Kate Tummarello

Tech CEOs push billions for Wi-Fi in schools

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Dropbox’s Drew Houston, Netflix’s Reed Hastings and HP’s Meg Whitman are among the tech CEOs urging the Federal Communications Commission to provide billions for Wi-Fi in schools and libraries.

The FCC is voting at its upcoming monthly meeting on a plan from Chairman Tom Wheeler to boost Wi-Fi in schools and libraries.

“The message from America is clear, if our schools do not have the broadband they need, our students will not be able to compete in the global economy,” the CEOs told FCC commissioners.

Signatories also included current and former CEOs of YouTube, eBay, Adobe, Airbnb, Dell, Intuit, OpenTable, Salesforce.com, Xerox and prominent venture capital firms.

Chairman Wheeler’s plan would put $5 billion toward providing and upgrading Wi-Fi services and equipment over the next five years on top of the agency’s $2.4 billion annual budget for the E-Rate program, which works to connect schools and libraries to the Internet. The agency has already set aside the first $2 billion and plans to provide the following $3 billion through eliminating inefficiencies in the program and phasing out non-Internet access services, including pagers.

Education groups back $2 billion Wi-Fi plan

A coalition of education groups is backing a proposal at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would funnel billions of dollars into wireless Internet for schools and libraries.

The proposal “is a necessary first step toward providing students with the educational infrastructure they need to excel,” ten education groups said in a letter to FCC commissioners sent.

Signatories include the Consortium for School Networking, the National Association of State Boards of Education and the State Educational Technology Directors Association.

The letter comes as the agency prepares to vote on the new proposal from Chairman Tom Wheeler to expand the FCC’s E-Rate funding. Opposition to Chairman Wheeler’s plan could put the vote in jeopardy.

Teachers threaten to derail Wi-Fi push

Educators are threatening to derail the Obama Administration’s proposals to boost wireless Internet in schools over fears districts could be left with inadequate funds or cuts to other services.

A new plan from Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler would funnel $5 billion for Wi-Fi over the next five years through the agency’s E-Rate program.

The FCC is set to vote on the plan at its monthly meeting on July 11, but sources now say it’s unclear if it has the votes to pass. Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai have advocated for reforms to the E-Rate program, but it's unclear if either will support Wheeler's proposal as currently written.

Sources said the plan’s specifics are in flux as Chairman Wheeler works to rally support from other commissioners and advocacy groups ahead of the vote. “There are still some Commissioners who are listening to educators in the field, and we hope their voices ring loudly in next week’s meeting,” said an education advocate opposed to the proposal.

Courts issued over 3,500 wiretaps last year

Federal and state courts allowed more than 3,500 wiretaps in 2013, the highest number in recent years. Federal judges authorized 1,476 wiretaps, and state judges authorized 2,100 in 2013 -- up 9 percent and 3 percent, respectively, from 2012 -- according to the US court system’s annual Wiretap Report.

The vast majority of the wiretaps -- 97 percent -- were for “portable devices,” such as cellphones. While 41 of the more than 3,500 wiretaps intercepted encrypted communications in 2013, law enforcement agencies were able to decipher all but nine, the report said. Wiretaps lasted on average 40 days in 2013, one day longer than the average in 2012, according to the report.

California legalizes bitcoin

The virtual currency bitcoin is now legal in California. Gov Jerry Brown (D-CA) has signed into a law a bill that will allow businesses and individuals to use bitcoin in transactions.

The bill -- from Assemblyman Roger Dickinson -- repeals a state ban on using currency that is not “the lawful money of the United States.”

The Assembly's report on the bill notes the popularity of bitcoin -- which "has gained massive media attention recently as the number of businesses has expanded to accept bitcoins for payment" -- as well as the "frequent shopper" reward programs.

After the one-sentence bill passed the Assembly 52-11, Assemblyman Dickson touted the bill as recognizing the popularity of virtual currency.

“In an era of evolving payment methods, from Amazon Coins to Starbucks Stars, it is impractical to ignore the growing use of cash alternatives,” he said.

FCC moves to caption the Web

The Federal Communications Commission is taking another step to make the Internet more accessible, voting in July on rules for closed captioning online video clips.

The vote, planned for the FCC’s July meeting, is the result of a years-long push -- and Chairman Tom Wheeler's personal interest -- to increase accessibility online. But the companies that would have to do the legwork to get the closed captions on online videos are warning the FCC to avoid unreasonable technological demands and timelines.

Privacy groups grade lawmakers on NSA votes

A coalition of privacy groups is ranking lawmakers over their stance on surveillance reform as they press Congress to pass legislation. Twenty-one groups -- including the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), Reddit and the Sunlight Foundation -- released a Congressional Scorecard that assigns lawmakers a grade based on their support for surveillance reform measures.

Some of the high scorers include surveillance critics Reps Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Justin Amash (R-MI) and Suzan DelBene (D-WA), as well as Sens Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).

The leadership of the Intelligence Committees -- Senate committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), House committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-MI) and ranking member Rep Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), who have defended the surveillance programs -- received failing grades.

“We believe that people have a right to know whether their members of Congress are doing their jobs and helping to end mass spying,” the groups said on the new site housing the scorecard. “Our scorecard shines a light on all members of Congress, allowing citizens of the Internet to see whether their elected representatives stand as champions or roadblocks to real surveillance reform.”

Dems back FCC chief in local Internet push

A group of Democratic lawmakers is backing Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler as he pushes for municipal broadband networks, despite state laws that may stand in the way.

“Communities are often best suited to decide for themselves if they want to invest in their own infrastructure and to choose the approach that will work best for them,” the lawmakers said. Signatories include Sen Ed Markey (D-MA), Reps Mike Doyle (D-PA), Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Anna Eshoo (D-CA).

Rather than being inhibited by state laws, “local communities should have the opportunity to decide for themselves how to invest in their own infrastructure,” including working with incumbent Internet providers, creating public-private partnerships and creating their own networks.

Privacy groups oppose new Senate cyber bill

A coalition of privacy advocates have come out against a new Senate cybersecurity bill that critics say ignores the revelations about US surveillance. In a letter to the Senate Intelligence Committee, 22 privacy groups warned against taking up the Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act.

That recently introduced bill from Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Vice Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) would make it easier for companies to share information about cyber threats with each other and the government.

In their letter, the groups -- including the ACLU, the Center for Democracy and Technology and the Electronic Frontier Foundation -- said the bill would allow for more information sharing with US intelligence agencies, including the National Security Agency (NSA) despite public backlash over NSA surveillance. “Instead of reining in NSA surveillance, the bill would facilitate a vast flow of private communications data to the NSA.”

FCC Commissioner Clyburn : 2015 airwave auction ‘not a train wreck’

The Federal Communications Commission’s complex and highly anticipated 2015 airwave auction is “absolutely not a train wreck,” according to Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

FCC Commissioner Clyburn said that the agency “must be vigilant” as it prepares for the first-of-its-kind auction in 2015. That auction will involve the agency purchasing airwaves from television broadcasters, repackaging those airwaves and then selling them to spectrum-hungry wireless companies looking to boost their cellphone networks.

Much of the attention surrounding the auction has focused on whether the FCC would limit how much spectrum certain wireless companies -- namely industry giants AT&T and Verizon -- can purchase through the auction. At its May open meeting, the FCC voted 3-2 to limit those companies’ participation.

The limitations were less than those originally proposed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler after Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel pushed for lessened limits in the hopes of driving up the auction’s revenue, which will go toward funding a nationwide network for first responders.

On the other side of the auction, some are worried about the incentives TV broadcasters have to show up to the auction and sell their airwaves at all.