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Affordable Connectivity Program Fraud, Biden Touts Intel Plant, Cybersecurity in Schools

An FCC watchdog report said some service providers were signing up multiple people on one person’s information for ACP benefits.

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Photo of FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, via Flickr.

September 12, 2022 – The Affordable Connectivity Program has distributed over $1 million dollars in “improper payments” to service providers due to “fraudulent enrollment practice[s],” according to a report issued Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission’s Office of Inspector General.

Applicants qualify for ACP assistance by demonstrating personal eligibility or the eligibility of another household member, often a dependent. According to ACP guidelines, no such “Benefit Qualifying Person” may be claimed by more than one applying household, and, as of Thursday, each non-tribal household is eligible for no more than $750 of ACP assistance.

Nonetheless, the OIG said it found that some service providers have repeatedly enrolled dozens or even hundreds of households using the information of a single BQP. 

“In the most egregious example identified, more than one thousand Oklahoma households were enrolled based on the eligibility of a single BQP, a 4-year-old child who receives Medicaid benefits. The child’s first and last names, date of birth and L4SSN were used over and over again—often several times each day—to complete new ACP enrollment transactions beginning in December 2021.”

The information of another Oklahoman BQP was used on 892 applications, from which two providers collected over $300 thousand in ACP funds, the watchdog said. In Texas, one BQP was used on 997 applications to the tune of $230 thousand. All told, the report found that the information of 12 BQPs was used over 100 times and that “Many more BQPs were used to support dozens of household enrollments.”

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr said in a statement released Friday that, “For nearly two years now, I have been sounding the alarm on the potential for massive levels of fraud in the federal government’s broadband funding programs,” he said. “Whatever we are doing to deter this type of fraud is not working.”

In November, the watchdog also found evidence of fraud committed on the Emergency Broadband Benefit, a program intended to extend connectivity to students outside of school. Examples included schools enrolling many more households than students.

Biden celebrates Intel’s new fabrication plant

President Joe Biden took a victory lap Friday at the groundbreaking ceremony for Intel’s new $20 billion semiconductor facility in Ohio.

“This is about our economic security. It’s about our national security. It’s about good paying union jobs you can raise a family on,” Biden said. Intel estimates that the project will create 7,000 construction jobs and 3,000 “long-term positions in manufacturing and engineering.”

Biden’s CHIPS and Science Act, which became law in August, allocated $52.7 billion for domestic semiconductor research, development, manufacturing, and workforce development. Proponents touted the bill’s incentives for domestic chip manufacturing as a national security imperative as well as a domestic manufacturing booster.

“Semiconductors are the brains behind the technology that powers our digital age. These chips are critical to the foundations of the U.S. economy, national security and technology leadership,” said Intel’s press release on Friday.

Intel isn’t the only company investing in semiconductor plants: Micron announced a $15 billion new manufacturing plant – or “fab” – in Boise, Idaho, earlier this month and on Monday broke ground. Wolfspeed announced Friday a $5 billion investment in a fab in Chatham, North Carolina.

CoSN calls for updated cybersecurity regulations

In a joint statement on Monday, the Consortium for School Networking urged the FCC to “modernize” cybersecurity regulations in the wake of a Labor Day cyberattack on the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Cybercriminal syndicate Vice Society reportedly claimed credit for the ransomware attack and said it stole sensitive data, but neither assertion has been confirmed by authorities, according to the Los Angeles Times.

CoSN is asking the FCC to “open a rule-making proceeding and take comment on the Petition filed by our organizations in February 2021 to adopt long-term solutions to this growing cyber security crisis.” The 2021 petition recommended the expansion of the E-Rate program to cover schools’ cybersecurity needs.

The CoSN was joined by the State E-Rate Coordinators Alliance, the State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband in the ask. 

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Supreme Court to Hear Section 230 Case, Small Business Broadband Bill, TikTok Deal Pressure

The highest court in the land will hear a case about the scope of internet platform liability under Section 230.

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Photo of the U.S. Supreme Court building

October 3, 2022 – The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear a case from a petitioner who argues Google should be held liable in the death of his daughter during an ISIS attack in Paris in 2015.

Reynaldo Gonzalez sued Google under the AntiTerrorism Act for the death of Nohemi Gonzalez because the company’s video sharing platform, YouTube, allegedly hosted ISIS recruitment videos.

Large internet platforms are generally immune from the legal consequences of their users’ posts under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. But the highest court in the land will now examine the scope of those protections in this case.

Senate passes small business broadband legislation

The Senate on Thursday passed legislation that would designate a broadband coordinator to improve programs to better assist small business customers in accessing broadband technology.

