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Russian Disinformation, Canadian Big Tech, WideOpenWest Sale, Broadband Emerging Leaders

Facebook has found Russian espionage and disinformation campaigns on its platform.

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Photo of Kathryn de Wit by Lexey Swall of the Pew Charitable Trusts

April 8, 2022 – A report released by Facebook on Thursday found that government-affiliated hackers from Russia and Belarus attempted to use the platform for cyber espionage and disinformation campaigns that targeted Ukrainians.

The efforts targeted the Ukrainian telecom industry, defense and energy sectors, tech platforms, journalists and activists.

One such campaign was found to be linked to the Belarusian KGB, and Belarus-affiliated hacking group Ghostwriter was found attempting to hack dozens of Ukrainian military personnel’s Facebook accounts.

Ghostwriter hackers target individuals using phishing emails and gain access to their social media accounts.

Last week, a released Google report found that Russian-based hackers attempted to penetrate the networks of NATO, U.S.-based nongovernmental organizations and several Eastern European countries’ militaries.

The Washington Post recently reported that Russian military spy service was behind a hack that compromised Ukrainian military communications at the beginning of invasion by Russia.

Canada law on social media news buys

Canada’s government announced Tuesday a new legislative proposal which would compel social media platforms to pay news publishers for the use of stories on social sites.

Countries such as Australia, Spain and France presently require social media to negotiate with news publishers and pay for content, with countries like the UK potentially adopting similar legislation soon.

Canadian publishers have long lobbied for such a policy that is now being proposed under the “Online News Act”.

The law would be most similar to Australia’s framework of regulation, which unlike Spain and France establishes an arbitration system potentially imposing binding rulings on the amounts publishers must be paid for news content should required negotiations fail between publishers and social media companies.

Additionally, Australia requires that before updating algorithms that may influence traffic to news websites at least 14 days of notice must be given.

WideOpenWest looking at next steps

Colorado-based broadband provider WideOpenWest Inc. is exploring options such as the potential for a sale, BNN Bloomberg reported Thursday.

The move comes as cable operators have continued to draw increasing interest from private equity and infrastructure investors.

News of potential sale led the company, which does business as Wow!, to see shares jump as much as 13%.

In regular New York trading shares gained 12% to $20, their highest close in nearly three months, and market capitalization advanced to $1.76 billion.

As of December 31, WideOpenWest counted 532,900 subscribers across Georgia, Alabama, Michigan, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina.

Pew’s Kathryn de Wit presented Benton award

In a ceremony on Wednesday, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society presented its Broadband Emerging Leader Award to Kathryn de Wit, project director of the Broadband Access Initiative at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

“Thank you for making space at the table and I can’t wait to see where we go from here,” de Wit tweeted in response to receiving the award, thanking those who she says paved the way before her.

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Broadband Roundup

FCC Proposal for Robotexts, FCC Mapping Problems, TikTok’s Preliminary Deal

The FCC is looking to adapt its robocall methods for texts.

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September 27, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is requesting comments on a proposed new rule to apply caller ID authentication standards to text messaging, according to the release on Monday.

The FCC is proposing requiring mobile wireless providers to block texts, at the network level, that appear to be from invalid, unallocated, or unused numbers, and numbers on a Do-Not-Originate (DNO) list. It also seeks input on other actions the commission might take to address illegal texts, including enhanced consumer education, the release said.

“Recently, scam text messaging has become a growing threat to consumers’ wallets and privacy,” said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “More can be done to address this growing problem and today we are formally starting an effort to take a serious, comprehensive, and fresh look at our policies for fighting unwanted robo texts.”

In August, the FCC’s Robocall Response Team reported an increase of consumer complaints about unwanted text messages, which have risen steadily in recent years from approximately 5,700 in 2019 to 8,500 this year.

The FCC’s STIR/SHAKEN robocall regime – which requires providers to authenticate phone calls – went into force in late July.

