Thursday, November 5, 2020
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Universal Service Fund
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The State of Wisconsin has centered broadband mapping as a core issue in its efforts to expand access. For now, the onus has shifted to state and local governments to collect information on broadband access and adoption. COVID-19 demands accelerated those efforts, many of which were already underway in Wisconsin.
The Public Service Commission of Wisconsin (PSC), primarily responsible for the State’s utility regulation, issued a public call for broadband coverage data from Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The data collected will be used to keep the Wisconsin Broadband Map up to date, provide a better representation of Internet access and, ultimately, will help accelerate statewide broadband deployment. To ensure that the inaccuracies of Form 477 do not undermine Wisconsin’s mapping process, PSC offers companies or other entities willing to voluntarily share Form 477 coverage data (or its equivalent) analytical support. PSC states, “A member of the PSC’s broadband mapping team will work with you to ensure your coverage data are mapped accurately for public use.”
2020 has been so dark. In the throes of a pandemic, we know so much has been lost – is still being lost. But for just a few moments, let us celebrate the achievements of digital equity advocates. Because 2020 only proves how essential our work is. Millions in the US have lost jobs this year. But digital equity advocates have helped people find new employment because of their connections to and expertise with the internet. Schools around the country closed but, because of digital equity advocates, some kids who would have been blocked from online classrooms were able to connect and keep learning. Doctors curtailed routine visits, but digital equity advocates helped connect those able to make use of telehealth services and help them stay well. Government officials closed their facilities, but the people digital equity advocates connected were able to access services online. We all wish that, after all these years of fighting for digital equity, everyone could have been able to use broadband at a time it would have meant more lives saved. But let us not forget the work that has been done this year that saved lives. Today we honor two digital equity advocates:
- Daniel Noyes, the Co-Chief Executive Officer at Tech Goes Home; and
- Rebecca Kauma, the Economic and Digital Inclusion Program Manager for the City of Long Beach, California.
The Federal Communications Commission lacks the authority to interpret Section 230. Congress did not give the FCC any role in interpreting the law, or, importantly, in adopting rules to implement that interpretation. Section 230 concerns liability for various torts as litigated between private parties. The FCC has no role—only the parties and state and federal judges do. Indeed, the legislative history of Section 230 makes clear that Congress didn’t want the FCC to have any role with regard to Section 230 or with regulating online platforms.
But the plain language and legislative history of Section 230 are not the only hurdles to FCC authority here. The federal courts have been clear that when the FCC seeks to regulate content, as it would in this case, Congress must give it express authority. Another hurdle to the FCC regulating online platforms is its own precedent. The FCC can’t simultaneously forswear authority over internet access providers—which fall squarely under its subject-matter jurisdiction and which it had regulated in one way or another prior to the 2017 Order—and also claim it has authority to regulate online platforms nearly 24 years after Section 230 was passed.
The debate over whether Section 230 needs to be updated is an important one. But the proper venue for that debate is in Congress, not at the FCC, and not because of coercion from the Trump White House.
[Gigi Sohn is a Benton Senior Fellow and Public Advocate for the Benton Institute.]
The California ballot measure Proposition 24, or the California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), has passed, pushing the state even further ahead of the rest of America when it comes to data privacy legislation. CPRA adds to California’s existing law, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). CCPA is one of the strongest privacy laws in a country with few of them, giving Californians the power to know what data businesses have and collect about them and to tell those businesses not to sell data to anyone else. CCPA went into effect on Jan 1, and it wasn’t perfect by any means, but most privacy advocates seemed to agree that it was a good start, both for the state and for any other state or federal laws its passage may inspire.
Seeing Californians pass another digital privacy law may be the encouragement the federal legislature needs to get going on its own version. And CPRA advocate Alastair Mactaggart thinks Proposition 24’s rules that make it very difficult to change the law will tell businesses — and federal lawmakers — that privacy laws are here to stay.
The Federal Communications Commission announced that T-Mobile will pay a $200 million penalty to the US Treasury to resolve an investigation of its subsidiary Sprint’s compliance with the FCC’s rules regarding waste, fraud, and abuse in the Lifeline program for low-income consumers. The payment is the largest fixed-amount settlement the FCC has ever secured to resolve an investigation. The settlement comes after an Enforcement Bureau investigation into reports that Sprint, prior to its merger with T-Mobile, was claiming monthly subsidies for serving approximately 885,000 Lifeline subscribers even though those subscribers were not using the service, in potential violation of the FCC’s “non-usage” rule. The matter initially came to light as a result of an investigation by the Oregon Public Utility Commission. In addition to paying a $200 million civil penalty, Sprint agreed to enter into a compliance plan to help ensure future adherence to the FCC’s rules for the Lifeline program.
The Bureau’s investigation concerned Sprint’s compliance with FCC Lifeline rules, including the “non-usage” rule. Under this rule, providers of “free” service may only be reimbursed for a Lifeline subscriber if that subscriber has used the service at least once in the past 30 days, and such providers must de-enroll subscribers who don’t use their phones after giving them 15 days’ notice. The rule is meant to protect Lifeline from wasting taxpayer funds on service that isn’t used to benefit individual consumers. The FCC developed this and other rules after investigations showed that companies were aggressively selling free Lifeline service, knowing that they would get paid each month even if consumers didn’t use their phones. Since there was no bill, consumers had no incentive to relinquish the subscription.
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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