Daily Digest 1/19/2023 (Civil Rights and Liberties)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents

Civil Rights and Liberties

NTIA Launches Inquiry on how Data Practices Affect Civil Rights  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  National Telecommunications and Information Administration
Supreme Court Poised to Reconsider Key Tenets of Online Speech  |  New York Times
Public Knowledge Asks Supreme Court To Protect Free Expression, Competition Online in Gonzalez v. Google  |  Read below  |  John Bergmayer, Harold Feld  |  Analysis  |  Public Knowledge

Digital Equity

Assessing Broadband Affordability Initiatives  |  Read below  |  Daniel Lyons  |  Analysis  |  American Enterprise Institute
Subsidies for Hotspot Devices a ‘Great Idea,’ FCC Chairwoman Says  |  Read below  |  Ahmad Hathout  |  Broadband Breakfast
'Greatest challenge' to closing digital divide is uncertainty about ACP, advocates warn  |  Read below  |  Nicole Ferraro  |  LightReading

Consumer Protections

FCC Adopts Q Link Notice of Apparent Liability for EBB Violations  |  Read below  |  Marlene Dortch  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission
Broadband Providers Petition FCC for Broadband Label Clarification  |  Read below  |  John Eggerton  |  Multichannel News

Broadband Infrastructure

Buried vs. aerial—fiber firms try to balance growth with resiliency  |  Read below  |  Sue Marek  |  Fierce

State Programs

Utah Broadband Center Opens Two New Grants  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Utah Governor's Office of Economic Opportunity


Broadband Access & Home Networking Market—A Look into 2023  |  Read below  |  Jeff Heynen  |  Analysis  |  Dell’Oro Group
The FCC Communications Marketplace Report: More Must Be Done to Enable Broadband Competition and Choice  |  Read below  |  Angie Kronenberg  |  Analysis  |  Incompas
The tech economy is not an island  |  Read below  |  Scott Rosenberg  |  Axios
Should You Be Benchmarking?  |  Summary at Benton.org  |  Doug Dawson  |  Analysis  |  CCG Consulting
Sixth Report on Ownership of Broadcast Stations  |  Federal Communications Commission


FCC Updates 4.9 GHz Band Rules, Seeks Further Comment  |  Read below  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission
Chairwoman Rosenworcel at Center for Strategic & International Studies  |  Read below  |  FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel  |  Speech  |  Federal Communications Commission


Office of Personnel Management Is Expanding Remote Work, Raising Pay To Attract Tech Employees  |  C|Net
A Damning US Report Lays Bare Amazon’s Worker Injury Crisis  |  Wired
Microsoft to Lay Off 10,000 Workers as Slowdown Hits Software Business  |  Wall Street Journal
Amazon begins next round of layoffs, as tech giant cuts total of more than 18,000 jobs  |  USA Today

Platforms/Social Media

Twitter Manager: Daily Revenue Has Dropped 40%, 500 Top Advertisers Have Left  |  Information, The
Twitter ‘verified’ check marks bought by Taliban appear to have been removed  |  Guardian, The


Telehealth Gave Orgs Economic Boost, Cut Carbon Footprint  |  mHealth Intelligence


Committed To Community: 2022 Year in Review  |  Next Century Cities

Stories From Abroad

Apple Faces Antitrust Investigation From Brazil Watchdog  |  Bloomberg
TikTok's state-affiliated media policy  |  Tik Tok
Twitter, the EU, and self-regulation of disinformation  |  Brookings
How Ofcom helped to extend a lifeline for British Sign Language users  |  Ofcom
Today's Top Stories

Civil Rights and Liberties

NTIA Launches Inquiry on how Data Practices Affect Civil Rights

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has announced a Request for Comment on how companies’ data practices may impose outsized harm on marginalized or underserved communities. The ways in which firms collect, share, and use data can exacerbate existing structural inequities. 

  • Online job ads may be targeted based on real or perceived demographic characteristics such as age, sex, or race – reaching certain groups while ignoring others,

  • Apps that collect and sell location data could reveal details about the user’s movements that make them vulnerable to discrimination – such as an LGBTQ+-specific dating app or a Muslim prayer app,

  • The financial cost and time spent to secure one’s information after a data breach or identity theft incident can be more burdensome to correct and ultimately costly for low-income communities.

