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Section 230 Reexamination, Tech Continues Russia Retaliation, 4.9 GHz Centralization

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said Section 230 needs to be reviewed in light of Facebook case in Texas.

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Photo of Justice Clarence Thomas in April 2017, via Flickr

March 7, 2022 – Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued a statement Monday calling for a reexamination of tech platform immunity protections following a Texas Supreme Court decision that said Facebook was shielded from liability in a trafficking case.

The Texas court ruled in Jane Doe. V. Facebook that the company was shielded from any liability as it was “afforded publisher immunity” in accordance with Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, even though the platform “knows its system facilitates human traffickers in identifying and cultivating victims,” and did not take “reasonable” steps to address these concerns.”

In response to the decision, Thomas said, “This decision exemplifies how courts have interpreted [Section] 230 ‘to confer sweeping immunity on some of the largest companies in the world.’ It is hard to see why the protection [Section 230] grants publishers against being held strictly liable for third parties’ content should protect Facebook from liability for its own ‘acts and omissions.’

“At the very least, before we close the door on such serious charges, we should be certain that is what the law demands,” he said.

“As I have explained, the arguments in favor of broad immunity under [Section] 230 rest largely on ‘policy and purpose,’ not on the statute’s plain text. Here, the Texas Supreme Court recognized that ‘[t]he United States Supreme Court—or better yet, Congress—may soon resolve the burgeoning debate about whether the federal courts have thus far correctly interpreted section 230.’”

Last year, Thomas said the highest court would have to one day tackle issues involving digital platforms, which he said exercise “concentrated control of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties.”

Tech companies cease operations in Russia

Multiple technology companies have either shuttered their doors or otherwise ceased sales and operations in Russia, representing the latest in continuing economic punishments for the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine.

On Friday, Daniel Alegre, chief operating officer at video game publisher Activision Blizzard, stated “we are announcing that Activision Blizzard will be suspending new sales of and in our games in Russia while this conflict continues” in an open letter to employees.

On Sunday, Netflix announced that it would be suspending its online services in Russia. In an effort to curb disinformation on its platform, TikTok announced that it would not allow users to upload new videos from Russia.

On Tuesday, Apple announced that it would not longer sell its products in Russia, and Meta stated that it would block certain state-sponsored “news” websites such as RT from being shared on the platform. Twitter also said that it would be taking steps to deemphasize Russian state media. In response to these actions, Russia banned bother services on Friday.

Intel, Microsoft, Google, Roku, and Spotify have also all taken actions against Russia in response to the ongoing situation in Ukraine.

Think tank pushes 4.9 GHz centralization 

A Washington D.C. think tank is this month pushing the economic benefits of the Federal Communications Commission’s proposal to improve emergency response services by allocating a slice of the 4.9 GHz band under the centralized authority of the proposed entity designated for that purpose.

The Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies published a bulletin this month that a block of the 4.9 GHz spectrum should be put under the auspices of the FirstNet Authority, which the FCC proposed in October 2021 to be the body to set rules for governing access to the band. The bulletin said this centralization would yield $34 billion in gross domestic product and create 160,000 new jobs.

In their analysis published on Monday, economic policy analysts from the Phoenix Center argued that the centralized model outlined by the FCC has “economic support” and lambasted the decentralized model of state-level management that has allegedly created problems for emergency response, such as interference and congestion, the Phoenix Center said.

The analysis explained that historically, first responders have struggled to coordinate communications infrastructure, as it was often structured on an agency-by-agency or jurisdictional basis. Analysists said that this inability to coordinate was most obvious from the terror attacks on September 11, 2001, when they say that an inability to communicate contributed to the deaths of 343 firefighters.

Reporter Ben Kahn is a graduate of University of Baltimore and the National Journalism Center. His work has appeared in Broadband Breakfast, Washington Jewish Week, and The Center Square, among other publications. He primarily covers Big Tech and spectrum policy.

