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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the items below are tentatively on the agenda for the October Open Commission Meeting scheduled for Tuesday, October 27, 2020:
- Restoring Internet Freedom Order Remand – The Commission will consider an Order on Remand that would respond to the remand from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and conclude that the Restoring Internet Freedom Order promotes public safety, facilitates broadband infrastructure deployment, and allows the Commission to continue to provide Lifeline support for broadband Internet access service. (WC Docket Nos. 17-108, 17-287, 11- 42)
- Establishing a 5G Fund for Rural America – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would establish the 5G Fund for Rural America to ensure that all Americans have access to the next generation of wireless connectivity. (GN Docket No. 20-32)
- Increasing Unlicensed Wireless Opportunities in TV White Spaces – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would increase opportunities for unlicensed white space devices to operate on broadcast television channels 2-35 and expand wireless broadband connectivity in rural and underserved areas. (ET Docket No. 20-36)
- Streamlining State and Local Approval of Certain Wireless Structure Modifications – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would further accelerate the deployment of 5G by providing that modifications to existing towers involving limited ground excavation or deployment would be subject to streamlined state and local review pursuant to section 6409(a) of the Spectrum Act of 2012. (WT Docket No. 19-250; RM-11849)
- Revitalizing AM Radio Service with All-Digital Broadcast Option – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would authorize AM stations to transition to an all-digital signal on a voluntary basis and would also adopt technical specifications for such stations. (MB Docket Nos. 13-249, 19-311)
- Expanding Audio Description of Video Content to More TV Markets – The Commission will consider a Report and Order that would expand audio description requirements to 40 additional television markets over the next four years in order to increase the amount of video programming that is accessible to blind and visually impaired Americans. (MB Docket No. 11-43)
- Modernizing Unbundling and Resale Requirements – The Commission will consider a Report and Order to modernize the Commission’s unbundling and resale regulations, eliminating requirements where they stifle broadband deployment and the transition to nextgeneration networks, but preserving them where they are still necessary to promote robust intermodal competition. (WC Docket No. 19-308)
- Enforcement Bureau Action – The Commission will consider an enforcement action
After Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced an Oct 27 vote to reaffirm the 2017 repeal of net neutrality, Joshua Stager, senior counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute said: “This is an October surprise that nobody wanted except for AT&T and Comcast lobbyists. A federal court ruled that the FCC was 'unhinged from reality' when it repealed net neutrality in 2017, and yesterday's announcement shows that Chairman Pai's perspective remains unhinged. His jovial announcement suggests he learned nothing from the court and has no intention of fixing his mistakes. The American people need internet freedom, not jokes about Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. There's simply too much at stake during a pandemic that millions of people are suffering through without internet access. Instead of tackling this crisis, Pai appears to be dithering with yet another gift to the telecom industry. Moreover, the opaque process behind today's announcement suggests Pai learned nothing from the court or the mess he created. If the FCC won't clean up this mess, Congress should by immediately passing the Save the Net Act.”
Project OVERCOME, a National Science Foundation- (NSF-) funded effort, will accelerate the delivery of broadband services to unserved and underserved communities. The project has received an NSF grant award (Award # CNS-2044448) of $1.945 million, which will support the selection and buildout of five proof-of-concept network deployments designed to connect both rural and urban communities in novel ways. US Ignite will oversee the selection process as well as the build-out phase of the winning concept proposals. Project teams will be chosen based on the use of innovative technologies, such as mesh networks and new spectrum access solutions, as well as creative deployment models that leverage both public and private sector partners. Over $1.5 million in funding will be awarded to community winners of the solicitation. Throughout Project OVERCOME, US Ignite will collect data to measure the technical and social impacts of different connectivity strategies. Using these data, and through subsequent analysis, US Ignite aims to discover patterns of success that can be repeated on a larger scale across the country, and to catalog the distinctions that emerge based on variations in the communities served.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $4.6 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Mississippi. Bay Springs Telephone Company, Inc. will use a $4.6 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 5,139 people, 69 businesses, 77 farms, three fire stations, two post offices, two health care facilities and five educational facilities to high-speed broadband internet in Jasper, Jones, Newton, Lauderdale and Smith counties in Mississippi.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing nearly $4 million to provide broadband service in unserved and underserved rural areas in Indiana. Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation will use a $1.9 million loan and a $1.9 million grant to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network to connect 4,881 people, 198 farms and 36 businesses to high-speed broadband internet in Indiana’s Jackson and Lawrence counties.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is now accepting applications for the department’s four key loan guarantee programs under the OneRD Guarantee Loan Initiative. USDA has officially eliminated duplicative processes and has launched a common loan guarantee application for the following programs:
- Water and Waste Disposal Loan Guarantee Program;
- Community Facilities Guaranteed Loan Program;
- Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program; and
- Rural Energy for America Guaranteed Loan Program.
Through this initiative, the department has standardized requirements for credit reviews, loan processing, loan servicing, and loss claims. These measures will make the application process simpler and faster for lenders. USDA also is providing automatic approval to participate in all four programs to lenders in good standing who are supervised or created by state or federal regulatory agencies. This expands the base of eligible lenders for the four guaranteed loan programs. USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas, and the assistance supports infrastructure improvements and high-speed internet access in rural areas.
