Wednesday, January 16, 2019
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With the US.Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit signaling it planned to hold the Feb. 1 oral argument in Mozilla vs. the Federal Communiccations Commission -- partial government shutdown or not -- the FCC asked the court to instead delay the arguments, a move that is OK with broadband service providers. The Justice Department has advised government attorneys to request cases be postponed until government funding is available. According to the FCC, Mozilla opposes the delay, intervenors for Mozilla, the Internet Association, Entertainment Software Association, CCIA, and the Writers Guild of America, West, have taken no position one way or the other, and Justice, USTelecom, CTIA, NCTA-the Internet & Television Association, the American Cable Association, and Wireless Internet Service Providers Association do not oppose it.
Next Century Cities, the American Action Forum, and Public Knowledge held a bipartisan discussion about tech policy priorities for the new Congress.
Policymakers “should focus on interconnection,” rather than simply broadband network construction, said Harold Feld of Public Knowledge, saying that policymakers should consider allowing property owners to build their own connections to a service provider. Several panelists suggested changes to the Universal Service Fund high-cost program, which helps fund rural broadband deployment – but each panelist had a different idea about the changes that should be made. Jonathan Chambers, a partner with Conexon LLC – a consulting group that worked with rural electric co-operatives to win $186 million in broadband funding in the Connect America Fund auction – took aim at the Federal Communications Commission’s periodic increases in broadband speed targets. Instead, he said, the FCC should fund fiber-to-the-home, which he said would mean spending money once, rather than funding multiple incremental upgrades. The current approach, he said, is an example of “soft bigotry of reduced expectations” for rural America. Brent Skorup, senior research fellow at George Mason University, suggested that funding should focus on households rather than carriers and advocated a voucher system, arguing that it would help fund fixed wireless providers and other non-traditional funding recipients. Like Skorup, Feld said the USF should move away from funding carriers. Federal funding, he said, should target infrastructure, not carriers. Once the network is built out, maintenance costs go down significantly, he said, arguing that most carriers should be able to cover costs after a network is built out.
Electric cooperatives want to help bridge the digital divide between rural and urban America as more federal funding becomes available for rural broadband. Mississippi is among the states that rely most heavily on rural electric cooperatives, nonprofits that deliver power to their members in rural areas. Yet since 1942, Mississippi state law has restricted its cooperatives to working in electric services -- a 77-year-old law may prevent Mississippi from fully tapping into millions of new federal dollars to expand high-speed internet service to needy rural communities. Its legislature is expected to take up bills that challenge the state law and the role of electric cooperatives early in its session that began on Jan. 8.
Beyond Mississippi, electric cooperatives in other states also face barriers: Georgia’s electric cooperatives are considering expanding into broadband, but state law does not address whether they can. Tennessee’s electric cooperatives had been barred from offering internet services to their members until the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act passed in 2017. But they’re unable to invest assets from electricity services into broadband expansion or offer broadband outside their coverage area without local permission. And in North Carolina, a state law prohibits electric cooperatives from using USDA funds to provide telecommunications services. As more cooperatives across the country provide internet services to their members, or consider expanding their roles, the ability to compete for federal funding becomes more important. Mississippi’s hurdle might be cleared quickly with new state legislation, but its conundrum illustrates the challenges rural states often face in keeping up with economy-boosting technology and the ability to pay for it.
High-speed Internet in one pocket of Cass County (IN) will get a boost this year as Milton Township invests in rolling out more fiber. The township board voted this past Dec to award $75,000 to Midwest Energy & Communications of Cassopolis to install five miles of fiber that will be able to serve about 80 homes. The project got underway Jan 2 and, if the weather cooperates, could be completed in the first quarter, with home connections available in the spring. The area in question is the final piece in Milton Township’s puzzle to give its 3,800 residents access to high-speed Internet and banish the days of dial-up, township supervisor Kelly Sweeney said. It’s a project the township’s been working on for about a decade, driven by the vision of former supervisor Robert Benjamin and a reality everyone seemed to acknowledge, according to Sweeney: that these days, high-speed Internet is simply something “you’ve got to have” for online work, school and entertainment.
