December 2, 2021 – A federal court in Texas temporarily blocked a new state law that would prevent social media companies from removing political speech.
Federal district court judge Robert Pitman for the Western District of Texas granted a preliminary injunction against the law which is set to take effect today.
The law, HB 20 targets companies with at least 50 million users in the United States, including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Texas governor Greg Abbott signed the law in September, calling the measure a move to “protect Texans from wrongful censorship on social media platforms.”
The law would also allow Texas residents to sue companies in order to reinstate their accounts.
In his decision, Pitman ruled that social media companies have a First Amendment right to moderate users’ content on their platforms. “This Court is convinced that social media platforms, or at least those covered by HB 20, curate both users and content to convey a message about the type of community the platform seeks to foster and, as such, exercise editorial discretion over their platform’s content,” he decided.
Internet industry groups NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association filed to challenge the Texas law in September. CCIA president Matt Schruers said the ruling was “not surprising.” “The First Amendment ensures that the Government can’t force a citizen or company to be associated with a viewpoint they disapprove of, and that applies with particular force when a state law would prevent companies from enforcing policies against Nazi propaganda, hate speech, and disinformation from foreign agents.”
In June, a federal court judge imposed a temporary ban on a similar social media law signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis until the case is settled in court.
Illinois starts broadband investment initiative
Illinois announced Wednesday a broadband acceleration project that will help communities receive support and funding for broadband expansion.
Governor JB Pritzker, together with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) Broadband Office, announced the Accelerate Illinois Broadband Infrastructure Planning Program – a collaborative program for local governments to receive expert support as they apply for and receive federal funding for broadband deployment.
Pritzker emphasized how his state is making broadband deployment a priority for towns in Illinois. “Keeping our communities connected has never been more important than it is today and this pilot will help communities play a direct role in delivering broadband infrastructure improvements to close the gaps on service,” he said. “With an historic amount of funding available thanks to our own Connect Illinois initiative and with new federal infrastructure dollars coming from Washington we are committed to reaching our goal of delivering universal broadband access across our state.”
The Accelerate Illinois program will offer 30 hours of free expert counsel provided by the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society. The Accelerate Illinois “Notice of Collaboration Opportunity” is open and accepting applications through December 30, 2021. The State expects to serve up to 12 communities as part of the initial pilot initiative.
Fiber leading telecom giants’ investment goals
Telecommunications companies are rushing to invest in fiber amid an “alternative networks” trend, according to a Wednesday story in the Financial Times.
The report notes that while some investors are funding a new generation of “alternative networks” – networks deployed using fiber-to-home, fixed wireless networks, hybrid networks, and satellite broadband services to bring broadband solutions to urban and rural areas – incumbent telecoms providers are pushing for more fiber investments.
William Hare, an analyst with technology consulting firm Omida, said fiber has become more important over the past two years. “Through the pandemic, fiber has become much more of a priority.”
The Times reports that the speed and resilience offered by a full-fiber network matches consumer expectations. “Fiber really outperforms copper,” says Hare. “The raw speed is one thing; but reliability and stability is the real advantage.”
Omida predicts that the United States will be among the countries with the most fiber growth by 2024, behind Spain, China, and Egypt. For 5G markets, the US, South Korea, and Finland will see the biggest growth.
A barrier to wider worldwide deployment of 5G in some countries is the availability of smartphones, especially in some African countries, the report said.
January 6 Committee Social Media Subpoenas, Iranian Hacks, Google Ad Auctions Lawsuit
Lawmakers chastised the companies for providing little information in response to past committee inquiries.
January 14, 2021 – The House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol has issued subpoenas to social media giants Alphabet, Meta, Reddit and Twitter, saying the companies’ responses to prior requests for information were inadequate.
The committee had previously reached out to the companies to assess their knowledge of misinformation, efforts to overturn the 2020 election, domestic extremism and foreign influence in the 2020 election that may have taken place on their platforms.
