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NTIA New Hires, Section 230 Legislation Reintroduced, EU Digital Laws Target American Firms

The NTIA has made key leadership hires just weeks after its head was confirmed by the Senate.

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Photo of Andy Berke, new special broadband representative for NTIA, in January 2018 by Lawrence Miller used with permission

February 2, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Association announced Wednesday new hires to its senior leadership ranks.

April McClain-Delaney will be deputy assistant secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information and Andy Berke will be a special representative for broadband.

The hires come shortly after NTIA head Alan Davidson was confirmed by the Senate last month and comes before a critical year in which the agency of the Commerce Department plans for the release of broadband money coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

McClain-Delaney was the Washington Director of Common Sense Media before accepting her new position. She also worked for the Delaney Charitable Foundation as a director. Over her 30 years of experience, she has focused on “digital citizenship education, the digital divide, privacy protections and tech addition issues.”

Berke is the former mayor of Chattanooga, Tennessee, his term ended in 2021. While mayor he “led a partnership to provide high speed broadband at no cost to every family with a child on free or reduced lunch, making Chattanooga the first community in the country with such a benefit.” He also established digital equity programs as mayor and was in the Tennessee Senate for five years.

Chattanooga is known as the “Gig City” for its community fiber network that delivers multiple gigabits per second download speeds.

Section 230 legislation reintroduced in Senate

Legislation that would limit protections afforded to technology platforms from liability has been reintroduced in the Senate on Monday.

The “Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies” Act – which was reintroduced by Senator Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, and Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut – would limit the protections afforded by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields platforms from the liability of the content of their users.

The Computer and Communications Industry Association, an industry group, said it is not in favor of the bill’s reintroduction. CCIA President Matt Schruers said that lawmakers need to focus on prosecuting perpetrators, but “Instead of directing more resources toward prosecution of industry-reported content, this bill aims to put a government commission in charge of how digital services operate.”

The CCIA also pointed out its own efforts to reach members of Congress and tell them about “the collateral dangers of altering the law that gives internet companies legal certainty to remove nefarious and illegal content” through joint letters to Senate leaders.

Lawmakers concerned about EU laws targeting American tech companies

U.S. lawmakers are raising concern about digital media laws in the European Union that seek to regulate the market power of large American technology companies, saying the rules would unfairly target their companies.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, and Senator Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, said in a letter to President Joe Biden on Monday that they are afraid the laws – the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act, which is still being debated overseas – will harm trade between the U.S. and the EU.

The lawmakers are concerned that the laws, which target such things as data use practices, would disproportionally focus on American companies and not be implemented uniformly in other countries, thus giving European companies a leg up on the Americans.

“As the EU works to take positive steps to protect privacy, ensure competition, and facilitate digital inclusivity, it is critical that U.S. innovators, and the American workers and internet users behind them, are not placed at an unfair disadvantage by discriminatory trade policies,” the letter said.

The legislation will give “an unfair competitive advantage to other foreign companies, including those based in countries like China and Russia, which do not reflect shared U.S.-EU values of democracy, human rights, and market-based principles,” the letter added.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo also expressed her fear that the legislation “will disproportionately impact U.S.-based tech firms and their ability to adequately serve EU customers and uphold security and privacy standards,” said the CCIA.

Broadband Roundup

ECF Awards of $96 Million, Minority Communities, Charter and Digital Education

Emergency Connectivity Fund grants will keep students connected outside of school, including those impacted by Hurricanes Fiona and Ian.

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October 6, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission announced Wednesday it is committing $96 million from the Emergency Connectivity Fund to keep students connected outside of school, including in states impacted by Hurricanes Fiona and Ian, according to the press release.

Nearly $53 million will benefit students, teachers, and library patrons living in areas impacted by the recent hurricanes in Florida, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, and South Carolina, the release said. The program funds the purchase of Wi-Fi hotspots, modems, routers, laptops, and tablet computers, as well as other broadband services that allow students to work effectively from home.

“We need to make sure all kids have digital tools for connecting with school, but it’s especially important for students living in those areas damaged by the recent hurricanes,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This program will help those students by funding hot spots, tablets, and broadband services, building on our ongoing work to close the Homework Gap.”

