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Broadband-focused Dems Win Reelection, Questions on Digital Discrimination, New Comcast Exec

Rep. Abigail Spanberger’s Speedy Updates Act was signed into law as part of Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

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Photo of Rep. Abigail Spanberger from July 2018 by Adam Schultz used with permission

November 9, 2022 – Senate and House Democrats who are focused on broadband-related policies won re-election during the midterm election on Tuesday.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, who played a major role in the introduction of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, defeated GOP challenger Joe O’Dea by a margin of 54.9% to 42.5% of votes. O’Dea conceded the election on Tuesday evening.

Bennet also introduced the Broadband Transparency and Accountability Act to improve price transparency.

Another Democrat who had focused on broadband issues, Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Virginia, won a hard-fought seat against GOP challenger Yesli Vega, 52% to 48%.

Spanberger’s race in the exurban suburbs of Washington was closely watched by political observers to gauge the extent of an anticipated “red wave” of Republican victories that did not fully materialize.

In 2021, Spanberger’s Speedy Updates Act was signed into law as part of the IIJA, with a goal of increasing customer internet speeds. It sought to ensure that new broadband internet networks are built with the latest upload and download speeds.

Bennet and Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, had introduced the Broadband Transparency and Accountability Act in 2019, S. 2275 and H.R. 4024. It aims to change the way the federal government verifies and shares data regarding affordable internet access, although it is has not been reintroduced in the 117th Congress.

Next Century Cities wants digital discrimination addressed

Broadband advocacy group Next Century Cities said in letter Monday following a meeting with officials from the Federal Communications Commission that the agency must address digital discrimination and why it is important to provide equal access for all Americans.

The organization emphasized the need to identify discriminatory patterns that have impacts on communities that are currently disadvantaged. It said digital discrimination is historically linked with redlining, the process by which areas for investment are passed over for reasons including its low-income residents.

It said it “has documented why relying on provider submitted data only gives a skewed picture of how many homes are actually connected,” the letter said. “Faulty FCC data will not only undermine how federal broadband grant dollars are awarded but is oftentimes used as the baseline data for state broadband mapping.”

Agency officials said an important method of data collection is gathering stories and quantitative data from local leaders on the way digital discrimination has affected its communities.

Earlier this year, the FCC held a proceeding to eliminate digital discrimination among telecom providers. In the proceeding, the FCC said it would define equal access in order to provide fair coverage.

The FCC’s Communications Equity and Diversity Council on Monday unanimously recommended strategies to reduce digital discrimination and increase digital equity, promote affordable broadband, workforce diversity, state and local partnerships with minority and women-owned businesses.

Michael Slovin named Comcast Smart Solutions general manager

On Tuesday, Comcast announced Michael Slovin will take on the role of vice president and general manager at Comcast Smart Solutions.

Slovin has held corporate leadership positions with Comcast for the past 15 years. He was recently the vice president of national field sales with Comcast before becoming the VP and GM of Comcast Smart Solutions, as said in the press release.

“Leading our Smart Solutions division is a great opportunity to keep Comcast at the forefront of connectivity and space,” said Slovin. He said he is “excited by the chance to help our clients realize the benefits of smart technologies.”

Comcast Smart Solutions launched in April this year and provides connectivity and advisory services to customers to build smart technology systems.

Reporter Sudha Reynolds has worked for local broadcast and print news companies in Salt Lake City, including PBS Utah and KUER. Reynolds attended the University of Utah. In her spare time, she enjoys exploring new and old places, as well as hiking on trails.

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Broadband Roundup

Google AI and Mayo Clinic, Spectrum Ohio Expansion, New CFO for Gigstreem

The partnership will allow healthcare professionals to analyze patient data and medical history.

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Photo of GigStreem CEO Andrew Kusminsky

June 7, 2023 – Google announced on Wednesday a partnership with non-profit medical center the Mayo Clinic for the use of generative artificial intelligence to process data.

The partnership will allow healthcare professionals to analyze patient data, including medical history, imaging records, genomics, or lab results, more efficiently and with a single query. The AI is able to access information that is stored in diverse formats and locations.

Generative AI is a type of artificial intelligence that can generate new content, such as images, text, or even music, without being explicitly programmed to do so. It uses complex algorithms and patterns learned from large datasets to create original and creative outputs.