NTIA is seeking comments as it prepares a report analyzing whether and how commercial data practices can negatively affect marginalized or underserved communities, as well as how existing civil rights and privacy laws can be used to address privacy harms. This report will point to how current resources can be better deployed – and provide a guide for new privacy proposals. The request for comment builds on the work conducted by NTIA during three listening sessions. Comments will be due 45 days from publication in the Federal Register.

Public Knowledge Asks Supreme Court To Protect Free Expression, Competition Online in Gonzalez v. Google

John Bergmayer, Harold Feld  |  Analysis  |  Public Knowledge

Congress enacted Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to permit interactive computer services to exercise editorial discretion when publishing third-party content, without facing liability. This case seeks to hold YouTube liable for publishing objectionable third-party content. Section 230 does not allow this. Petitioners try to work around this clear statutory prohibition by characterizing their theory of liability in different terms. They say that they seek to hold YouTube liable, not for publishing third-party content, but for “recommendations” or for what the United States calls “YouTube’s own conduct in designing and implementing recommendation algorithms that result in the communication of a distinct message from YouTube.” But this attempt to plead around Section 230 must fail. YouTube’s conduct in this case may be culpable, but that conduct was publishing and immunized by Section 230. Characterizing content recommendations as something other than “publication,” or pleading causes of action that do not name publication as an element does not change this. Theories of liability that depend on the harmful contents of third-party material constitute “treating” a provider as a publisher and are barred by the statute. Section 230 protects the publication of third-party content, and it does so robustly. But it protects only that. Just as some plaintiffs attempt to evade Section 230 by characterizing their claims in other terms, some defendant providers attempt to use Section 230 as a defense in situations where it simply does not apply. As this case is the Court’s first full opportunity to consider the meaning and scope of Section 230, it has the opportunity to provide clarity to both lower courts and litigants as to both the reach, and the limits, of Section 230. Section 230 is intended to promote free expression and competition online and to maximize the ability of internet users to control the information they see online. It is not a perfect statute, but its fundamental policy goals of free expression, competition, and user control are sound. Congress, and not the courts, is the best avenue for policy changes designed to better promote these goals while reducing online harms.

Digital Equity

Assessing Broadband Affordability Initiatives

Daniel Lyons  |  Analysis  |  American Enterprise Institute

Reducing the broadband affordability gap is an important and noble goal. Unfortunately, it is far from clear whether Lifeline, the federal program tasked with getting low-income households online, actually addresses this problem. For over a decade, academics, government watchdogs, and independent auditors have criticized the Federal Communications Commission’s inability or unwillingness to measure the program’s effectiveness—while private studies suggest much of this spending may be misdirected toward families at no risk of losing internet access. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) represents a significant expansion of the benefits available under Lifeline. But at the ACP’s core, one finds the same fundamental flaw that fatally infects Lifeline: It gives a monthly subsidy to a wide range of recipients based on income or participation in other federal programs, on the unproven assumption that these payments will improve broadband adoption rates among low-income families. Like Lifeline, ACP’s proponents have not studied the relevant population to determine the drivers of low-income non-adoption. Given that well over 70 percent of ACP-eligible households already subscribe to broadband service, giving $30 per month to such a wide swath of recipients makes it likely that significant sums of money will be wasted on households that are not at risk of canceling their broadband service. With careful study and some minor legislative tweaks to the existing statute, ACP could avoid duplicating the efficiency and effectiveness problems that have long plagued the Lifeline program.

  • First, policymakers should adopt a data-driven approach to subsidy distribution. Rather than simply offering an arbitrary amount in assistance to anyone who qualifies for other forms of government assistance, the FCC should identify and survey low-income households that currently lack broadband, to identify these families’ characteristics and ascertain the barriers to adoption.
  • With the results of this study, the agency then could design eligibility criteria that target low-income non-adopters in particular, rather than continuing Lifeline’s scattershot program of aiding all low-income households broadly.
  • Finally, with a better-tailored ACP program to help close the low-income broadband gap, Congress should shutter the Lifeline program.

Subsidies for Hotspot Devices a ‘Great Idea,’ FCC Chairwoman Says

Ahmad Hathout  |  Broadband Breakfast

Federal Communications Commissioner Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that using the E-rate program to subsidize mobile hotspot devices is a “great idea” and that there may be some activity on that front in the future. The chairwoman was fielding a comment from a mayor of a Texas city, who said that his jurisdiction has a program that lends out connectivity hubs – allowing others to connect to the device – in parts of the town for residents seeking internet. He asked whether that’s something that the FCC could fund. Chairwoman Rosenworcel said the commission may be able to expand the program to encompass funding for hotspot devices. “Stay tuned,” she added, “because I think you’re onto something.”

