July 12, 2021—Observers say the Federal Communications Commission won’t be able to implement some of President Joe Biden’s wishes – including his urging Friday for the agency to restore pre-Donald Trump net neutrality rules – because the White House still has yet to nominate a fifth, tie-breaking commissioner to the FCC.
For months, advocacy groups have been urging the president to nominate a third Democrat to the commission, and it’s unclear what’s causing the delay. Observers note that the FCC could struggle
Considering it can take months for the Senate to approve FCC nominations – and because the FCC is deadlocked with two Democrat and two Republican commissioners – some say that Biden’s delay in appointing the next commissioner could come at the cost of losing FCC direction for the 2021 year, as the stalemate brings the commission into gridlock.
On Friday, Biden urged the agency to commit to going back to former President Barack Obama-era net neutrality principles, which would bar telecommunications companies from influencing the traffic over their networks. California has already instituted it own net neutrality rules, which AT&T said forced the company to remove free app services.
Biden also asked the FCC to take steps to boost price transparency and competition in broadband.
The order encourages the FCC to “prevent ISPs from making deals with landlords that limit tenants’ choices.” While the FCC bans exclusive agreements for telecom services to apartment buildings, the problem has not been rooted out nationwide.
Federal Trade Commission opens formal investigation into Amazon’s MGM buy
The Federal Trade Commission officially opened a formal investigation into Amazon’s acquisition of major entertainment studio, MGM, the Information reported on Friday.
Amazon announced its deal to acquire MGM for $8.45 billion in late May, but it was largely suspected that the merger would receive scrutiny from government agencies. In June, Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, urged the agency to give the deal a “meticulous” review in a letter addressed to FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan.
The FTC is focused on “the larger implications of the deal for Amazon’s market power,” the Verge reported, citing the Information’s report, itself based on two anonymous sources. “The FTC is wary of whether the deal will illegally boost Amazon’s ability to offer a wide array of good and services and is not just limited to content production and distribution.”
Khan is a longstanding critic of Big Tech, specifically Amazon, and published an article titled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox” in the Yale Law Journal in 2017. Her ideas are popular among progressive circles seeking to reign in Big Tech’s power, but her special interest in Amazon has led the company to file a recusal motion, calling for her to remove herself from proceedings involving Amazon.
Op-ed raises questions for Universal Service Fund reform
Justin Hurwitz, a law professor at the Nebraska College of Law, said in an op-ed published Friday on the Free State Foundation website that he supports reforming the Universal Service Fund by forcing big technology companies to contribute to it, but key concerns need to be addressed before that can happen.
Hurwitz was using as his springboard FCC Commission Brendan Carr’s proposal, written in a Newsweek op-ed in May, calling for Big Tech to contribute to the fund, which brings basic telecommunications service to underserved institutions and communities across the country. The fund currently relies on voice revenues – the portion of telecom company revenues that has been consistently dwindling, which has brought into focus the fund’s sustainability.
While he called Carr’s proposal “unequivocally better than the status quo,” he said Congress – not the FCC – must first define what constitutes “Big Tech” and who, exactly, needs to contribute to the fund before such a reform can take place.
For example, considering how many online readers the New York Times pulls, he questions whether they would be defined as “Big Tech” for the purposes of contributing to the fund. If not the New York Times, he asks, what about Amazon? Why should Amazon be required, but not the New York Times?
Hurwitz noted that allowing the FCC to decide those questions could give them strong regulating power in non-communications-based markets, adding future regulation and a restructuring of the USF should be left to Congress, where it is more democratically responsible to the people than is the FCC.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Supply Chain Transparency Legislation Important for Timely Broadband Bills
- Education Executives Tout Artificial Intelligence Benefits for Classroom Learning
- Digital Equity Foundation Guide, UScellular Selects Ericsson for 5G, Brightspeed Targets
- Sen. Bennet Says Coloradans’ Complaints About Poor Broadband Drove Passage of Infrastructure Act
- Broadband Notice of Funding Availability Seeks to Balance Requirements with Flexibility
- Sean Gonsalves: NTIA Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson Dishes on BEAD at Mountain Connect 2022
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