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FCC Steps Up to Hurricane Ida, OneWeb Sides With SpaceX on 12 GHz Sharing, FCC’s $5M Robocall Fine

FCC makes temporary changes for Ida, OneWeb says no to spectrum sharing, FCC proposes $5M for robocall scheme.

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OneWeb CEO Neil Masterson

August 30, 2021—Between August 28 and August 29, the FCC took a series of actions designed to allow those who find themselves in the path of hurricane Ida to seek help more easily or get information.

The first of such action was granting “special temporary authority” to various carriers to ensure that their operations are interrupted as minimally as possible. This would allow certain facilities, such as radio facilities, that may not otherwise be allowed to operate, to do so legally to the extent that they are enabling communication to those impacted by the hurricane.

This weekend, the FCC waived numbering rules for providers affected by Ida. This would allow telephone carriers to port numbers outside of their geographic region—particularly for remote areas in Louisiana and Mississippi—temporarily.

OneWeb maintains negative impact of spectrum sharing

In response to the FCC’s notice of proposed rulemaking regarding making flexible use of the 12 Gigahertz band, legal counsel for OneWeb asserted that a growing body of recent data demonstrates that cohabitation of the band would be disastrous for OneWeb’s ability to operate in the band.

RS Access has been an outspoken voice in favor of cohabitation, referencing a study conducted by RFK Engineering Solutions, LLC. SpaceX—another stakeholder opposed to flexible use in the band—has referred to the study in question as “fatally flawed” and that sharing the band will result in interference to their operations.

FCC proposes $5M fine for robocall scheme

The FCC is proposing this month a $5 million fine against two men accused of running a robocalling scheme.

The calls in questions were all made between August 26 and September 14 of 2020 and and allegedly fraudulently “informed” potential voters that if they voted by mail, their “personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants and be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debts.”

On August 24, the FCC released a press release publicly condemning Jacob Wohl and John Burkman for allegedly making “unlawful robocalls to voters’ wireless phones without prior consent.” The fine would come out to just over $5.1 million and is designed to punish the men for making more than a thousand robocalls in violation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act.

According to 10WBNS, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost stated that these efforts were made is dissuade specific demographics from voting by mail in the 2020 election amid the pandemic.

“It’s pretty obvious that they were trying to discourage black citizens from exercising their right to vote by mail and that’s just reprehensible,” Yost said.

As noted by the release, this is not only the largest fine of its kind proposed by the FCC, but it is also the first where the FCC did not provide a warning to the parties in violation of the act.

Both Wohl and Burkman admitted their involvement in the scheme under oath.

As a child of American parents working abroad, Reporter Ben Kahn was raised as a third culture kid, growing up in five different countries, including the U.S.. He is a recent graduate of the University of Baltimore, where he majored in Policy, Politics, and International Affairs. He enjoys learning about foreign languages and cultures and can now speak poorly in more than one language.

Broadband Roundup

Facebook Pauses Instagram for Kids, $1.2B from Emergency Connectivity Fund, Ransomware Attacks

Facebook pauses photo-sharing app for kids, FCC announces $1.2B in first wave of ECF, ransomware attacks on the rise.

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September 27, 2021 – Facebook-owned Instagram has announced that it is “pausing” the development of an equivalent product for kids under 13, following pressure from lawmakers after a report emerged that showed the company knew about the impact of its platforms on kids’ mental health.

The head of the photo sharing application Instagram, which is forbidden for children under 13, said in a blog post Monday that building “Instagram Kids” is the “right thing to do, but we’re pausing the work.”

“We’ll use this time to work with parents, experts and policymakers to demonstrate the value and need for this product,” Adam Mosseri said in the post, adding the company is looking to build opt-in parental supervision tools for teens.

The development comes after lawmakers sent a letter to Facebook demanding that it halt the idea after a report in the Wall Street Journal unveiled internal company research that showed Instagram is harming kids’ mental health. Mosseri acknowledged the research, according to the Journal.

“Critics of ‘Instagram Kids’ will see this as an acknowledgement that the project is a bad idea. That’s not the case,” Mosseri said. “The reality is that kids are already online, and we believe that developing age-appropriate experiences designed specifically for them is far better for parents than where we are today.”

In response to the news, senators Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and representatives Kathy Castor, D-Florida, and Lori Trahan, D-Massachusetts, who wrote concerned letters to Facebook about the app in development, said they are “pleased” about its pausing.