Broadband Roundup

AT&T and DISH Agreement, FCC Adds More States in Robocall Fight, $50M from Emergency Connectivity Fund

Dish said its customers will now have access to AT&T’s gigabit fiber services.

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Photo of FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

May 19, 2022 – On Wednesday, AT&T and Dish Network announced an internet distribution agreement in which Dish customers will have access to AT&T internet services, including its gigabit fiber services.

“Adding AT&T Internet to our robust lineup of TV and home integration services enhances our ability to provide better overall service, technology and value to our customers,” Amir Ahmed, executive vice president of DISH TV, said in a press release.

“At AT&T, we’re constantly thinking of ways we can better serve and provide for our customers. Through this new arrangement with DISH, we’re able to do just that by seamlessly offering our super-fast broadband services to more customers across the nation,” said Jenifer Robertson, executive vice president and general manager of mass markets at AT&T Communications.

“This is another step towards our goal of becoming the best broadband provider in America,” said Robertson.

FCC adds more state partners to tackle illegal robocalls

The Federal Communications Commission announced Thursday new partnerships with nine additional state attorneys general to combat illegal robocalls.

The agency said Iowa, Florida, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina have all signed on to help with robocall investigations.

That raises the number of states that have signed a memoranda of understanding with the FCC to 36, after the agency last month signed on a handful more states for the initiative. The agency has already credited at least one state with helping it nail one suspected robocall violator.

As part of the agreement, the parties will “share evidence, coordinate investigations, pool enforcement resources, and work together to combat illegal robocall campaigns and protect American consumers from scams,” according to the FCC.

“We are better positioned to help protect consumers from scammers than ever before,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “Together we are stronger. Together we will continue our work to protect American consumers.”

The FCC already has robocall investigation agreements with Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

FCC commits additional $50 million from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The FCC announced on Wednesday that it has approved an additional $50 million from the Emergency Connectivity Fund program that is intended to help students with virtual learning.

The FCC said this funding will go to help 46 schools, seven libraries and two consortia across the country for students in American Samoa, Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

The FCC estimates that, so far, nearly $4.9 billion has been committed to connect over 12.6 million students across the country.

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel added in a press release that “this program is providing funding for nearly 11 million connected devices and 5 million broadband connections throughout the country and moving us closer toward closing the Homework Gap.

“With help from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, millions of students across the country now have online tools to support their education,” added Rosenworcel.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC June Meeting, Ookla Speeds at Airports, FCC Cautioned About Overstepping on Digital Discrimination

The FCC laid out its agenda for the June open meeting.

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Screenshot of TechFreedom President Berin Szóka

May 18, 2022 – In a press release Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission announced the agenda for its June 2022 open meeting.

The FCC will explore ideas for wireless innovation at sea following increasing demand for spectrum to support offshore operations. The FCC will consider offshore spectrum policies to ensure efficient use of scarce spectrum resources.

In 2018, the FCC launched an inquiry to explain why some wireless 911 calls were misrouted to the wrong call center. The past four years showed a decrease in the frequency of this error but not its elimination. The FCC will seek comment on improvements that would reduce misrouted 911 calls and improve emergency response time.

During the June open meeting, the FCC will also consider preserving established local radio programming on FM6 radio service, if they meet certain conditions.

Ookla speedtest shows divide on speeds for Wi-Fi at airports

Analytics company Ooka analyzed airport Wi-Fi speeds at some of the busiest airports in the world and found that all surveyed airports met the recommended speed for streaming on mobile, but found a large divide between them.

The four fastest free airport Wi-Fis were all located in the United States: San Francisco International, Seattle-Tacoma International, Dallas/Fort Worth International, and Chicago O’Hare International. Following that came Dubai International, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and Los Angeles International.

According to Speedtest Intelligence data, there is a wide gap between median speeds of the first 8 airports and the other airports on the list with the fasted being 176.25 Mbps. Airport lounges were found to have faster Wi-Fi on average than the airport itself.

