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Verizon Rejects Claims of Redlining, $759 Million from ReConnect, Utopia Fiber Survey

ISP is rebutting claims of the Associated Press and The Markup story on internet deals in non-white neighborhoods

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UTOPIA fiber CMO, Kimberly McKinley. Source: The Standard-Examiner

October 27, 2022 – Verizon is requesting the Federal Communications Commission deny claims of discrimination as a “de facto” reason for areas with no network deployment, according to a Wednesday letter from the telecom company.

“We…explained that the Commission should reject arguments to assume that any area where our network is not deployed is de facto caused by discrimination,” the letter said, alluding to the October 24 meeting where the issue was discussed.

“Instead, the actions of third parties, and technical and economic considerations explain areas in Verizon’s territory where its services are not available, notwithstanding demographics,” the letter added.

Last week, the Associated Press and The Markup co-published a story that revealed that Verizon was among a number of service providers that offered “fast base speeds at or above 200 [Megabits per second] Mbps in some neighborhoods for the same price as connections below 25 Mbps in others.” The story noted the neighborhoods that got the worst deals had lower median incomes in nine out of 10 cities in the data analysis.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s digital discrimination provisions require that the FCC create rules to coordinate equitable access to broadband and prevent digital discrimination based on race and class status, yet taking into account “issues of technical and economic feasibility,” according to the document.

In September of this year, Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal and Economic Public Policy Studies alleged no evidence of digital redlining, in the results of an empirical analysis questioning the IIJA’s provision racial and class-based bias in digital discrimination. 

“Discrimination is costly to the firm (i.e., forgone profits), so these results indicating a lack of digital discrimination are consistent with profit-maximizing behavior by providers” said George Ford, Phoenix center chief economist. 

Agriculture releases nearly $800M for fiber infrastructure builds

The Department of Agriculture announced Thursday it is committing $759 million from the ReConnect program to deploy fiber broadband infrastructure in rural, tribal and U.S island territories, according to a press release.

Awards include a $36-million loan will go to the Public Service Telephone Company in Georgia; a $34-million grant to Western New Mexico Telephone Company Inc.; a $34-million grant to Upper Peninsula Telephone Company in Michigan; a $30-million grant to Dena’ Nena’ Henash (Tanana Chiefs Conference); a $29-million grant to Teleguam Holdings LLC; a $25-million grant to Leaco Rural Telephone Cooperative Inc.; a $25-million grant to Pawnee Nation Of Oklahoma; a $25-million grant to Pioneer Telephone Cooperative in Oregon; a $25-million grant to WNM Communications Corporation in New Mexico; and a $24-million grant to Hayneville Telephone Company Inc. in Alabama, according to the USDA website.

“USDA partners with small towns, local utilities and cooperatives, and private companies to increase access to high-speed internet so people in rural America have the opportunity to build brighter futures. Under the leadership of President Biden and Vice President Harris, USDA is committed to making sure that people, no matter where they live, have access to high-speed internet. That’s how you grow the economy – not just in rural communities, but across the nation,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in the release.

The ReConnect loan and grant program distributes loans and grants to fund the costs of broadband deployment in areas that do not have access to service at speeds of 100 * 20 Megabits per second.

Last month, the USDA announced a $502 million commitment from the ReConnect program, dispersed in 20 states.

Utopia Fiber says nearly half survey respondents adopt gigabit speeds

Nearly half of the 2,500 participants surveyed by fiber service provider Utopia Fiber said they chose speeds of 1 Gigabit per second or higher, according to its 2022 customer survey results released Tuesday.

The survey by the Utah-based fiber company found that 43 percent of respondents chose the gigabit speeds or higher, with 95.8 percent saying internet speed was either “extremely important (64.94%) or “very important (27.7%),” according to the results.

Metrics company Ookla’s Speedtest results in September 2022 reported the national median speed for fixed broadband is 172.30 Megabits per second download and 22.40 Mbps upload. Utopia Fiber says the need for faster speeds is a result of the rise in remote work and use of online streaming services.

“The big takeaway here is that ‘Internet is life’, and either you have it, or you don’t,” Kimberly McKinley, chief marketing officer of Utopia Fiber, said in a press release. “Consumers also shared that their communities were better places to live now (76.02%) because municipalities made the wise decision to invest in fiber and allow every home and business the same equitable opportunities and services at a very reasonable and fair price.”

In Ookla’s third quarter market report, the average download speed of the top 10 cities combined for fixed broadband is 244.93 Mbps.

