Daily Digest 1/12/2018 (House Votes to Renew Surveillance Law)

Benton Foundation


House Votes to Renew Surveillance Law, Rejecting New Privacy Limits

The House of Representatives voted to extend the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program for six years with minimal changes, rejecting a yearslong effort by a bipartisan group of lawmakers to impose significant new privacy limits when it sweeps up Americans’ emails and other personal communications.  The vote, 256 to 164, centered on an expiring law that permits the government, without a warrant, to collect communications of foreigners abroad from United States firms like Google and AT&T — even when those targets are talking to Americans. Congress had enacted the law in 2008 to legalize a form of a once-secret warrantless surveillance program created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The legislation approved on 1/11 still has to go through the Senate. But fewer lawmakers there appear to favor major changes to spying laws, so the House vote is likely the effective end of a debate over 21st-century surveillance technology and privacy rights that broke out in 2013 following the leaks by the intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden. The vote was a victory for the Trump administration and the intelligence community, which opposed imposing major new curbs on the program, and for Republican leadership, including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who had blocked the House from an opportunity to consider a less-sweeping compromise package developed by the House Judiciary Committee. They gambled that faced with an all-or-essentially-nothing choice, a majority of lawmakers would choose the status quo — and won.

Net Neutrality

When it Comes to Net Neutrality Support, Knowledge is Evidently Power

Most who say they understand the net neutrality issue say they support it, according to a new study of net neutrality perceptions from research firm GfK. According to the study, about half (55%) of all US consumers report that they understand the issue of net neutrality – regardless of whether they are following the neutrality debate closely. Among those who say they do understand net neutrality, 72% favor it – 8 points higher than the figure (64%) among those who feel they do not understand the issue. From a political perspective, eight in ten (82%) Democrats who understand net neutrality are in favor of it, as well as 70% of independents and those in other parties. A majority (56%) of Republicans who say they understand the issue also expressed support for maintaining net neutrality. There was a distinct difference between age groups about the issue. The study found that two-thirds (66%) of 15- to 24-year-olds – whom GfK has dubbed the Now Generation – report understanding net neutrality; that stands out from the older groups – 20 percentage points higher than the 65-plus group, and also above the more established millennials segment (25 to 34 years old), which came in at 57%.

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Thune Hopes Republicans Stay Away From Net Neutrality CRA

Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-SD) said he’s “hopeful” Republicans steer clear of the Congressional Review Act resolution to reverse the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) became the first GOP lawmaker to support the measure from Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), and Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) has indicated that he’s considering the proposal. Republican support is vital to achieve the simple majority needed for the measure to pass the upper chamber. “The longer this sort of thing drags out and the more it looks like Democrats might have the votes in the Senate, the harder it is to get Democrats in the Senate to work with us,” Chairman Thune said, adding that he’s “open for business” when it comes to net neutrality legislation. He said he’s talked up legislation to a number of other Republican lawmakers. “I know Thune is going to work on something after the CRA fails,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). Meanwhile Sen Markey said he’s seeking support for the CRA on both sides of the aisle. “Our goal is to try to make it bipartisan. We can't win without that," he said. "We need 51 and we're knocking on that door, but we don't have it yet."

On Net Neutrality, Thune Can't Read the Writing on the Wall ... or in His Local Newspaper

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) that the average voter isn’t likely to be swayed by the fight to restore Net Neutrality protections. But when it comes to the wave of support for Net Neutrality, Chairman Thune is misreading the writing on the wall ... if he’s reading at all. The senator certainly hasn’t been listening to his constituents in South Dakota, who have joined others across the country to write dozens of letters to the editors of local newspapers urging elected officials to support Net Neutrality, or else. “Senators, have you polled us? Are you listening?” wrote Missy Slaathaug in an open letter to Chairman Thune published in the Argus Leader of Sioux Falls. “We want Net Neutrality. We do not want the regulations protecting Net Neutrality repealed.” Indeed. Polls show strong majorities of both Republican and Democratic voters oppose the FCC decision to repeal Net Neutrality. A poll from December 2017 found that more than 83 percent of voters favor keeping the rules, including 75 percent of Republicans, 89 percent of Democrats and 86 percent of independents. “Ending Net Neutrality will not benefit the citizens of South Dakota, but rather it will hurt them by letting corporations choose what can be accessed on the Internet,” wrote Seth Meyers Brandon in the Argus Leader. “Voting against Net Neutrality will directly hinder the freedom of speech over the Internet.” Slaathaug and Brandon aren’t alone.

States Push Back After Net Neutrality Repeal

Lawmakers in at least six states, including California and New York, have introduced bills in recent weeks that would forbid internet providers to block or slow down sites or online services. Legislators in several other states, including North Carolina and Illinois, are weighing similar action. They are responding to the Federal Communications Commission’s vote to end regulations that barred internet service providers from creating slow and fast lanes for different sites and services. The new policy will go into effect in the coming weeks. By passing their own law, the state lawmakers say, they would ensure that consumers would find the content of the choice, maintain a diversity of voices online and protect businesses from having to pay fees to reach users. And they might even have an effect beyond their states. California’s strict auto emissions standards, for example, have been followed by a dozen other states, giving California major sway over the auto industry. “There tends to be a follow-on effect, particularly when something happens in a big state like California,” said Harold Feld, a senior vice president at nonprofit consumer group, Public Knowledge, which supports net neutrality efforts by the states. Bills have also been introduced in Massachusetts, Nebraska, Rhode Island and Washington. The issue has also attracted some support in governor mansions. In Washington, for example, Gov. Jay Inslee reiterated his support for a state law.