Ookla, a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, used its Speedtest Intelligence, which provides global insights into fixed broadband and mobile performance data using billions of consumer-initiated tests.

Tech lobbyists says FCC must not overstep authority to prevent digital discrimination

Tech lobbyist TechFreedom filed comments on Monday claiming that the Federal Communication Commission is overstepping its authority to regulate digital discrimination, following the FCC’s inquiry on how to prevent such a practice.

“If Congress had wanted the FCC to implement a new civil right law for broadband, it would have legislated a clear prohibition on discrimination – the essential element in all civil rights laws,” TechFreedom President Berin Szóka said in a release. “Instead, Congress wrote a law entirely about ‘facilitation.’”

The FCC’s inquiry follows an order under the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act to make rules to “facilitate” equal access to broadband and “prevent digital discrimination.”

“It is simply not plausible that Congress could have intended to change how broadband deployment is regulated in an obscure amendment tacked onto a spending bill on the Senate floor with no discussion or legislative history,” Szóka argued.

He concluded that there are other routes the FCC can take to prevent digital discrimination and facilitate equal access. Szóka called on the commission to “focus on directing funding towards remedying unequal access to broadband and preventing potential digital discrimination- not only under the infrastructure act but also the FCC’s various other broadband programs.”

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Broadband Roundup

Judge Opinion on Crypto Transfer, Internet Society Joins Partner2Connect, Cable One Invests $950 Million for 10G

The opinion stated that the Department of Justice can prosecute someone who sent millions in crypto to a sanctioned state.

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Screenshot of Julie Laulis, president and CEO of Cable One, in 2020

May 17, 2022 – A federal judge has released an opinion stating that an American citizen who transferred millions in cryptocurrency to a country blacklisted by the U.S. can be prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

“The Department of Justice can and will criminally prosecute individuals and entities for failure to comply with the [Office of Foreign Assets Control] regulations, including as to virtual currency,” Federal Judge Zia Faruqui said.

The American citizen allegedly sent more than $10 million in bitcoin to a country blacklisted by the U.S. government. It was not reported which, but some of these sanctioned countries include Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, and Russia.

The judge debunked two crypto myths present in the case: “Issue one: virtual currency is untraceable? WRONG… Issue two: sanctions do not apply to virtual currency? WRONG.”

Internet Society joins Partner2Connect coalition to expand internet access

The non-profit Internet Society announced Tuesday it has partnered with the Partner2Connect Digital Coalition, an alliance led by the International Telecommunications Union that aims to increase connectivity and digital transformation in underserved communities around the world.

“In joining the coalition, the Internet Society is making pledges to support 100 complementary solutions to connect the unconnected, and to train 10,000 people to build and maintain Internet infrastructure, all by 2025,” according to a press release.

“We thank the Internet Society for its contributions to the Partner2Connect Coalition,” Doreen Bogdan-Martin, director of the ITU telecommunication development bureau, said in the release.

“We need more creative connectivity solutions if we are going to connect the unconnected, and the Internet Society’s proven success in growing user communities and skills training makes it a great partner in advancing the Coalition’s goals and empowering communities around the world,” Bogdan-Martin added.

Cable One invests $950 million in network for future 10G

Cable One, a broadband communications provider, said Tuesday it has invested more than $950 million over the past three years to support future connections of 10 Gigabits per second and to extend broadband to underserved areas.

“We are implementing the upgrades needed to our networks in order to deliver multi-Gig symmetrical speeds to our residential customers over the next few years,” Cable One president and CEO Julie Laulis said in a press release. “Our investment strategy ensures our customers have access to a state-of-the-art network designed to handle future technological advances and reflects our deep commitment to addressing digital equity across our footprint.”

Cable One is made up of brands including Sparklight, Fidelity, Hargray, and ValueNet that provide service to more than 1.1 million residential and business customers in 24 states, the release said.

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