Thursday, November 12, 2020
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House Commerce Committee leaders wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons demanding that the two commissions stop work on all partisan or controversial items currently under consideration in light of the results of the presidential election. “We note that you have previously welcomed calls from congressional leaders for the FCC to ‘halt further action on controversial items during the transition period.’ We hope you will respect this time-honored tradition now.”
I welcome the letter from Chairman Pallone and Chairman Doyle. Historically, the [Federal Communications Commission] has honored the transfer of power from one Administration to the next by pausing any controversial activity. I urge FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to follow this past practice in order to ensure an orderly transition of agency affairs. I look forward to continuing to work on the routine and consensus matters currently before the agency.
As two of my Republican colleagues observed in 2016, it is long-standing Federal Communications Commission practice that, upon a presidential transition, the agency suspends its consideration of any partisan, controversial items until the transition period is complete. Our congressional leaders have called for Chairman Pai to respect this precedent, and I expect that he will abide by their request.
His trademark grin. The giant, oversized coffee mug. The time he ignored the public, killed net neutrality at the request of telecom lobbyists, then gleefully danced with a pizzagater thinking it made him look good. But with a Joe Biden win, Ajit Pai’s controversial tenure as head of the Federal Communications Commission will soon be coming to an end. Traditionally, the party in control of the presidency enjoys a 3-2 majority over the FCC and the chairman spot. With a Biden win, the FCC majority reverts to Democratic control next January. As such, Chairman Pai will lose his top spot at the FCC, and experts say he’s likely to leave the agency altogether. Pai’s tenure was a minefield of controversy. In no small part due to Pai’s repeal of net neutrality, which not only eliminated rules preventing ISPs from behaving anti-competitively, but much of the FCC’s authority to police widely-disliked telecom monopolies at all. Instead, that responsibility fell to the FTC, an agency experts say lacks the authority or resources to hold telecom giants accountable (the entire point of the telecom industry gambit).
Even as the Trump administration blocks his access to the government, President-elect Joe Biden forged ahead with a key milestone in the transition of power, naming teams that will begin gathering information about federal operations. Biden’s transition team has assembled a list of 500 experts in federal policy from diplomacy to space exploration who will form the backbone of his preparations to lead the federal government in January, learning from the workforce what to expect at every agency on personnel, technology, policy and program matters. Geovette Washington will head the transition team looking at the Department of Commerce. Washington serves as senior vice chancellor and chief legal officer at the University of Pittsburgh. She was general counsel and senior policy adviser for the Office of Management and Budget and deputy general counsel for the Department of Commerce. Also on the team:
|Joshua Berman||Clifford Chance US, LLP|
|Colleen Chien||Santa Clara University|
|Tene Dolphin||Greater Washington Black Chamber of Commerce|
|Michelle DuBois||Values Partnerships|
|Anna Gomez||Wiley Rein, LLP|
|Ellen Hughes-Cromwick||Third Way|
|Karen Hyun||National Audubon Society|
|Charmion Kinder||CNKinder, Inc.|
|Paul A. Laudicina||Global Counsel, LLC|
|Pravina Raghavan||Empire State Development|
|Denice Ross||National Conference on Citizenship|
|Kris Sarri||National Marine Sanctuary Foundation|
|Mary Saunders||American National Standards Institute|
|Patrick Schaefer||State of New Mexico|
|Kathryn Sullivan||National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Retired)|
|Atman Trivedi||Hills & Company|
|Todd Tucker||The Roosevelt Institute|
|Arun Venkataraman||Visa, Inc.|
|Kathryn de Wit||The Pew Charitable Trusts|
With President-elect Joe Biden and his to-be-determined administration preparing to take office in January, broadband and consumer advocates are optimistic about the prospects of modernization reforms for Lifeline and other federal programs aimed at making internet and phone services more affordable under a potentially Democratic-led Federal Communications Commission. “In light of the pandemic and the pressure on internet use and the needs for internet access — for schools and for health care and lots of other critical needs — there’s more light on the issue of the digital divide,” said Amina Fazlullah, digital equity counsel at Common Sense Media, an advocacy group that focuses mostly on children’s media and internet issues. “A new administration would take that up and take it on more seriously.” “If we’re looking at economic recovery across the country, everybody needs to be connected to broadband. That’s why we have these Universal Service programs,” said Olivia Wein, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center who focuses on Lifeline and other utility and energy issues. “And we know that cost is a barrier and that it is a solvable problem.”