On the heels of AT&T saying it will no longer take new orders for its DSL service, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) criticized its lack of fiber. According to a report CWA did in conjunction with the National Inclusion Alliance (NDIA), AT&T has deployed fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) to 28% of the households in its footprint as of the end of June. By contrast, the report said AT&T has targeted more affluent, non-rural areas for its fiber upgrades. Houses with fiber have a median income that's 34% higher than those with DSL only. Across the rural counties in AT&T's 21-state footprint, 5% have access to fiber, according to the report. 14.93 million—out of almost 53 million households—have access to AT&T's fiber service. Among states, AT&T's FTTH build out is the lowest in Michigan with 14% have access followed by Mississippi (15%) and Arkansas (16%). The report also said there were many areas in AT&T's footprint where it doesn't offer the Federal Communications Commission's standard of 25 Mbps on the downstream and 3 Mbps on the upstream.
The House Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee released the findings of its more than 16-month long investigation into the state of competition in the digital economy, especially the challenges presented by the dominance of Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook and their business practices. After outlining the challenges presented due to the market domination of Amazon, Apple, Google, and Facebook, the report walks through a series of possible remedies to (1) restore competition in the digital economy, (2) strengthen the antitrust laws, and (3) reinvigorate antitrust enforcement. The slate of recommendations include:
- Structural separations to prohibit platforms from operating in lines of business that depend on or interoperate with the platform;
- Prohibiting platforms from engaging in self-preferencing;
- Requiring platforms to make its services compatible with competing networks to allow for interoperability and data portability;
- Mandating that platforms provide due process before taking action against market participants;
- Establishing a standard to proscribe strategic acquisitions that reduce competition;
- Improvements to the Clayton Act, the Sherman Act, and the Federal Trade Commission Act, to bring these laws into line with the challenges of the digital economy;
- Eliminating anticompetitive forced arbitration clauses;
- Strengthening the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice;
- And promoting greater transparency and democratization of the antitrust agencies.
For all the divisions in Washington, one issue that had united Republicans and Democrats in recent years was their animus toward the power of the biggest tech companies. That bipartisanship was supposed to come together soon in a landmark House report that caps a 15-month investigation into the practices of Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. The report was set to feature recommendations from lawmakers to rein in the companies, including the most sweeping changes to US antitrust laws in half a century. But over the past few days, support for the recommendations has split largely along party lines, apparently.
On Oct 5, the Democratic staff on the House Judiciary Committee delayed the report’s release because they were unable to gain Republican support. Apparently, Ranking Member Jim Jordan (R-OH) has asked his colleagues not to endorse the Democratic-led report. And Rep Ken Buck (R-CO) has circulated a separate report — titled “The Third Way” — that pushes back against some of the Democrats’ legislative recommendations.
Conservatives claim that tech platforms disproportionately suppress and censor conservative views online. But the facts to support that case have been hard to find. Technology experts say there is no statistical evidence to support the argument that Facebook does not give conservative views a fair shake. When Republicans claim Facebook is "biased," they often collapse two distinct complaints into one. First, that the social network deliberately scrubs right-leaning content from its site. There is no proof to back this up. Secondly, Republicans suggest that conservative news and perspectives are being throttled by Facebook, that the social network is preventing the content from finding a large audience. That claim is not only unproven, but publicly available data on Facebook shows the exact opposite to be true: conservative news regularly ranks among some of the popular content on the site.
Now, there are some complex layers to this, but former Facebook employees and data experts say the conservative bias argument would be easier to talk about — and easier to debunk — if Facebook was more transparent. The social network keeps secret some of the most basic data points, like what news stories are the most viewed on Facebook on any given day, leaving data scientists, journalists and the general public in the dark about what people are actually seeing on their News Feeds.
Attending college during the coronavirus has meant added costs. And the digital divide that was a problem for many students last academic year hasn’t disappeared. In fact, with the fall semester already underway, institutions are still working to assess and overcome the gaps in technology for students. 57 percent of college students said that having access to a stable, high-speed internet connection could be challenging if they continued their education online. For the most vulnerable students, a lack of access to the internet and a computer could keep them from enrolling. In fact, community colleges — where an early look at enrollment shows a steep drop in attendance this fall — have been ramping up their loaner programs for computers and Wi-Fi hot spots.
This essay reveals the critical role that trafficking of enslaved Africans played in making our nation’s earliest media financially viable. The piece traces this history to the present day, when deregulation has resulted in very few Black owners of traditional media, and racist algorithms amplify the voices of white supremacists across online platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The essay critiques corporate media’s ongoing lack of accountability or commitment to fundamental change while inviting readers to join Media 2070’s national conversation to help reconcile the history of media racism with the need to imagine and create the changes necessary to right these wrongs.
In exploring the principles behind democratic health communications around the world, South Korea and Taiwan stood out for their use of technology both to understand what their citizens were thinking and to prevent the health disinformation spreading as it did in Europe and North America. Their experiences in dealing with the infodemic provide five important lessons for policymakers:
- Communications strategies are key
- The importance of openness and transparency
- Equitable information access — The Taiwanese government has spent nearly $7.5 million on digital infrastructure, such as improving cellular and internet services for rural areas. The South Korean Ministry of Education lent internet devices and laptops to many of the over 200,000 students who did not have access to that necessary hardware for online schooling. Because both countries are already highly digitized, they could spend comparatively little to reach near 100% digital access in their populations. These efforts to ensure equitable access to information stand in marked contrast to the United States, where an estimated 42 million Americans lack access to broadband.
- Guidance for online resources
- Spotlight public-health officials
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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