Updates on Broadband Subsidies, and a New Safe Harbor Deal

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Robbie’s Round-Up
Week of February 1-5, 2016

Broadband Subsidies for Those with Low Income
Opportunity for All
On February 3, the New America Foundation hosted an event, “Digital Equity: Technology and Learning in the Lives of Lower Income Families”, a forum that highlighted the results of a nationwide survey of lower-income families. The report, “Opportunity for All? Technology and Learning in Lower-Income Families” conducted by Sesame Workshop’s Joan Ganz Cooney Center and Rutgers University, explored the current uses of digital technologies to help promote educational opportunities for all through a national survey of nearly 1,200 low-income parents of school-age children and in-person interviews with lower-income, Hispanic families in three communities located in Arizona, California, and Colorado. The report’s key findings:

  1. Most low- and moderate-income families have some form of Internet connection, but many are under-connected, with mobile-only access and inconsistent connectivity.
  2. Families headed by Hispanic immigrants are less connected than other low- and moderate-income families.
  3. The main reason some families do not have home computers or Internet access is because they cannot afford it, but discounted Internet programs are reaching very few.
  4. Low- and moderate-income parents use the Internet for a broad range of purposes, but mobile-only families are less likely to do certain online activities.
  5. Children from low- and moderate-income families use computers and the Internet for a variety of educational activities, but those without home access are less likely to go online to pursue their interests.
  6. Parents feel largely positive about the Internet and digital technology, but many also have concerns.
  7. Children and parents frequently learn with, and about, technology together, especially in families with the lowest incomes and where parents have less education.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler delivered opening remarks at the forum, and notably said the FCC will finish up rules in the “not too distant future” to help subsidize Internet serve for low-income Americans. Chairman Wheeler discussed Lifeline reform and the effort to allow the program to support both fixed and mobile broadband service, as well as having minimum standards that Lifeline providers must deliver to receive funds.

Google Fiber Announces Initiative to Connect in Public Housing
Chairman Wheeler’s remarks also highlighted the efforts of Google working with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to bring broadband access to people with low-income. On Wednesday, Google officially announced that it is going to give away its high speed Internet service, Google Fiber, to thousands of low-income Americans across the country who can't afford gigabit broadband, starting in the Kansas City (MO) market.

Google’s announcement is all part of a wider plan by the White House aimed at connecting the disconnected. Last summer, President Barack Obama and HUD Secretary Julián Castro launched a pilot project known as ConnectHome that vowed to link 275,000 low-income households to the Internet. As part of that move, Google Fiber said it would selectively provide free broadband to certain public housing units. Feb 3's announcement reflects the company's follow-through on that promise.

U.S.-E.U. Safe Harbor
On February 2, 2016, European and U.S. officials agreed on a new framework for transatlantic data flows: the E.U.-U.S. Privacy Shield. The new arrangement will include the following elements:

  • Strong obligations on companies handling Europeans' personal data and robust enforcement: U.S. companies wishing to import personal data from Europe will need to commit to robust obligations on how personal data is processed and individual rights are guaranteed. The U. S. Department of Commerce will monitor that companies publish their commitments, which makes them enforceable under U.S. law by the US. Federal Trade Commission. In addition, any company handling human resources data from Europe has to commit to comply with decisions by European Data Protection Authorities (DPAs).
  • Clear safeguards and transparency obligations on U.S. government access: For the first time, the US has given the EU written assurances that the access of public authorities for law enforcement and national security will be subject to clear limitations, safeguards and oversight mechanisms. These exceptions must be used only to the extent necessary and proportionate. The U.S. has ruled out indiscriminate mass surveillance on the personal data transferred to the US under the new arrangement. To regularly monitor the functioning of the arrangement there will be an annual joint review, which will also include the issue of national security access. The European Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce will conduct the review and invite national intelligence experts from the U.S. and European Data Protection Authorities to it.
  • Effective protection of EU citizens' rights with several redress possibilities: Any citizen who considers that their data has been misused under the new arrangement will have several redress possibilities. Companies have deadlines to reply to complaints. European DPAs can refer complaints to the Department of Commerce and the Federal Trade Commission. In addition, Alternative Dispute resolution will be free of charge. For complaints on possible access by national intelligence authorities, a new Ombudsperson will be created.

Why Does This Matter?
Without this agreement, thousands of tech companies faced regulatory uncertainty, affecting billions of dollars and causing hurdles for smaller companies trying to expand into Europe. The deal now lets U.S. companies like Amazon and Alphabet’s Google to move people’s digital data back and forth across the Atlantic and continue normal international operations.

In general, U.S. industry seemed to be happy. Mark MacCarthy, senior vice president of public policy at the Software & Information Industry Association, said, “The agreement reached between the E.U. and U.S. sets an essential legal and political foundation for the free flow of data across international borders.” U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker said that her agency is confident that the deal meets the requirements of the ruling by the European Court of Justice last year that overturned the original safe harbor.

But privacy advocates were less enthusiastic about the deal. Max Schrems, an Austrian citizen whose 2013 complaint against Facebook with the Irish data protection commissioner led to the European Court of Justice ruling, called the agreement “laughable.” Jeff Chester, the executive director of the Center on Digital Democracy, said, “The only hope that Americans had for privacy was for Europe to continue to insist that that U.S. companies improve their practices. Now, the Commerce Department has created a new shield against privacy and consumer protection."

What’s Next
The deal must be officially approved by the EU’s 28 member states. DPAs have yet to give their support for the pact, and European privacy-rights advocates are preparing to file legal challenges seeking to overturn it.

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

Events Calendar for the Week of Feb 8-12

ICYMI From Benton

By Robbie McBeath.