Tuesday, January 29, 2019
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Today: State of the Net and PrivacyCon
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A coalition of cable and wireless organizations are asking a judge to invalidate Vermont's new network neutrality law on the grounds that the measure goes against federal policy. VT lawmakers “purposefully acted to undermine federal law,” the American Cable Association, CTIA -- The Wireless Association, NCTA -- The Internet & Television Association, New England Cable & Telecommunications Association and USTelecom -- The Broadband Association write in court papers filed Jan 23 with US District Court Judge Christina Reiss in VT. “This case is about Vermont’s efforts to nullify federal law by imposing state-specific rules on an interstate communications service that the [Federal Communications Commission] -- under both Democratic and Republican administrations -- has held must be subject to a uniform federal regulatory approach, rather than a patchwork of state regulations,” the broadband organizations add.
Google Fiber says dozens of customers remain without home internet nearly two weeks after a major winter storm knocked out service for many across Kansas City. The company says technicians are "working night and day" to get subscribers back online, but many customers say they're fed up and that their trust in the Silicon Valley brand they once admired is gone. "We're actively looking to switch providers," says Julie Gronquist-Blodgett. "Our experience now is counter to how I used to view Google." Gronquist-Blodgett says she and her husband have called Google Fiber multiple times and not been able to get a clear answer for why their outage has persisted, even as neighbors have had their service restored. She says not being able to watch TV, which they get through the Internet, is one thing, but their home security cameras and baby monitors also run through Wi-Fi.
In 2008, Northern Michigan University (NMU) elected to tackle the lack of adequate broadband access in its community head-on. With over 8,000 notebook computers assigned to its students, NMU launched an aggressive plan to construct the nation’s first Educational Broadband Service (EBS) WiMAX network. To make it work, NMU turned to the Broadband Division of the Federal Communications Commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau for assistance securing an EBS spectrum license needed for WiMAX operation. Our success captured the attention of other educators, especially those with one-to-one computing programs in the region who faced similar challenges with home broadband access. Ultimately, the NMU network will cover 21,548 miles of rugged, rural terrain, connecting previously unserved and underserved communities throughout the Upper Peninsula. Simply put, without EBS, NMU’s network could not have been built and subscribers throughout northern Michigan would likely have remained on the wrong side of the digital divide.
[Fritz J. Erickson is President of Northern Michigan University.]
Three districts in northwestern Alaska are pioneering a high-speed fiber-optic cable connection that has the potential to transform how education is delivered in the state—and shrink a connectivity gap between rural Alaska and the majority of American schools. A little-known Anchorage-based company called Quintillion established rapid underwater pathways between global commerce centers, connecting an Alaska branch (phase one) to Asia (phase two) and the United Kingdom (phase three). The enterprise is aimed squarely at international stock traders who could, someday, hook into the fiber to shave milliseconds off their transaction speeds—a prospect worth millions of dollars. In March, Nome (AK) Public Schools became the first school district to connect to the cable. The fiber-optic route exists here in large part because of global warming, which has led to Arctic Sea ice inching farther away from Alaska’s shoreline each season.
Public Knowledge, joined by the Benton Foundation and 14 consumer, rural, and public interest groups, filed a Petition for Reconsideration opposing the Federal Communications Commission’s recent Declaratory Ruling classifying text messaging as a Title I information service under the Communications Act. The groups believe this action undermines the public’s right to use text messaging without undue interference from wireless companies. John Bergmayer, Senior Counsel at Public Knowledge, said “The FCC's decision on the classification of SMS is bad policy, and legally untenable...But that's not the only reason we're asking the Commission to reconsider its decision. In addition, the final Order introduces new legal errors not present in the circulated draft, and fails to consider relevant policy issues concerning consumer privacy and access to SMS for institutions such as schools."
The Trump administration has banned contractors from using Huawei tech, and major carriers do not use Huawei equipment that could compromise that contract work. But the same isn’t true for smaller companies without those contracts. In the face of the unfolding controversy, the Federal Communications Commission has proposed rules that could prevent companies from using agency funds to buy equipment from businesses deemed a security risk — or possibly from using equipment from companies like Huawei at all. Small carriers will likely feel the brunt of that policy. To build out its infrastructure, those small carriers say they often rely on Huawei, which has become the largest provider of telecommunications equipment in the world, offering whatever tools a company might need. Some of the companies argue that the Huawei-made equipment can mean several million dollars in savings. In a filing to the FCC, the Rural Wireless Association, which represents small service providers as well as Huawei itself, has claimed that the costs associated with dumping Huawei products would be substantial.