More Internet/Broadband

House Commerce Committee Republicans Lay Out Principles for Broadband Infrastructure

The House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, chaired by Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), introduced a series of resolutions laying out principles for broadband infrastructure:

  • H. Res __ introduced by Subcommittee Vice Chairman Leonard Lance (R-NJ), to direct broadband infrastructure funding toward areas that are currently unserved.
  • H. Res __ introduced by Rep Bob Latta (R-OH), to ensure federal policy treats all broadband providers in a technology-neutral manner, applying consistent rules that support innovation.
  • H. Res __ introduced by Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), to ensure wireless broadband infrastructure funding preference for states that support small cell siting reform, helping ease the permitting process in communities across the country.
  • H. Res __ introduced by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), to ensure Federal, state, and local tax, regulatory, permitting, and other requirements are coordinated and reconciled to maximize the benefits of broadband investment.

Community-Owned Fiber Networks: Value Leaders in America

We examined prices advertised by a subset of community-owned networks that use fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) technology. In late 2015 and 2016 we collected advertised prices for residential data plans offered by 40 community-owned (typically municipally-owned) FTTH networks. We then identified the least-expensive service that meets the federal definition of broadband (regardless of the exact speeds provided) and compared advertised prices to those of private competitors in the same markets. We were able to make comparisons in 27 communities and found that in 23 cases, the community-owned FTTH providers’ pricing was lower when the service costs and fees were averaged over four years. (Using a three year-average changed this fraction to 22 out of 27.) In the other 13 communities, comparisons were not possible, either because the private providers’ website terms of service deterred or prohibited data collection or because no competitor offered service that qualified as broadband. We also found that almost all community-owned FTTH networks offered prices that were clear and unchanging, whereas private ISPs typically charged initial low promotional or “teaser” rates that later sharply rose, usually after 12 months.

Benton Summary


US vs. AT&T: A Court Fight Over the Future of TV

Early signs suggest the legal fight over AT&T’s $85 billion Time Warner takeover will focus heavily on the small screen, drawing much of its evidence from the companies’ video rivals. Those competitors argue the telecom company will use Time Warner’s entertainment assets against them. Dish Network, Showtime owner CBS, 21st Century Fox, Netflix, and Starz are among the companies that have provided information that the US Department of Justice could use to bolster its case that the megadeal would hinder competition in the market for pay-TV content. Government lawyers have subpoenaed roughly 30 third parties for information in the case, Justice Department attorney Craig Conrath told federal judge Richard Leon at a pretrial hearing. Such requests are typical in high-profile antitrust cases. AT&T is also gearing up for the legal fight. The company has drawn up a wish list of 22 potential witnesses, while the government has requested up to 35, AT&T’s lead attorney Daniel Petrocelli said. Perhaps most central to the case is how the AT&T-Time Warner deal would affect rival video distributors. AT&T, which would own Warner Bros. as well as cable channels like TNT and CNN, has said that the television ecosystem is awash in content and that its deal won’t deter the industry transformation that is taking place. AT&T has argued that the emergence of newer platforms like Netflix and the entry of tech giants like Amazon Inc. into video content means that new consumers will still be able to choose among traditional TV services and online services regardless of what the telecom company does with Time Warner. The Justice Department sees things differently, arguing that a postmerger AT&T could force rival TV providers to pay more for Time Warner content like Cartoon Network and TNT, which broadcasts many NBA games. It also argues that AT&T’s control of Time Warner could hinder innovation in online TV packages that have drawn growing interest from consumers looking to drop traditional cable or satellite service.


NTIA's David Redl at CES 2018

Let me lay out some of the priorities that I'll be pursuing over the next year at NTIA. For those of you who know me, you know that spectrum policy is a passion of mine, so it's no surprise that it will be a major focus this year. The next generation of wireless connectivity is poised to unlock fantastic innovations and life-changing technologies, and America has been leading the way when it comes to developing 5G. We must do everything we can this year and beyond to accelerate America's 5G leadership. A second major focus area will be ensuring that our connected technologies are more sustainable, secure and resilient. Cyberattacks and vulnerabilities in our critical infrastructure threaten to undermine the great progress we've made and that we will make in the future. NTIA has a great team of experts on cybersecurity policy, and we're well positioned to bring together all of the key stakeholders that will be needed to begin solving the most difficult cybersecurity challenges. And the final area I'll talk about today is ensuring that the Internet remains free and open around the world. The United States must show leadership and strongly oppose any efforts to suppress the free expression of ideas online or impede the flow of data across borders.  


