July 21, 2022 – The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday passed six consumer protection bills during a markup session, including a long-awaited federal privacy bill.
The bills include Informing Consumers About Smart Devices Act, H.R. 4081, which requires manufacturers to disclose when internet devices are included with a camera or microphone; the RANSOMWARE Act, which requires the Federal Trade Commission to report on cyber-related attacks committed by foreign sources; and the American Data Privacy and Protection Act, which lays out a federal standard for consumer privacy rights.
Members of the committee said in a joint statement that the privacy bill will put limits on Big Tech. “Under out solution, companies will face real consequences if they track our kids’ data or use that information to exploit them for profit.”
LTD could lose RDOF funding in Minnesota
Minnesota’s Public Utilities Commission ordered an investigation last week to determine if fixed wireless internet service provider LTD Broadband can deliver on the $311 million it was awarded by the Federal Communications Commission through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to build broadband in rural areas.
Last month, the company announced that it will no longer use the RDOF grant for telecom builds in rural California following a filing mistake in obtaining states’ building license.
The Minnesota PUC decision is a reversal of the approval granted to LTD last year for buildouts in the state. It follows the decision of several other states, including South Dakota, to reject LTD from using federal money in their state.
“We don’t want to get a situation where they claim they have ability to build out and they get out there and they can’t do it – scrambling for more assets and then all of the sudden it just collapses,” PUC Commissioner John Tuma said in the announcement.
LTD broadband, which was expected to receive the largest amount of RDOF funding at $1.32 billion, was not the first company to default on RDOF funds. At least five companies have asked the FCC to waive penalties for defaulting on coverage areas they promised to connect with their winning bids.
The $9.2 billion RDOF funds were allocated via reverse auction, where awards were given to companies that could promise coverage for areas at the least amount of money. But the FCC has since been reviewing the winning bids and asking providers to forgo on those wins if they now know – due in some cases to better mapping information – if those bids are for areas already adequately covered.
Mozilla urges Congress to pass antitrust bill
Parent company to Firefox web browser, Mozilla, indicated its support of a key antitrust bill that would rein in the power of tech giants in an open letter advertisement to Congress and published by The Washington Post this week.
The letter calls for Congress to “immediately” pass the American Innovation and Choice Online Act, a bipartisan bill sponsored by Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, that was introduced in January and would prevent large technology platforms from giving preference to their own products over competitors.
“Our vision for the internet is one that’s private, secure, interoperable, open, accessible, transparent, and balances commercial profit and the public good,” read the letter. “But the anticompetitive practices of the biggest tech companies have made it virtually impossible for the billions of people around the world to adopt better tech alternatives.”
Mozilla argues that competition is crucial to its success and overall innovation. Product preferencing, the letter states, blocks out fair competition.
Observers are still divided about the effect that the AICOA would have on small businesses and the global competitiveness of American companies. The bill is currently on the Senate floor awaiting consideration.
Reporter Riley Haight contributed to this report
Google Not Publisher to Australian Court, Omnispace Testing 5G Satellites, AT&T’s $6M to Digital Literacy
Australia’s highest court said Google is not a publisher by making available hyperlinks to articles.
August 18, 2022 – Australia’s highest court ruled Wednesday that Google is not a publisher of information that emerges from the use of its search engine, overturning a lower court decision that opened Google up to a defamation lawsuit.
The Supreme Court of Victoria ruled that Google was a publisher by virtue of the fact that it was providing a hyperlink in its search results to a 2004 news article which outlined conspiracy and incitement to murder charges – that were later dismissed – against the defendant and now criminal lawyer George Defteros. The appeal court upheld this view.
But the country’s highest court disagreed Wednesday. “A hyperlink provides a reference to another source and does not itself constitute publication of it,” the decision said. “Although the link may facilitate the transfer of information, which her Honour accepted as a hallmark of publication, it is equally clear that when a person follows a link, they are leaving one source and moving to another.
“The fact that accessing the content is made far easier with hyperlinks does not alter the fact that a hyperlink, by itself (and as distinct from a search result in which the link is embedded), is ‘content-neutral,’” added the decision.
In a press release on Wednesday, internet advocacy group Public Knowledge said it supports the decision, which “affirms the important of 230-like protections for entities that provide access to user-generated content,” referring to a provision in the Communications Decency Act that shields internet platforms from being liable for what their users post.
Omnispace and Philippine telecom collaborating on 5G from space
Virginia-based mobile communications and satellite company Omnispace announced Wednesday it is partnering with Philippines-based telecom Smart Communications to test space-based 5G communications using low-earth orbit satellites.