Broadband data collectors flag early problems with FCC mapping data

Telecompetitor is reporting Monday that organizations are already flagging problems with the FCC’s broadband mapping fabric, including missing locations.

The database is designed to provide address and geolocation information for every broadband serviceable location in the country.

Telecompetitor is reporting that Mike Romano, executive vice president of rural broadband trade association National Telephone Cooperative Association, said 90 percent of its members saw missing locations on the FCC database maps.

According to the story, one complained that coordinates for a broadband serviceable location actually pointed to a swamp; another talked of a location that pointed to a boulder.

“NTIA realized the maps won’t be done until the challenge process is completed,” Romano said, referring to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which is handling $42.5 billion for broadband infrastructure contingent on those FCC maps.

The next FCC-issued broadband maps are set to be released in November, and the challenge process is ongoing for state agencies, community organizations, and consulting firms to correct potential inaccuracies.

TikTok reaches preliminary deal with White House on security concerns

The Biden administration and video-sharing app TikTok have drafted a preliminary agreement to make changes to its data security and governance without requiring its Chinese-based owner to sell the company, the New York Times reported on Monday.

The drafted terms, according to the Times, state that TikTok would store its American data solely on servers in the United States – rather than on its own servers. Cloud company Oracle is then expected to monitor TikTok’s algorithms that determine the content that the app recommends. TikTok is also expected to create an oversight board made up of security experts that will report to the government, according to anonymous sources cited by the Times.

Senator Marco Rubio, R-Florida, is not convinced of the measures. “Anything short of a complete separation” [of TikTok from ByteDance] “will likely leave significant national security issues regarding operations, data and algorithms unresolved,” he said, according to the story.

Former President Donald Trump, who wanted to ban TikTok, attempted to bridge a deal with ByteDance for a portion of TikTok to be sold to Oracle, which did not materialize.

Concerns have swirled around ByteDance, the Chinese owner of the popular app, and its alleged surveillance and privacy policies that require data from any Chinese applications to be shared with Chinese authorities. TikTok US has repeatedly denied breaching US data privacy regulations.

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who has been an outspoken critic of the app, said on Twitter that the preliminary deal “is very concerning” in that the terms “fall short of securing our [national security].”

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Broadband Roundup

NTCA Smart Rural Communities, International Telecommunications Union Conference, Carr on TikTok

‘How do we make sure that you can keep that home grown talent?’

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Photo of Shirley Bloomfield, NTCA Rural Broadband Association CEO, at Monday's Fall Conference

September 26, 2022 –Rural Broadband Association CEO Shirley Bloomfield on Monday announced a partnership with the National Rural Education Association to promote educational opportunities for rural children.

Speaking at the launch of the NTCA trade show in San Francisco on Monday, Bloomfield said that the program will help educate kids about the value of rural broadband services.

Bloomfield said it will help address a common lament in rural areas: “How do we make sure that you can keep that home grown talent?”

The pilot program with the rural education group will help promote the importance of broadband jobs in rural areas.

Telecom officials to be in Hungary for ITU election

Key telecom agency officials are expected this week to attend the International Telecommunications Union conference, where the election of the new head of the United Nation’s telecom regulator will be selected.

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Alan Davidson, and deputy secretary of the Commerce Don Graves are expected in Bucharest, Romania, where American Doreen Bogdan-Martin is in the running against Russian challenger Rashid Ismailov.

Last week, President Joe Biden said he strongly supports the candidacy of Bogdan-Martin.

The ITU develops international connectivity standards in communications networks and improving access to information and communication technologies for underserved communities worldwide.

The conference is being held from September 25 – 29.

The FCC expressed concerns over TikTok security and big tech contributions

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in a statement Monday that he spoke with European Union officials in Brussels about the need for Big Tech to contribute to the development of broadband networks and about the alleged security risks of the Chinese video-sharing app TikTok.