“We are pleased that Facebook has heeded our calls to stop plowing ahead with its plans to launch a version of Instagram for children. A ‘pause’ is insufficient, however. Facebook has completely forfeited the benefit of the doubt when it comes to protecting young people online and it must completely abandon this project,” said the lawmakers in a joint statement.

“Time and time again, Facebook has demonstrated the failures of self-regulation, and we know that Congress must step in. That’s why we will be re-introducing the Kids Internet Design and Safety (KIDS) Act, which will give young internet users the protections they need to navigate today’s online ecosystem without sacrificing their wellbeing. We urge our colleagues to join us in this effort and pass this critical legislation.”

FCC announces $1.2 billion from first wave of Emergency Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday that it is committing $1.2 billion from its first wave of applicants for its $7-billion Emergency Connectivity Fund program.

The money will go to 3,040 schools, 260 libraries and 24 consortia, which will produce roughly three million devices and over 700,000 broadband connections to connect over 3.6 million students. The fund provides funding for schools and libraries to buy laptops, tablets, Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, and general connectivity.

The first round of applications, which closed in August, requested a combined $5 billion for 9.1 million devices and 5.4 million broadband connections.

The money is allocated to all 50 states, Guam, Puerto Rico and D.C. Rural libraries and sprawling urban school districts alike will be impacted. New York received the most funding of any state with 243 million this round, beating Texas’ 97 million and California’s 71.

The window to file applications for funding will open again between September 28 and October 13.

Ransomware attacks have reached ‘stratospheric’ levels, warns report

Ransomware accounted for 69 percent of cyber-security attacks involving malicious software in the second quarter of 2021, found Positive Technologies, published Wednesday.

Ransomware is the holding of data hostage for money. The types of cyber security attacks on retail indicate that hackers have shifted from trying to steal large amounts of data to seeking direct financial gain, the report found.

Attacks on government “soared” from 12 percent in the first quarter this year to 20 percent of attacks on all institutions in the second quarter.

Governmental, medical, scientific, educational and industrial firms were the most common targets of ransomware attacks in the second quarter of 2021, it said.

The report follows high-profile attacks on transport company Colonial Pipeline and software company SolarWinds.

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Broadband Roundup

Apple Blacklists Fortnite, T-Mobile Expands Home Internet, Ajit Pai Reflects on Virginia’s Broadband Leadership

Apple will not reinstate Fortnite after court fight, T-Mobile expands in 4 states, Ajit Pai on Virginia’s broadband success.

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Ajit Pai, foreground, right

September 23, 2021 – Apple has blacklisted popular video game Fortnite from its app store until there are no appeals left in its court case, according to the head of the game maker.

On Wednesday, Tim Sweeney, the head of Fortnite maker Epic Games, posted a letter on Twitter from the lawyers for Apple stating that the company would not reinstate Fortnite on its app store until all court appeals have been exhausted, which Sweeney said could be as long as five years.

Last week, the U.S. District Judge ruled that Apple was not being anticompetitive when it banned Fornite from the app. The legal battle emerged when Fornite allowed its players to make in-game purchases directly through the game, which effectively bypassed Apple’s store and the commission it gets for transactions.

Sweeney said on Twitter on Wednesday that Epic agreed to “play by the same rules as everyone else” if reinstated on Apple’s app store.

“Apple spent a year telling the world, the court, and the press they’d ‘welcome Epic’s return to the App Store if they agree to play by the same rules as everyone else,” Sweeney said in a tweet. “Epic agreed, and now Apple has reneged in another abuse of its monopoly power over a billion users.”

In August, Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee, introduced the Open App Markets Act to ban app store operators from requiring app providers to use their in-app payment systems.

T-Mobile expands home internet in four states

T-Mobile is expanding its home internet service to 51 cities and towns across Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina, it said in a Tuesday press release.

The company said it is able to expand its service because of “massive investments” it has made in its 5G network, which was a pitch to regulators when the company purchase Sprint.

“The traditional landline [internet service providers] have failed the south,” the release said. “Across these four states, nearly 1 million people do not have access to a single wired internet provider. That bears repeating — nearly 1 million people across just four states do not have access at all. This is unacceptable. And unfortunately, that’s not all. Landline ISPs have left nearly 1.7 million people without any access to speeds above 25Mbps and nearly 3.3 million people with access to only one provider.

“This lack of access and choice has led to high prices, poor service, and the unhappiest customers in America —ISPs rank dead last in recent customer satisfaction scores from ACSI. Dead. Last.

Fixed wireless technologies, as T-Mobile uses here, can fill gaps where fiber builds in rural and remote areas are prohibitively expensive.

