Daily Digest 12/7/2023 (Norman Milton Lear)

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society
Table of Contents


Cable lobby to Federal Communications Commission: Please don’t look too closely at the prices we charge  |  Read below  |  Jon Brodkin  |  Ars Technica

Digital Divide

Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report  |  Read below  |  Research  |  NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association

Broadband Funding

FCC Extends Until End of 2024 Limited Waiver of Letter of Credit Rules for CAF-II Auction Funding Recipients  |  Federal Communications Commission


Tier 3 Mergers & Acquisitions: One Indiana Provider Plans to Buy Another  |  Read below  |  Phil Britt  |  telecompetitor
FCC Approves DISH-EchoStar Recombination  |  Federal Communications Commission


Fiber Focused: Windstream Wholesale Adds New Dark Fiber Route  |  Read below  |  Carl Weinschenk  |  telecompetitor
Verizon and Axon Demonstrate Network Slicing Improves Video Performance for Public Safety  |  telecompetitor
New Jersey 5 Year Plan Fails the State by Leaving Out Material Facts about Verizon  |  Irregulators


House Commerce Committee questions National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Alan Davidson on Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment  |  Read below  |  Nicole Ferarro  |  Light Reading
Written Statement of NTIA Director Alan Davidson Before the House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology  |  Read below  |  Speech  |  National Telecommunications and Information Administration


Letter from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to US Attorney General Merrick Garland  |  Read below  |  Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)  |  Letter  |  US Senate
     See also: Federal government is using data from push notifications to track contacts  |  Washington Post
Federal Communications Commission Launches First-Ever Enforcement Partnerships with State Attorneys General  |  Read below  |  Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission
Federal Communications Commissioner Simington Calls For Robust US Cyber Trust Mark  |  Read below  |  Speech  |  Federal Communications Commission
HHS Announces Next Steps in Ongoing Work to Enhance Cybersecurity for Health Care and Public Health Sectors  |  Department of Health and Human Services

Platforms/Social Media/AI

Zuckerberg and Meta Reach Deep into Academia  |  Read below  |  Research  |  Tech Transparency Project
Is Your Phone the Reason You Feel Broke?  |  Read below  |  John Herrman  |  New York Magazine
Ex-Twitter security head claims the company fired him to flout regulations  |  Vox
Sen Cruz (R-TX) Presses Biden Administration on Taxpayer-Funded Censorship  |  US Senate
Congress and E.U. diverge on AI policy, as Brussels races to reach deal  |  Washington Post
Meta Starts Fully Encrypting Messages on Facebook and Messenger App  |  Wall Street Journal


Former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy: I’m Leaving the House but Not the Fight  |  Wall Street Journal

Stories From Abroad

An Update on Twitch in Korea  |  Read below  |  Dan Clancy  |  Press Release  |  Twitch
Today's Top Stories

Cable lobby to Federal Communications Commission: Please don’t look too closely at the prices we charge

Jon Brodkin  |  Ars Technica

The US broadband industry is protesting a Federal Communications Commission plan to measure the affordability of Internet service. The FCC has been evaluating US-wide broadband deployment progress on a near-annual basis for almost three decades but hasn't factored affordability into these regular reviews. The broadband industry is afraid that a thorough examination of prices will lead to more regulation of ISPs. An FCC Notice of Inquiry issued on November 1, 2023 proposes to analyze the affordability of Internet service in the agency's next congressionally required review of broadband deployment. That could include examining not just monthly prices but also data overage charges and various other fees. Cable industry lobby group NCTA-The Internet & Television Association complained in a filing released December 4 that the Notice of Inquiry's "undue focus on affordability—or pricing—is particularly inappropriate." The group, which represents cable providers such as Comcast and Charter, said that setting an affordability benchmark could lead to rate regulation. 

Broadband/Internet Availability Survey Report

This survey asked about technologies used to provide broadband service in members’ historical incumbent and competitive service areas, broadband availability and subscription rates, anchor institutions, fiber deployment and supply chain considerations, competition, internet backbone and middle mile connections, and video service. This survey found that:

  • NTCA members maintain their fiber deployments and offer more robust broadband services as more consumers demand higher speeds
  • Cost of deployment continues to represent the most significant barrier to widespread fiber deployment in rural America
  • NTCA members persist in providing higher speeds of broadband service to anchor institutions in their communities
  • Most NTCA members offer the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to their customers
  • Of those NTCA members that offer video services, most do so through Internet Protocol Television

Tier 3 Mergers & Acquisitions: One Indiana Provider Plans to Buy Another

Phil Britt  |  telecompetitor

Buffalo (IN)-based LightStream has agreed to purchase Monon Telephone Company for an undisclosed price. The transaction is subject to regulatory approvals, which are expected to be final in the first half of 2024. The Monon acquisition would add to LightStream’s existing fiber network in White and Pulaski Counties. Customers added through the potential acquisition can add managed Wi-Fi service to their home or business, in addition to internet and phone services, Lightstream noted in an announcement of the deal. In the announcement, LightStream said that it has invested more than $42 million in its network, although the company didn’t indicate over what time period that occurred.