Reporter Zoey Howell-Brown studied at Coppin State University and Node Center for Curatorial Practices. Her work has appeared in The Real News Network, The Odyssey, Terse Magazine and Broadband.Money. When she’s not reporting on telecom news, you can find her at the latest exhibition opening, film festival, or on LinkedIn.

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Broadband Roundup

More Twitter Files, FTC Sues to Stop Microsoft Deal, Broadband Bills on Space

Many, particularly conservatives, have expressed outrage over Taibbi and Weiss’s revelations.

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Photo of journalist Matt Taibbi from February 2012 by Sebastian Wallroth used with permission

December 8, 2022 – Journalist Bari Weiss published the second installment of the “Twitter Files,” detailing content-moderation measures the platform allegedly used to limit the visibility right-wing accounts.

Weiss’s tweet thread, posted Thursday night, says Twitter, without notifying users, prevented certain accounts from appearing in user searches, hashtag searches, or the platform’s “trending” section. Affected accounts included talk-show host Dan Bongino; activist Charlie Kirk; and the once anonymous video-repost account, “Libs of TikTok.”

The “Twitter Files” are based on “thousands of internal documents obtained by sources at Twitter,” according to Matt Taibbi, publisher of the series’ first tweet thread. In it, Taibbi outlined internal discussions at Twitter surrounding the platform’s temporary ban on the New York Post’s Hunter Biden laptop story. Both Taibbi and Weiss have teased further reporting on the files.

Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk, has promised to increase the transparency of content-moderation policies. “Twitter is working on a software update that will show your true account status, so you know clearly if you’ve been shadowbanned, the reason why and how to appeal” he tweeted Thursday night.

Although many, particularly conservatives, have expressed outrage over Taibbi and Weiss’s revelations, others say the files contain no new substantive information.

“So we’ve now had two long threads, presented as if they were revealing some big conspiracy, that basically, just… confirmed a bunch of things the company had already said publicly, and showed pretty standard (boring) trust & safety work,” tweeted Mike Masnick, founder and editor of Techdirt.

The FTC pumps the breaks on the Microsoft–Activision deal

The Federal Trade Commission on Thursday filed an antitrust suit to prevent Microsoft from acquiring videogame developer Activision Blizzard, the creator of such hits as “Call of Duty.”

The federal watchdog says the deal would allow Microsoft to manipulate access to Activision’s products for users of consoles that compete with Microsoft’s Xbox line. Microsoft has a record of using purchased gaming content to suppress competition, the FTC alleges, although the company has insisted it will not deny its rivals access to Activision’s products and recently committed to decade-long licenses for “Call of Duty” with Nintendo and Sony.

“Microsoft has already shown that it can and will withhold content from its gaming rivals,” said Holly Vedova, director of the FTC Bureau of Competition. “Today we seek to stop Microsoft from gaining control over a leading independent game studio and using it to harm competition in multiple dynamic and fast-growing gaming markets.”

According to Microsoft, the deal will strengthen competition and innovation in the videogame market. “Microsoft wants to change [the gaming status quo] by offering consumers the option to subscribe to a cloud gaming service that lets them stream a variety of games on multiple devices for one reasonable fee,” wrote Vice Chair and President Brad Smith in an op-ed published Monday in the The Wall Street Journal.

Announced in January, the deal would make it the world’s third largest gaming company – after Tencent and Sony, the company has said. It would be the only American firm on the podium.

Representatives introduce bills to promote innovation in space

Top members of the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce on Thursday introduced a pair of bills to promote innovation, security, and American leadership in the commercial satellite communications industry.

Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr., D-N.J., and Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., respectively introduced the Secure Space Act and the Satellite and Telecommunications Streamlining Act.

“America is leading the way in next-generation satellite technologies, which are contributing to a revolution in the communications marketplace,” the representatives said in a statement. “To make sure the U.S. – not China – continues to lead this global industry, we must streamline our regulatory processes to unleash innovation while also ensuring our laws fully protect the American public.”

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Broadband Roundup

Many States Receive Broadband Planning Grants, Complaints About Charter, Blockchain for Healthcare

Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, D.C, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, N.D., Pennsylvania, S.C., Virginia, and W.V. received awards.

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Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo

December 8, 2022 — The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Thursday that Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia will receive planning grants under the bipartisan infrastructure law.

The allocations are made under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Act, as well as the Digital Equity Act grant provisions.

Alaska will receive $5.5 million in funding, Arkansas will receive $5.8 million in funding, Colorado will receive $5.9 million, District of Columbia will receive $5.4 million, Kentucky will receive $5.8 million, Maine will receive $5.5 million, Missouri will receive $2.9 million, North Dakota will receive $5.5 million, Pennsylvania will receive $6.6 million, South Carolina will receive $5.9 million, Virginia will receive $6.2 million, and West Virginia will receive $5.7 million.

