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Former FCC Chair Joins Company Board, Twitter to Pay $150 million in Privacy Case, Telehealth Prescriptions

Tom Wheeler is joining the board of a mobile network company.

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Photo of Tom Wheeler, by Mark Wilson

May 26, 2022 – Alef, a mobile network company, announced on Wednesday that Tom Wheeler, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, will join its board of directors.

According to the press release, Wheeler will “serve as an advocate for enterprises to rapidly adopt mobility inside the enterprise private network.”

Wheeler has more than 40 years of experience in the telecommunications industry. During his time at the FCC, he led efforts to adopt the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum band, net neutrality, and enhanced cybersecurity policies.

“Alef is a pioneer for the kind of competitive offering that we were envisioning when the FCC created CBRS, and thus it is an honor to join this Board of Directors,” said Wheeler in the press release.

In the same press release, Alef announced it also joined the OnGo Alliance, an organization designed to support the development of new solutions for the CBRS.

Working with OnGo, Alef will identify key issues and drive the development of LTE and 5G NR solutions for CBRS, the press release said. “This news demonstrates the company’s continued leadership across the telecom industry, ushering in a new era of capability delivered to the enterprise from the mobile edge,” stated the press release.

Alef gives enterprises and developers the ability to create, customize, and control their own private network infrastructure, the release said.

Twitter to pay $150 million to settle privacy suit

Twitter has agreed to pay a $150 million fine following a privacy lawsuit settlement made public on Wednesday concerning allegations that the company improperly collected and handled user data between 2013 and 2019.

The settlement requires a court approval before being finalized.

The lawsuit, which was initiated by the Federal Communications Commission and the Justice Department, stated that Twitter had collected phone numbers and email addresses from platform users to secure accounts but allowed advertisers use the information to target ads without notifying users.

According to an FTC press release, Twitter used this personal information to “further its own business interests through its Tailored Audiences and Partner Audiences services.” This was in violation of a 2011 privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.

“As the complaint notes, Twitter obtained data from users on the pretext of harnessing it for security purposes but then ended up also using the data to target users with ads,” FTC Chairwoman Lina Khan said in a release.

The settlement, in addition to the fine, will require Twitter to “maintain a comprehensive privacy and information security program, notify users whose information was misused, limit employee access to personal data, and offer multifactor authentication options.”

Twitter apologized for the breach in 2019, claiming that the data “may have been inadvertently used for advertising.”

Damien Kieran, Twitter’s chief privacy officer, said in a blog post that “keeping data secure and respecting privacy is something we take extremely seriously, and we have cooperated with the FTC every step of the way.”

CVS, Walmart to stop telehealth prescriptions

CVS Pharmacy and Walmart will no longer be filling prescriptions for controlled substances ordered by telehealth companies Cerebral Inc. and Done Health in response to concerns from a review that CVS conducted on their prescription practices. Walmart, according to the Wall Street Journal, did not disclose why they made the decision.

“We recently conducted a review of certain telehealth companies that prescribe controlled substance medications,” said CVS in a statement to The Hill. It is “important that medications are prescribed appropriately.”

CVS reportedly was unable to resolve “concerns” they had with Cerebral and Done Health, but did not elaborate on the concerns.

Cerebral said in a statement to The Hill that CVS’s timing was unfortunate, noting that they had stopped prescribing controlled substances earlier this month. “In light of CVS’s decision, Cerebral is doing everything possible to ensure these patients get access to medications that their health care providers have determined they need.”

Cerebral said that they would reach out to every patient impacted by CVS’s decision to help them transition to another pharmacy “as seamless as possible.”

As reported by The Hill, pharmacists at other locations that have adopted similar policies “expressed concerns that telehealth companies were over-prescribing certain medications like Adderall.”

Broadband Roundup

New Anti-China Bill in Congress, Outreach Program on Affordable Connectivity, Robocalls Decline

The Foreign Adversary Communications Transparency Act was introduced and is sponsored by both Republicans and Democrats.

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Photo of Elise Stafanik by CBS from the Republican National Convention in August 2020

February 7, 2023 – Three members of Congress have introduced legislation that would require the Federal Communications Commission to publish a list of licensed entities in the U.S. with ties to authoritarian regimes. 

