Friday, October 23, 2020
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Reps Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Morgan Griffith (R-VA) announced the Preventing Unwarranted Communications Shutdowns Act, a bipartisan bill to limit presidential powers to control or shut down communications networks, including the internet. The Communications Act currently authorizes the President to take control of communications facilities or equipment in certain circumstances. While the internet is, by design, decentralized and cannot be ‘shut down,’ the Communications Act leaves open the possibility for a presidential order that leads to Americans not being able to access the internet. The Preventing Unwarranted Communications Shutdowns Act limits the President’s authorities; requires the President to notify Congress and senior Executive Branch officials within 12 hours of any shutdown; and requires approval within 48 hours from three-fifths of both the House and the Senate (including one-quarter of the minority party in each chamber) for the order to remain lawful. The Preventing Unwarranted Communications Shutdowns Act does the following:
- Limits the reasons the President may take action under §706 of the Communications Act of 1934 to ones necessary to protect against an imminent and specific threat to human life or national security if such action is narrowly tailored and is the least restrictive means for the purpose;
- Requires that the President notify congressional leaders (i.e., Speaker, House Minority Leader, and Senate Majority and Minority Leaders), senior executive branch officials (i.e., Vice President, department heads, intelligence community heads, Joint Chiefs of Staff), and the FCC before or not later than 12 hours after taking any action authorized under §706;
- Nullifies §706 orders 12 hours after issuance of the order if the President does not provide notification in the specified time and form;
- Nullifies §706 orders 48 hours after the President provides notice unless three-fifths of each of the House and the Senate vote to pass an approval resolution, with an affirmative vote of at least one-quarter of the minority party in each chamber (the 48 hour period may be extended with the consent of the congressional leaders or their designees)
- Requires a GAO report after every §706 order, and requires a one-time GAO report estimating the impact of a communication shutdown; and
- Requires that the US government compensate providers and customers of providers for any communications shutdown under §706.
Rep Anna Eshoo (D-CA-18), a senior member of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee, wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to express her high concerns that the FCC is ignoring its court-mandated obligation to protect public safety in its latest net neutrality repeal order and called on the Chairman to drop the proposal from next week’s open meeting agenda. “California is experiencing the most horrific wildfire season in history, and I’m deeply concerned that the FCC is ignoring its mandate to protect public safety as required by statute and by a federal court,” Rep. Eshoo wrote. “On October 6, 2020, you published a proposal for the Commission to consider on October 27, 2020, that essentially says the FCC’s 2018 repeal didn’t actually miss anything with respect to public safety. This proposal ignores what the D.C. Circuit highlighted as serious shortcomings of the 2018 repeal and what is required of the FCC by statute.” Rep Eshoo called on Chairman Pai to pull the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order on Remand” proposal from the FCC’s October Open Meeting agenda.
As Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai gets ready to consider President Donald Trump’s controversial social media executive order, there is one person’s opinion he should probably take into consideration: his own. Chairman Pai has tried to define his tenure at the head of the agency as being against “heavy-handed” regulation and has promoted a “light-touch” approach to regulation industry. And yet he seems to be totally fine with the FCC jumping headfirst into government regulation with President Donald Trump’s controversial social media executive order. Chairman Pai also took issue with former President Barack Obama weighing in on how rules establishing net neutrality played out. Yet, now he appears to be more than willing to carry out President Trump’s executive order that targets Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $146 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Iowa, Michigan, Missouri, and New Mexico.
- The Stoutland Telephone Company, doing business as (DBA) Missouricom, will use a $4.6 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network, which connect 2,390 people, 78 farms and 12 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Dallas, Camden and Laclede counties in Missouri.
- Marshall Municipal Utilities will use a $7.5 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network, which will connect 3,890 people, 433 farms, 63 businesses, two public schools, a fire station and a post office to high-speed broadband internet in Saline County, Missouri.
- Steelville Telephone Exchange, DBA STE Communications, will use a $14.8 million ReConnect grant and a $14.8 million ReConnect loan. As a result, STE Communications will deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 4,756 people, 314 farms, 55 businesses, two fire stations and a post office to high-speed broadband internet in Iron, Dent, Crawford and Washington counties in Missouri.