Other states and territories that have received planning grants include Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Puerto Rico.

Complaints about Charter in Los Angeles

Government affairs and association management firm Joint California Advocates urged the Federal Communications Commission to seek comment about recent report findings that shows Charter Communications, also known as Spectrum, offered low-income Los Angeles County residents more expensive rates for service, compared to wealthier communities that received better rates, in an ex-parte letter sent on Monday.

Los Angeles-based non-profit California Community Foundation released a report called The Slower and More Expensive, which documents the advertising disparity of price, terms, and conditions between different neighborhoods in Los Angeles in Charter Spectrum’s identified service areas.

The foundation “explained that the data for the report demonstrated that the Charter Spectrum website routinely offered potential new customers in households in higher poverty neighborhoods more expensive rates for Charter Spectrum service than households in wealthier neighborhoods. Moreover, [foundation] explained that it found that Charter Spectrum’s promotional rates are “locked in” for half as long in high-poverty neighborhoods than in lower-poverty neighborhoods,” the letter read.

Blockchain will help protect health data, World Bank specialist says

In reference to the European Health Data Space anticipated for launch in 2025, a World Bank digital development specialist on Wednesday suggested blockchain technology to secure data sharing and collection in healthcare, according to a virtual event by the Center for Data Innovation.

Health information managers or medical caregivers can encrypt their patients’ data in the blockchain. Data breaches can be prevented by tracking a permanent timestamp left on the blockchain when companies seek data access.

The safety of data sharing and user transparency is an ongoing challenge in healthcare. According to European Patients’ Forum director of policy, Kaisa Immonen, the main concern for patients is their data shared for commercial purposes or with employers.

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Broadband Roundup

Maryland Bans TikTok on State Network, New Head of Open Technology Institute, UScellular Expands 5G

The ban will also apply to other Chinese and Russian technologies and applications.

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Photo of Lilian Coral, head of Open Technology Institute and Technology and Democracy Programs, via Esri User Conference

December 7, 2022 – Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said Tuesday that the state is banning the use of apps such as Chinese-owned TikTok in the executive branch of the government.

The emergency cybersecurity directive will impact Chinese and Russian-made communications and money applications, including Tencent Holdings’s QQ, QQ Wallet and WeChat; products from ecommerce giant Alibaba, such as AliPay; Russian cybersecurity software Kaspersky; and products from Huawei and ZTE.

The directive requires agencies to remove the products from state networks and implement measures so they cannot be installed, including blocking the apps entirely from the network.

“These entities present an unacceptable level of cybersecurity risk to the state, and may be involved in activities such as cyber-espionage, surveillance of government entities, and inappropriate collection of sensitive personal information,” a state press release said.

Last month, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations said TikTok posed a national security threat to the US, warning that the Chinese government – through its control of Chinese corporations – could siphon American data.

The Federal Communications Commission has also been working with Public Safety and Homeland Security to identify threats to national security by blacklisting certain Chinese entities from being used on U.S. networks. Late last month, the commission announced it is halting the authorization of equipment from these threats to the nation’s security.

New America names new head of Open Technology Institute

Think tank New America announced Wednesday that Lilian Coral is joining the organization’s technology program, the Open Technology Institute, as senior director and head of its technology and democracy program.

The OTI comes up with policy and regulatory reforms to support open source technology, which allows for interoperability of technologies, as opposed to just proprietary technologies held by a few players.

Coral previously worked at the John S. & James L. Knight Foundation as its director of national strategy and tech innovation, where she managed a portfolio of more than $55 million in investments that supported public spaces technology and data trust and accessibility.

“We need to ensure every American has access to an internet that is open, safe, and helps uplift communities,” Coral said in a press release. “But we all recognize that access alone is not sufficient. This means developing guardrails to make sure we all benefit from the opportunities the internet affords—and imagining a truly democratic digital public realm that is a key pillar in renewing the promise of America.”

UScellular expands 5G network to more Americans

UScellular announced Wednesday that a software update will allow it to expand its 5G network in multiple states, providing 1.4 million more Americans with access to its services.

A press release said the update allows for better coordination between cell sites and will use 4G and 5G features to extend existing 5G service to neighboring sites.

“These updates allow us to get more out of our investment and enhance our customers’ experience whether they are accessing our 5G network on their smartphone, tablet or for home internet,” Robert Jakubek, UScellular vice president of engineering and network operations, said in the release.

In May, the country’s fourth-largest wireless carrier partnered with 5G equipment provider Ericsson to provide 5G fixed-wireless services using the C-band spectrum.

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