The demonstration will examine use cases for the Philippine market, according to a press release, including enabling 5G in rural areas, using internet of things and sensors to monitor weather and natural calamities, and enhancing network coverage for disaster relief and other uses.
Earlier this year, Omnispace completed the deployment phase of its Omnispace Spark program, which is the initial phase in the company’s delivery of a 5G capable satellite network. Omnispace’s satellite network will communicate with mobile networks on land to serve mobile subscribers.
“We are excited to announce this collaborative agreement with Smart Communications, which shares our vision of delivering reliable mobile connectivity to consumer, government and enterprise users, everywhere,” Brian Pemberton, chief commercial officer at Omnispace, said in a press release. “Together with Smart, we seek to bridge the digital divide, while also providing the communications infrastructure to power the development of the Filipino economy of the future.”
Meanwhile, USCellular and Swedish telecom equipment provider Ericsson announced earlier this summer that they were testing 5G performance at attitude using drones.
AT&T commits $6M to digital literacy initiatives
AT&T said Tuesday that it is making $6 million in contributions to in-person digital literacy workshops ot more than 400 libraries and community centers across the country.
The telecom said in a press release it aims to help more than 65,000 people learn to use computers and mobile devices, navigate the internet and apps, participate in the digital world, and avoid scams.
The $6 million is part of a $2-billion commitment the company is making from 2021 to 2023 to bridge the digital divide, it said in the release.
All States Want BEAD Funds, Digicomm Secures Investment, Glo Fiber Expanding in PA
The NTIA announced all states and territories have applied for initial planning money from the $42.5B BEAD program.
August 17, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Wednesday that all states and territories have submitted applications for initial planning funds from its $42.5 billion broadband infrastructure program.
The announcement comes two days after the deadline to apply for the funds from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, part of the federal government’s Internet for All initiative. The NTIA said in a press release it will be evaluating the applications and “make awards available as expeditiously as possible.”
The initial planning funds could be used for activities including research and data collection, outreach and communications, technical assistance to potential subgrantees, training for employees of a broadband program, establishing a broadband office, mapping, surveys identifying underserved areas, and marketing the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband subsidy program, the Affordable Connectivity Program.
Within 270 days of receiving the funds, recipients are required to submit a five-year action plan establishing the goals and priorities for internet service, which will serve as a needs assessment, the NTIA said.
“The Internet for All Initiative will provide states and territories the resources they need for thorough planning, which is essential to ensure funding is used equitably, efficiently, and effectively,” said Alan Davidson, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information. “I want to thank every state and territory for meeting our deadline so that we can close the digital divide as quickly and completely as possible.”
The unprecedented amount of money, which spawned from the passing of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act in November, received letters of intent to participate from all 50 states, D.C., and the territories, the NTIA announced last month.
Digicomm gets private equity investment
A private equity firm that has made investments in the likes of Charter Communications announced Tuesday it is making an investment in broadband distributor and reseller Digicomm.
Crestview Partners will make an undisclosed contribution to the Colorado-based company, which specializes in hybrid connections involving both coaxial and fiber lines for broadband.
“We believe that Crestview can support Digicomm’s growth through organic investments and M&A to expand the Company’s breadth of product and service offerings as it continues to serve as a value-added partner to its customers in the evolving broadband and communications industries,” Brian Cassidy, co-president and head of media at Crestview, said in a press release.
The investment will also involve adding John Schanz, former chief network officer at Comcast Cable, along with members of Crestview, including Cassidy, to Digicomm’s board.
Crestview has previous made investments in Congruex, WOW!, Insight Communications, Interoute Communications, and OneLink Communications.
Glo Fiber expanding in Pennsylvania
Glo Fiber announced Tuesday it has reached agreements with municipal officials to deploy direct fiber lines to homes in several areas in York County, Pennsylvania.
The areas include York Township, Dallastown Borough, Red Lion Borough, Yoe Borough, Windsor Borough, Windsor Township, and Spring Garden Township.
The subsidiary of Shenandoah Telecommunications Company said construction in the county began this month and will continue into 2023, bringing fiber and symmetrical download and upload speeds, streaming TV and unlimited local and long-distance phone service to over 24,000 homes and businesses throughout the county.
“We have a long, successful history of offering fiber service to large businesses in York County,” Chris Kyle, vice president of industry and regulatory affairs at Shentel, said in a press release. “It is exciting to continue this work by bringing Glo Fiber to thousands of county residents and businesses. Our network is capable of multi-gig service that will provide the speeds citizens need on a daily basis as well as offering a much-needed competitive choice.”