The next leadership team of the Federal Communications Commission must prioritize restoring the agency’s authority to protect consumers and competition in the broadband market. Under the next administration, FCC leadership should quickly commence a proceeding proposing to reclassify broadband as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. This reclassification puts the FCC on the firmest legal ground to
- Restore or strengthen the 2015 network neutrality rules that prohibit providers of broadband Internet access from blocking, throttling, or otherwise discriminating against certain Internet traffic
- Fund broadband through the FCC’s four universal service programs
- Protect consumers from fraud and privacy violations
- Promote broadband competition, and
- Protect public safety.
FCC leadership should simultaneously work with Congress to develop legislation to codify this authority as law, thereby protecting against potential future reversals.
The next administration should launch a concerted broadband data-collection and analysis effort to support smart, timely, and informed decision-making by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and other agencies that work on broadband, such as the Rural Utilities Service. Specifically, the FCC should collect (or work with others to collect) comprehensive data on the following eight indicators:
- Broadband deployment
- Broadband adoption
- Broadband performance
- Anchor institutions
- Specialized networks
- International benchmarks
These data should be centralized on a “broadband data dashboard” to support informed decision-making by the FCC as well as analysis and application by stakeholders in government and industry as well as the general public. The dashboard would also support the FCC in developing and assessing progress towards clear, quantifiable goals for each indicator.
The next administration should maximize the use of all available policy tools to close the homework gap and keep it closed. First, the Federal Communications Commission should update the existing E-rate program to allow schools to ensure home access to broadband for every student and teacher (Pre-K to Grade 12). Second, the FCC, in coordination with the Department of Education, should launch a one-to-one device program for students and teachers (Pre-K to Grade 12). Third, the FCC should incentivize the deployment of “future-proof” networks that are capable of at least 100/100 mbps to meet the needs of distance learning. Fourth and finally, the FCC should provide schools and states clear guidance on the key data needed to assess their homework gap and include this data in a public facing dashboard for broader stakeholder analysis.
The next administration should create a plan for a public, online platform to connect teachers with college students and recent graduates to serve as tutors for K-12 students. One-on-one tutoring is a proven intervention that improves children’s educational competencies and increases students’ self-confidence. Along with supporting students, this platform could provide needed employment for young adults and enable teachers and students together to produce improved educational outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to the closure of more than 124,000 schools with the majority of students now learning online. Meanwhile, millions of college students have lost part-time work or are graduating into a historically difficult job market that does not have positions for them to fill. Just as the New Deal created work programs that both created employment and improved our national landscape, our country requires creative solutions that can meet the urgent needs of our time, can be quickly scaled up using modern technology and can adjust to the changing needs dictated by the cycles of the coronavirus.
Section 230 has been the subject of bipartisan criticism in Washington, with both President Trump and former Vice President Biden arguing that the controversial law should be revoked. As the election has approached, a flurry of legislative proposals have taken aim at the law. This paper argues that the next administration should take a more targeted approach, focusing on changes that will deter some of the most harmful forms of speech while also preserving the features of tech platforms that are essential to online expression. Specifically, the next administration should modernize federal criminal law for the digital age to prohibit problematic online speech like voter suppression and incitement to riot, require platforms to comply with court orders to remove illegal content, define what it means for a platform to “develop” content, work with platforms on reporting options that will facilitate individual accountability, and incentivize platforms to share data that will inform future product design and policymaking.
In the last two decades, the digital marketplace has transformed the majority of the economy and the daily lives of billions of people worldwide. This transformation has delivered great gains to consumers and unlocked whole new technological opportunities for society to thrive. However, amidst these gains, palpable consumer harms and anti-competitive behaviors have also become clearer, and the bottom-up innovative dynamism that ushered forth the digital marketplace is increasingly under threat. The next administration should establish a White House Taskforce focused on promoting digital market competition. This executive memo supports its establishment on day one of the next Presidential term.
This proposal outlines a series of actions to introduce a second monthly meeting of the five commissioners who comprise the Federal Communications Commission. During the additional meeting, FCC staff should present on major items that might be brought before the Commission for a vote in the next several months. This forward-looking monthly meeting gives the public information needed to provide meaningful input to the Commission prior to its decision-making. The meeting would also improve the Commissioners’ own ability to respond to policy recommendations.
Nothing that currently exists can compete with fiber. Nothing replicates the future growth fiber networks will deliver, simply because nothing that moves data has the inherent capacity of a fiber wire. It isn’t even close by any technical measurement. However, barely 30 percent of Americans have access to fiber infrastructure, despite the fact that 100 percent of Americans have become dependent on high-speed access during the pandemic. If we break down the barriers that are suppressing the parties most ready to deploy fiber, 21st century infrastructure will come. First, if the large private ISP model has failed (and it has), we need to start exploring our alternatives. One such alternative is simply having the government build the infrastructure and make it open to all comers. The only way we are going to get everyone connected to 21st century ready access is the same way we did it with the roads, electricity, and water: the government needs to lead. Internet access needs to be part of its infrastructure policy, especially light of the private sector failing to deliver to all people.
