‘Rip and Replace’ Problems, Texas Social Media Law, Twitter Flip-Flops on Promotions

The RWA told the FCC its members are struggling to get loans to fulfil Rip and Replace obligations.

‘Rip and Replace’ Problems, Texas Social Media Law, Twitter Flip-Flops on Promotions
Photo of CCIA President Matt Schreuers

December 19, 2022 – In an ex parte filing Friday, the Rural Wireless Association called on the Federal Communications Commission to streamline a program that funds the removal of network equipment that could threaten national security, stating its members are finding it difficult to get the funds to fulfil their obligations.

The so-called Rip and Replace program, authorized by Congress in the Secure and Trusted Networks Act in 2020, reimburses private network owners’ efforts to remove equipment that is suspected to be a national security risk. The law directed the FCC to create a “covered list” of technology deemed an “unacceptable” risk to national security, which includes telecommunications equipment from Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE.

RWA discussed the need for Congress to fully fund the Reimbursement Program and urged the FCC to continue to press Congress on this issue as it is becoming increasingly difficult for program participants to complete their removal, replacement, and destruction of covered equipment with only 40% of the funds required and no assurance that additional funds will ever come,” the letter said.

The organization, which has previously raised the program shortfall with the FCC, added that the providers are having a hard time even getting loans to follow through on requirement. “The difficulty in finding lenders has forced many to halt the removal, replacement, and destruction of equipment, leaving networks to deteriorate as time goes on and service to be lost as Universal Service funds cannot be used to upgrade the networks that contain covered equipment,” it said.

This summer, the FCC wrote a letter to Congress stating that there is a shortfall in the replacement program.

Industry association wants Texas law heard at top court

The Computer & Communications Industry Association on Thursday urged the Supreme Court to review a Texas law that bars social media companies from performing viewpoint-based content moderation.

“For 200 years courts have upheld the First Amendment to protect citizens and private businesses from government compelling speech – including forcing websites to publish and disseminate speech against their will,” said CCIA President Matt Schruers in a statement Thursday. “Texas’s social media law would pave the way for an internet overrun with bad actors and tie the hands of businesses trying to protect users. This law endangers internet users in the short term and democratic principles in the long term.”

The Texas law – initially ruled unconstitutional by a district court only to be upheld in September by the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals – was passed to protect right-wing users from alleged censorship by social media moderators. Opponents of the law say it violates the First Amendment by forcing platforms to publish speech against their will.

“The platforms argue that buried somewhere in the person’s enumerated right to free speech lies a corporation’s unenumerated right to muzzle speech,” wrote Fifth Circuit Judge Andrew Oldham in his opinion.

In addition to the Texas case, a similar Florida law appears bound for the high court’s consideration. Florida’s content moderation statute, however, was largely found unconstitutional by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in May. Social media companies also face judicial scrutiny in cases Twitter v. Taamneh and Gonzalez v. Google, which question whether Twitter and YouTube, respectively, illegally abetted terrorist action on their platforms by allowing videos to circulate.

Twitter bans promotion of competitors, reverses course

Twitter on Sunday announced it would ban content that promoted competing social media platforms, including Facebook and Mastodon, only to apparently backtrack on the policy within 24 hours.

The Twitter help center entry detailing the policy seems to have been deleted early Monday morning. According to that entry, violative behavior included posting “follow me @username on Instagram,” “check out my profile on Facebook – facebook.com/username,” and use of link aggregator linktr.ee. The policy banned such content in both tweets and account bios.

“Policy will be adjusted to suspending accounts only when that account’s *primary* purpose is promotion of competitors, which essentially falls under the no spam rule,” Twitter’s owner, Elon Musk, tweeted Sunday evening.

Minutes later, Musk posted a poll asking whether he should step away from running the platform. “I will abide by the results of this poll,” he tweeted. 57.5 percent of respondents said Musk should down when the poll closed Monday morning.