Monday, January 28, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
Elections and Media
Stories From Abroad
Earlier this month we examined how partisan division at the Federal Communications Commission impedes progress towards closing the digital divide. Now, we review another big telecom policy story from 2018: the democratic harms of “Big Tech”. In 2018, we got a better, but more disturbing, understanding of the size and influence of large technology companies (Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft), and particularly how social media platforms affect our democratic discourse and elections. Furthermore, we saw how their power and influence can keep consumer protection policies from being enacted.
Advocacy groups urged the Federal Trade Commission to order a breakup of Facebook after the agency concludes its investigation into the company’s handling of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The groups, led by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, wrote in a letter to FTC Chairman Joseph Simons that modest enforcement actions would not be adequate to curb Facebook’s privacy practices. They urged the FTC to require Facebook to divest from subsidiaries like WhatsApp and Instagram and to impose a fine of at least $2 billion on the social media giant. The agency is probing whether Facebook violated a consent agreement the two sides reached in 2011 that required the company not to misrepresent its privacy practices. Among those signing onto the letter were the Open Markets Institute, the civil rights group Color of Change and Common Sense Media.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg plans to integrate the social network’s messaging services — WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger — asserting his control over the company’s sprawling divisions at a time when its business has been battered by scandals. The move requires thousands of Facebook employees to reconfigure how WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook Messenger function at their most basic levels. Zuckerberg has also ordered all of the apps to incorporate end-to-end encryption, a significant step that protects messages from being viewed by anyone except the participants in the conversation. The changes may raise questions of data privacy because of how user information may be shared between the services. Today, WhatsApp requires people to register only a phone number to sign up for the service. By contrast, Facebook and Facebook Messenger ask users to provide their real identities. Matching Facebook and Instagram users to their WhatsApp handles could give pause to those who prefer keeping their use of each app compartmentalized.
The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit has released a detailed guide to its network neutrality oral argument scheduled for 9:30am on Feb 1. The Court live streams audio of all oral arguments, except when classified or sealed matters must be discussed. A link will be provided on the court internet site home page. Audio recordings of the oral arguments will be available by 2:00pm on Feb 1.
T-Mobile announced the launch of the Coolpad Surf, a 600MHz mobile hot spot that’s aiming to bring service to rural areas. It’s the first mobile hot spot to support Band 71, or 600MHz LTE, which T-Mobile recently won the spectrum license for from the Federal Communications Commission Broadcast Incentive auction last April. A number of phones have been released with Band 71 support since then, including the iPhone XS and XR, Samsung Galaxy S9, and the OnePlus 6T. T-Mobile says that Band 71 is designed to provide better coverage for rural customers, which has traditionally been a weak point for the carrier. The device costs $72, and data plans start at $10 a month for 2GB of data and go up to $85 a month for 22GB of data.
When communities design broadband infrastructure to facilitate healthcare and telehealth delivery, they obviously plan to connect medical practitioners’ hospitals, offices, and other healthcare facilities. Network connections to homes are growing in importance as government policies and market forces favor telehealth deployments. What about schools and libraries? In many communities, school districts and libraries outperform broadband in people’s homes. For example, the Federal Communications Commission through it its E-Rate fund gives schools and libraries hundreds of millions of dollars to build higher speed networks. Subsequently, these institutions often have the fastest broadband connections in the community. Logic and need, therefore, seem to dictate that communities consider telehealth delivery in schools and libraries. School administrators and parents prefer that students, teachers, and parents spend as little time as possible out of school for sickness or traveling to doctors’ offices. Libraries reach out and touch virtually everyone in their communities across the entire economic spectrum.
[Craig Settles consults with municipalities and co-ops about their broadband networks’ business and marketing plans]
As Americans brace for the next presidential campaign — already underway and showing on a screen near you — press pundits are worried about the news media’s readiness for the challenge ahead. Will reporters follow the same assumptions that made the outcome in 2016 such a shock? Can pollsters reassure a public that has soured on the power of political forecasting?
There was a proliferation of fake news during the 2016 election cycle. Grinberg et al. analyzed Twitter data by matching Twitter accounts to specific voters to determine who was exposed to fake news, who spread fake news, and how fake news interacted with factual news. Fake news accounted for nearly 6% of all news consumption, but it was heavily concentrated—only 1% of users were exposed to 80% of fake news, and 0.1% of users were responsible for sharing 80% of fake news. Individuals most likely to engage with fake news sources were conservative leaning, older, and highly engaged with political news.
Lawmakers are voicing concern about how the partial government shutdown is slowing the work of key tech and telecom agencies. House Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) called a Jan. 31 hearing on how the shutdown is affecting federal agencies, and the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission will be part of the mix. Both agencies have furloughed large parts of their staff, and many of their regular activities have been paused. Expect questions about the FCC’s ability to police robocalls and the FTC’s stalled investigation of Facebook’s privacy practices. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) accused FCC Chairman Ajit Pai of having “stiffed” Chairman Pallone, in rejecting his request for an emergency briefing on how wireless carriers handle user location data. Chairman Pai said the FCC “has already has been investigating this issue” and that it “will resume once the shutdown has ended.”
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) announced member assignments for each subcommittee. Leading the Communications Subcommittee will be Sen. John Thune (R-SD), with Sen Brian Schatz (D-HI) being named Ranking Member. Majority Members of the Subcommittee:
- Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN)
- Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO)
- Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV)
- Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX)
- Sen. Deb Fischer (R-NE)
- Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO)
- Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI)
- Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT)
- Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS)
- Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL)
- Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK)
- Sen. Todd Young (R-IN)
Minority Members of the Subcommittee:
- Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
- Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT)
- Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
- Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA)
- Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI)
- Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV)
- Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)
- Sen. John Tester (D-MT)
- Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM)
Stories From Abroad
Over the past year, the United States has embarked on a stealthy, occasionally threatening, global campaign to prevent Huawei and other Chinese firms from participating in the most dramatic remaking of the plumbing that controls the internet since it sputtered into being, in pieces, 35 years ago. The administration contends that the world is engaged in a new arms race — one that involves technology, rather than conventional weaponry, but poses just as much danger to America’s national security. In an age when the most powerful weapons, short of nuclear arms, are cyber-controlled, whichever country dominates 5G will gain an economic, intelligence and military edge for much of this century.
Telefónica took a small bite out of its debt load by selling off two of its operations in Central America to América Móvil for $648 million. América Móvil, which is owned by billionaire Carlos Slim, has competed against Telefónica in Latin America for several decades, but Telefónica has struck a deal to sell its operations in Guatemala and El Salvador. Telefónica's regional subsidiary, Telefonica Centroamérica Inversiones, in which Telefónica owns a 60% stake while Corporación Multi Inversiones owns the remaining 40% stake, has reached a deal to sell all of Telefónica Guatemala and 99.3% of Telefónica El Salvador to América Móvil.
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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