'Greatest challenge' to closing digital divide is uncertainty about ACP, advocates warn

Nicole Ferraro  |  LightReading

Whether or not the US closes its digital divide may come down to the fate of the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP): the $14.25 billion program currently subsidizing broadband by $30/month for over 15.7 million households (up to $75 on tribal lands). That's the view of the National Urban League (NUL). The NUL zeroed in on uncertainty about the future of the ACP as the "greatest challenge before us." At present, the ACP – which was passed and funded in a package of $65 billion for broadband through the 2021 Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act – is projected by some estimates to run out of money as soon as 2024. "Failure to extend ACP will devastate the 15 million households and counting that already benefit from or are seeking to enroll in this program and will threaten their ability to thrive in the digital age," said the National Urban League in a letter responding to Senator John Thune's (R-SD) inquiry about the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and other federal broadband matters. "That, in and of itself, is a disaster for our country economically and socially, but the potential discontinuation of ACP will also cause a great inefficiency in the BEAD program." If the ACP isn't reauthorized, there is also a risk of the federal government "overpaying for broadband deployments," resulting in federal dollars "funding deployments to significantly fewer unserved and underserved homes and businesses." "That reduction in the states' ability to meet the Congressional goal of closing the digital divide will not be due to the misconduct of any grantee or state but because Congress had not made its intention clear about a critical financial input to the models that the private sector uses to apply for BEAD funding."

Consumer Protections

FCC Adopts Q Link Notice of Apparent Liability for EBB Violations

Marlene Dortch  |  Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

In this Notice of Apparent Liability (NAL), the Federal Communications Commission proposes a penalty of $62,000,000 against Q Link Wireless for apparently violating provisions of the 2021 Consolidated Appropriations Act and FCC rules and orders governing the reimbursements it claimed for providing Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program customers with internet-connected devices between December 2021 and March 2022. Because of these apparent violations, which involved overclaiming support for hundreds of thousands of computer tablets, Q Link apparently obtained at least $20,792,800 in improper disbursements from the EBB Program during the period under review. For these reasons, and in light of the scope, duration, and seriousness of Q Link’s apparent violations and the need to promote compliance with the rules, the FCC proposes a forfeiture penalty of $62,000,000.00 against Q Link. In addition, in light of Q Link’s apparent misconduct and the resulting harm to the Fund, the FCC orders Q Link to respond in writing within 30 days of the release of this NAL explaining why the commission should not initiate proceedings to remove Q Link from the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Broadband Providers Petition FCC for Broadband Label Clarification

John Eggerton  |  Multichannel News

Broadband operators, including those represented by ACA Connects and NCTA–The Internet & Television Association, have asked the Federal Communications Commission to either clarify or reconsider two requirements in rules implementing consumer broadband labels that they say may not pass legal muster otherwise. Congress mandated the labels so consumers can better gauge just what kind of broadband service they are getting, including price, speed, and quality. In a joint petition for clarification or reconsideration filed with the FCC, the associations said they generally support the adoption of the regulator’s label rules, which are based on the FCC’s 2016 voluntary labels. They do, however, have a bone to pick with the following two regulations they say “depart“ from that 2016 regime:

  • The first is the requirement that operators itemize state and local government fees;
  • The second is the mandate that broadband providers “create and retain documentation” regarding “each instance when [a provider] directs a consumer to the label at an alternative sales channel,” i.e. in retail stores or phone interactions.

The associations said the first requirement could cause “significant” confusion for consumers and create unnecessary complexity for providers. Without both clarifications, they warned, the FCC may be violating various laws including the Administrative Procedure Act, the Paperwork Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which created the labeling mandate.