Google announced this on the back of releasing its trial AI chatbot, called Bard.

Issues with generative AI models have revolved around the datasets used to train them. While the models reflect inaccuracies, biases or other harmful content, imposing intense regulations on datasets leads to decreased performance.

Spectrum plowing $18M in Ohio broadband expansion

Internet service provider Spectrum said Tuesday it is investing $18 million for the expansion of high-speed internet in Clinton County, Ohio.

The money will go toward connecting over 5,000 homes and small businesses across all 13 townships in the country.

“I am pleased that the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and Spectrum were able to help with the needed expansion of rural broadband in Southwestern Ohio, helping to connect over 5,000 small businesses and homes,” U.S. Rep. Brad Wenstrup, R-Ohio, said in a press release. “Our students, seniors, and businesses rely on the power of fast and affordable internet for education, connection, and growth. This expansion will help grow the capabilities of our communities.”

Spectrum is a group of communications services offered by Charter Communications, Inc., whose services include internet, mobile, television and voice services.

Virginia-based Gigstreem announces new CFO

Internet service provider Gigstreem announced Tuesday the appointment of Patrick Albus as its chief financial officer.

Gigstreem’s CEO, Andrew Kusminsky, said in a press release he expects Albus’s strategic planning and operational focus to contribute to the company’s long-term success.

Albus arrives at the job with over two decades of leadership experience and financial expertise, the company said. He joined the company in December 2022, and supported funding efforts and expansion through acquisitions.

Established in 2017, Gigstreem is a provider catering to apartment buildings, residential communities, businesses, and events across the nation.

Gigstreem recently secured $59 million in funding and completed three acquisitions, with more planned, it said.

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Broadband Roundup

Charter Chooses Nokia for 5G, Microsoft Children’s Privacy Settlement, FCC Adopts $5M Robocall Fine

Charter has selected Nokia for its 5G rollout.

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Photo of a Nokia office building in March 2016 by Raysonho

June 6, 2023 — Charter Communications will use Nokia’s equipment to support the company’s 5G network rollout, according to a press release Monday.

Charter will deploy a wide range of assets in the Finnish company’s 5G radio access network technology, read the release.

The deal will help Charter continue to deliver high-speed 5G connection across its 41 targeted states, the company said.

“Incorporating Nokia’s innovative 5G technology into our advanced wireless converged network will help us ensure that Spectrum customers in areas with a high concentration of mobile traffic continue to receive superior mobile connectivity, including the nation’s fastest wireless speeds,” Justin Colwell, executive vice president of connectivity technology at Charter, said in the release.

After investing $464.25 million in 2020 to acquire 210 spectrum licenses, this is the next phase of Charter’s aim to build its mobile network business, the company said.

The company also said it sees growth in its broadband portfolio with a $60 million funding through Florida’s broadband program.

Microsoft settles on $20M for children’s privacy violations

Microsoft has agreed to pay $20 million after it violated provisions of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection law, the Federal Trade Commission announced Monday.

The FTC voted 3-0 to hand the settlement to the Department of Justice, which on the same day filed the complaint in federal court for it to take effect.

The FTC alleges the corporation had broken three major provisions of the children’s privacy law, specifically, that it failed to provide parents appropriate warning before collecting children’s personal information via the Xbox gaming platform. The company also withheld and shared the data with third parties without permission, the complaint says.

As part of the settlement, the company must also adopt new policies to strengthen privacy safeguards for Xbox players under the age of 13.

“Our proposed order makes it easier for parents to protect their children’s privacy on Xbox, and limits what information Microsoft can collect and retain about kids,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a press release. “This action should also make it abundantly clear that kids’ avatars, biometric data, and health information are not exempt from COPPA.”

Dave McCarthy, corporate vice president of Xbox Player Services, confirmed Microsoft had agreed to FTC’s settlement in an announcement the same day.

“Regrettably, we did not meet customer expectations and are committed to complying with the order to continue improving upon our safety measures,” McCarthy said. “We believe that we can and should do more, and we’ll remain steadfast in our commitment to safety, privacy, and security for our community.”