The Foreign Adversary Communications Transparency Act also known as FACT Act was introduced by Reps. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Mike Gallagher, R-Wisconson, last week. 

“I applaud Congresswoman Stefanik’s, Congressman Khanna, and Congressman Gallagher’s strong leadership and thoughtful work to counter the malign influence of the Chinese Communist Party and other authoritarian state actors,” said FCC commissioner Brendan Carr in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation would strengthen American’s national security, and I encourage Congress to move quickly in passing this commonsense bill.

“Increasing visibility into entities with FCC authorizations that have relationships with authoritarian regimes would bring much needed transparency and help strengthen America’s communications networks against threats from malign actors,” Carr added.  

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel had previously supported legislation that would have identified licensees with foreign ties. 

“Consumers deserve to trust that public airwaves aren’t being leased without their knowledge to foreign governments,” she said last year about a bill that would require television and radio broadcasters to reveal who is sponsoring foreign programming. 

Nonprofit to launch course on increasing Affordable Connectivity Program signups 

EducationSuperHighway, a national non-profit organization working to close the digital divide, will release a new learning course called LearnACP on Wednesday to help communities increase the adoption of the Affordable Connectivity Program

The $14.2 billion subsidy program, which provides a connectivity discount of $30 per month and $75 per month on tribal lands, still has millions of eligible Americans that are not signed up. EducationSuperHighway estimates that only about 30 percent of eligible households have signed up. 

“By training up trusted enrollment advocates, the course addresses the trust and enrollment barriers that keep 18 million Americans who have access to the internet offline,” Jessalyn Santos-Hall, director of marketing of EducationSuperHighway, said in a press release. 

Santos-Hall said in a press release that there’s a 45 percent application rejection rate, and many people can’t even finish the 30 to 45-minute enrollment process.

Robocall scams slowed, report claims

Robocall scams have been decreasing significantly due to government and regulatory action since early 2022, according to a report from Robokiller

The company that created an app to block spam calls and texts said it has observed a drop in the most malicious robocall categories: compared to December, January calls about car warranties decreased 35 percent, student loan calls went down 33 percent and home mortgage calls declined by 54 percent. 

“Americans got a bit of a reprieve from robo texts in January, as they returned to normal levels — 14 billion, compared to the 47 billion and 55 billion they received in November and December, respectively,” said Robokiller in a press release. “The change marks a 73% month-over-month decrease.

“In addition, with tax season coming up, Americans should watch out for IRS and social security-related scams as these tend to spike around this time of year,” Robokiller also said. 

The FCC has taken increased actions against robocalls. On December 21, the commission has proposed a nearly $300 million fine against an apparently fraudulent robocall and spoofing operation called “Cox/Jones Enterprise.” 

“So our message is clear to those who would follow in the footsteps of the auto warranty scammers – we are watching, we are working with our state counterparts, and we will find you, block you, and hold you accountable,” FCC chairman Rosenworcel said at the time. 

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Broadband Roundup

CCA Wants Rip and Replace Funding, Executive Movements at Lumen, Rise Closes Buy of GI Partners

Industry associations have agreed that the FCC’s rip and replace program needs more funding.

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Photo of Sham Chotai, Lumen's new executive vice president of product and technology, via Lumen

February 6, 2023 – The Competitive Carriers Association has pressed the Federal Communications Commission on the need for more funding to replace equipment deemed a national security threat.

In a meeting late last month, the industry association said its members are struggling to complete the replacement of equipment that includes Chinese companies flagged by the commission and the government as unsafe because of a lack of funding.

“CCA discussed its members’ progress and participation in the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program (Program), and the challenges faced due to lack of full funding for the Program,” said a letter of the interaction published Thursday. “CCA discussed Congressional activity and timing for a potential solution to the funding issue, and emphasized the need for full funding as soon as possible. CCA discussed the consumer, competitive, and national security risks associated with the status quo.”

Congress allocated $1.9 billion to the “rip and replace” program as part of the Secure Networks Act. But the FCC had already identified a shortfall in the funds because requests from applicants far exceeded the amount available.

