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USF Funding Bill Out of Committee, Texas Social Bill Ban Temporarily Lifted, Bedoya Confirmed for FTC

A Senate committee passed a bill that would require the FCC explore including Big Tech in Universal Service Fund contributions.

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Photo of Alvaro Bedoya, by Greg Nash

May 12, 2022 – A Senate bill directing the Federal Communications Commission to explore making Big Tech companies fund broadband deployment through the Universal Service Fund made it out of the Senate commerce committee on a bipartisan vote on Wednesday.

The Funding Affordable Internet with Reliable Contributions Act, which was introduced last summer, would direct the FCC to issue a notice of inquiry on the feasibility of collecting USF contributions from Big Tech and compile a final report within 180 days.

The FCC would consider a system where contributions could be assessed on Big Tech firms and the feasibility of collecting from such a broad category of firms. It would also be responsible for considering its effects on tribal, low-income, and elderly consumers.

Big Tech “companies have benefited from the connectivity the USF supports but have not yet had to contribute,” said committee ranking member Roger Wicker, R-Miss, echoing similar sentiments from the likes of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.

The USF subsidizes broadband builds to low-income and rural areas with nearly $10 billion disbursed per year. The fund is currently paid into by telecom providers, who largely pass the money off to consumers, but funds are reliant on declining voice service revenues and advocates have been urging more sustainable models to keep the fund alive.

According to Multichannel News, streaming content providers claim it will be unwise and unfeasible for Congress to expand the broadband subsidy base in a vague “Big Tech” basket.

Federal appeals court issues order allowing Texas social media law to take effect

A federal appeals court ordered Wednesday that a temporary ban on Texas’s social media law, HB 20, which prohibits social media platforms from banning users based on their political opinions, be lifted until a final determination is made by the court.

The bill, which would require social media platforms with more than 50 million monthly users in the United States to regularly report on removed content and disclose their content regulation procedures, was initially ordered stayed by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman in December on the basis that it may be unconstitutional.

“This unexplained order contravenes established First Amendment law,” said Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, which challenged the constitutionality of the law in court. “No option is off the table. We will do what is necessary to ensure that the free market, not government fiat, decides what speech digital services do and do not disseminate.”

A hearing on the matter was held on Monday following an appeal by the state, whose Governor Greg Abbott signed the law in September.

CCIA claims that “as a result of the order, Texas could soon seek to enforce its ‘Fairness Doctrine for the Internet’ against leading digital services, which invites unwarranted and unnecessary governmental intrusion into Americans’ online experience.”

Bedoya confirmed by Senate for FTC 

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Alvaro Bedoya, President Joe Biden’s nominee to fill the fifth seat on the Federal Trade Commission.

Bedoya was nominated in September, but received considerable backlash from conservative lawmakers, with votes split along party lines. Vice President Kamala Harris cast the deciding vote Wednesday.

Bedoya will join the two other Democratic FTC commissioners, Chairwoman Lina Khan and Rebecca Slaughter, and will break the FTC’s 2-2 party deadlock that could limit some decisions.

Advocates are hopeful that Bedoya’s background will encourage the FTC to pursue investigating market concentration and potential harmful effects of evolving technologies on minority groups.

“Alvaro’s expertise on surveillance and data security and his longstanding commitment to public service would be enormously valuable to the Commission as we work to meet this moment of tremendous need and opportunity,” said Khan in a statement regarding his nomination in September.

Bedoya was the founding director of Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology and served as the first chief counsel for the Senate judiciary committee’s subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law. He focuses his research on how technology advancements have fed into racial discrimination.

Reporter Teralyn Whipple studied business at Brigham Young University. She has a love for the people in the Washington area, and hopes to share her love for people through her writing.

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Broadband Roundup

Roundup of News Surrounding NTIA’s Notice of Funding for Broadband Infrastructure

Fund disbursement procedures for three new federal broadband programs are now publicly available.

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Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

May 13, 2022 – On Friday morning the National Telecommunications and Information Administration released the Broadband Equity, Access & Deployment Notice of Funding Opportunity.

It outlines fund disbursement procedures for the central broadband program of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, and Broadband Breakfast covered the core issues in the BEAD NOFO.

Broadband.Money plans to release an interactive, annotated guide to the NOFO.