- Total Highspeed LLC was awarded a $24.9 million ReConnect grant and a $24.9 million ReConnect loan. These funds will provide a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 26,077 people, 720 farms, 417 businesses, nine fire stations and five public schools to high-speed broadband internet in Christian, Greene, Lawrence, Stone and Webster counties in Missouri.
- SWC Telesolutions Inc. will use a $6.1 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,630 people, 31 businesses, nine farms, five fire stations and two post offices to high-speed broadband internet in Sierra County, New Mexico.
- Leaco Rural Telephone Cooperative Inc. will use a $4.5 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 170 people, 29 farms and five businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Eddy, Chaves and Lea counties in New Mexico.
- Penasco Valley Telephone Cooperative Inc. will use a $8.1 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 1,173 people, seven farms, six businesses, three fire stations and a post office to high-speed broadband internet in Chaves, Lincoln, Eddy and Otero counties in New Mexico.
- Continental Divide Electric Cooperative Inc. will use a $1.1 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 85 people, four farms and a business to high-speed broadband internet in Cibola County, New Mexico.
- Farmers Mutual Cooperative Telephone Company of Moulton, Iowa will use a $4.9 million ReConnect grant and a $4.9 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network, which will connect 3,085 people, 228 farms, 50 businesses and two healthcare facilities to high-speed broadband internet in Appanoose and Davis counties in Iowa.
- Farmers Mutual Telephone Company of Stanton, Iowa will use a $2.3 million ReConnect grant and a $2.3 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network which will connect 954 people, 115 farms and eight businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Taylor and Page counties in Iowa.
- Harmony Telephone Company will use a $4.8 million ReConnect grant and a $4.8 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network, which will connect 1,579 people, 96 farms and 31 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Howard and Chickasaw counties in Iowa.
- Allband Multimedia LLC will use a $3.5 million ReConnect grant to deploy a fixed wireless network to connect 3,678 people, 64 farms, 54 businesses, four educational facilities and a post office to high-speed broadband internet in Alpena, Alcona and Iosco counties in Michigan.
- Southwest Michigan Communications Inc. will use a $3.3 million ReConnect grant and a $3.3 million ReConnect loan to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 3,203 people, 40 farms and 27 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Van Buren, Kalamazoo and Allegan counties in Michigan.
AT&T reported third-quarter results that showed solid subscriber growth in the company’s market focus areas of wireless and fiber broadband. A record high 357,000 AT&T Fiber net adds and 158,000 total broadband net adds. "We added more than 350,000 fiber broadband customers and are on track to grow our fiber base by more than 25% this year," said CEO John Stankey. AT&T has 60 million customer locations in its landline region with about 25% of them having fiber access today. "We should be in a very unique position for every trench foot of fiber that we put in the ground of putting more traffic on that fiber and monetizing it more effectively than anybody else, given the breadth of the customer base that we serve, and the footprint that we serve." Stankey said AT&T has the opportunity to do some economic fill-in with its fiber deployments while also shortening the cycle from investment to cash, but it needs to be engineered the right way. "What I am trying to drive this business forward on is getting much more artful in our engineering to ensure that every trench foot of fiber that we're putting in, we are serving every segment as effectively as we can," he said. "When I am confident that we are actually engineering and executing in that fashion, I will step on the gas in a way that I think everybody will look at it to say 'Those returns are so darn good. Why wouldn't you do that?'
AT&T reports it now has 4.7 million fiber subscribers, adding 357K net new fiber subscribers in 3Q 2020, up over 12% from 3Q 2019. AT&T now reports 33% penetration of its fiber homes passed. Verizon reported 139K net adds for consumer Fios fiber subscribers, the most net additions since 4Q 2014. That’s up over 450% from 3Q 2019. Verizon now counts 6.1 million fiber subscribers.
AT&T CEO John Stankey suggested that some changes to policy, including changes to the Universal Service Fund, could help AT&T reach more homes with fiber. He didn’t elaborate on what changes he would like to see, but an AT&T policy opinion earlier in 2020 suggested the program should be reformed to include direct funding from Congress. “I believe some of these architectures that are coming out, and frankly if policy gets right, that you can open up some of these places for growth,” said Stankey about AT&T fiber broadband momentum. “If the universal service program gets reformed in an effective fashion, which I think it’s time, that from a policy perspective in our country, we should look at that, it makes fixed broadband more affordable.”
