Thursday, November 8, 2018
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“We plan to put the consumer first by pushing policies that protect net neutrality, promote public safety, and provide meaningful privacy and data security protections that are seriously lacking today,” said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ), the likely next chairman of the House Commerce Committee. Democrats also intend to aggressively oversee the [Federal Communications Commission] through “regular oversight hearings with all commissioners,” he added. “First of all, we want to see the FCC in front of us more, and then there’s a whole range of issues that obviously we’re going to be interested in discussing,” Rep. Michael Doyle (D-Pa.), who’s in line to become chairman of the Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.
A measure to expand broadband infrastructure would give Democrats their best chance for a bipartisan legislative win. Republicans and Democrats alike have backed the idea of expanding broadband access to rural and underserved areas. Democratic leaders hope to work with Trump and congressional Republicans on a broader infrastructure plan that is likely to include broadband provisions. Democrats and Republicans agree on some broadband infrastructure proposals, including “dig once,” which would require installing conduits that could house fiber optic cables during the construction of federally funded road projects, said Gigi Sohn, a former FCC official. Pallone introduced an infrastructure bill in 2017 that would authorize $40 billion to improve broadband infrastructure to expand high-speed internet access in the U.S. Democrats and Republicans could struggle to reach an agreement on new federal funding for broadband infrastructure, said Blair Levin, another former FCC official. Rural broadband investment is also a priority of some Republican senators, including Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), who’s likely to take over as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee in the next Congress.
Many US voters in a recent Morning Consult/Politico poll, including pluralities of both Democrats and Republicans, said they’d like to see the next Congress make it a top priority to pass measures that better protect consumer data, outweighing other more partisan concerns such as efforts to codify network neutrality and addressing allegations of political bias and censorship on social media.
The survey found that a 40 percent plurality of respondents, including 43 percent of Democrats and 37 percent of Republicans, said it was a top priority for the next Congress to pass legislation to better protect consumers’ online data. Thirty percent of respondents said the next Congress should make legislation protecting net neutrality a top priority, but the party splits were more drastic, with 40 percent of Democratic voters saying this should be a top priority for the next Congress, while less than a quarter (24 percent) of Republicans said the same thing, and a plurality of GOP voters said it should be an important but lesser priority.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that the agency will hold a Forum on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning on Nov 30. The forum will convene experts in the AI and machine learning fields to discuss the future of these technologies and their implications for the communications marketplace. The event will also include demonstrations to enable the public to see these emerging technologies in action.
“Artificial intelligence and machine learning hold tremendous potential for the technological transformation of society. From healthcare and education to finance and transportation, they will disrupt the way we interact with the world around us. Because so much of AI intersects with the Commission’s technological and engineering work, we want to explore what it means for the future of communications. I look forward to bringing in experts to discuss this important issue, so that the FCC and the American public can learn about what’s on the horizon.”
President Donald Trump said on that he's open to working across the aisle with Democratic lawmakers to regulate social media. President Trump was asked if social media companies were unfairly censoring conservative voices and if he would work with the opposition party to rein in their power. "Believe it or not, I'm really one that really likes free speech," President Trump said. "A lot of people don't understand that. When you start regulating, a lot of bad things can happen. But I would certainly talk to the Democrats if they want to do that. And I think they do want to do that."
However, President Trump warned it would be a balancing act between protecting free speech and finding adequate legal boundaries for social media companies. The president has said that social media companies are biased against conservative users and voices. "I think it's a serious problem," he said. "At the same time, you start getting into speech. It's a very dangerous problem."
Communications & Democracy
During a press conference following Nov 6's midterm election, President Donald Trump escalated his ongoing war of words with CNN’s Jim Acosta. When Acosta asked President Trump about inflating the supposed threat to America from the caravan, he responded, “Honestly, I think you should let me run the country and you run CNN.” Acosta refused to relinquish his microphone, physically tangling with an aide who sought to take it away from him. Shouting over President Trump’s attempts to move on to another reporter, Acosta managed to ask a question about the Russia investigation. President Trump lingered from his podium a few steps before returning to give Acosta an old-fashioned tongue-lashing. “You are a rude, terrible person,” the president said. “And you shouldn’t be working for CNN.”
Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigned at President Donald Trump’s request, ending the tenure of a loyalist President Trump had soured on shortly after Sessions took office in 2017 because the former senator from Alabama had recused himself from oversight of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign. In a letter to President Trump, Sessions wrote he had been “honored to serve as Attorney General” and had “worked to implement the law enforcement agenda based on the rule of law that formed a central part of your campaign for the presidency.” President Trump tweeted that Sessions would be replaced on an acting basis by Matthew G. Whitaker, who had been serving as Sessions’s chief of staff. “We thank Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his service, and wish him well!” Trump tweeted. “A permanent replacement will be nominated at a later date.”