Fiber Focused: Windstream Wholesale Adds New Dark Fiber Route

Carl Weinschenk  |  telecompetitor

Windstream Wholesale said that its 145-mile dark fiber route between Little Rock (AK) and Memphis (TN) is operational. The route extends the 310-mile “T-Rock Express,” which connects Little Rock and Tulsa (OK). That network went into operation in August 2022. This means that Windstream Wholesale now connects Tulsa to Memphis. The entire 455 fiber-mile route between Tulsa and Memphis offers 432-count high capacity fiber. Windstream Wholesale defines its Intelligent Converged Optical Network (ICON) as an open and disaggregated networking infrastructure. The company said that it has deployed an integrated optical time domain reflectometer (OTDR) system across most of the network. The system provides real-time route monitoring. This speeds alerts and reduces restoration time in the case of any fiber cuts.

House Commerce Committee questions National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Alan Davidson on Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment

Nicole Ferarro  |  Light Reading

'Tis the season for the House Commerce Committee to hold oversight hearings of federal telecommunications agencies. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration's (NTIA) Alan Davidson took the hot seat, answering questions on implementation of the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, spectrum policy and more. The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) was a recurring topic of discussion throughout the hearing, and one Assistant Secretary Davidson raised in his opening statement. The issue of the ACP running out of funds, and the impact that will have on BEAD, was raised by multiple Democrats on the committee, including Rep Yvette Clarke (D-NY), who recently said that she intends to introduce standalone legislation to fund the program by the end of 2023. Assistant Secretary Davidson also reiterated that the BEAD program will still adhere to tech neutrality, as required by the infrastructure law, but would prioritize "fiber first" where possible. Multiple Republicans on the committee raised concerns about how the BEAD program may or may not subject participating providers to "rate regulation" via state plans. While Assistant Secretary Davidson confirmed the NTIA will not engage in rate regulation at the federal level, as is prohibited, he would not commit to rejecting state plans that set a low-cost plan requirement.

Written Statement of NTIA Director Alan Davidson Before the House Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Communications and Technology

Since my last appearance before the House Commerce Committee in May 2023, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) has made considerable progress toward the bipartisan initiatives that Congress tasked to NTIA. These include:

  1. Connecting everyone in America to affordable, reliable high-speed Internet service, no matter where they live;
  2. Maintaining American leadership in wireless innovation by developing a national spectrum strategy, a spectrum pipeline, and data-driven processes for long-term spectrum planning; and
  3. Developing policies that will make for a better Internet – one that offers privacy, security, openness, and trust.

Affordability is a critical component in the Administration’s effort to connect all Americans to high-speed Internet service, and Congress can help by acting now to address the President’s supplemental funding request for the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to ensure that millions of Americans can continue to afford to be connected.

Letter from Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) to US Attorney General Merrick Garland

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR)  |  Letter  |  US Senate

I urge the Department of Justice (DOJ) to permit Apple and Google to inform their customers and the general public about demands for smartphone app notification records. In the spring of 2022, my office received a tip that government agencies in foreign countries were demanding smartphone “push” notification records from Google and Apple. My staff have been investigating this tip for the past year, which included contacting Apple and Google. In response to that query, the companies told my staff that information about this practice is restricted from public release by the government. Push notifications are the instant alerts delivered to smartphone users by apps, such as a notification about a new text message or a news update. They aren't sent directly from the app provider to users’ smartphones. Instead, they pass through a kind of digital post office run by the phone's operating system provider. These services ensure timely and efficient delivery of notifications, but this also means that Apple and Google serve as intermediaries in the transmission process. Apple and Google should be permitted to be transparent about the legal demands they receive, particularly from foreign governments, just as the companies regularly notify users about other types of government demands for data. These companies should be permitted to generally reveal whether they have been compelled to facilitate this surveillance practice, to publish aggregate statistics about the number of demands they receive, and unless temporarily gagged by a court, to notify specific customers about demands for their data. I ask that the DOJ repeal or modify any policies that impede this transparency.

Federal Communications Commission Launches First-Ever Enforcement Partnerships with State Attorneys General

Press Release  |  Federal Communications Commission

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced a new initiative to strengthen and formalize the cooperation between the FCC and its state partners on privacy, data protection, and cybersecurity enforcement matters. As part of the work of the FCC’s Privacy and Data Protection Task Force, the agency’s Enforcement Bureau has signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) with the Attorneys General of Connecticut, Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania to share expertise, resources, and coordinated efforts in conducting privacy, data protection, and cybersecurity-related investigations to protect consumers. The new Memoranda of Understanding affirms that the FCC and State Attorneys General “share close and common legal interests in working cooperatively to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute or otherwise take enforcement action in relation to privacy, data protection, or cybersecurity issues." To lead and coordinate this important work, Chairwoman Rosenworcel created the Privacy and Data Protection Task Force to work on privacy and data protection issues subject to the Commission’s authority under the Communications Act. 