Central to the inquiry is whether the companies took any steps to “prevent their platforms from being breeding grounds for radicalizing people to violence,” said committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
Iranian intelligence agency engaged in international hacks
U.S. Cyber Command said Wednesday that hacking group MuddyWaters is part of an Iranian intelligence agency which is responsible for several global cyberattacks.
The group, identified as part of the Iranian Ministry of Intelligence and Security, has been labeled an “Iranian threat group” by authorities.
The information comes following a year of increased cyberattack activity from abroad in the U.S. including the prominent breach at Colonial Pipeline involving hackers with ties to Russia.
Allegedly, the group has targeted nations across the Middle East, Europe and North America in efforts to surveil opponents.
According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, between 2013 and 2017, Iranian hackers stole $3.4 billion in intellectual property from 170 universities and targeted U.S. officials and journalists as well as United Kingdom banks.
Google alleged to have misled publishers and advertisers
Newly unredacted allegations in a lawsuit by state attorneys general say that Google for years misled publishers and advertisers about pricing and processes in its ad auctions.
The lawsuit says Google created secret programs which deflated sales for some companies while increasing buyer prices, engaging in trust and monopoly-building activities.
The unredacted filing of the lawsuit occurred Friday in the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York after a judge ruled and amended complaint from last year could be unsealed.
Google says the lawsuit is “full of inaccuracies and lacks legal merit,” and intends to file a motion for its dismissal next week, asserting that its advertising practices are competitive.
The suit is led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and joined by over a dozen other states, alleging that Google’s practices inflate advertising costs which in turn create higher-priced products for consumers.
A separate antitrust case exists against Google from the U.S. Justice Department and over three dozen state attorneys general focusing on the company’s search services.
Additionally, a proposed bipartisan bill in the Senate with the support of a dozen lawmakers would treat Google’s search engine like a railroad operator and ban it from advantaging its own products and services at the expense of other businesses that rely on the platforms – just part of an ongoing adversarial relationship between Congress and the tech company.
Digital Literacy Legislation, Scott Woods Interview, Kim Kardashian Crypto Scam
Brenda Lawrence, a democratic representative from Michigan, introduced new legislation that will help measure the nation’s digital literacy.
January 13, 2022 — Representative Brenda Lawrence, D-Michigan, introduced legislation Wednesday that would bring government agencies together to address digital literacy.
The Digital Literacy and Equity Commission Act hopes to streamline the federal government’s approach to digital literacy by bringing together agency heads and experts to assess digital literacy in the United States, recommend how to measure digital literacy, and promote interagency cooperation. Right now there is no commonly used metric to measure digital literacy.
“As a result of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we’re investing billions to expand access to broadband,” Lawrence said of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, signed into law in November. “Laying down the fiber is a strong first step to connect Americans around the country, but this effort won’t be as effective if people can’t use the online tools they’ve been given.”
The Digital Literacy and Equity Commission would be chaired by the Secretary of Education and the chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel.
The legislation would require the commission to submit a report to Congress that contains recommendations on how to improve and maintain the digital and information literacy of individuals in the United States.
The commission will need to address low-income and disadvantaged areas and submit a final report with strategies to improve digital literacy through early education and community outreach.
Interview with Scott Woods at Broadband.Money
Scott Woods, director of the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives in the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, will meet on Friday with Broadband Breakfast reporter, Justin Perkins for an “Ask Me Anything!” style interview for Broadband.Money.
“Scott is a broadband funding, implementation and stakeholder engagement expert and a key member of the OIGC leadership team responsible for implementing the historic $65 billion broadband funding program authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 (IIJA),” Broadband.Money said.
The Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives was established in 2021 to continue the work of the 2018 Minority Broadband Initiative. The intent of both the office and the original initiative was to close the digital divide in underserved communities by partnering with Historically Black Universities.