Buried vs. aerial—fiber firms try to balance growth with resiliency

Sue Marek  |  Fierce

US fiber companies are furiously expanding their network footprints to accommodate growing demand from consumers and businesses for high-speed broadband. According to the Fiber Broadband Association’s (FBA) 2022 Fiber Provider Survey, fiber was deployed to 7.9 million US homes in 2022, more than in any previous year. At the same time, the US experienced 18 separate weather and climate disasters in 2022, according to the NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, making it one of the most destructive and costly years in US history in terms of weather and climate-related disasters. For broadband network planners, it’s necessary to strike a balance between delivering fiber to areas that need connectivity and being cognizant of localities most in danger of climate disasters. For example, a fiber company may bury fiber instead of deploying aerial fiber in a hurricane-prone area or it might deploy aerial fiber instead of burying fiber in a low-lying area that is at risk for flooding. Fiber networks typically use gear that conforms to Network Equipment Building Systems (NEBS) standards, which means that they meet certain requirements and will tolerate earthquakes and extreme temperatures. In addition, many fiber component vendors offer ruggedized products that have extensive warranties guaranteeing that their equipment will last for decades.

State Programs

Utah Broadband Center Opens Two New Grants

The Utah Broadband Center (UBC), powered by the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, announces two new broadband planning grants are available to help local governments, municipalities, nonprofits, and government agencies develop plans to expand high-speed internet access and adoption in Utah communities. These grants—funded by the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program and the Digital Equity Act—empower local stakeholders to identify areas of the state that need increased investment in infrastructure, skills training, or access to devices to facilitate Utahns’ access to critical digital resources such as telemedicine, remote work, or educational opportunities. The first grant is the Local Broadband Planning Grant, which helps local communities identify gaps in broadband infrastructure and develop a plan to connect unserved households. The second grant is the Local Digital Access Planning Grant, which helps recipients develop a five-year plan to address affordability, digital skills, and access to the necessary equipment to utilize online resources. Both grants are accepting applications through Feb. 2, 2023. Recipients are expected to complete their five-year plans by June 1, 2023, for those plans to be included in the statewide digital connectivity action plan. 


Broadband Access & Home Networking Market—A Look into 2023

Jeff Heynen  |  Analysis  |  Dell’Oro Group

Over the last two years, you’d be hard-pressed to find an area of service provider networks that have received more investment and attention than broadband access networks. For mature markets, it is rare to see consecutive years of double-digit revenue growth. But that is indeed what has occurred, as 2021 revenue growth was 16% and 2022 growth over 2021 is currently expected to be around 12%, reaching just over $18 billion worldwide. But even without the benefit of having finalized fourth-quarter numbers, all signs—both quantitative and qualitative—point to another year of spending increases on broadband equipment in 2023, albeit nowhere near the double-digit percentage growth we have seen over the last two years. Here is what we are expecting in this coming year:

  • The Great DSL Displacement Will Accelerate: Amidst all the hype around fiber network buildouts, one of the biggest drivers for these investments has gone unspoken, perhaps because it is just assumed—and that is that a large percentage of the revenue growth for PON equipment has come directly at the expense of spending on DSLAM ports and corresponding CPE. While this substitution is obvious, the amount of revenue shifted from DSL to PON equipment over the last two years is informative in helping to understand just how much PON equipment revenue growth is due to Greenfield buildouts and how much is due to overbuilding and the literal retirement of copper and DSL assets.
  • Subsidies Offset the Increasing Cost of Infrastructure Builds—but Subscriber Growth Will Slow: Due to inflation and anti-inflationary policies of national governments, globally, we do expect new subscriber growth to slow, resulting in flat to perhaps low single-digit ONT unit growth this year. Slowdowns in new housing starts and the purchase of existing homes will also be a drag on overall subscriber growth this year. At the same time, we do not expect to see any slowdown in the purchase of new PON infrastructure, as state and federal subsidization efforts in the US, several EU countries, Thailand, the Philippines, China, and elsewhere will reduce the effective cost of fiber buildouts and, more importantly, offset the additional cost of any assumed debt due to interest rate increases. 
  • Consensus in Cable Architectures; But Obstacles Remain: The focus by cable broadband suppliers will shift to supplying the short-term projects of doing mid- and high-split band plan upgrades to increase upstream bandwidth using existing DOCSIS 3.1 technologies, while also preparing the outside plant for forthcoming upgrades to either 1.2 GHz or 1.8 GHz spectrum plans for either full duplex or extended-spectrum DOCSIS 4.0 deployments later this year. The consensus around Remote PHY for DOCSIS also opens the door for R-OLT modules to be deployed alongside RPDs in select node housings—something that wasn’t possible with R-MACPHY due to power limitations. Cable operators will continue to fend off new fiber and FWA competitors with a combination of highlighting speeds that are equal to fiber (at least on the downstream side) but subscriber support that exceeds what the upstarts provide because of their years of experience. 