Among US Latinos, the internet now rivals television as a source for news

On a typical weekday, three-quarters of US Latinos get their news from internet sources, nearly equal to the share who do so from television. For years, TV was the most commonly used platform for news among U.S. Hispanics. In recent years, however, the share getting their news from TV has declined, from 92% in 2006 to 79% in 2016. Meanwhile, 74% of Hispanics said in 2016 that they used the internet – including social media or smartphone apps – as a source of news on a typical weekday, up from 37% in 2006. Hispanics also consume news from radio and newspapers, but neither is as widely used as TV or the internet. In 2016, 55% of Hispanics got news from radio on a typical weekday, down from 64% in 2006 (but mostly unchanged from 2012). The use of newspapers as a news source continued its decline, falling from 58% in 2006 to 34% a decade later. The growth of the internet as a news source on a typical weekday among Hispanics mirrors the trend in the overall US population. 


The End of the Issa Era

The rest of the world may know Rep Darrell Issa (R-CA) best as a vocal and spirited antagonist of Hillary Clinton over the Benghazi situation, but, for some, Issa’s long tenure in Congress evokes some different memories. For one thing, it was Rep Issa who, back in the winter of 2011, first issued the call to stop the Stop Online Piracy Act, on the grounds that it would break the internet’s basic functioning; fans of the internet came running, and stop SOPA they did. For another, Issa’s also been a key congressional proponent for modernizing the US patent system. And as both a congressman and the former chairman of the Consumer Technology Association, Rep Issa was perhaps the go-to voice in Washington on the idea of that America works best when its technology industry is encouraged to flourish. He said, “while my service to California's 49th District will be coming to an end, I will continue advocating on behalf of the causes that are most important to me.” Time will tell if one of those causes continues to be tech.

FCC Announces Vacancies in Membership of Intergovernmental Advisory Committee and Seeks Nominees

The Federal Communications Commission has expanded the membership of the Intergovernmental Advisory Committee (IAC) from 15 members to 30 members. By this Public Notice, the FCC seeks applications for membership to the IAC from local, state and Tribal government officials to fill the 15 new positions and also announces three additional vacancies in the existing IAC membership. Specifically, the FCC is soliciting applications to replace Commissioner Ronald Brisé from the Florida Public Service Commission, whose term as Commissioner will end in January 2018, Kasim Reed, Mayor City of Atlanta, whose term as Mayor also ends in January 2018 and Edwin M. Lee, Mayor of the City and County of San Francisco, who unfortunately passed away in December 2017. Applications for membership are due 60 days from the release of the Public Notice. Applications should be submitted in accordance with the procedures outlined below. Members appointed by the Chairman of the Commission to fill the vacancies will serve through the end of the IAC’s current term, which will run through March 24, 2019.

Every Trump utterance raises the same three questions

[Commentary] Virtually every time President Donald Trump speaks he raises three possibilities to explain his nonsensical, offensive or flat-out wrong assertions: 1) He doesn’t get basic concepts his aides and lawyers must have explained to him; 2) he understands and then forgets; or 3) he is showing contempt for voters’ intelligence and/or for our democratic system. Republicans can defend this basket-case presidency all they please, but in doing so they reveal themselves to be either dense, dishonest or demagogic. The GOP and President Trump are indeed one and the same. [Jennifer Rubin]

Company News

Facebook Overhauls News Feed to Focus on What Friends and Family Share

Facebook has introduced sweeping changes to the kinds of posts, videos and photos that its more than two billion members will see most often, saying that it would prioritize what their friends and family share and comment on while de-emphasizing content from publishers and brands. The shift is the most significant overhaul in years to Facebook’s News Feed, the cascading screen of content that people see when they log into the social network. Over the next few weeks, users will begin seeing fewer viral videos and news articles shared by media companies. Instead, Facebook will highlight posts that friends have interacted with — for example, a photo of your dog or a status update that many of them have commented on or liked. The changes are intended to maximize the amount of content with “meaningful interaction” that people consume on Facebook, said Mark Zuckerberg, the company’s chief executive. Facebook, he said, had closely studied what kinds of posts had stressed or harmed users. The social network wants to reduce what Mr. Zuckerberg called “passive content” — videos and articles that ask little more of the viewer than to sit back and watch or read — so that users’ time on the site was well spent.

Media Organizations Grapple With the New Facebook

Over the next few months, with the implementation of a revised strategy, Facebook’s two billion users will see less content produced by news organizations and more from their friends, if all goes according to the company’s plan. So what does that mean for the media companies that have come to depend on the social media giant to drive readers to the articles and videos they create? As part of the shift, Facebook pages run by publishers and businesses may see a reduction in the number of people they reach and site visits, he wrote. The numbers will vary based on factors including “the type of content they produce and how people interact with it,” said Adam Mosseri, the head of Facebook’s News Feed. For media companies, a reliance on the company as a driver of traffic has proved an unreliable business model, given that it can change what it prioritizes in its News Feed at any time. Facebook’s battle against clickbait, for instance, sent click-dependent publishers like Upworthy into a tailspin several years ago.

More Online

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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