EARN IT Act Reintroduced, Standard General’s Acquisition Setback, New FiberLight CEO

Critics of the EARN IT Act argue that it would have severe costs for digital privacy and online speech.

EARN IT Act Reintroduced, Standard General’s Acquisition Setback, New FiberLight CEO
Photo of Sen. Richard Blumenthal in 2020 by Senate Democrats used with permission

April 21, 2023 — A controversial bill targeting encryption and Section 230 immunity has been introduced in the Senate for the third time, rekindling the opposition from tech industry groups and civil liberties organizations that marked the bill’s two previous failures to pass.

The Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act purports to combat online child sexual abuse material by expanding online platform liability for hosting such content and increasing reporting requirements.

“This problem is simply too big to throw money at — tech companies must take responsibility for eliminating child sexual abuse material on their own platforms, or be held accountable,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., in a Wednesday statement announcing that he and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., were reintroducing the legislation.

Critics of the EARN IT Act argue that it would have severe costs for digital privacy, encryption services and online speech.

By gutting Section 230, the legislation would “push tech companies to over-censor their platforms in order to reduce their legal liability,” said Evan Greer, director of digital rights group Fight for the Future. “Studies have shown that when Section 230 protections evaporate, platforms over-target marginalized communities and place people in life-threatening danger by tearing down harm reduction infrastructure.”

Not only would the EARN IT Act create “a world of constant surveillance,” the current scanning software used to identify CSAM is often inaccurate — meaning that it could potentially subject “millions of people to false accusations of child abuse,” wrote Joe Mullin, a policy analyst for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a blog post decrying the bill’s reintroduction.

However, other organizations applauded the revival, arguing that online platforms have failed to take sufficient action against the proliferation of harmful and exploitative content.

“Tech companies have the technology to detect, remove, and stop the distribution of child sexual abuse material,” said Erin Earp, interim vice president for public policy at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. “However, there is no incentive to do so because they are subject to no consequences for their inaction.”

Court allows FCC’s Tegna acquisition hearing to proceed, potentially killing deal

An appeals court on Friday rejected Standard General’s attempt to force the Federal Communications Commission to vote now on the fund’s planned acquisition of television station operator Tegna.

The $8.6 billion deal was delayed in February by the FCC’s decision to hold a hearing on the proposed transaction, based on the agency’s “substantial and material” concerns about potential retransmission fee increases and local job losses.

Standard General argued that the action was “tantamount to denying the transaction,” noting that it would extend proceedings well past the acquisition’s final extension date of May 22.

On Monday, Standard General announced a series of new commitments — including no newsroom layoffs for three years and the establishment of a $5 million local journalism grant fund — in a bid to gain support from news and radio unions, who currently oppose the deal.

“The commitments announced today underscore the strong, good-faith relationship between Standard General, organized labor and the American public,” said Soo Kim, the fund’s founding partner. “The only obstacle to this deal moving forward is the Federal Communications Commission refusing to hold a vote on the deal.”

FiberLight appoints new CEO following acquisition by investor group

Fiber infrastructure provider FiberLight on Thursday announced the appointment of Bill Major as CEO, effective immediately, as well as the completion of the company’s acquisition by a consortium of investment funds led by H.R.L. Morrison & Co.

The partnership aims to give FiberLight increased financial flexibility as it continues to expand its fiber networks, invest in cross-border connectivity and bolster network resiliency, according to the company.

Major previously served as president and CEO of Everstream Solutions, a major enterprise and wholesale fiber platform in the Midwest.

“Bill is a proven executive who brings a wealth of infrastructure knowledge, telecommunications experience and transformative leadership capabilities to FiberLight as the company builds its team and expands its footprint,” said Perry Offutt, partner at Morrison & Co and chair of FiberLight’s board of directors.

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