[Ernesto Falcon is Senior Legislative Counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation]
While carriers were tight-lipped about their Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) prospects during the recent round of earnings reports, vendors talked openly about their opportunities. While the first phase of reverse auctions will run until the bidding stops, vendors are seeing piles of money in the not-too-distant future. While all-fiber is obviously the fastest, best option for reaching rural areas, it's costly. There are also fiber-fed copper access options on the table, but fixed wireless may emerge as a winning formula for bidders such as Windstream and Verizon.
The Federal Communications Commission Wireless announced that a second group of 2.5 GHz band spectrum license applications received as part of the Rural Tribal Priority Window have passed initial review and are accepted for filing. The Tribal applicants that filed these 57 applications are now one step closer to obtaining access to this prime mid-band spectrum to help address the connectivity needs of their rural communities. This follows Oct’s announcement that 154 Tribal applications received final approval and were granted licenses in the 2.5 GHz band through the FCC’s firstof-its-kind Rural Tribal Priority Window.
During the priority window, the FCC received over 400 applications to obtain overlay licenses for unassigned 2.5 GHz band spectrum. Successful Tribal applicants will receive licenses for exclusive use of up to 117.5 megahertz of 2.5 GHz spectrum which can help serve rural Tribal communities with broadband and other advanced wireless services, including 5G.
The unexpected shift to the remote workplace and classroom brought on by COVID-19 has left many families across the country with inequitable access to devices and technology infrastructure, a problem known as the digital divide. For students with disabilities, the digital divide is not only an issue of access to broadband and technological devices, but also about ensuring that the technology is inclusive for their needs. Remote learning is especially challenging for students with disabilities who require specialized instruction and accommodations to access high-quality education, and the digital divide exacerbates this challenge. We must address the digital divide for students with disabilities, and make sure they are receiving the services they require and deserve. Congress has allocated $13.23 billion in CARES Act funding to help school districts manage challenges brought on by the pandemic, and more federal stimulus dollars must come. Schools and policymakers can start by evaluating their current practices for working remotely with students with disabilities. They must also ensure that families have access to the resources and services they need to help their child be successful and pursue their passions. Barriers must be removed to ensure that students with disabilities have access to high-quality instruction that meets their unique learning needs. There is no time to waste.
[Tom Ridge was the 43rd governor of Pennsylvania and first U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security; he serves as board chairman of the National Organization on Disability.]
Bill Russo, a Biden campaign spokesman, lashed out at Facebook, alleging that the social media giant is “shredding the fabric of our democracy” in the aftermath of the election. “In the days after Election Day, Facebook is flooded with thousands of calls for violence,” Russo said in a tweet. “Some of them are taken down, but many are left up for hours, if not days.” Russo also cited theories about a fraudulent U.S. election going viral on Facebook, despite no evidence of widespread fraud. In most cases where users post false or misleading election-related content, Facebook applies a label with a link to its voter information center, instead of directly saying whether the posting is false. Often that’s because the company’s third-party fact checkers haven’t yet been able to review the content, according to Facebook.
Solving the problems of internet access goes well beyond throwing billions of dollars at the companies with the best lobbyists or most convincing executives. There is no single policy to solve the broadband problems faced by the nation. In most cases, better networks and lower prices would really help, but achieving that would require different strategies in rural or urban areas. Challenges around literacy and online safety/security will be more difficult.,Building rural infrastructure requires a long-term focus on what helps the community to flourish rather than how much profit a network can extract from it. The first step to getting everyone connected is to remove barriers. Allow nonprofit and public approaches to at least compete on a level playing field for state and federal subsidies. Embracing nonprofit and public business models may be politically more challenging, but it offers far greater benefits. These approaches do not stop or even degrade if future governments cease appropriating funds—the networks will generate sufficient funds for operation and perhaps even modest growth.
We face a choice. In the wake of the racial justice uprisings, is it time to demonstrate a commitment to real equity by building better networks using nonprofit and public business models? Doing so will allow communities to permanently solve connectivity challenges, improving equity in education, healthcare, and far more.
[Christopher Mitchell is Director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR).]
To support workers and industries now and in a Future of Work transformed by technological changes, policymakers should invest in digital skill building for quality jobs, as well as access to broadband and digital devices. Recommendations for promoting digital inclusion for California's workers:
- Create a new digital equity grant program for those most impacted by the pandemic economy.
- Expand the use of existing adult education funds to support digital skill building.
- Ensure that digital skill building is an explicitly permitted use of existing workforce development grant programs.
- Utilize federal funds to provide digital skill building, device access, and digital support for workers in workforce development programs.
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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