The FCC Communications Marketplace Report: More Must Be Done to Enable Broadband Competition and Choice

Angie Kronenberg  |  Analysis  |  Incompas

Big kudos to the Federal Communications Commission for the release of its Communications Marketplace Report at the end of 2022. This is the first Communications Marketplace Report released under FCC Chairwoman Rosenworcel’s leadership, so none of us should be surprised that there are vast improvements in the information covered. For example, the FCC is reporting prices from the top 11 home broadband providers, showing that the range of prices collected from each provider’s website was consistent with a recent Consumer Reports study. That study finds that the median cost of high-speed internet service was $74.99 per month, and approximately half of the households are paying between $60 and $90 per month. For the first time, the Report also offers a snapshot of providers that are using data caps for home internet service — three of the top providers do so, as well as 130 additional providers across the US, including smaller companies. The Report also includes detail about the technologies offered by the 11 largest home providers. The FCC finds that there is insufficient choice for home (fixed) broadband by stating: “[c]urrently available data demonstrates that millions of Americans lack access to high-speed broadband or can only access high-speed broadband through a single provider.”

The tech economy is not an island

Scott Rosenberg  |  Axios

Tech's downturn is shining a spotlight on the industry's vulnerability to fast-moving trends and conflicts beyond its own boundaries. This matters because Silicon Valley leaders and thinkers paint their companies and products as magical innovations that emerge from the inner logic of tech's disruptive dynamics. But the industry's cycles are usually driven by external forces. The financial tides explain the beating tech is now taking — much more so than the product cycles and platform shifts that occupy so much of the industry's attention. Overall, rising interest rates represent the single biggest factor driving the current tech slowdown.


FCC Updates 4.9 GHz Band Rules, Seeks Further Comment

Public Notice  |  Federal Communications Commission

The Federal Communications Commission establishes a comprehensive and coordinated nationwide approach to managing the 4.9 GHz (4940-4990 MHz) band while retaining its locally controlled, public safety nature. In doing so, the FCC solidifies the band’s status as public safety spectrum, while also allowing secondary, non-public safety use as agreed to by public safety licensees through a new leasing model. Critical to this vision for the 4.9 GHz band is the addition of a nationwide Band Manager, which will be selected based on its expertise and connections to the public safety community and will coordinate all operations in the band to ensure that any non-public safety use remains fully secondary to, and preemptible by, public safety operations. This nationwide framework will optimize public safety use and enable the integration of the latest commercially available technologies, such as 5G. The FCC also modifies its rules to allow for the collection of granular data on public safety operations in the 4.9 GHz band. These data combined with a formal coordination structure performed by the Band Manager will improve interference mitigation efforts, bolster public safety confidence in the band, and will play a crucial role in the Band Manager’s ability to find opportunities for secondary, non-public safety access. The FCC also makes several changes to the technical rules for the band to promote more robust public safety operations. Finally, the FCC seeks comment on the details of implementing the new leasing model to achieve its goals of allowing robust locally controlled public safety operations while ensuring consistent, nationwide rules that promote overall spectral efficiency, foster innovation, and drive down equipment costs

Chairwoman Rosenworcel at Center for Strategic & International Studies

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel  |  Speech  |  Federal Communications Commission

So often when we think about 5G in the United States we talk about our phones. But if we do this right, our phones will be the least interesting thing about our 5G future. This is not about the small icon that appears—and sometimes disappears—in the upper right-hand corner of a mobile device. It is a whole lot bigger than that. We are talking about using 5G technology to lay the foundation for digital transformation around the globe. Because we are fast heading to a world where next-generation wireless networks connect everyone and everything around us. They will open up possibilities for communications that we cannot even fully imagine today. By exponentially increasing the connections between people and things, this technology could become an input in everything we do—improving agriculture, education, healthcare, energy, transportation, and more. The data we derive from all these connections is powerful. It will inform machine learning, artificial intelligence, and the next generation of innovation across the economy. This is exciting. But these opportunities also reveal broader geopolitical challenges. Because, let’s be honest, the United States and authoritarian regimes have different views on how to use 5G technology. The vision that succeeds in a global forum like the International Telecommunication Union matters. It will inform how networks are deployed and evolve around the world.

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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 Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.

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