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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.”

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

USDA Hires Lumen, Ligado Marketing Services, IRS Facial ID, New Public Knowledge Hire

The Department of Agriculture awarded Lumen a $1.2-billion, 11-year contract for data services.

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Lumen President and CEO Jeff Storey

January 20, 2022 – On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a $1.2-billion network services contract with telecom Lumen Technologies.

The 11-year contract will provide the department with data transport service with remote access and cloud connectivity, leveraging Lumen’s fiber network to connect 9,500 USDA locations across the country and abroad to better manage agriculture in the country, the press release said.

“Lumen is bringing modern technology solutions that will make it easier for the USDA to accomplish its mission of promoting the production of nutritious food that nourishes our people, providing economic opportunity to rural Americans, and preserving our nation’s natural resources through smart forest and watershed conservation,” said Zain Ahmed, Lumen’s public sector senior vice president.

The contract was granted under the General Services Administration’s $50-billion Enterprise Infrastructure Solutions program.

Ligado Networks and Select Spectrum to strengthen critical networks

Mobile communications company Ligado Networks and spectrum brokerage and advisory firm Select Spectrum announced an agreement on Tuesday that will market and sell Ligado’s mid-band spectrum services for critical infrastructure.

“We know the critical infrastructure sector has an urgent need for dedicated access to licensed spectrum, and our mid-band spectrum, with both satellite and terrestrial connectivity, is uniquely positioned to meet this need and empower companies to operate private networks on a long-term basis,” said Ligado Networks’ CEO Doug Smith in a press release.

According to the agreement, Select Spectrum will search for those seeking to use Ligado’s licensed spectrum in the 1.6 GHz band in order to provide 5G capabilities to projects like power grid modernization and advanced transportation initiatives.

IRS to require facial recognition for taxes access

According to a Wednesday Gizmodo article, starting this summer online tax filers will have to submit a selfie to a third-party verification company called ID.me in order to make payments or file taxes online. Along with facial identification, users will also have to submit government identification documents and copies of bills to confirm their identity.

ID.me will use the selfie and compare it to the government identification document to verify the user. If the system fails to match the two documents, the user can join a recorded video to provide verification to the user.

Gizmodo’s article claimed that both the IRS and ID.me could not provide a method to access user accounts without providing a face scan. This could be problematic for tax filers that don’t have access to certain technologies.

Public Knowledge hires new senior policy analyst

Non-profit public interest group  Public Knowledge announced Tuesday that it has brought on Lisa Macpherson as senior policy analyst.

According to a press release, Macpherson’s “experience driving digital marketing transformation on behalf of brands led to concerns over the broader impacts of digital technology on individual well-being, civil society, journalism, and democracy.”

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Broadband Roundup

National Privacy Law, Digital Infrastructure Firm’s $8B Raise, Wicker Wants Spectrum Cooperation

Business groups are asking Congress to supersede state laws by passing privacy legislation that sets a national standard.

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Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi

January 19, 2022 – As states begin to pass their own privacy laws, business groups are asking the federal government to pass legislation that would mitigate confusion by creating a national standard, reports MediaPost Communications.

The Association of National Advertisers, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the U.S. Chamber of Congress are just a few of the business groups that are asking for a national privacy law.

“As the Federal Trade Commission considers a privacy rulemaking that would add a further layer of complexity to the state patchwork, it is critical that Congress pass one single national standard”, the groups stated in a letter that was signed by 15 national organizations and then by local business groups from across the country, the MediaPost report said.

California, Virginia, and Colorado are just a few of the states that have passed their own version of a privacy law, and while they all serve a similar purpose, they have various nuances that the business groups said they believe will be difficult to navigate for their businesses and for consumers across state lines, MediaPost reports.

In addition, there are members of Congress who are also asking for a national plan for consumer privacy.

