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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.

Broadband Roundup

Appeals Court Affirms FCC’s Spectrum Authority, FTC Privacy Rulemaking, (Root) Beer and Broadband

The Federal Communications Commission’s reallocation of intelligent transportation service spectrum was not arbitrary and capricious, the court held.

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August 12, 2022 – The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday affirmed the the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to reclassify radio frequency spectrum and make more of the 5.9 GigaHertz band available for broadband communication.

In 2020, the Federal Communications Commission reallocated a part of the radio spectrum from use by intelligent transportation systems to use by unlicensed transmission devices such as Wi-Fi routers.

In a unanimous running by a three-judge panel, Judge Justin R. Walker wrote: “Several groups that want to retain their old use of the reallocated spectrum argue that the FCC’s reallocation was arbitrary and capricious. It was not.”

In the relatively brief 15-page decision in ITS America v. FCC, the court upheld the FCC’s manner of changing a band’s usage.

In 1999, the FCC gave the auto industry 75 MHz of spectrum exclusively for “Dedicated Short-Range Communications” for the purpose of improving public safety. After more than 20 years of waiting for the industry to deploy DSRC, in 2020 the FCC approved an Order to phase out DSRC and replace it with a new, more efficient technology called Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything.

Supporters of the FCC, including non-profit groups like Public Knowledge, argued that 30 MHz of spectrum the auto industry retained is more than sufficient for collision avoidance and safety purposes. Rather than allowing the auto industry to retain excess spectrum for commercial uses such as location-based advertising, the FCC repurposed the lower 45 MHz for unlicensed use which will enable next-generation Wi-FI.

“By reaffirming the FCC’s decision, the D.C. Circuit will ensure that our airwaves are being put to their best and most efficient use,” said Kathleen Burke, policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

FTC opens process to consider new privacy rules

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday announced proposals to go after businesses that collect and analyze personal-based information, and that don’t deploy the strong forms of data security.

“Firms now collect personal data on individuals at a massive scale and in a stunning array of contexts,” said FTC Chair Lina Khan. “The growing digitization of our economy—coupled with business models that can incentivize endless hoovering up of sensitive user data and a vast expansion of how this data is used—means that potentially unlawful practices may be prevalent.”

The agency’s press release went on to blast companies that “surveil consumers while they are connected to the internet – every aspect of their online activity, their family and friend networks, browsing and purchase histories, location and physical movements, and a wide range of other personal details.”

On July 20, the Senate Commerce Committee passed comprehensive privacy legislation a restricting collection and transfer of personal data of U.S. citizens without consent.

The measure has not yet passed the House, where Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said in Thursday response: “I appreciate the FTC’s effort to use the tools it has to protect consumers, but Congress has a responsibility to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation to better equip the agency, and others, to protect consumers to the greatest extent.

“Ultimately, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act is necessary to establish comprehensive national statutory privacy protections for all Americans and I’m committed to getting it passed and signed into law.”

(Root) Beer and Broadband episode features Broadband Breakfast’s Drew Clark

Bonfire Engineering and Construction on Thursday released a new episode of its “Beer and Broadband” podcast.

Featuring Drew Clark, editor and publisher of Broadband Breakfast, Russ Elliott, CEO of Siskiyou Telephone, and Megan Beresford of LDAGrants, the episode focused on “How Data & Policy Impacts Broadband Expansion.”

Nick Dinsmoor and Brian Hollister of Bonfire, hosts of the informal program, structured the roundtable series as a way to bring together leaders in the broadband and infrastructure space to share their thoughts without egos, agendas, or selling.

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Broadband Roundup

Grid Broadband Bill, Ting Gets Financing, Finley Engineering Has New CEO

A new bill would provide grants to providers who can quickly build middle-mile infrastructure along existing electrical grid system.

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Photo of Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., via Flickr

August 10, 2022 – A bill introduced in the Senate last week would make grants available to those who can build middle mile fiber infrastructure along existing municipal rights-of-way and use existing assets to reduce the financial, regulatory and permitting barriers to broadband buildouts.

The Grants to Rapidly Invest and Deploy Broadband Act is intended to use existing electrical infrastructure to quickly expand broadband infrastructure to the 120 million American households that don’t have adequate connectivity, according to a Wednesday press release from Senate Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who co-introduced the bill with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

The legislation specifically notes that it would like to fund those that have existing partnerships with last-mile providers to connect homes and business and ensure that the technology is scalable for more advanced services, including accelerating 5G wireless infrastructure and making affordable gigabit broadband speeds.

The bill would also require that the network would support the security of the electric grid by installing a private communications network for grid operators.

