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New Cyber Bureau, Broadband Key to Mental Health Progress, NY’s Adirondacks Behind on Broadband

Secretary of State announces new cyber bureau, New York’s Adirondack falling behind on broadband, Oklahoma’s broadband-mental health connection.

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken

October 28, 2021 – Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced Wednesday that the department intends to create a new cyber bureau.

“We want to prevent cyber attacks that put our people, our networks, companies, and critical infrastructure at risk,” he said Wednesday.

“After an intense review led by Deputy Secretary [Wendy] Sherman and [Brian] McKeon that included consultations with partners in Congress and outside experts, I intend, with the support of Congress, to establish a new bureau for cyberspace and digital policy headed by an ambassador-at-large, and to name a new special envoy for critical and emerging technology,” Blinken said in prepared remarks.

“Both will report to Deputy Secretary Sherman for at least the first year.”

The new bureau will come at a critical time for the country, as over the past year it has come under a barrage of cyber attacks, including on software company SolarWinds and oil transport company Colonial Pipeline.

Simultaneously, the Joe Biden administration and the Federal Communications Commission has been working to weed out national security threats to the country, either via executive order or through revocations of licenses to operate.

Experts have pointed to cyber attacks as a preferred option for adversarial nations, like China and Russia, that don’t intend to try to match the military capabilities of the U.S.

Broadband key to mental health progress in Oklahoma

Oklahoma mental health officials say that limited broadband access is harmful to mental health in the state, reads a Thursday op-ed.

The widening digital divide in Oklahoma has turned into a “major crisis” after COVID-19 moved most of American life online, writes Joy Sloan, CEO of Green County Behavioral Health Services and founding board member of the Alliance of Mental Health Providers of Oklahoma.

Sloan says that broadband access is a social determinant of health. Social determinants of health are the physical, social, and economic conditions where people live. “In today’s world, internet access is tied to a great number of social determinates of health. It is largely through the internet that people access government services, communicate with others and have contact with the wider world.”

Oklahoma is one of the least connected states in the country, ranking 48 nationwide for homes connected to the internet. Oklahoma is highly rural, with rural residents living in high rates of poverty. According to a White House fact sheet, nearly 25 percent of Oklahoma residents live where there is no broadband infrastructure that meets the minimum acceptable speed.

Broadband increases access to jobs and economic opportunities, which directly impacts mental health, Sloan says. “Unemployment is associated with high rates of depression. Broadband also boots access to education and training,” she says. Increased investment in broadband will improve mental health outcomes for Oklahoma residents by allowing remote residents to earn online degrees, foster social support, and offering people access to mental health care through telehealth.

Sloan encourages those working to bring universal broadband to the state to “consider another far-reaching benefit of this work: the mental health of our citizens.”

NY’s Adirondack region behind in broadband access

Broadband advocates in New York state’s Adirondack region say millions of broadband deployment dollars have been wasted with no significant improvements for residents, according to a Friday report from the Adirondack Explorer.

The problem, internet providers and North Country broadband advocates say, is that the financial program intended for residents goes instead to taxes and fees that do little to promote broadband deployment, the Adirondack Explorer reported on Sunday.

“In my opinion we have wasted over $100 million of the $500 million that the governor placed into the program” says Jim Monty, Lewis Town Supervisor and a member of the North Country broadband coalition.

Since New York established the $500 million Broadband Program Office, installing fiber optic cables cost $4,000  per mile, Monty said. Today the same distance costs $16,000. Further, the state tax code “almost seems to have been written expressly to discourage rural broadband….even as the Cuomo administration was making bold pronouncements about universal broadband availability, its own taxes, fees, and laws were all but ensuring that the initiative would fall short” broadband providers say.

The regional planning board representing six counties in the North Country is trying to land a $20 million grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to connect 3,000 more homes. Costing $7,000 per home to bring broadband in the North Country, the price “is reflective of the rural nature of these households” and the added fee requirement that the New York Department of Transportation began levying two years ago on fiber laid on state property.

Beth Gilles, director of the Lake Champlain-Lake George Regional Planning board, says homes are being connected one by one after organizations like the regional planning boards have “stepped up to help organize all the various companies and grant applications” that the process involves.

“It’s a big lift. But it’s worth it,” she said.

Reporter Justin Perkins is graduate of Howard University School of Law, with a focus on telecommunications and technology. He has in-house experience at the Federal Communications Commission, Comcast and NBC. He brings curiosity and insight to broadband news.

Broadband Roundup

Rosenworcel Confirmed, Rohingya Meta Class Action, FTTH Builds Increase, WOW! Offers 1 Gig

FCC chairwoman cleared, refocusing attention on party tie-breaking nominee Gigi Sohn.