FCC Points to Congress on USF, Texas Hires LightBox, Lit Communities Hires Lindsay Miller
The FCC will let Congress make changes to its authority to add contributors to the Universal Service Fund.
August 16, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is leaving it to Congress to institute legislative reforms to allow it to make changes to the contribution base of a fund that supports basic telecommunications services to Americans, according to its report to Congress released Monday.
The agency has been fielding comments about what it should do about the Universal Service Fund, a nearly $10-billion pot of money that goes to support broadband expansion in low-income and rural areas. The fund has been under scrutiny because it relies largely on declining voice service revenues – often passed down to customers – which has called into question its sustainability. Some have called on the agency to unilaterally expand the base to include broadband internet revenues.
But in its report on the future of the USF, the agency said its authority on making such a change to the base is not that clear.
“On review, there is significant ambiguity in the record regarding the scope of the Commission’s existing authority to broaden the base of contributors,” the report said.
“As such, we recommend Congress provide the Commission with the legislative tools needed to make changes to the contributions methodology and base in order to reduce the financial burden on consumers, to provide additional certainty for entities that will be required to make contributions, and to sustain the Fund and its programs over the long term.”
Experts have previously argued that the commission has the authority to broaden the base without requiring congressional approval. Other recommendations to support the fund include having the entire fund supported by general taxation, while another suggests having big technology companies that rely on the internet to contribute to it.
For the latter to happen, the report notes that there would need to be an examination and application of the definition of “telecommunications” to those big technology companies.
“We recommend that in considering changes to the contributions base, the Commission should closely evaluate this record and take efforts to avoid raising the cost of broadband service and shifting the financial burden from corporations to consumers at a point in time when the federal government is working to address affordability challenges contributing to the digital divide,” the report said.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, who raised the idea of a contribution from Big Tech, said he was pleased the report recommends Congress provide the tools necessary for changes, including possibly expanding the base to include those new contributors.
Texas hires LightBox for broadband map
The Texas Comptroller’s Office announced this month that it is contracting LightBox, a location data company, to develop the state’s broadband availability map.
The map is said to help the comptroller’s Broadband Development Office determine which areas are in most need of broadband connectivity and thus where to invest public money. It will feature addresses including homes, businesses, public and charter schools, governmental entities, anchor institutions, military bases, community colleges and tribal areas, an August 8 press release said.
“When this map is complete, the BDO along with community leaders and members of the public will be able to extract information from the map to better understand the needs of their regions and to make better decisions establishing programs related to broadband development,” Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said in the release.
LightBox, which is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast, also has partnerships with Georgia, Alabama and Montana to develop broadband coverage maps. The company’s vice president of government solutions told Broadband Breakfast that states are making their own maps to also challenge any deficiencies in the Federal Communications Commission’s own upcoming maps – which could mean more or less federal dollars.
Lit Communities hires broadband attorney consulting president
Fiber broadband consulting company Lit Communities announced Tuesday it has hired Lindsay Miller, a parnter at Ice Miller LLP, as president of consulting.
The Alabama-based fiber construction and design firm said in a press release it frequently collaborates with Miller’s law firm on “consulting engagements that include community broadband interest assessments, service access mapping, incumbent provider analysis, and financial and network modeling.
“Lindsay Miller is well known in the community broadband space and we’re delighted to have her join our team and devote her energy and knowledge full-time to the broadband industry,” Lit founder and CEO Brian Snider said in the release. “Her passion for the business and deep connections with its many, diverse stakeholders will serve Lit and, most importantly, all of our current and future clients.”
With over 15 years of experience in broadband initiatives, Miller advises municipalities on how to utilize public-private partnerships for fiber and wireless expansion.
- Public Knowledge Urges VoIP to Be Regulated Under Title II to Stop Robocalls
- Jeremy Jurick and Paul Schneid: Preparing Data for the FCC’s Broadband Filing
- Google Not Publisher to Australian Court, Omnispace Testing 5G Satellites, AT&T’s $6M to Digital Literacy
- All States Want BEAD Funds, Digicomm Secures Investment, Glo Fiber Expanding in PA
- Institute for Local Self-Reliance Announces Two Initiatives to Foster Local Broadband Solutions
- Broadband Breakfast on August 31, 2022 – How to Maximize Minority Participation in the Affordable Connectivity Program
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