Carr has previously said that big technology companies should contribute to the Universal Service Fund, a roughly $10-billion pot of money that goes to support basic telecommunications builds across the nation. Money for the fund comes from voice service providers, but critics have said that the fund’s base of contributors needs to be broadened for its sustainability.

Carr also reiterated his position that TikTok poses a security and privacy threat to Americans.

“TikTok functions as a sophisticated surveillance tool that harvests extensive amounts of personal and sensitive data,” he said in the statement. “And recent reporting indicates that there is no check on this sensitive data being accessed from inside China.”

The security of TikTok has been an ongoing issue, with American Senators saying that TikTok may be collecting biometric data and storing it in an unknown database.

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Broadband Roundup

Kenosha Gets Fiber, Judiciary Committee Advances Journalism Bill, Rosenworcel Touts Women in Tech

SiFi Networks will construct an all-fiber network for 40,000 households in the city of Kenosha, Wisconsin.

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Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian, obtained from Kenosha.org

September 23, 2022 – The city of Kenosha, Wisconsin, and SiFi Networks on Thursday announced the start of construction of an all-fiber network that is advertised to bring high-speed broadband to all 40,000 households, businesses, and other locations in the city.

The $100-million, privately funded project is scheduled to be completed in approximately three years and will provide speeds of up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps), SiFi Networks said. The project has been announced to be open access: Many service providers will simultaneously lease sections of the network. SiFi says this model will enhance competition and bring “the fastest speeds at the most competitive prices to the consumer.”

“Kenosha is a special city with wonderful residents who are ready for modern-day connectivity,” said Marcus Bowman, community relations manager at SiFi Networks. “SiFi Networks is delighted to make the long-term investment in Kenosha because we see how fiber networks transform communities into hubs of innovation, remote work, better healthcare, and smart city services.”

 “Kenosha residents and businesses will see a great benefit from the Kenosha FiberCity project, ensuring that affordable, high-speed internet service is available throughout the entire city,” Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian said.

Cruz and Klobuchar find agreement on Journalism bill

A bipartisan bill that would alter existing antitrust law to create a safe harbor for news outlets engaged in collective bargaining with big-tech platforms was approved Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Supporters of the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act say it would give news outlets the influence necessary to obtain fair compensation for their work from large platforms such as Facebook and Google.

The bill was scheduled to advance out of the Judiciary Committee earlier this month. Its passage was delayed by sponsor Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., after the committee adopted an amendment from Sen. Ted Cruz, R-TX, that would limit platforms’ ability to moderate content.

Cruz’s amendment would have outright removed the antitrust exemption if outlet–platform negotiations included content-moderation policies, which Klobuchar called the amendment a “get out of jail free card” for platforms. Instead, the version of the bill advanced Thursday states that bargaining shall be conducted “solely to reach an agreement regarding the pricing, terms and conditions.”

“This is a major win for free speech and it strikes a blow against the virtual monopoly that Big Tech has to limit the information that Americans see online,” said Cruz’s official statement on Thursday. “The bottom line is Big Tech hated this bill from the start and now they hate it even more.”

Rosenworcel speaks to Grace Hopper Celebration 

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel touted the importance of women in technology at the Grace Hopper Celebration networking event on Thursday. 

“The Grace Hopper Celebration is known for being the world’s premier networking event for women in technology,” Rosenworcel said. “It is great to see it and just be here.  Because in my two decades of working on technology policy, I have not been in a lot of rooms like this.  In fact, I have lost count of the times that I have been the only woman in the room.”

The FCC’s chairwoman called on colleagues to “pull up a chair” for other women in tech as well as struggling community members. Speaking of her time as a commissioner at the FCC, Rosenworcel said she was one of only a few officials working to close the “homework gap” before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

She also committed to advance “issues that affect women in technology,” promising to promote telehealth solutions for maternity care, extend basic phone services to victims of domestic abuse, and scrutinize the privacy standards of mobile providers to ensure the privacy of women’s medical history.

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