Last month, a report from the Federal Communications Commission said nearly half of respondents required to submit status reports on their replacement efforts complained about a lack of funding.

The head of the Telecommunications Industry Association had said the association was “stunned” to see that the spending package that would allow the government to run through September did not include additional money for the program.

The Rural Wireless Association had also requested further funding, as it claimed its members could not get loans to bridge them over to their statutory requirements.

Lumen mixes up executive leadership

Lumen Technologies announced Thursday changes to its executive team over the coming weeks.

Sham Chotai will be executive vice president of product and technology, Jay Barrows will be vice president of enterprise sales and public sector, and Ashley Haynes-Gaspar will include marketing organization her responsibilities and will take the title of executive vice president of customer experience officer in wholesale and international.

Chotai, who has previously worked in leadership positions at General Electric and Hewlett-Packard, will work to “evolve IT architectures and solutions.” Barrows, who also held leadership positions at GE and Red Hat, will help business and government on their digital futures.

“Lumen is focused on becoming customer obsessed, rapidly innovating valuable solutions, and aligning our business model to deliver amazing customer experiences,” Kate Johnson, Lumen’s president and CEO, said in a press release. “Sham and Jay will each play a critical role in modernizing our business and improving our execution capability to support these goals. Both are agile leaders who have driven successful strategic corporate transformations with impressive results.”

Fiber provider buys data infrastructure investor

Rise Broadband, which provides fiber infrastructure across 16 states, said Thursday it has completed the acquisition of data infrastructure investor GI Partners.

The deal is said to help the Englewood, Colorado-based Rise to expand its hybrid fiber-to-the-home and fixed wireless network.

“Rise Broadband provides essential broadband connectivity with a focus on customers in rural America,” Brendan Scollans, managing director and co-head of GI data infrastructure, said in a press release.

“Rise’s existing network infrastructure is uniquely positioned to execute a fiber expansion effort that will provide rural communities with next generation broadband service,” Scollans added.

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Satellites Expected to Increase, $30 Million From Emergency Connectivity Fund, NTIA 5G Challenge

The U.S. must remain a market leader in the satellite sector, said Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone

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Photo of Lago Argentino Department, Santa Cruz Province, Argentina

February 3, 2023 – The number of satellites in the communications marketplace will continue to increase, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr, D- N.J., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during opening remarks at a Communications and Technology Subcommittee hearing on Thursday.

“Wireless carriers and phone manufacturers continue to build this capability into their networks and phones,” Pallone said.

“Quite simply, failing to ensure that the United States remains a market leader in this sector risks our nation falling behind our counterparts across the globe, including China, in producing cutting-edge consumer innovations and fortifying our public safety and national security capabilities,” Pallone said.

FCC disbursing another $30 million from Emergency Connectivity Fund

The Federal Communications Commission announced on Wednesday that it will commit more than $30 million from the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which helps students stay connected to the internet when not in school.

The newly announced award is expected to fund applications from all three previous application windows, and will support more than 200 schools, 15 libraries, and 1 consortium.

Thus far, the program has provided support to approximately 10,000 schools, 10,000 libraries, and 100 consortia, plus more than =$12 million in connected devices. Around $6.5 billion in funding commitments have been approved to date, approximately $4.1 billion is supporting applications from the first funding window, $833 million from the second window and $1.6 billion from the third window.

$7 million competition by NTIA to promote development of 5G

National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced the launch of the 2023 5G Challenge with the Defense Department l. It’s purpose is to accelerate the adoption and development of an open and interoperable multi-vendor environment for the 5G wireless standard. “ Such an ecosystem will spur a more competitive and diverse telecommunications supply chain, drive down costs for consumers and network operators, and bolster U.S. leadership in the wireless sector.”

“A competitive wireless ecosystem is vital for our domestic and economic security. The research conducted from this competition will benefit everything from our cellphones to the secure radio networks needed for our national defense,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce and head of the NTIA.

Participants are required to create 5G equipment prototypes and then test to see if their subsystems can connect to other contestant’s equipment. For specific application and registration information, see the NTIA website .

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