The technology sector has recently been under scrutiny for its allegedly lax approach to protecting the online privacy of children. Earlier in May, the FTC accused Facebook of breaking a privacy rule pertaining to minors. Concerns for the physical and mental health of juvenile users have also prompted lawmakers to lead the charge against Chinese-owned video-sharing app TikTok.

FCC adopts $5 million penalty in robocall scheme

The Federal Communications Commission on Tuesday issued a $5-million fine against entities involved an illegal robocall scheme during the 2020 election.

John M. Burkman, Jacob Alexander Wohl, and J.M. Burkman & Associates LLC sent out 1,141 robocalls to potential voters warning against mail-in voting as their “personal information will be part of a public database that will be used by police departments to track down old warrants and be used by credit card companies to collect outstanding debts.”

The robocalls were delivered without the consent of the receivers, which violated the FCC’s rules.

“This penalty emphasizes the seriousness with which we take our obligations to protect American consumers, and in this instance American voters, from being targeted through the clear and illegal misuse of U.S. communications networks,” said FCC Enforcement Chief Loyaan Egal.

In response to the 2021’s FCC fine proposal, Wohl and Burkman argued that political robocalls are exempt from the Telephone Consumer Protection Act restrictions, which require telemarketers to ask for consents before robocalling consumers.

The FCC denied this claim, saying that “a calling campaign is political in nature does not protect the caller from liability under Commission rules.”

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Broadband Roundup

AI Regulation Bill, Quantum Fiber in More Cities, Charter Awarded $60M in Florida Broadband

The AI Disclosure Act would require disclosures on all AI-generated content.

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Photo of Ritchie Torres

Representative Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y. will introduce a bill this week that would require any content generated by artificial intelligence to include a disclaimer noting the source of the content. 

The AI Disclosure Act of 2023 would require that any AI-generated content include the statement, “Disclaimer: this output has been generated by artificial intelligence.” The Federal Trade Commission would be responsible for implementation and enforcement of the law. 

“AI is the most revolutionary technology of our time. It has the potential to be a weapon of mass disinformation, dislocation, and destruction,” Torres said in a statement. Regulation of the technology will be “one of the central challenges confronting Congress in the years and decades to come.”  

According to Torres, the disclosure is “the simplest place to start” AI regulation. “Disclosure is by no means a magic bullet but it’s a common-sense starting point to what will surely be a long road to regulation,” Torres said.  

A group of AI experts issued a statement in May claiming that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”

The warning comes as Congress focuses its attention on AI regulation, as a proliferation of increasingly sophisticated AI chatbots emerge in the market. 

Quantum Fiber in 18 more cities

Quantum Fiber, a Lumen Technologies brand, announced Monday its gigabit internet speeds are now available in 18 additional cities across the country. 

The additional cities are: Boise in Idaho; Cape Coral, Fort Myers, Naples and Orlando in Florida; Colorado Springs and Denver in Colorado; Des Moines in Iowa; Las Vegas in Nevada; Minneapolis in Minnesota; Omaha in Nebraska; Phoenix and Tucson in Arizona; Portland in Oregon; Salt Lake City in Utah; and Seattle, Spokane and Vancouver in Washington.

“With each new city, thousands more people gain access to our reliable internet. It’s an investment with rippling benefits for not only families and businesses, but also our larger work to support digital inclusion,” Maxine Moreau, Lumen president of mass markets, said in a press release. 

The company is set to connect more than 500,000 homes and small businesses this year, it said. “We’re excited to expand our fiber footprint with gig and multi-gig internet into these markets,” said Moreau. 

Charter awarded $60M in Florida broadband funding program 

Florida announced Friday that Charter Communications will receive approximately $14.3 million for eight projects across the state as part of the Broadband Opportunity Program. 

The 22 announced awards this round make up $60 million in broadband investments. Providers are required to deploy fiber broadband with 1 Gbps symmetrical download and upload speeds. 

More than $226 million has been awarded through Florida’s Broadband Opportunity Program, which will connect more than 250,000 addresses in the state. The state allocated $400 million of the funds to increase reliable broadband service within the state in a competitive reimbursement grant program

The state was awarded nearly $9 billion through the State and Local Fiscal Recovery Program under the American Rescue Plan Act, which delivered $350 billion to states to support the response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. 

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