Federal Communications Commissioner Simington Calls For Robust US Cyber Trust Mark

The premise of the US Cyber Trust Mark is simple. As a device manufacturer, you certify that your device meets a list of cybersecurity criteria, such as that you use modern secure communications protocols and implement secure authentication, and in exchange, you get to put a flashy US Cyber Trust Mark logo on your packaging and sales materials, effectively an endorsement from the federal government of the security of your product. In addition to the moral and persuasive authority of the federal government on such issues, the true value of the mark will probably come from organizations, including the federal government itself, adopting the mark as a requirement for their procurement of connected devices. But for the mark to truly transform the security landscape, rather than just add another bureaucratic requirement to already convoluted and wasteful procurement policies, the program needs to be designed correctly. First, the program cannot merely be a checklist of specific security features that a product must have. If security could be reduced to a list of criteria, then it wouldn’t be such a continuing problem. Second, the goal should not be to hand out as many cyber trust mark certifications as possible. Third, receiving the US Cyber Trust Mark should not give a manufacturer a shield from liability. 

Zuckerberg and Meta Reach Deep into Academia

Research  |  Tech Transparency Project

Mark Zuckerberg’s personal philanthropy and his company, Meta, have collectively donated hundreds of millions of dollars to more than 100 US colleges and universities across the country, giving the CEO powerful potential leverage to influence the institutions. The recipients of these donations range from research powerhouses like the University of California, Berkeley, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to smaller institutions like Des Moines Area Community College. In some cases, the gifts can support entire academic programs or make up a big chunk of an institution’s overall funding. The issue of Zuckerberg’s philanthropic gifts and their potential influence on universities came into sharp relief when leading online disinformation expert Joan Donovan accused Harvard University of pushing her out of a job after receiving a $500 million donation from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Donovan, who filed a whistleblower complaint to the U.S. Education Department and the Massachusetts attorney general, said she was subjected to a mounting campaign of pressure and restrictions as her team worked on a project that was acutely embarrassing to Meta—an archive of internal Meta documents leaked by former Facebook employee Frances Haugen. Harvard said it could not find a faculty sponsor to oversee Donovan’s work and denied that she was fired.

Is Your Phone the Reason You Feel Broke?

John Herrman  |  New York Magazine

For the past year, the political class has been wearing itself out over what sounds like a simple question: Why are Americans so down on the economy? One point of agreement is that core indicators seem to have diverged from how people report actually feeling about the economy or are insufficient to explain such things in the first place. This sentimental breakdown presents as either a tricky puzzle or a severe emergency, depending, for example, on whether or not you’re trying to remain president. I won’t argue that smartphones are significantly responsible for America’s sense of economic malaise. What they are is unusually helpful for understanding and interpreting this malaise in common terms. They’re a heightened, sped-up microcosm of the weird, sour vibrancy of the economic moment, little worlds in which participants are both increasingly active and increasingly worried. The new economy surrounding the smartphone tells a clear story. You’ve got adjacent services that were once free and which now cost money. There are the services you subscribed to, pay for, and use on your phone that keep increasing their prices. There are the “free” products that don’t really work unless you pay for upgrades. These payments, and their prices, are almost universally the sorts of things that, while certainly possible to explain or rationalize, and individually not terribly significant, add up in an unpleasant way. You’re getting charged a higher price for the privilege of doing or getting things that, at best, feel the same. All of this can make sense, if you need it too, while also feeling — and looking! — like a bait and switch, a series of small affronts that cost a little bit of money and a lot of goodwill, telling an incomplete but persuasive story of things moving in the wrong direction, forever — especially if you’re young. Smartphones aren’t taking all your money, or even much of it, in the grand scheme of things. But they’re taking more of it than before and rubbing it in your face.

An Update on Twitch in Korea

Dan Clancy  |  Press Release  |  Twitch

We’ve made the difficult decision to shut down the Twitch business in Korea on February 27, 2024. We understand that this is extremely disappointing news, and we want to explain why we made this decision and how we are planning to support those impacted. Ultimately, the cost to operate Twitch in Korea is prohibitively expensive and we have spent significant effort working to reduce these costs so that we could find a way for the Twitch business to remain in Korea. First, we experimented with a peer-to-peer model for source quality. Then, we adjusted source quality to a maximum of 720p. While we have lowered costs from these efforts, our network fees in Korea are still 10 times more expensive than in most other countries. Twitch has been operating in Korea at a significant loss, and unfortunately there is no pathway forward for our business to run more sustainably in that country.

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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), Grace Tepper (grace AT benton DOT org), and David L. Clay II (dclay AT benton DOT org) — we welcome your comments.

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