“Building out fiber along our nation’s existing grid will provide the communications capacity needed to modernize our energy system, make our grid more cybersecure, and bring affordable high-speed internet to tens of millions of hard-to-reach households,” Cantwell said in the release. “It’s a triple win solution for consumers because it leverages existing rights-of-way and private sector ingenuity and investment to deliver cleaner electricity, stronger cybersecurity, and more accessible broadband services.”

Ting Fiber gets $200M financing

Telecommunications company Ting Fiber announced Tuesday that it has secured $200 million in financing from Generate Capital, which the company said will help it deploy next-generation communications infrastructure to municipalities across the country.

“We chose Generate because we wanted more than just a financing partner. We wanted their project management expertise, sustainability expertise and the wide range of capital solutions they offer – all of which will help Ting as we continue to rapidly scale our operations,” said Elliot Noss, CEO of Ting and its parent Tucows.

The financing will be used to accelerate Ting’s network deployment and to take advantage of its move from coaxial to fiber technology.

Some of the financing, which was signed on Monday, will be forwarded as Ting achieved operational milestones, it said.

Finley Engineering announces new CEO

The board of directors of broadband and energy engineering and consulting firm Finley Engineering announced Wednesday that Ty Middleton will be the company’s next president and CEO.

Middleton will replace Mike Boehne, who is retiring after being in the job for 10 years, according to the press release.

The release notes that Middleton has experience in the cybersecurity, software-as-a-service, and telecommunications sectors, the latter of which he has 30 years experience.

“He joins Finley with extensive experience in cross-functional leadership roles including general management, field and business operations, sales, and business development,” the release said.

“Middleton has led high-growth, customer-centric, technology-fueled businesses from start-ups to Fortune 150, including time at MCI Telecommunications, Qwest Communications, and CenturyLink,” it added.

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Broadband Roundup

FTC Phillips Stepping Down, Chips Act Now Law, Alaskan Entities Getting $50M in Broadband Grants

Phillips told Politico that he is leaving the competition watchdog this fall.

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Screenshot of President Joe Biden before signing the Chips and Science Act into law on Tuesday

August 9, 2022 – Federal Trade Commissioner Noah Phillips is stepping down from the competition watchdog, according to reporting from Politico.

The Republican commissioner – one of two on an agency with three Democrats – said he told President Joe Biden that he intends to resign this fall, according to the report.

Phillips has been critical of the direction the agency has taken under chairwoman and Big Tech critic Lina Khan, who was appointed by the president to lead the agency.

Phillips has expressed concern about the impact of antitrust rules on consumer prices, criticized the release of a report by the FTC that warned about the dangers of artificial intelligence to combat online harms, alleging that the commission did not consult outside experts, and broadly warned last year about the overall direction of the agency to turn away from the traditional way it viewed competition.

Others outside the agency have also expressed concern that the commission’s tilt, plus pieces of antitrust legislation before Congress, could harm the country’s global competitiveness in the tech industry.

Chips Act signed into law

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed into law legislation that would provide billions in incentives for the nation to invest in its own semiconductor manufacturing.

In comments delivered before the signing, Biden said the goal of the “once in a generation investment” is to help the country “lead the world in future industries and protect our national security.”

The Chips and Science Act of 2022, which passed the House late last month, is a broad bill with a specific provision that includes $52 billion to incentive domestic manufacturing of chips that power a range of technologies, including phones, watches, cars and laptops, as well as grants for the design and deployment of 5G networks.

Nations during the pandemic have struggled with getting a steady supply of the chips for products, thus contributing to a supply shortage on many important technologies. This triggered increasing concern about the country’s reliance on others for basic technologies.

Currently only 12 percent of global chips are made in the U.S., which is down from 37 percent in the 1990s, according to Senator Michael Bennett, D-CO.

Alaska getting $50 million in broadband grants

Two native entities in Alaska are getting $51 million for high-speed internet, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Monday.

The grants from the Commerce agency’s Internet for All program will go to Doyon Limited and Ahtna Intertribal Resource Commission to provide connectivity to 581 unserved households across villages in the Doyon region and in eight tribal governments in the Ahtna region for “activities including telehealth, distance learning, telework, and workforce development.”

“The digital divide on our tribal lands, especially in remote Alaska, is stark,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in a press release. “The necessary investment through the Biden-Harris Internet for All initiative provides real change to these communities to participate in the digital economy, whether it’s education, health or jobs.”

The release said NTIA head Alan Davidson is visiting Alaska this week and said it is “humbling to see first-hand how these grants will positively impact the daily lives of Alaskan Natives who have been disconnected for far too long.”

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