Thursday, October 1, 2020
Headlines Daily Digest
News From FCC Meeting
Government & Communications
Elections & Media
Kids and Media
Stories From Abroad
President Donald Trump signed a stopgap spending bill early Oct 1 to keep the government funded through early December, after the Senate overwhelmingly agreed (84-10) to punt a series of thorny debates about federal funding once the general election was over. The funding was set to lapse at midnight, with the official start of the new fiscal year, and President Trump signed the measure nearly an hour afterward as he returned from a campaign rally in Minnesota. In giving final approval to the measure, lawmakers completed the last of the essential legislative tasks that were keeping them in Washington before the election on Nov. 3, clearing the way for Congress to begin a recess and for members to scatter around the country to campaign for re-election. It remained unclear, however, when lawmakers would depart, as top House Democrats and Trump administration officials made a final push for an elusive bipartisan deal on an economic recovery plan that both sides have said is desperately needed to address the continuing toll of the pandemic. Senators were also bracing for the possibility that a partisan feud over Trump’s Supreme Court nominee could bleed into next week, keeping that chamber in session.
Both chambers will ultimately need to confront the dozen unfinished bills to keep the government funded for the remainder of the new fiscal year. Democrats had unsuccessfully pushed to extend the funding through February, hoping to negotiate more favorable deals if their party captured control of both the Senate and the White House and maintained a majority in the House. But Republicans refused to accept that timeline, agreeing to a measure that provides funding through Dec. 11, which would require a lame-duck Congress to determine the spending levels after the election.
The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules permitting expanded use of 50 megahertz of mid-band spectrum in the 4.9 GHz (4940-4990 MHz) band that is currently underused. Under the new rules, states are allowed to lease this spectrum to third parties to boost wireless broadband, improve critical infrastructure monitoring, and facilitate public safety use cases. This will allow individual states to use the spectrum to best meet their unique needs. The Report and Order permits one statewide 4.9 GHz band licensee per state to lease some or all of its spectrum rights to third parties—including commercial and public safety users—in those states that the FCC has not identified as a diverter of 911 fees.
The Federal Communications Commission proposed to make 100 megahertz of mid-band spectrum in the 3.45-3.55 GHz band available for 5G deployment across the contiguous US. The FCC also adopted rules for, and proposed additional changes to, the broader 3.3-3.55 GHz band. This item marks an important step toward satisfying Congress’s directive in the MOBILE NOW Act to make new spectrum available for flexible use and to work with National Telecommunications and Information Administration to evaluate the feasibility of allowing commercial use in the 3.1-3.55 GHz band. It is also a critical step forward in the FCC’s efforts to free up more spectrum for the commercial marketplace under its comprehensive 5G FAST Plan.
Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O'Rielly will be leaving when his term ends [either with the Senate confirmation of a successor or by January, whichever comes first] and signaled his supporters don't need to advocate for keeping him on the FCC. At the FCC's open meeting, he said he has enjoyed his time on the commission but that the fact was that his service was coming to an end regardless of the outcome of the election and that while there had been speculation on whether he would return to the commission under "certain circumstance," he said: "I do not seek for anyone to pursue my continued service at the commission beyond my current term."
Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel's screen froze just as FCC Chairman was asking for her vote during the commission's Sept 30 meeting. When Commissioner Rosenworcel rejoined the virtual meeting, she suggested the freeze was because of the demand on her home's broadband service. "We have problems in the house with multiple kids going to online school and a spouse who is working as well," she said. Commissioner Rosenworcel has been a big proponent of boosting the FCC's definition of high-speed service given that increased COVID-19-related demand on home broadband.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $1.7 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in southwestern South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. Golden West Telecommunications Cooperative, Inc. will use a $1.7 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 218 people, five businesses, 65 farms, and one essential community facility to high-speed broadband internet in Fall River and Custer counties in South Dakota and Niobrara and Weston counties in Wyoming.
The nation’s largest publicly held carriers had until Sept 28 to advise the Federal Communications Commission if they elect to receive a seventh year of support in the Connect America Fund (CAF) program, and at least some of them have opted to do so. AT&T, Frontier, and CenturyLink sent letters to the FCC electing to accept the seventh year of CAF support.