The Small Business Broadband and Emerging Technology Enhancement Act of 2022 directs the Small Business Administration to designate a senior Office of Investment and Innovation employee as the broadband and emerging technology coordinator, establishing measures to aid the productivity and competitiveness of small businesses with broadband access and other information technologies that emerge.

The coordinator is expected to identify the best practices that relate to broadband and emerging technology to help small businesses, and coordinate SBA programs that assist small businesses so they can best adopt and use broadband and other emerging information technologies.

The bill, which makes its way to the House, requires Small Business Development Centers to assist in the access of broadband for small businesses.

Republicans promise hearings on TikTok security if successful in midterms

The upcoming midterm elections for control of the House and the Senate are putting pressure on the Biden administration to formalize an agreement with Chinese-owned TikTok to clamp down on security and privacy issues with the video-sharing app, as Republicans open the door to possible hearings on the matter if they are successful in taking back control of Congress, according to the Wall Street Journal on Monday.

The New York Times reported last week that the Biden administration and TikTok have come to a preliminary agreement to make changes to the app’s data security and governance without requiring the Chinese owner ByteDance to sell the company. The terms include storing American data on servers in the United States, with cloud company Oracle monitoring the app’s algorithms to see what content the app recommends to users.

But as the midterm elections near next month, the Journal, citing anonymous sources, is reporting that the talks have taken on an “added urgency,” as Republicans are promising hearings on the security of the app if they wrestle control from the Democrats on November 8.

“These people say a deal with TikTok owner ByteDance Ltd. aimed at erecting a wall between the U.S. and Chinese operations is close, but caution that hurdles remain—including operational challenges and possible opposition by China’s communist government,” the Journal reported, adding Republicans would challenge any agreement that falls short of “tough safeguards.”

Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr has already chimed in on the preliminary agreement, saying it doesn’t go far enough for the alleged threat the app poses to the country’s national security.

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Tech Against Texas Social Media, Alabama Middle Mile Grant, IP3 Awards Bestowed

Two information technology industry groups are trying to stall implementation of Texas’ social media law.

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Photo of IP3 Award winner Kyle Courtney at Public Knowledge's award ceremony Thursday by Drew Clark

September 30, 2022 – Plaintiffs NetChoice and the Computer & Communications Industry Association on Thursday petitioned the Fifth Circuit of Appeals to delay the implementation of a Texas law that limits social media companies’ ability to moderate content on their platforms.

The Texas law – H.B. 20 – would limit the ability of large social media companies to remove user speech from their platforms based on viewpoint. Supporters of the law say it will prevent platforms such as Twitter from discriminating against conservative political speech.

H.B. 20 was initially blocked by a federal judge last year, but the Fifth Circuit upheld the bill earlier this month. The plaintiffs say they will soon file a petition for a writ of certiorari at the Supreme Court. Thursday’s motion attempts to prevent H.B. 20 from taking effect before the High Court weigh ins.

“There is no question that a law that defies over two centuries of First Amendment protections warrants further federal court review,” said a statement from CCIA President Matt Schruers.

“If states like Texas are allowed to issue must-carry mandates, internet users can expect a torrent of dangerous content and misinformation, just as we head into an election season. Given the implications for the First Amendment and democratic institutions, we are asking the court to block this statute from taking effect until its constitutional problems have been heard.”

Alabama invests in middle-mile infrastructure

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey announced Tuesday a $82.45 million grant to Fiber Utility Network, a conglomerate of eight rural electric cooperatives.

The grant will fund a middle-mile network that is expected to connect nearly 3,000 miles of fiber infrastructure within three years. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs’ Alabama Digital Expansion Division will administer the grant, the funds for which came from the American Rescue Plan Act.

“Achieving full broadband coverage is a journey, not a short trip, and today is an important step toward completing that journey. The Alabama Middle-Mile project – the infrastructure setting part of this journey – is going to lead our state to be the model for the nation when it comes to providing broadband capabilities,” said Ivey.

“In 2022, being able to be connected at home, work or on the on go is absolutely necessary, and this is certainly key to making that a reality.”

“The eight electric cooperatives that make up the Fiber Utility Network are honored to be a part of building a middle mile network to bring internet service closer to those Alabamians,” said Tom Stackhouse, president of the Fiber Utility Network. “We want to thank Governor Ivey and the staff at ADECA for the vision, leadership and assistance to make this a reality.”

Public Knowledge honors IP3 awardees, for Internet Protocol, Information Policy and Intellectual Property

Public Knowledge hosted the 19th annual IP3 Awards ceremony Thursday, honoring leading voices in technology and tech policy.

