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Verizon Faces FCC Fine, Google Proposes Separating Ad Unit, Winners of Maryland Broadband Funding

Verizon is facing a fine for allegedly violating accessibility law.

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Photo of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan

July 12, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s enforcement bureau proposed last week a fine of $100,000 against Verizon Wireless for allegedly violating its obligations to provide information regarding the company’s accessibility to persons with disabilities.

The Twenty-First Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010 is a law that ensures people with disabilities have access to technology innovations. As part of the CVVA, companies are required to meet certain accessibility guidelines.

In December, an individual filed a complaint against Verizon Wireless, alleging the company’s Premium Visual Voicemail service was not accessible to people with disabilities.

In February, the FCC sent of letter of inquiry requesting information and documentation regarding the voicemail service to help resolve the complaint. In response, Verizon, according the FCC report, failed to provide the bureau with information that it requested in the letter. The bureau found that Verizon violated its obligations to fully respond to inquiries in the CVVA and was therefore issued a fine of $100,000.

Google proposes breaking up company to please regulators 

Google is proposing to split off parts of its business that places ads on websites into a separate business unit to appease the Department of Justice and its possible antitrust lawsuit, according to a Friday report from the Wall Street Journal.

As part of this proposal, Google would restructure the company’s division that manages ad placement, but it would remain under the company’s parent company Alphabet Inc.

The Department of Justice has been investigating Google on allegations that it is perpetuating anticompetitive behavior in the digital advertising industry. It is currently preparing a lawsuit against anticompetitive practices.

In October 2020, the Department sued Google, alleging that it was maintaining a monopoly through illegal practices. More recently, Google has come against charges in the European Union which found Google guilty of abusing its position as a dominate search engine. It is also facing several other suits, accusing it of maintaining a monopoly.

A bipartisan bill introduced in May called the Competition and Transparency in Digital Advertising Act proposes to prevent companies from participating in advertising transactions exceeding $20 million per year. If passed, Google’s ad-tech division could be forced to split.

Comcast, Charter among winners in Maryland broadband funding

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced Monday winning applicants of the state’s Connect Maryland initiative, which includes more than $127.6 million in grants to internet service providers.

The winners included Comcast, Charter Communications, Shentel, and Breezeline. Comcast was awarded two grants totaling over $17 million for broadband builds in Baltimore and Charles counties. Shentel and Charter received awards of over $8 million each for builds in Frederick and Somerset counties. This follows Charter’s award last month of nearly $50 million for Kentucky counties.

The Connect Maryland initiative adds funds to the states’ existing programs, Neighborhood Connect Broadband Funding Program and Maryland Emergency Education Relief, which fund broadband projects across the state.

“Last summer, we supercharged our broadband investment with the launch of Connect Maryland, for a total new investment of $400 million for the expansion of broadband access, and to fully address the digital divide for everyone all across our state,” Hogan said in a statement. “As a result of these efforts, broadband is now available to well over 95% of Marylanders.”

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Broadband Roundup

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.

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Photo of the High Court of Australia, via Wikicommons

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.

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Broadband Roundup

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.

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Photo of NTIA head Alan Davidson, left, via Flickr

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.”

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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.

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Photo of Lindsay Miller, who was hired by Lit Communities as consulting president

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.

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