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FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel at a Senate committee hearing last month

WASHINGTON, December 7, 2021 – The Senate on Tuesday voted to confirm Jessica Rosenworcel as commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

The chairwoman of the FCC had 68 votes in favor and 31 against and will serve another five-year term on the agency. She was pushed ahead by the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation committee on Wednesday after being questioned by the committee last month.

“Chairwoman Rosenworcel has served as a tireless advocate for consumer protection in today’s digital landscape,” said Senator Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, in a press release. “Now more than ever, the FCC needs a chair who understands the importance of net neutrality and critical protections for broadband users, and I know Chairwoman Rosenworcel is up for the task.” Markey added that Rosenworcel is the “best person to lead” the administration of programs, including the Emergency Connectivity Fund and the E-Rate subsidy.

Other statements of support poured in on Tuesday following the approval.

Gigi Sohn, another President Joe Biden nominee for FCC commissioner, has yet to be confirmed. If so, the Democrat will be the fifth and tie-breaking commissioner on a commission that has been divided along party lines.

Meta facing class action from Rohingya

Meta, formerly Facebook, has been sued Monday by Rohingya refugees for $150 million for allegedly allowing anti-Rohingya hate speech that preceded mass killings.

The case has been brought as a class action in California court.

The Rohingya genocide has been ongoing in Myanmar since 2016. More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled the country, and more than 25,000 have been killed. Marzuki Darusman served as the chairman of the U.N. Independent International Fact-Finding Mission in Myanmar and stated that Facebook played a “determining role” in the genocide.

“[Facebook] was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists have their own [Facebook pages] and are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities,” said U.N. Myanmar investigator Yanghee Lee, according to Reuters.

Telcos turn up heat with increased FTTH builds, Broadband Communities

According to data assembled by Broadband Communities on Monday, AT&T, Verizon, and other large telcos are continuing to grow their base of fiber users, with AT&T and Verizon gaining 289,000 and 98,000 fiber broadband subscriptions, respectively.

Broadband Communities Associate Editor Sean Buckley notes that even though more Americans rely on older coax cable for internet rather than fiber-to-the-home services, that difference is shrinking. Both Tier-1 and Tier-2 telcos are increasing their penetration across the country, with Frontier CEO Nick Jeffery stating that Frontier’s FTTH subscription number were up by a factor of five within the last year, as reported by Buckley.

“Fiber assets are likely to escalate, and that’s going to be a growing source of pressure for cable operators,” said Managing Partner of New Street Research Jonathan Chaplin, according to Buckley.

WOW! offers 1 Gbps download speeds to Michigan

WOW!’s fiber-to-the-neighborhood in mid-Michigan will provide gigabit download speeds for residential and business properties.

“We are thrilled to be able to bring our fastest internet speeds to our mid-Michigan service area and give our customers even more choices for how they connect to what matters to them most,” said WOW! CEO Teresa Elder in a statement. “For most people across the country, having access to a fast and reliable internet connection is essential to their everyday life, especially these days.”

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Broadband Roundup

CaptionCall $40 Million Settlement, World Bank Broadband in Rwanda, Tribal Broadband Money Not Enough

CaptionCall agreed to pay over $40 million over misuse of the free service for individuals with hearing disabilities.

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Matthew Rantanen, director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairman’s Association

December 6, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it reached a $40 million settlement with telecommunications relay service provider CaptionCall for its business dealings with health professionals.

Telecommunications Relay Service, or TRS, provides persons who are deaf, hard of hearing, deafblind, or have speech disabilities access to the telephone system at no cost, enabling communications with telephone users in a manner similar to other telephone users. Internet Protocol Captioned Telephone Service (IP CTS) allows users to read the other party’s words in real time with an internet-enabled device.

TRS is funded by mandatory contributions to the TRS Fund by telecommunications providers, who typically pass the costs to customers.

The FCC’s investigation revealed that Sorenson Communications’ subsidy CaptionCall “offered and provided incentives, including monetary contest awards and free meals” to Hearing Health Professionals, a clinic providing services to individuals that are deaf or hard of hearing. In return, Hearing Health Professionals referred users to CaptionCall IP CTS. CaptionCall at times gave Hearing Health Professionals gift cards and gift baskets to encourage future referral and “improperly reported costs associated with these wasteful practices” to the TRS Fund, the FCC wrote in its consent decree.

To settle these allegations, CaptionCall agreed to pay $28 million to the TRS Fund in addition to a $12,500,000 penalty. CaptionCall also agreed to a compliance plan in which the company’s staff must follow the TRS Fund rules.

World Bank funds broadband in Rwanda

Rwanda is set to receive $100 million from the World Bank to fund broadband, the bank said Friday.

The World Bank Group, the largest development bank in the world, provides loans to “developing” and transitioning countries.

