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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- ECF Awards of $96 Million, Minority Communities, Charter and Digital Education
- Wireless Internet Service Providers to Connect More Fiber Points as Bandwidth Consumption Increases
- Garland McCoy: How Your State Can Defend Its Broadband Maps for Maximum Funds
- High Demand for Middle Mile Grants, Local Concerns in FCC Process, Musk Agrees to Buy Twitter Again
- Paul Atkinson: Why Fiber Trumps Satellite When Bridging the Digital Divide
- FCC Targets Spam Call Offenders, Disaster Assistance Requirements, U.S. 23rd in Fiber Development
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