re trying to play multiplayer online games — even being a low-earth orbit (LEO) satellite, latency still lags far behind low-latency fixed broadband connections,” it added.

Starlink provides global high-speed satellite internet coverage and aims to provide coverage to rural and remote areas. The FCC has already denied Starlink funding from the $9.2 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, in part because of its alleged unreliability. Starlink has since appealed.

In August, Starlink announced its partnership with T-Mobile in an effort to expand cell coverage to remote areas in the US.

Ookla is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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