A majority of Americans across a wide range of demographic groups are YouTube adopters, with younger Americans standing out as especially avid users of the site. A new Pew Research Center survey of U.S. adults finds that these users are turning to YouTube for much more than entertainment. Roughly half of YouTube users say the platform is very important for helping them figure out how to do things they’ve never done before. That works out to 35% of all U.S. adults, once both users and non-users of the site are accounted for. And around one-in-five YouTube users (representing 13% of the total adult population) say it is very important for helping them understand events that are happening in the world. The findings also highlight YouTube’s key role in providing content for children. Fully 81% of all parents with children age 11 or younger say they ever let their child watch videos on YouTube. And 34% of parents say their child watches content on YouTube regularly. It should be noted that YouTube explicitly states that the platform is not intended for children younger than 13, and that the site provides a YouTube Kids option for children that has enhanced parental controls.
For Americans who can afford reliable phone service, help surviving a natural disaster is just a phone call away. Individuals in the path of a storm can dial 2-1-1 to get answers to non-emergency questions such as the location of shelters and evacuation areas. After the storm has passed, 2-1-1 provides access to disaster resources including food and housing assistance, crisis counseling, and health and human services. But for those unable to afford voice or broadband services, the Federal Communications Committee must do more to ensure access. That is why the federal Lifeline program is so critical. It serves as a gateway to 2-1-1 and other resources for low-income consumers.
Instead of pursuing proposals that will limit the reach and effectiveness of Lifeline, the FCC must strengthen the Lifeline program and commit to keeping low-income consumers connected through robust, affordable voice and broadband service. Lifeline can ensure the most vulnerable in our society can access the information and resources they desperately need during catastrophic disasters.
[Olivia Wein is a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center.]
Washington (DC) has tried several tactics to stem the tide of automated calls, from passing the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) in 1991 to establishing the Do Not Call Registry in 2003. The Federal Communications Commission regularly hands down multimillion-dollar penalties against individual robocallers. But the calls keep coming, and the problem has only gotten worse. The issue is the ease of becoming a robocaller. Anyone with a minor amount of technical ability can run their own system by downloading the relevant software.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has said the issue is a cornerstone of his tenure. In one major move, the FCC announced an $82 million fine against a caller, one of the largest forfeitures ever imposed by the agency. Still, Chairman Pai, who has presided over an FCC that consistently pushes deregulatory measures, has also expressed skepticism over other tools meant to help consumers. Chairman Pai has suggested that the TCPA, meant to give consumers a way to legally combat the callers, has been overused, and has pointed to cases that he argues are excessively litigious
Sinclair Broadcast Group has agreed to a settlement with the Justice Department over the sharing of information between television-station owners that raised antitrust concerns. Sinclair said (there's been no announcement from the Department of Justice) the settlement doesn’t represent an admission of wrongdoing and doesn’t subject the company to monetary damages or penalties. Government officials discovered the alleged sharing of sales information during their review of Sinclair’s $3.9 billion proposed acquisition of Tribune Media.
Department of Justice antitrust chief Makan Delrahim put an exclamation point on what might now be called the AT&T/Time Warner Doctrine given the confluence of that case with Delrahim's emphasis on spin-offs versus conditions in vertical mergers: "If a structural remedy isn’t available, then, except in the rarest of circumstances, we will seek to block an illegal merger."
In seeking to block the AT&T/Time Warner merger, Makan has said that it was because structural remedies (asset divestitures) not behavioral remedies like program access and oversight conditions were necessary. He preached the necessity of that approach. "Behavioral remedies present three main problems, he said. "The first is that they are inherently regulatory, which is to say that they substitute central decision making for the preferred free market. The second reason is closely related to the first: The Antitrust Division is a law enforcer and, even where regulation is appropriate, it is not equipped to be the ongoing regulator. The third reason that behavior decrees are problematic is that they are merely temporary fixes for an ongoing problem."
Google will never be the same. For two years, regulators, lawmakers, academics and the media have pushed Silicon Valley to alter its world-swallowing ways. But outsiders have few points of leverage in tech; there are few laws governing the industry’s practices, and lawmakers have struggled to get up to speed on tech’s implications for society. Protests by workers are an important new avenue for pressure; the very people who make these companies work can change what they do in the world.
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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