Digital infrastructure firm DigitalBridge raises over $8 billion

DigitalBridge Investment Management, an investment firm in digital infrastructure, raised a higher-than-expected $8.3 billion, according to a Wednesday press release, illustrating interest in projects including fiber builds.

“The Fund has already invested in nine portfolio companies across towers, easements, hyperscale data centers, edge infrastructure, indoor DAS infrastructure and fiber, running reliable, mission-critical network infrastructure for many of the world’s leading hyperscale cloud providers and mobile network operators,” the release said.

The round comes as the federal government pushing billions of dollars into infrastructure, including broadband and as the pandemic has shown a need for remote capabilities driven by broadband.

Republican lawmaker calls for NTIA-FCC cooperation on spectrum

Senator Roger Wicker, R-Mississippi, sent a letter earlier this month to the head of the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration asking them to consider a renewed agreement to work together on spectrum management.

The January 13 letter to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and new NTIA head Alan Davidson said their “relationship can be strengthened” on matters related to the shared use of radiowaves between federal and non-federal users by refreshing the memorandum of understanding that was last updated in 2003.

“In light of recent disputes over spectrum allocations, it is more important than ever that the [FCC and NTIA] work together to promote spectrum policy that best serves the dual goals of furthering commercial innovation and enabling the mission-critical operations of federal agencies,” the letter said.

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Broadband Roundup

Airlines’ 5G Warning, 3.45 GHz Winners, Bongino YouTube Suspension

Airlines claim the need to cancel a many flights because of interference between altimeters and 5G transmitters.

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Dan Bongino
Conservative commentator Dan Bongino

January 18, 2022 — Major American airlines are saying that they will need to cancel a significant number of flights from possible interference between aircraft altimeters and 5G signals this week, according to multiple news reports.

Verizon and AT&T, which are deploying 5G services around airports using the C-band spectrum, had already agreed to a deployment delay earlier this month at the behest of the airlines, but are planning of turning on service this week.

The signals that come from the 5G service risk “interfering with safety equipment pilots rely on to take off and land inclement weather,” said the CEOs of major American airlines in a letter to United States officials, according to NBC News.

“The nation’s commerce will grind to a halt” and leave “tens of thousands of Americans” stranded overseas, the letter said, adding “immediate intervention is needed to avoid significant operational disruption to air passengers, shippers, supply chain and delivery of needed medical supplies.’”

Industry group Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association stated that “5G is safe and the spectrum is currently in use in nearly 40 other nations.”

FCC announces winning bidders in 3.45 GHz auction

The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday the winning bidders for the 3.45 GHz auction, frequencies important for 5G services.

The top five winners were AT&T with winning bids worth just over $9 billion; Weminuche  won bids worth just over $7 billion; T-Mobile took nearly $3 billion worth; Three Forty-Five Spectrum nabbed $1.4 billion worth; and United States Cellular Corp took licenses valued at nearly $600 million.

According to a press release from the FCC, 13 of the 23 companies that won bids are “small businesses or as entities serving rural communities.”

Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that enabling “commercial use of this spectrum is important to America’s continuing economic recovery and 5G leadership.” The gross proceeds of this auction were over $22.5 billion.

Dan Bongino latest conservative voice ousted from tech platform

Alphabet’s YouTube temporarily suspended conservative commentator Dan Bongino‘s channel due to misinformation regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, making him the latest voice from the right to be removed for that purpose.

The Hill reported that Bongino declared masks “useless” in the fight against COVID-19, which was in direct violation of YouTube’s COVID-19 policy, which “specifically prohibits content denying the effectiveness of wearing masks, which the vast majority of the scientific community agrees reduces the risk of infection.”

The suspension, which includes him being removed from a program that allows him to get paid for his uploads, lasts a week with a second offense leading to a two-week suspension, and a third to a permanent ban.

The ban follows social media company Twitter’s removal of Georgia Republican Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, which was followed by Republican Kentucky Senator Rand Paul removing himself from YouTube earlier this month.

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