NTIA head Alan Davidson’s fireside chat with Broadband Breakfast’s Drew Clark at the Mountain Connect conference from May 24 to 25 in Keystone, Colorado, represents an opportunity to ask Davidson questions on the large development that is the NOFO’s release. See also “Four themes to watch for in NTIA’s BEAD NOFO.”

Satellite broadband is out of style

Upon NOFO release Telecompetitor reported that the NOFO establishes a category called “reliable broadband service,” and that the NTIA excludes from this category both satellite broadband and fixed wireless that rely entirely on unlicensed spectrum.

Fiber broadband, cable modem/hybrid fiber coax technology, digital subscriber line and fixed wireless using entirely licensed or a hybrid of licensed and unlicensed spectrum all made the cut to be considered reliable.

Telecompetitor reporter Joan Engebretson states:

NTIA released the eagerly awaited notice of funding opportunity (NOFO) for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program early this morning. Rules for the program call for individual states to establish selection criteria and other rules for awarding funding, but those rules must conform to guidelines established by NTIA in the NOFO.

Among those rules: “Priority” broadband projects are those that will “provision service via end-to-end fiber-optic facilities to each end-user premises.” States are directed to award BEAD funding for an area to priority projects unless the cost per location exceeds the extremely high cost per location threshold or for “other valid reasons,” subject to NTIA approval.

“End-to-end fiber networks can be updated by replacing equipment attached to the ends of the fiber-optic facilities, allowing for quick and relatively inexpensive network scaling as compared to other technologies,” wrote NTIA in the NOFO. “Moreover, new fiber deployments will facilitate the deployment and growth of 5G and other advanced wireless services, which rely extensively on fiber for essential backhaul.”

More Notice of Funding Opportunity specifics

Of the $100 million each state is guaranteed under the bipartisan infrastructure bill, up to $5 million may be drawn within three months.

A new NTIA website on program fund disbursement, Internet for All, is up with the NOFO release to kick off grants going out, and a webinar will be hosted on program details every day next week.

The funding document gives clear preference to fiber technology over other modes of broadband.

Providing for underserved individuals remains a key priority of the program, not just tossing service goals for them aside to focus first on unserved individuals considered to have no broadband access at the present.

The NTIA is encouraging states to eliminate or relax existing laws that prohibit municipal broadband networks.

Open access wins in the document, as 10% of the “merit review” process will be based on whether an evaluated project commits to “middle mile infrastructure, in perpetuity, on an open-access basis.

Among the first major deadlines for the program is for letters of intent from states to be received by 11:59 p.m. on July 18, 2022.

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Broadband Roundup

AT&T’s 911 Tech, Russia Cyberattacks, Musk’s Twitter Would Reinstate Trump

AT&T has launched technology that will use the GPS on phones to help emergency responders more accurately find calls.

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Screenshot of former President Donald Trump

May 11, 2022 – AT&T said Tuesday that it has launched a more accurate way for emergency responders to locate distressed calls, according to a press release.

AT&T is partnering with telecommunications company Intrado to deliver what they call the “Locate Before Route” feature, which includes the use of a phone’s GPS capabilities and not just cell towers to more accurately route emergency calls to call centers in closest proximity. The companies said the technology is expected to decrease delays in emergency response.

AT&T said the rollout has started in Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Guam, and is estimated to be nationwide by the end of June.

Russia conducted cyberattacks on Ukraine before invasion, western officials say

Russia was behind a number of cyberattacks since the beginning of its invasion of Ukraine, including on communications company Viasat one hour before the official launch of the attack on February 24, according to western intelligence released Tuesday.

Officials from the U.S., European Union, and the United Kingdom said the cyberattacks, which started as early as January, reverberated across the European continent, including disrupting internet users and wind farms in central Europe. Viasat said “tens of thousands of terminals have been damaged, made inoperable and cannot be repaired,” according to a report from the UK government.

“In the months leading up to and after Russia’s illegal further invasion began, Ukraine experienced a series of disruptive cyber operations, including website defacements, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks, and cyber attacks to delete data from computers belonging to government and private entities – all part of the Russian playbook,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a press statement Tuesday.

“The U.S. Government has developed new mechanisms to help Ukraine identify cyber threats and recover from cyber incidents,” Blinken added. “We have also enhanced our support for Ukraine’s digital connectivity, including by providing satellite phones and data terminals to Ukrainian government officials, essential service providers, and critical infrastructure operators.”

Cybersecurity leaders from western nations were said to meet at the CYBERUK 2022 conference in Newport, Wales on Tuesday to discuss the threats.