House Democrats want to use the coming months to execute a bold tech agenda ahead of the 2020 presidential election, but they may need to make peace with each other first. While Democrats insist they bring a unified front to the issue of online privacy, they're kicking off this year with a clash between Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), a thought leader on privacy issues, and House Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), who's committee is responsible for shepherding any such legislation. “If Democrats can’t agree with each other, how can they come to a single position with the Republicans?" said industry analyst Roger Entner. But Democratic lawmakers said the caucus remains united on key tech issues like privacy. "I think those are areas where we have broader consensus ... on privacy and broadband, I think that's a place where the party can come together," Rep. Khanna said.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute has filed the opening brief in its challenge to the Federal Communications Commission's conditions on the 2016 Charter-Time Warner Cable (Bright House) merger. CEI challenged the conditions that it said went beyond the FCC's legal authority by imposing conditions unrelated to the services whose cable licenses were being exchanged and unrelated to any transaction-specific harm, including that the company build out broadband to an agency-mandated minimum new customers, that it provide a low-income broadband program and that it not engage in usage-based pricing or impose data caps. Those conditions cause harm to Charter's customers that the FCC did not recognize or consider in imposing them, it told the court. The group also suggests the FCC's buildout condition was arbitrary and capricious because the FCC mandate to get bigger (build out to more broadband customers) "contradicts the agency's own findings expressing concerns regarding the post-merger size of New Charter."
The promotion of diverse viewpoints has been the cornerstone of United States media policy over the last 100 years. In Nov 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg published an article that delineated the algorithm that Facebook will use to disincentivize hate speech. Although Zuckerberg’s proposal is a laudable step for content moderation, it may be neglecting the value of exposing people to diverse views and competing sources of news. As we debate moderation issues, platforms should consider not only the prohibition of hate speech, but also the affirmative exposure to broader ideas and perspectives. The Federal Communications Commission’s implementation of the diversity principle on radio and TV offers some valuable lessons.
[Jane Lee is a policy fellow at Public Knowledge]
President Donald Trump signed the OPEN Government Data Act into law. The transparency measure was tucked inside a larger bill to support evidence-based policymaking. The law requires agencies to release all non-sensitive data to the public in a format that allows for easy data analysis and largely prohibits them from restricting how that information can be used. It also mandates the Office of Management and Budget help agencies stand up “comprehensive data inventor[ies]” that include metadata on every dataset they publish. The General Services Administration must create an online portal where the public can search and access information published by each agency. Under the act, agencies must also designate chief data officer to manage the organization’s data management and coordinate efforts across the government. Many agencies have already appointed people to serve that role, but the law codifies the position and establishes a Chief Data Officer Council to advise the government on open data efforts.
The House unanimously approved the Federail CIO Authorization Act, a bill that would elevate the federal chief information officer within the White House chain of command. The bill would make the position a direct report to the Office of Management and Budget director. It would also designate both the federal CIO and federal chief information security officer as presidentially appointed positions. The legislation still has no Senate sponsor. “Americans need to know that we are doing everything we can to keep their most precious information safe,” said bill co-sponsor Rep Will Hurd (R-TX). “This bill helps keep the vast information stored by the federal government secure from hackers by making clear that the federal CIO is in charge of the security of our data across the government."
The White House, which has boasted of taking unprecedented actions to secure the nation’s digital infrastructure, isn’t doing enough to protect its own emails from being copycatted by hackers and spammers, according to data by the email security firm ValiMail. It isn't following its own administration's rules that require protections against the threat known as email spoofing, according to the company. That makes it comparatively easy for fraudsters posing as White House officials on email to deliver malware to citizens or to con them into giving up personal information. Hackers could also use emails that appear to be from the White House to trick high profile targets such as political donors, executives and activists into giving up personal and organizational information, said Phil Reitinger, a former Homeland Security Department official.
House Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) announced the full Democratic rosters for the six subcommittees in the 116th Congress, including the six subcommittee chairs and the full Committee Vice Chair, who were elected by the Democrats on the Committee. Rep Mike Doyle (D-PA) was selected as Chairman of the Communications Subcommittee. Additional chairmen:
- Subcommittee on Communications and Technology – Rep. Mike Doyle (PA)
- Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce – Rep. Jan Schakowsky (IL)
- Subcommittee on Energy – Rep. Bobby Rush (IL)
- Subcommittee on Environment and Climate Change – Rep. Paul Tonko (NY)
- Subcommittee on Health – Rep. Anna Eshoo (CA)
- Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations – Rep. Diana DeGette (CO)
Subcommittee on Communications and Technology
- Mike Doyle (PA) – Chair
- Jerry McNerney (CA)
- Yvette Clarke (NY)
- David Loebsack (IA)
- Marc Veasey (TX)
- A. Donald McEachin (VA)
- Darren Soto (FL)
- Tom O’Halleran (AZ)
- Anna Eshoo (CA)
- Diana DeGette (CO)
- G.K. Butterfield (NC)
- Doris Matsui (CA)
- Peter Welch (VT)
- Ben Ray Luján (NM)
- Kurt Schrader (OR)
- Tony Cárdenas (CA)
- Debbie Dingell (MI)
- Frank Pallone, Jr. (NJ) – Ex Officio
House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) announced the subcommittee Ranking Members for the 116th Congress. As expected, Rep Bob Latta (R-OH) has been named Ranking Member of the Communications Subcommittee. “I’d like to thank Congressman Walden for the opportunity to serve as Republican Leader on the Communications and Technology Subcommittee,” said Rep Latta. “The way we communicate and use technology plays a significant role in our daily lives. In this capacity, I’ll be able to advocate for policies that will help consumers, grow our economy, and spur innovation. One area I’ve focused on in Congress has been increasing access to high-speed broadband and closing the 'digital divide' – an important issue to the people I represent in Northwest and West Central Ohio. In addition, the rollout of 5G promises to revolutionize our communications infrastructure, and this subcommittee will play a critical role in developing the necessary policies to ensure the United States maintains its place as a leader of this cutting-edge technology. I look forward to working with my colleagues on these issues and more during the 116 Congress.”
Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) was named Ranking Member of the Consumer Protection Subcommittee.
William Barr’s nomination as President Doanld Trump’s attorney general is in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which conducted a confirmation hearing Jan 15. Below are some key communications policy takeaways:
Jailing Journalists: Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) pressed Barr on the rights of the press. And when she asked him would “the Justice Department jail journalists for doing their jobs,” he didn’t exactly say no. After pausing, Barr said it was possible, but only as a “last resort." “I think that, you know, I know there are guidelines in place. And I can conceive of situations where, you know, as a last resort and where a news organization has run through a red flag or something like that, knows that they’re putting out stuff that will hurt the country — there could be a situation where someone could be held in contempt."
Antitrust: In response to a different question from Sen Klobuchar, Barr said he was concerned that the Justice Department's antitrust division was not engaging in some of AT&T-Time Warner's arguments about why the merger did not violate antitrust. Barr reiterated that he would recuse himself from any matters related to Justice's ongoing legal challenge of that merger, as he was a member of the Time Warner board and filed an affidavit challenging DOJ antitrust chief Makan Delrahim's characterization of a meeting about the deal where Barr was also in attendance.
During an exchange with Sen Mike Lee (R-UT), Barr said that he wanted to better understand the dynamic between Silicon Valley and the nation’s antitrust officials who have allowed tech companies to grow so big. “I’m sort of interested in stepping back and reassessing, or learning more, about how the antitrust division has been functioning and what their priorities are,” said Barr, who previously served as attorney general under the George H.W. Bush administration. “I don’t think big is necessarily bad, but I think a lot of people wonder how such huge behemoths that now exist in Silicon Valley have taken shape under the nose of the antitrust enforcers.” He added that he doesn’t know if internet giants have run afoul of antitrust laws. Barr only said that he wanted to learn more about the DOJ’s antitrust approach and did not indicate whether he would push for a tougher stance towards Silicon Valley if confirmed.
Huawei, ZTE: Barr said he shared concerns over the "danger" of using tech from Chinese telecoms ZTE and Huawei in US networks. He said when he was an executive with Verizon in the early 2000's, the company already recognized that danger and would not use such equipment in its networks even though it was economically attractive.
Stories From Abroad
A group of investors has endorsed the Ranking Digital Rights (RDR) Corporate Accountability Index as an important tool for helping tech companies meet their human rights responsibilities and for helping investors identify digital rights risks. In Dec, 49 members of the Investor Alliance for Human Rights (IAHR), a coalition of global funds focused on advancing corporate human rights due diligence, issued a statement to the 22 internet, mobile and telecommunications companies evaluated in the RDR Corporate Accountability Index urging these companies to use the Index to improve governance systems and performance on salient human rights risks related to privacy and freedom of expression. Investors argue that, as custodians of their users’ data and digital rights, these companies have a responsibility to respect users’ right to privacy and freedom of expression and must be accountable for how they handle users’ data.
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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