A group of 24 county officials from across the country have formed a broadband task force with the goal of creating a “blueprint” for closing the digital divide. Organized through the National Association of Counties, the task force is co-chaired by J.D. Clark, the county judge of Wise County, Texas, and Craig Rice, a member of the Montgomery County Council in Maryland. They’ll lead the group of county officials in studying methods that both rural and urban communities have used to expand broadband connectivity over the past several years. The task force follows a NACo report showing that 65% of counties use internet at sub-broadband speeds. But the coronavirus pandemic also motivated the group’s creation.
The causes and impact of a nationwide T-Mobile outage that occurred in June, along with actions that can help prevent similar outages in the future. On June 15, 2020, T-Mobile experienced an outage on its wireless networks that lasted over twelve hours, disrupting calling and texting services nationwide, including 911 service, as well as access to data service in some areas. The FCC’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau estimates that at least 41% of all calls on T-Mobile’s network failed during the outage, including at least 23,621 failed calls to 911. The Bureau notes that T-Mobile’s outage was caused by an equipment failure and exacerbated by a network routing misconfiguration. The outage was also magnified by a software flaw in T-Mobile’s network that had been latent for months and interfered with customers’ ability to initiate or receive voice calls during the outage.
The Bureau identifies the network reliability best practices that could have prevented the outage or mitigated its effects, including providers periodically auditing the diversity of their networks. The Bureau also recommends several network reliability issues for further examination by standards bodies. In keeping with past practice, the Bureau plans to release a Public Notice, based on its analysis of this and other recent outages, reminding companies of industry-accepted best practices, including those recommended by the FCC’s Communications Security, Reliability, and Interoperability Council, and their importance. In addition, the Bureau will contact major transport providers to discuss their network practices and offer assistance to smaller providers to help ensure that our nation’s communications networks remain robust, reliable, and resilient.
Connect Americans Now (CAN) filed comments Oct 20 with the Federal Communications Commission, co-signed by 41 companies and organizations, in support of a Report and Order to update rules regarding TV white space (TVWS) technology — a critical solution that can help expand the pace, scale and cost-effectiveness of hybrid-network broadband deployments. The full FCC will vote on the Report and Order, introduced earlier this month by Chairman Pai, on Oct 27. The letter reads, "For the millions of Americans who lack access to a broadband connection, the pandemic has exacerbated the many challenges associated with the digital divide and made more urgent solutions to maximize the potential of every tool at the nation’s disposal, including TVWS. That is why CAN, and the 41 organizations co-signed on this letter, welcome the Commission’s leadership to clear regulatory barriers to TVWS and strongly encourage the adoption of the draft Report that will help reduce costs and increase the reach of hybrid network broadband deployments.”
Federal Trade Commission staff members are recommending that the agency bring an antitrust case against Facebook, but commissioners haven’t yet reached a decision. The five-member FTC met privately via videoconference to discuss next steps, without taking action. The commission is facing political complexities, particularly with the Nov. 3 election looming. FTC Chairman Joseph Simons during his tenure has at times faced challenges in building coalitions among his Republican and Democratic colleagues.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) sent letters to Mark Zuckerberg, Chief Executive Officer of Facebook, Inc., and Jack Dorsey, Chief Executive Officer of Twitter, requesting the companies to disclose any interactions they have had with presidential candidates and their campaigns ahead of the Committee’s Big Tech hearing on October 28. He wrote: In the interest of fully disclosing any interactions with the candidates and their campaigns, I request that you provide the Committee with specific information regarding whether and how [Facebook/Twitter] has provided access to any data, analytics, or other information to either major political party, candidate, or affiliates thereof. This includes information related to post or page performance, engagement, or other data that might shape or influence decision-making by the candidate or campaign. In addition, please indicate whether this information is provided equitably to all candidates, and how decisions are made regarding what information is provided and to whom. Given the time-sensitive nature of this request and the approaching election, I would ask that you please provide the requested information to Committee staff as soon as possible, but no later than October 26, 2020.
Federal Communications Commissioner Mike O’Rielly declared on Twitter that the speech he’ll be making virtually at CTIA 5G summit will be his “last speech at @FCC, covering various aspects of spectrum policy.” While it’s long been known that the GOP commissioner will have to step down by year’s end, his exact departure date remains unclear. What is now apparent: he’ll be dialing down the volume in the final days of his term.
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.
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