Public Knowledge presented the “Internet Protocol Award” to House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., chair of the House Rural Broadband Taskforce, for his work promoting affordable broadband access. Notably, his work advanced the broadband-funding provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Emma Llanso, director of the Center for Democracy & Technology’s Free Expression Project, received the “Information Policy Award” for her work promoting free expression online.

Kyle Courtney, copyright advisor at Harvard University, received the “Intellectual Property Award.” He works extensively on copyright and library-related legal issues.

Courtney developed the Copyright First Responders program to “help advance teaching, learning, and scholarship through community engagement with copyright.”

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Shielding Broadband Grants from Taxes, American at ITU, Google Fiber Multi-Gig Speeds

Legislation introduced Thursday would shield federal broadband funding from being taxed.

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Doreen Bogdan-Martin delivers her acceptance speech as ITU Secretary-General-elect. photo by Rowan Farrell, ITU

September 29, 2022 – A bill introduced Thursday would shield federal broadband money from being taxed.

The Broadband Grant Tax Treatment Act, introduced by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., proposes to amend the Internal Revenue Code so that funding for broadband from the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act and the American Rescue Plan Act won’t be considered taxable income.

“Grants awarded to industry for the purposes of broadband deployment are currently factored into a company’s income and will soon be subjected to additional taxes due to scheduled changes to the corporate tax code that kick in beginning next year – unless Congress acts now to address the problem,” a press release said.

Warner said in a press release that if these investments were taxed, the outcome would be counterproductive and would cause companies to not ask for grants if they knew they’d be receiving a higher tax upon receiving grants, adding it could “ultimately diminish efforts to give Americans access to high-speed internet.”

“We appreciate the leadership of Senators Warner and Moran for their efforts to eliminate the tax on broadband grants. With an eye toward 100 percent connectivity, Congress made a historic investment in the broadband grant program in 2021,” Brandon Heiner, senior vice president of government affairs at industry trade group USTelecom, said in a statement.

“However, requiring grant recipients to return as much as 20 percent of those grants in the form of taxes jeopardizes our shared goal of universal connectivity. It is vital that Congress move to eliminate this tax, as America’s broadband providers carefully plan and prepare to allocate resources to connect as many Americans as possible.”

Doreen Bogdan-Martin first female elected to lead ITU

American Doreen Bogdan-Martin was elected secretary general of the International Telecommunications Union Thursday, becoming the first female to take the lead role of the United Nations’ telecommunications regulator.

Bogdan-Martin, who will lead the ITU for the next four years, secured 139 votes to 25 for Russian challenger Rashid Ismailov in votes Thursday at the Plenipotentiary Conference in Bucharest, Romania.

“I believe we, the ITU and our members, have an opportunity to make a transformational contribution. Continuous innovation can and will be a key enabler to facilitate resolution of many of these issues,” Bogdan-Martin said in a statement.

The ITU develops international connectivity standards in communications networks and improving access to information and communication technologies for underserved communities worldwide.

“[Bogdan-Martin will be a tremendous leader for the [ITU],” Alan Davidson, head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said on Twitter. “We support her vision of open, free, secure and inclusive communications networks, available to all,”

In a statement, Matt Schruers, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, said, “We applaud the election of an expert veteran to lead the ITU, and support global efforts in maintaining internet freedoms that promote access to information and democracy.

“The ITU plays an important role in facilitating international connectivity in communications networks, and we look forward to working with ITU leadership to carry out the organization’s important mission.”

Last week, President Joe Biden announced his support for the American as a candidate for the position.

Google Fiber tests at 20 Gbps, will announce multi-gig service tiers

Google Fiber said in a blog post Tuesday that it will have announcements about upcoming multi-gigabit service tiers, after its fiber product hit download speeds of 20.2 gigabits per second in a home test in Kansas City.

The company said in the post that the new test is part of its move toward “dramatically” expanded multi-gigabit tiers of service, and an overall goal of hitting the 100 Gigabits per second download and upload milestone.

“We believe that many, if not most, communities across America will ultimately have at least two, if not three, fiber providers and an incumbent coax provider. We see it in communities we plan to build in, and expect investment in the industry to continue,” the post said.

“This means that a fiber network alone will no longer be the differentiating factor it once was for internet providers,” it added. “The unique selling points will be how that network is built to deliver symmetrical multi-gig speed at accessible pricing — all with a focus on enabling service that takes advantage of that speed not just to the home but in the home, as well.”

Google Fiber is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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