Thursday, January 17, 2019
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The Internet and Competitive Networks Association (INCOMPAS) opposes the Federal Communications Commission’s motion seeking a delay in the Open Internet court case. INCOMPAS, a leading petitioner in the legal case to save network neutrality, filed an opposition to the motion so that oral arguments will continue on Feb 1 as planned. INCOMPAS represents leading streaming companies, edge providers, and competitive broadband network builders. INCOMPAS points to legal precedent during previous government shutdowns, and highlighted the risks to consumers and the streaming revolution.
A group of Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party (DFL) and Republican lawmakers are pushing to narrow MN's broadband gap by injecting $70 million over the next two years into a grant program for internet projects. But while the new money from the bill (House File 7) would keep MN on track to meet one of its broadband access goals by 2022, the state has a long and expensive road ahead to reach a more ambitious pledge — to bring must faster (100 Mbps/20Mbps) universal internet to the state by 2026. But the state’s approach to broadband hasn’t been without controversy. Some in the GOP have complained about the state’s preference for fiber-optic cable, which is reliable but pricey. Telecom businesses have also bristled at some new broadband projects in areas where private companies already offer some form of internet, saying focus should be on unserved communities.
Republican leaders of the House Commerce Committee and Subcommittees sent letters requesting information from six companies about the sale and misuse of cell phone geolocation data. The letters were sent to Zumingo, Microbilt, T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon. The letters seek to increase transparency surrounding how US wireless carriers and third parties are accessing, transferring, storing, and securing customer location information. The letters come as recent media reports have indicated that Zumingo, a location aggregation firm, purchased geolocation data from T-Mobile and subsequently sold the data to Microbilt, which further sold the data to a bail bond company. The letters also build off letters the committee sent in 2018 to location aggregation companies LocationSmart, Securus Technologies, and 3C Interactive. The representatives asked for a briefing on January 30.
House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR), Communications Subcommittee Ranking Member Bob Latta (R-OH), Consumer Protection Subcommittee Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), and Oversight Subcommittee Ranking Member Brett Guthrie (R-KY) signed the letters.
Jan 15, reports surfaced that Voipo, a California voice-over-internet-protocol (VOIP) provider, exposed millions of consumer call logs and text messages stored on an “improperly secured” ElasticSearch database for several months before security researcher Justin Paine located them. Public Knowledge demands that Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai enforce existing Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI) rules that protect the privacy of information related to telephone calls.
Harold Feld wrote, “Chairman Pai should cooperate with [House Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ)] and explain to the new House Commerce Committee what is it that the FCC is doing to protect the privacy of phone subscribers, as required by law. We call on the Federal Trade Commission and the FCC to work together to protect subscriber privacy, rather than standing on the sideline passing responsibility from one to the other.”
Privacy groups are calling for the creation of a new Data Protection Agency to focus on privacy protection and replace the Federal Trade Commission in that role, which lacks rulemaking authority and which, they argue, has failed to exercise the enforcement authority it has in that space. A new Framework for Comprehensive Privacy Protection and Digital Rights in the United States was proposed by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, Center for Digital Democracy, Color of Change, Consumer Federation of America, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Public Citizen, and Stop Online Violence Against Women U.S. PIRG. The plan's keys are:
- Enact baseline federal legislation
- Enforce fair information practices (FIPS)
- Establish a data protection agency
- Ensure robust enforcement, including private rights of action and statutory damages
- Establish algorithmic governance to advance fair data practices—"independent accountability for automated decisionmaking"
- Prohibit "take it or leave it" terms that require users to waive privacy rights or pay more for service
- Promote private innovation
- Limit government access to personal data
How well do Americans understand algorithm-driven classification systems, and how much do they think their lives line up with what gets reported about them? As a window into this hard-to-study phenomenon, a new Pew Research Center survey asked a representative sample of users of the nation’s most popular social media platform, Facebook, to reflect on the data that had been collected about them. Facebook makes it relatively easy for users to find out how the site’s algorithm has categorized their interests via a “Your ad preferences” page, but 74% of Facebook users say they did not know that this list of their traits and interests existed until they were directed to their page as part of this study.
When directed to the “ad preferences” page, the large majority of Facebook users (88%) found that the site had generated some material for them. A majority of users (59%) say these categories reflect their real-life interests, while 27% say they are not very or not at all accurate in describing them. And once shown how the platform classifies their interests, roughly half of Facebook users (51%) say they are not comfortable that the company created such a list.
We sympathize with the increased anxiety over the poor data hygiene practices of leading tech platforms. And we agree that legislation clarifying the duties of those who collect and use personal information is important, as is delineating enforcement responsibilities among agencies and jurisdictions. We’re concerned, however, by the passionate but incomplete argument that it’s time to jettison decades of antitrust policy that limits the government to intervening only when market concentration has, or could, cause higher prices for consumers. The vague alternative, proposed by critics on the left and right, is a return to a failed framework that boils down to, at best, a general belief that “big is bad” and, at worst, to politically-based payback for companies on the wrong side of an election. Do antitrust jihads really help consumers more than it hurts them? Probably not. The more effective regulator of digital markets has always been the happy confluence of engineering and business innovations in hardware, software and communications driving exponential improvements in speed, quality, size, energy usage and, of course, cost.
[Blair Levin is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Larry Downes is project director at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy.]
Many have tried and few have succeeded when it comes to dragging Congress into the modern age, said Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA). Indeed, Hill staffers have bemoaned being unable to use cutting-edge software or even Apple computers since the early aughts. But as chairman of the new Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, Rep. Kilmer says this effort has the buy-in of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House leaders: "They want to see this place function better, too — more collaborative, more transparent, more open, more productive." Chairman Kilmer recalls that when he joined the House in 2013, he was "particularly struck that people still used beepers. 'This is a message from the Democratic cloakroom...' It was, wow, this is amazing." The dozen-member modernization committee, with six Democrats and six Republicans, is still in the process of filling out its roster, he said.
In day two of Attorney General Nominee William Barr's confrimation hearing, Georgia State law professor Nail Kinkopf told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the independence of federal agencies including the Federal Communications Commission are at risk under Barr's theory of executive power. Kinkopf did not sugar coat his criticism of a lengthy 2018 memo on that legal issue that Barr penned, a memo Democratic lawmakers have pointed to as troubling since it argued the President's "interactions" with FBI director James Comey did not constitute obstruction of Justice. Kinkopf said the independence of dozens of agencies including the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission would be unconstitutional under Barr's "unitary executive" theory that the President is essentially a one-person, all-powerful, executive branch. Kinkopf said that theory is "fundamentally inconsistent with our Constitution and deeply dangerous for our nation."
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has long attracted rumors that he may run for political office one day. And despite committing to serving out his remaining two years as chair, recent retirement news from Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) has set off another round of whispers about whether the Kansas-bred Pai might be eyeing a run. Kansas’ two senators said they have not heard word of any interest on Pai’s part but immediately endorsed his talents. “He would be a solid, good candidate of great capabilities of being a United States senator, but I have no indication that he’s pursuing it or that he has an interest,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS). Sen. Roberts, too, said that while Chairman Pai is “a very talented young man” and “a special guy,” Pai’s name was not among the 20 or so potential candidates he’s heard so far.
One reminder: Chairman Pai is politically polarizing despite his GOP support. Although he prides himself on an agenda of closing the digital divide, 41 Senate Democrats voted against re-confirming him to another FCC term in fall 2017.
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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