The program has so far committed over $6 billion to schools and libraries across the country.

Connecting Minority Communities pilot program awards $10.6 Million

The Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Wednesday that it has awarded a total of $10.6 million to five minority institutions as part of the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot Program.

Mount Saint Mary’s University in California, New Mexico Highlands University, North Carolina Central University, Eastern University in Pennsylvania, and the College of the Marshall Islands have been awarded funds to deploy digital literacy and workforce development efforts.

The CMC covers expenses such as the purchase of high-speed Internet service, eligible equipment, and workforce development efforts for information technology jobs.

The program specifically directs $268 million from the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 for expanding high-speed Internet access and connectivity to eligible historically Black colleges or universities, tribal colleges or universities, minority-serving institutions, according to the press release.

“Minority-serving institutions are key drivers of digital skills education and workforce development programs for communities across the country. They need robust connectivity and resources to continue to provide support,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a release. “This program will build digital capacity for colleges and universities that will deliver benefits to their students and fuel job creation and economic growth in their communities.”

The latest round of grants increases Charter’s overall investment in the program to $8 million within six years

Charter Communications announced Thursday an award of $1.1 million in Spectrum Digital Education grants to 47 nonprofits in 15 states to fund their digital literacy and workforce development initiatives, according to a press release.

The awards will go to The Oasis Institute in St. Louis, which supports adults with digital technology; Whitmore Economic Development Group, a computer training center for agriculture workers in Hawaii; US Together Inc., which provides refugees with digital education in Ohio; the LGBT Technology Institute, which supports connectivity for disadvantaged LGBTQ individuals in Virginia; Latinitas, a program to improve technology skills in Texas; and InterFaith Works of Central New York, which helps urban and rural seniors with digital skills.

“As one of the largest internet providers in the U.S, we are committed to supporting local initiatives through Spectrum Digital Education that promote digital literacy and inclusion, and help to educate community members about the value of adopting broadband in their lives so they can succeed in today’s connected society,” said Rahman Khan, Charter’s vice president of community impact, in the release.

The latest round of grants increases Charter’s overall investment in the program to $8 million within six years, according to the release.

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High Demand for Middle Mile Grants, Local Concerns in FCC Process, Musk Agrees to Buy Twitter Again

The NTIA said it has received $5.5-billion worth of applications for the $1-billion middle mile program.

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Photo of Elon Musk

October 5, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration said Tuesday it received more than 235 applications worth more than $5.5 billion for money from the Enabling Middle Mile Infrastructure Grant Program.

The grant program, which is part of the larger Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and a number of other programs of the NTIA, only has $1 billion allocated to it.

“The volume of applications we received demonstrates the high demand for increasing middle mile capacity throughout the country,” Alan Davidson, head of the NTIA, said in a press release.

The applications were due on September 30 and will be awarded on a rolling basis by March 2023.

In response to current natural disasters, the NTIA has waived the deadline for entities that want to deploy middle mile infrastructure in Puerto Rico and parts of Florida, South Carolina and Alaska. The deadlines for these applications are set for November 1.

Next Century Cities says local government insights are overlooked

The non-profit advocacy group Next Century Cities on Tuesday released a report in which it highlighted the way that local government insights and concerns are often overlooked by the Federal Communications Commission.

The 21-page report, “Resounding Silence: The Need for Local Insights in Federal Broadband Policymaking,” said that municipalities often lack the capacity to participate in the FCC’s rule-making process.

In particular, the report highlights Next Century Cities’ concerns regarding the FCC’s “small cell” proceeding and  wireless infrastructure facilities. In particular, the report by Ryan Johnston, senior policy counsel, said that “communities are critical for broadband deployment, but not trusted to see it through.”

Another example of the argued neglect cited in the report concerns the FCC’s regulations regarding bans on exclusivity in the provision of broadband within multi-tenant environments. The Next Century City report says that local government efforts to ensure competitive access to these properties “have been only partially addressed.”

Musk agrees to buy Twitter – again

SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Monday through his lawyers that he is reinterested in buying Twitter at his original asking price of $44 billion, according to a letter from his firm, after he previously tried backing out of the deal.