“For Rwanda to leverage digital transformation as a driver of growth, job creation and greater service delivery, digital adoption needs to markedly improve,” said Isabella Hayward, team leader on the World Bank project.

The bank approved Friday to assist the Government of Rwanda advance broadband adoption across the country. The Digital Acceleration Project will expand digital access and inclusion initiatives, such as providing 250,000 households with financing to purchase smart devices. The project will also train three million people in digital literacy.

“Expanding digital access and adoption, enhancing digital public service delivery and promoting digitally enabled innovation are essential for Rwanda’s digital transformation which can in turn help drive a robust post-COVID-19 recovery,” said Rolande Pryce, World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda. “The Rwanda Digital Acceleration Project encompasses all these elements and will contribute to Rwanda’s vision to become a knowledge-based economy and upper middle-income country by 2035, by leveraging digital technologies to accelerate growth and poverty reduction.”

In the 2021 fiscal year, the bank provided nearly $100 billion in loans to developing countries.

Tribal broadband money in infrastructure bill isn’t enough, some say

The funds approved by the recently enacted Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is not enough for tribal lands, according to a Monday report in Wired.

About $2 million was approved to expand broadband access to tribal lands and reservations as part of the $1.3 trillion infrastructure bill, signed into law last month. However, 280 tribes have submitted requests totaling $5 billion for broadband finds, Wired reported Monday.

Matthew Rantanen, director of technology for the Southern California Tribal Chairman’s Association, estimates that closing the digital divide for Native peoples will cost around $8 billion.

“If you look at the fiber grid in the United States, there are some large communication deserts, and it just so happens that most of the tribes are in those spaces,” says Rantanen.

The problem is acutely felt in schools on tribal lands. At a school on the Duck Valley Indian Reservations, 300 students in the Shoshone-Paiute tribes struggle to stay connected for the sake of their learning. Most of the reservation covering 450-square-miles doesn’t have cell service: dial-up is still the only way for many residents to access the internet, the story said.

Rantanen says the $8 billion cost will rise once demand lowers the availability of fiber-optic cables. “What we’re looking to do is build robust networks,” he says. “We’re not trying to build with Band-Aids.”

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Broadband Roundup

Biden Acts on Surveillance, Florida Broadband Maps, Free State Wants Constitutional Spectrum

The administration’s efforts are mostly directed at curtailing the Chinese government.

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President Joe Biden

November 3, 2021 – The Biden administration announced on Thursday an initiative to prevent the use of technology for surveillance by authoritarian governments, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The Chinese government is among many authoritarian governments that rely on imported technology to conduct state surveillance.

U.S. technology has been used in China to surveil citizens, modernize its military and target Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Biden’s plans include creating a code of conduct for export licensing, which authorizes specific transactions and controls which technologies the U.S. ships out, as well as sharing with international allies vital information on technologies that are weaponized against political dissidents, human rights activists, journalists and government officials, per WSJ.

The action comes after Biden in June banned Americans from investing in companies linked to Chinese military and surveillance activities, per Axios.

The administration’s new initiative will be announced at the inaugural Summit for Democracy gathering over 100 democratic governments to counter authoritarianism next Thursday and Friday. China and Russia have criticized the gathering following their exclusion from the event.

Florida added to Citizen’s National Broadband Map

Citizen’s National Broadband Map has added Florida to its expanding list of 15 state participants, GEO Partners said in a press release Thursday.

Florida will join the project which already includes states such as Washington, Minnesota, Maine, Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana and Nevada.

GEO is the integration of software and software derived services, specifically designed to perform broadband modeling, costing and financial analysis for localities.

GEO Partners says its platform “permits grant administrators to interactively verify the impact of their programs and intended targets in real-time, without relying on out-dated historical maps.”

“Crowdsourced mapping has the ability to determine if broadband deployments and related grant programs are meeting expectations,” says GEO Partners.

Free State Foundation says Constitution requires more market-based approaches to spectrum policy

The Free State Foundation, a free market think tank, wrote in an op-ed Friday that “foundational constitutional principles” require government approaches to spectrum policy to be more market-based than they are at the present.

The op-ed says that the government should move from its current practice of controlling large swaths of private spectrum to reallocation of government spectrum to both licensed and unlicensed private commercial use, consistent with what FSF says is a constitutional requirement for the government “to promote private property and private sector commerce.”

FSF urges licensing on an exclusive basis for spectrum bands suited to commercial licensing.

Additionally to fulfill government responsibilities, FSF suggests excluding “application of ‘hard caps’ on wireless providers’ acquisition of spectrum licenses” as well as rejecting “net neutrality” or “open access” restrictions.

The think tank believes federal agencies should relinquish, or at least share, government spectrum that they are underutilizing and “prioritize the 3.1-3.5 GHz band for examination and timely repurposing.”

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