The CAF program offered money to the larger carriers, known as price cap carriers, in 2015 in exchange for committing to deploy broadband to rural portions of their local service territory lacking broadband service. Funding was for six years, and deployments were expected to be completed by the end of the sixth year, but carriers had the option of electing to receive a seventh year of support. The sixth year of support ends at the end of 2020.
In the Dec 2014 Connect America Fund report and order, the FCC stated that the purpose of the seventh year of support was to provide “a gradual transition to the elimination of support.” In exchange for receiving the additional support, carriers are “required to continue providing broadband with performance characteristics that remain reasonably comparable to the performance characteristics of terrestrial fixed broadband service in urban America.”
Saying the COVID-19 pandemic can't be allowed to create an "irreversible" learning gap for students without access to the internet, Cox is teaming up with Common Sense Media to try and do something about it. Cox is pledging $60 million over the next year to help close the digital learning divide. Cox will also extend its offer to new Connect2Compete customers. If they sign up by year's end, they will get two months free, followed by $9.95 per month internet. Cox's outdoor WiFi hotspots will also remain open to all comers. Both of those were part of its commitment to keep Americans connected during the pandemic. The company has also launched Cox CARES Act Solutions for Education to help states and localities spend the billions of dollars in CARES Act COVID-19 aid that can be used for distance learning.
Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) led a letter with nearly 20 Republican colleagues to President Donald Trump applauding the administration’s successful efforts to empower the private sector to build multiple 5G networks. The senators also expressed concerns regarding a request for information that was released by the Department of Defense that contradicts the successful free-market strategy that has embraced 5G. “Nationalizing 5G and experimenting with untested models for 5G deployment is not the way the United States will win the 5G race,” the senators wrote. “While we recognize the need for secure communications networks for our military, we are concerned that such a proposal threatens our national security. When bad actors only need to penetrate one network, they have a greater likelihood of disrupting the United States’ communications services. As you stated in August, ‘[s]ecure 5G networks will absolutely be a vital link to America’s prosperity and national security in the 21st century.’ We strongly urge you to remain on the free-market path you have articulated, a path that will enable the United States to win the global 5G race.”
Joining the letter were Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), John Boozman (R-AR), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Steve Daines (R-MT), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Tim Scott (R-SC), Dan Sullivan (R-AL), and Todd Young (R-IN).
Government & Communications
Six senior officials at the US Agency for Global Media have filed a whistleblower complaint with the State Department’s inspector general and the US Office of Special Counsel, alleging that they were retaliated against for raising concerns about the new political leadership installed earlier in 2020 by President Donald Trump. The 32-page complaint accuses top officials at the taxpayer-funded media group of abusing their authority, violating the law and mismanaging the organization.
In perhaps the complaint’s most explosive allegation, its authors say one of them was told the media group’s CEO Michael Pack or one of his aides ordered a senior USAGM official to conduct research on the voting history of at least one employee at the media agency — a violation of laws protecting civil servants from undue political influence or reprisal. “[T]he research was to be utilized in evaluating career civil servants’ abilities to carry out the duties of their positions,” the complaint reads.
Big tech firms could be banned from preferencing their own services in search rankings or exclusively pre-installing their own applications on devices, under new regulations planned by the European Union. As part of the EU’s Digital Services Act, platforms with power to control could also have to share customer data with business rivals. Due to be unveiled in December by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive body, the legislation will seek to modernize rules governing the internet to give platforms greater responsibility for what users post on their sites as well as propose regulation aimed at curbing the power of large platforms.
Benton (www.benton.org) provides the only free, reliable, and non-partisan daily digest that curates and distributes news related to universal broadband, while connecting communications, democracy, and public interest issues. Posted Monday through Friday, this service provides updates on important industry developments, policy issues, and other related news events. While the summaries are factually accurate, their sometimes informal tone may not always represent the tone of the original articles. Headlines are compiled by Kevin Taglang (headlines AT benton DOT org) and Robbie McBeath (rmcbeath AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.
© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2020. Redistribution of this email publication — both internally and externally — is encouraged if it includes this message. For subscribe/unsubscribe info email: headlines AT benton DOT org
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
for Broadband & Society
727 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
headlines AT benton DOT org
The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society All Rights Reserved © 2019