The deal would end legal proceedings, which began when Twitter sued Musk after the billionaire said he would not be pursuing his original offer. Musk countersued in July, alleging the company couldn’t verify the number of fake accounts that are currently in its system. Twitter said it wouldn’t be able to calculate the number of fake accounts based on public information.

Twitter said it will go ahead with the deal, according to Bloomberg.

Last month, Peiter Zatko, a former Twitter employee, testified against Twitter saying the platform didn’t permanently delete user data from its system after users had deleted their accounts. The accounts were left susceptible to unlawful use by foreign governments and Twitter employees due to the lack of user security, the whistleblower testified.

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FCC Targets Spam Call Offenders, Disaster Assistance Requirements, U.S. 23rd in Fiber Development

For the first time, the FCC is proposing removing voice service providers for breaking spam call rules.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

October 4, 2022 – For the first time, the FCC proposed Tuesday that seven voice service providers be removed from receiving call traffic, after violating the commission’s new scam call framework.

Voice service providers Akabis, Cloud4, Global UC, Horizon Technology Group, Morse Communications, Sharon Telephone Company, and SW Arkansas Telecommunications and Technology have 14 days to show why the FCC should not remove them from the Robocall Mitigation Database.

The database is a filing portal voice service providers must use to inform the commission that they have implemented the STIR/SHAKEN framework, an FCC mandated caller identification technology that allows carriers to digitally validate the authenticity of a phone number, allowing a customer to be sure that the number seen on a caller ID matches the possible caller.

Removal from the database would require all other providers to cease carrying the offending companies’ traffic, meaning all calls from these providers’ customers would be blocked and no traffic originated by the provider would reach the called party, according to the release.

“These and other recent actions reflect the seriousness with which we take providers’ obligations to take concrete and impactful steps to combat robocalls,” Loyaan Egal, acting chief of the FCC’s enforcement bureau, said in the release. “STIR/SHAKEN is not optional. And if your network isn’t IP-based so you cannot yet use these standards, we need to see the steps taken to mitigate illegal robocalls. These providers have fallen woefully short and have now put at risk their continued participation in the U.S. communications system. While we’ll review their responses, we will not accept superficial gestures given the gravity of what is at stake.”

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel added in a statement that, “Fines alone aren’t enough. Providers that don’t follow our rules and make it easy to scam consumers will now face swift consequences,” saying this is a “new era.”

FCC adopts emergency carrier assistance rules

The Federal Communications Commission said Friday it has adopted rules requiring wireless service providers to assist other carriers in the event of emergencies.

The commission codified certain terms from a voluntary program known as the Mandatory Disaster Response Initiative, which has been used by the carriers since 2016 to assist each other in emergency scenarios. The new MDRI requires providers arrange mutual aid, improve public awareness of restoration efforts, and mandate roaming agreements so that any carrier with network outage may get voice roaming on a carrier that is still operational during natural disasters. The new MDRI will be effective October 31.

The September order also requires that the carriers submit performance reporting to the commission in order to improve “reliability, resiliency, and continuity of communications networks during emergencies,” it said in the order.

On Tuesday, the FCC said also is seeking comment on whether MDRI reports to the commission “would benefit from standardization, and what it should entail.”

The FCC is seeking comments until October 31, 2022, with reply comments due on November 29.

United States in 23rd place for fiber development

Technology research group Omdia listed the United States in 23rd place on fiber development relative to other countries, according to a report released Tuesday.

“Only by maximizing investment in next-generation access can countries optimize their growth potential, and fiber-optic technology is key to that investment. Countries, such as the UK and the US, that are further down the list than many less developed countries, may need to consider policy reforms to ensure that it is easy to deploy infrastructure and that competition in the market remains high in light of mergers taking place,” said Omdia research director Michael Philpott in a statement.

Omdia’s Fiber Development Index measures fiber household coverage, household penetration, business penetration, mobile cell site fiber penetration, total fiber investment, and average download and upload speeds across 81 countries, its website says.

Singapore is ranked first in the Fiber Development Index, as it pushes to become the next “smart nation” by 2025, the report said.

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