Former FCC Chairman Ajit Pai writes op-ed about Virginia’s leadership in narrowing digital divide

Former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Ajit Pai wrote in an op-end in the Washington Post on Wednesday outlining how Virginia became a leader in ending the digital divide.

The Virginia resident, who is now a partner at Searchlight Capital Partners, noted that the state’s Virginia Telecommunications Initiative ensured public funds weren’t a limiting factor to build the last mile connections to homes and businesses, as it plowed money in areas traditionally not ventured by private telecoms because of a lack of return. The initiative also involved public utilities to lease fiber capacity to the telecoms.

“Having led the Federal Communications Commission, I’ve been able to take a bird’s-eye view of the country and assess the effectiveness of various state programs,” Pai said.

“I can say without reservation that Virginia is leading the pack in establishing a framework for what I like to call “digital opportunity” for all its citizens. Its success in broadband can be attributed to several factors: the governor’s consistent prioritization of broadband, bipartisan support and funding from the General Assembly, an efficient and successful VATI program and enabling electric utilities to deploy middle-mile infrastructure.

“This framework will deliver universal broadband throughout the commonwealth. And it is a model for many other states in our nation, large and small, and from coast to coast.”

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Broadband Roundup

Tech Sues Texas over Social Media Law, $80 Billion Investment, Broadband and Growth

A coalition of groups argue the Texas law violates the Constitution, US Telecom on investment and Connected Nation on impact.

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Photo of Mike Saperstein from his Twitter account

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2021— NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association have jointly filed a lawsuit against Texas, arguing that a recent law designed to prevent censorship on social media is unconstitutional.

The CCIA is following through on a threat it made to sue the state should the bill be passed into law, following the bill’s passage in Texas’ Republican controlled House. Unsurprisingly, the bill faced little opposition in the state’s Republican Senate and was signed into law by Republican Gov. Greg Abbot in mid-September of 2021.

“ We will always defend the freedom of speech in Texas,” Abbot said in a statement, “Social media websites have become our modern-day public square. They are a place for healthy public debate where information should be able to flow freely — but there is a dangerous movement by social media companies to silence conservative viewpoints and ideas. That is wrong, and we will not allow it in Texas.”

The CCIA filed a similar suit in Florida earlier in 2021, and as of September 22, 2021, the law remains blocked following a preliminary injunction granted by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle.

“By tying digital services’ hands, this unconstitutional law will put Texans at greater risk of exposure to disinformation, propaganda, and extremism. There are few First Amendment fouls clearer than regulating based on viewpoint. The law aside, it’s neither good policy nor good politics for Texas to make the Internet a safe space for bad actors, whether that be Taliban sympathizers or people encouraging kids to eat detergent pods,” CCIA President Matt Schruers said in a statement.

Telecom companies have spent $80 billion on capital expenditures

US Telecom’s 2020 annual analysis indicates a significant spending boost for broadband infrastructure amongst ISPs despite the pandemic.

The analysis indicated that providers’ capital expenditures were $79.4 billion higher than the previous year. This brought total capital expenditures for the industry up to $1.9 trillion since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was passed.

The study also indicated that in the first six months of 2020 alone, approximately five-million additional homes were connected to fiber broadband.

The study also notes that though this level of broadband spending is unprecedented, the approximately $42 billion earmarked for broadband spending by the bipartisan infrastructure framework is less than half of what American telcos invest in broadband annually.

“Putting 25 years of investment figures in context shows that America’s communications providers have a tremendous amount of ‘skin in the game’ when it comes to broadband network deployment, and it is important that additional regulations (beyond those ensuring taxpayer funding is spent as intended) not be structured so as to dissuade or slow private investment,” US Telecom Vice President of Strategic Initiations and Partnerships Mike Saperstein said in a release.

Study published linking broadband expansion to economic growth

Connected Nation published a study Wednesday with several key findings the demonstrate the relationship between improved broadband connectivity and positive economic growth in Michigan.

The study in question illustrated a correlation between expansions in broadband and improved unemployment rates, growth in the information sector, increased in-migration, greater median household income growth, and improved fixed broadband access, competition, and adoption.

Notably, according to the data, connected communities experienced a 9.3 percent change in household incomes between 2017 and 2019 while the statewide average improved by only 8.5 percent during that same period.

The study’s author and Director of Research and Development for Connected Nation Chris McGovern noted that these changes should not be expected in communities over a matter of weeks, and should be viewed as the benefits of long-term investments made for future growth.

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