Musk says he will reverse Twitter ban on Trump if he buys the company

SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Tuesday that if he ends up buying social media platform Twitter, he would reinstate the account of former president Donald Trump.

Trump was banned from the platform following tweets he made that the platform interpreted as encouraging the Capitol riot on January 6, 2021.

Musk, who got approval from Twitter’s board last month to purchase the company for $44 billion, said at a Financial Times conference Tuesday that the company’s decision to ban Trump was “morally wrong.”

Musk has been an outspoken critic of Twitter’s policies of removing people from the platform, saying that this harms free speech.

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Broadband Roundup

Google Facing App Store Suit, Shareholder Suit Against Twitter Buy, Fiber Optic Technician Training Nationwide

Match Group is suing Google over its alleged restrictive app store billing practices, as lawmakers consider legislation tackling the issue.

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Photo of Jack Dorsey by Brian Solis in July 2009

May 10, 2022 – Match Group, the company behind popular dating apps such as Tinder and Match, filed a lawsuit against Google on Monday alleging restrictive billing policies on the Play Store.

Match alleges that Google’s billing system “illegally monopolized the market for distributing apps” on Android by forcing apps to use Google’s billing system, on which Google takes a cut of the payments.

“Google lured app developers to its platform with assurances that we could offer users a choice over how to pay for the services they want,” Match Group’s complain reads, according to The Hill. “But once it monopolized the market for Android app distribution, Google sought to ban alternative in-app payment processing services so it could take a cut of nearly every in-app transaction on Android.”

The Google Play store has become the only viable mobile app distribution channel for Android operating systems through contractual agreements between Google and equipment manufacturers, even though Google, unlike Apple, allows other app stores on their devices, according to the report, citing Match’s complaint.

A Google spokesperson, according to The Hill, said the lawsuit is “just a continuation of Match Group’s self-interest campaign to avoid paying for the significant value they receive from the mobile platforms they’ve built their business on… Like any business, we charge for our services, and like any responsible platform, we protect users against fraud and abuse in apps.”

Match Group’s complaint follows lawsuits filed against Apple in 2020 for demanding a 30 percent commission on in-app purchases on the iOS app store.

Lawmakers are currently considering the Open App Markets Act, which, if passed, would prohibit app stores with more than 50 million domestic users from requiring app developers from using in-app payment options controlled by the application store owner. The act was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February.

Shareholders bring suit against Twitter buyout

A Florida pension fund has filed a lawsuit Friday to stop SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk from purchasing social media company Twitter, citing Delaware law forbidding quick mergers if the purchaser owns more than a certain portion of the company.

While Musk only purchased 9.2 percent of the company early last month, the Orlando Police Pension Fund claims, according to Competition Policy International, that because the billionaire had the support of other big Twitter shareholders – including company founder Jack Dorsey – he symbolically had more than 15 percent of the company stake, triggering a law that requires a three-year delay in the deal’s completion unless two-thirds of shares he does not own agree to the deal.

Musk, who only received approval from Twitter’s board, reportedly hopes to complete the deal this year and claimed Thursday that he had raised around $7 billion to help fund the buyout.

Dorsey and Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal were named as defendants alongside Twitter and its board. The lawsuit claims that Twitter directors breached their fiduciary duties.

The suit comes a week after FCC Commissioner Nathan Simington said that the agency has no authority to block Musk’s acquisition of Twitter and, even if it did, it shouldn’t, following similar sentiments from colleague Brendan Carr.

Schools across nation adopt broadband training programs

Community colleges are adopting more programs to train fiber optic technicians to satisfy demand as broadband deployment levels increase, according to a Monday report from Telecompetitor.

The State University of New York Westchester Community College offers a three-day fiber technician training course. The students are prepared to take the certified fiber optic technician examination sanctioned by the Fiber Optics Association at the end of the course.

SUNYWCC claims that graduates of the program “may have a job the same day” through their placement program for certified students.

In Alabama, Cullman Electric Cooperative and Cullam Area Technology Academy partnered to develop a program to teach high school students the basics for fiber optics and electric lineman work. These students will obtain certification and fiber technicians.

The Fiber Broadband Association’s training program, OpTIC, will be offered at vocational schools and community colleges nationwide.

Last year, Ohio announced that tower technician programs were opening for registration at certain schools this year.

These programs are being rolled out as demand for technical workers have been flagged by agency and government officials. The Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act includes money for training the workforce.

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