Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Headlines Daily Digest
Stories From Abroad
Electric cooperatives in Georgia have proposed policies aimed at spurring rural broadband deployments. The cooperatives call the proposed policies the Georgia Solution. Although some Georgia electric cooperatives have proposed to build broadband networks in the rural communities they serve, those deployments are not the focus of the Georgia Solution. Instead, the solution is aimed at encouraging rural broadband deployments by cable companies and other providers. The Georgia Solution was filed with the Georgia Public Service Commission as part of a rate case underway at the commission that involves the fee that cable companies pay to connect to the electric cooperatives’ utility poles.
More than a year and a half of planning and negotiation will culminate in fiber infrastructure laid to every household in one Tennessee county over the next few years. West Kentucky & Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative (WK&T), using its own funds along with money from the Henry County Commission and the state of Tennessee, will extend its existing network to cover the entire county and give residents access to its broadband network and services. The county commission has joined the effort to commit $3 million of its own funds to reach as many as 1,400 homes in what County Mayor Brent Greer explained is the first phase of a countywide build that will take shape over the next 24-26 months. The cost of the first phase will be approximately $8 million, with $3 million coming from the county commission, $3 million from WK&T, and $2 million from the state. By the time it’s through, though, the project will total $20 million and bring WK&T infrastructure to every home, business, and farm.
After years of fielding complaints from residents about the speed, reliability, and poor customer service of the city’s single wireline broadband provider, Springboro, Ohio (pop. 19,000) has decided enough is enough. Over the next year, the city (situated ten miles south of Dayton) will build a 23-mile fiber loop for municipal services and, at the same time, lay five additional conduits to entice additional Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to come in and offer service, stimulating competition and economic development in the region moving forward. Springboro’s model represents something of a middle ground, with the city firmly committing to fiber infrastructure for its own services but also leveraging that investment to build the conduit that will attract additional providers to town.
A victory by Joe Biden in the Nov. 3 election could usher in an abrupt change in the nation’s telecommunications policy, restoring so-called net neutrality regulation and shifting the Republican drive to rein in social media outlets, among other things. Biden hasn’t talked much about the Federal Communications Commission during the campaign, but his party’s platform is specific. It calls for restoring net neutrality rules put in place under then-President Barack Obama when Biden served as vice president and taking a harder line on telecommunications mergers.
Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed to the post by President Donald Trump, has taken up a Trump administration demand for a tougher social media policy. Earlier in his term he reversed Democratic policies on net neutrality and waved through T-Mobile’s bid to buy Sprint. If Biden wins, the FCC, which currently is at full five-member strength, could begin the new presidential term with a 2-to-1 Democratic majority, allowing it to move quickly. Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly is leaving at the end of the current Congress and chairmen traditionally depart as a new administration arrives. Chairman Pai hasn’t indicated what he’ll do. He can stay on as a commissioner but a new president could strip him of the chairmanship and its power to control what policies advance to a vote. If Pai stays after a Biden win, “he’s denuded of power to do much of anything except to block things,” said Benton Senior Counselor Andrew Jay Schwartzman.
The 116th Congress opened with great energy and promise for federal privacy legislation across both houses and parties. By the end of 2019, though, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) each released separate proposals, respectively the draft US Consumer Data Privacy Act (USCDPA) and the Consumer Online Privacy Rights Act (COPRA). Despite sharp differences when it came to federal preemption of state privacy laws and individual rights to sue, these bills showed promising agreement on significant issues, including data minimization, individual privacy rights, transparency, and discriminatory uses of personal data In the end, these efforts fell short. The pandemic took up most of the legislative energy and made it more difficult to overcome partisan polarization.
As for whether USCDPA or COPRA will emerge as the main vehicle for privacy legislation in 2021, that will depend on who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee come January. If Republicans hang on to the Senate next year, the SAFE DATA Act will serve as a focal point for negotiations with Senate and House Democrats—and potentially with the White House. But if Democrats take the Senate, COPRA will be the focal point. Whoever sits in the White House will also play into the prospects for privacy legislation. The process will also be influenced by the result of California’s Proposition 24 ballot initiative, which could harden preemption positions by expanding the California Consumer Privacy Act, and by what could be a federal legislative agenda packed with initiatives to address economic recovery, pandemic management, and other crisis responses. While the need for privacy legislation will remain fundamentally the same in 2021, the political situation could look vastly different.
A regulatory "firewall" intended to protect Voice of America and its affiliated newsrooms from political interference in their journalism was swept aside by Michael Pack, a Trump appointee who assumed leadership of the US Agency for Global Media in June. He wrote that he acted to eliminate policies that were "harmful to the agency and the US national interest." And Pack argued they had interfered with his mandate "to support the foreign policy of the United States." The move set off a firestorm.
Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) released a report showing the impact of the transformation of news online and the accompanying loss of revenue. The report shows one factor of the revenue loss is the unfair and abusive practices by tech platforms. The impact of these practices indicates the need for Congress to provide the Federal Trade Commission new authority to protect the local news industry. The report closely examines the unfair and abusive practices by major tech platforms that have contributed to the drastic revenue declines. The biggest online platforms unfairly use content, take local news consumer data and divert customers away from local news websites, while providing little in return. The Congress and the FTC should act to address these unfair and abusive practices to help sustain the competition that local news provides. The report highlights the important role local news and journalists play in communities of all sizes throughout the country. The report shows innovative new models already being used by publishers and broadcasters based on their value as a trusted brand. However, COVID-19 is also having an adverse impact. The report shows a 45% decline in print ad revenue in 2020.
We won’t fully bring the benefits to all Americans if we’re advocating for bringing a connection into their homes that is insecure or unsafe. That means we cannot allow data security and privacy to become luxury goods available only to the elite. On the security side, I’ve been vocal about the need to secure our communications networks. In particular, my Find It, Fix It, Fund It initiative brought national attention to the urgent need to support small and rural companies as they work to make their networks more secure by addressing the problem of equipment from untrustworthy vendors in our wireless networks. We need a similar commitment to addressing privacy issues.
The Federal Communications Commission also needs to do more to protect Americans who benefit from the Lifeline program, the only federal program specifically designed to connect low-income people to the modern communications networks many of us take for granted. I was outraged to learn that some Lifeline customers have received phones loaded with malware that allows outside parties to install programs without the owners’ knowledge or consent. The FCC needs to do a better job of ensuring that Lifeline recipients get the same level of privacy protections as other
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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