Woods’ office is the operator of a multitude of broadband and digital equity grant programs, which is why Friday’s conversation will center on providing opportunities for public and private partners wanting to strengthen broadband within their communities.
Kim Kardashian sued for crypto scam
Both celebrity Kim Kardashian and former boxer Floyd Mayweather are being sued by investors for allegedly falsely promoting a cryptocurrency called EthereumMax on their social media accounts.
CNN reports that a “class action lawsuit filed last Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California accuses EthereumMax and its celebrity promoters of working together to artificially inflate the price of the token by making “false or misleading statements” in social media posts.”
The lawsuit alleges that investors who purchased EthereumMax in the early summer of 2021 lost money as a result of the celebrities’ false advertising.
CNN reported that a spokesperson for EthereumMax disputed the lawsuit stating that it was “riddled with misinformation.” Furthermore, CNN said that “representatives for Kardashian and Mayweather were not immediately available when contacted.”
Facebook Objection Dismissed, Glo Fiber Expanding, Utopia’s Timmerman Advocates Gigi Sohn
A judge dismissed Facebook’s objection to the FTC’s investigation into the company’s alleged anticompetitive practices.
January 12, 2022 – Facebook’s attempts to convince the court to dismiss the Federal Trade Commission’s anticompetition case against it have been rejected by D.C. District Court Judge James Boasberg, which advocacy group Public Knowledge said in a Tuesday press release is “great news.”
Facebook, now called Meta, filed a complaint in October asking the court to dismiss the case that alleges the company is a monopoly power that controls over 60 percent of the “person social networking services” market. But the court effectively ruled that there is evidence that can move the case forward against the company.
“This is great news for the fight to hold Big Tech accountable and to offer users a real alternative to Facebook… thanks to the FTC’s persistence on this important issue, even the previously skeptical Judge Boasberg now agrees these concerns deserve further scrutiny.”
Boasberg also dismissed that argument also dismissed the argument that Khan should be recused from her position because of past comments she’s made about big technology companies.
Glo Fiber expanding network to Blacksburg, VA
Glo Fiber will be expanding its fiber optic network to include Blacksburg, Virginia this year to increase internet speeds for over 7,000 households and businesses, according to a Tuesday press release.
Shenandoah Telecommunications Company, the parent of Glo Fiber, will offer three tiers of symmetrical internet services, as well as streaming TV and phone service.
The news comes after the city council of Stephens City in Northern Virginia entered into a franchise agreement with Shenandoah and Glo to provide internet service to towns in the area.
Utopia Fiber wants Gigi Sohn at FCC
Roger Timmerman, the executive director at Utopia Fiber, wrote an opinion piece for the Salt Lake Tribune Tuesday urging the Senate to push forth Gigi Sohn as the fifth Federal Communications Commission Commissioner because she would keep certain companies accountable in the market.
In the piece, he said that Sohn is best suited for this job because of her stance on big cable companies, her efforts to keep cable companies accountable, and her efforts to be a bipartisan voice in the world of telecommunications.
“If Gigi Sohn lands at the FCC, cable will need to be more accountable to consumers, businesses and taxpayers (who’ve subsidized their efforts for years with little in return)” Timmerman wrote. “Sohn wants to see policy that spurs innovation and investment, as well as economic development and jobs”.
Sohn has yet to be up for a Senate vote. If she’s approved, she will round-out the commission and provide the Democrats with the majority voice.
Utopia Fiber is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.
- Ron Yokubaitis: GOP Putting Partisanship over Reform with Gigi Sohn’s FCC Nomination
- Digital Equity the Focus at NTIA’s Listening Session on Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act
- January 6 Committee Social Media Subpoenas, Iranian Hacks, Google Ad Auctions Lawsuit
- Federal Communications Commissioner Starks Seeks to Encourage Democratic Principles Online
- Christopher Mitchell: Treasury Department Rescue Plan Act Rules Improve Broadband Funding
- Global Collaboration Important for Long-term Resolution on Supply Chain Concerns
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