C Spire, the nation’s sixth-largest wireless operator, is partnering with Airspan Networks, Microsoft, Nokia and Siklu to improve and extend the availability of fixed and wireless broadband in rural areas. The consortium announced plans to develop new coordinated models with regional fixed and wireless broadband providers, utilities and other agencies to close the gap in affordability and access in rural communities. The rural broadband initiative is set to begin the week of Jan 28 with technical discussions at a workshop in New Orleans (LA). The consortium says it will provide more details about initial trial technologies and markets at Mobile World Congress in Feb.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is planning to integrate the underlying infrastructure of Facebook Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp, allowing users to message each other between apps, but some lawmakers, regulators, and security experts are already beginning to question whether the benefits outweigh the consequences. “Good for encryption but bad for competition and privacy,” tweeted Seante Communciations Subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Schatz (D-HI). Sen Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said, “Facebook and Google’s dominance over data has already harmed consumers and the economy. The Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice must take Big Tech’s invasive, anticompetitive practices seriously and begin to vigorously enforce our laws.” “When it comes to privacy, we can no longer give Facebook the benefit of the doubt,” said Sen Ed Markey (D-MA). “Now that Facebook plans to integrate its messaging services, we need more than mere assurances from the company that this move will not come at the expense of users’ data privacy and security. We cannot allow platform integration to become privacy disintegration.”
When it comes to your digital profile, the data you choose to share is just the tip of an iceberg. The first layer is the one you do control. The second layer is made of behavioral observations. The third layer is composed of interpretations of the first and second.
Your online profile is not always built on facts. It is shaped by technology companies and advertisers who make key decisions based on their interpretation of seemingly benign data points: what movies you choose to watch, the time of day you tweet, or how long you take to click on a cat video. Many decisions that affect your life are now dictated by the interpretation of your data profile rather than personal interactions. And it’s not just about advertising banners influencing the brand of the soap you buy—the same mechanics of profiling users and targeting messages apply to political campaigns and visa applications as much as supermarket metrics.
[Katarzyna Szymielewicz is co-founder of Panoptykon Foundation, a Polish NGO defending human rights in surveillance society.]
The Justice Department announced criminal charges against Huawei, the world’s largest communications equipment manufacturer, and one of its top executives — a move likely to intensify trade tensions between the US and China. A 13-count indictment filed in New York City against Huawei, two of its affiliated firms, and its chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, accuses Huawei and an affiliate of bank fraud and wire fraud. The company is also charged with violating US sanctions on Iran and conspiring to obstruct justice related to the investigation. The Justice Department also accused Huawei of conspiring to steal trade secrets from a competitor, T-Mobile. The charges relate to a criminal investigation that stemmed from a 2014 civil suit between the two companies. In that civil case, T-Mobile accused Huawei of stealing proprietary robotics technology that the telecom company used to diagnose quality-control issues in cellphones. Huawei was found guilty in May 2017.
The paper argues that the current first-to-market approach to connected technologies -- including Internet of Things devices -- has undermined public trust in these technologies and the internet, jeopardizing both our economy and democracy. To combat this, the paper proposes the creation of a “Security Shield” label to inform purchasers that a product has followed recognized best cybersecurity practices and should be more secure than similar products without such a label. As the paper explains, providing consumer-facing labels to indicate which products are assessed to be more secure than others enables companies to compete on security in order to help differentiate their products. Doing so also empowers consumers to have an informed influence on the market, as a label would help consumers who prefer more secure products to find and purchase those items. In the same way that programs like “Energy Star” provide a means for manufacturers to incorporate and improve energy efficient designs, a labeling program for cybersecurity can encourage a secure-to-market approach for new devices and associated software. This will prove particularly important as the Internet of Things dramatically expands the number of internet-enabled devices over the next decade. A security shield label for consumer Internet of Things devices is an important first step to foster sustainable cybersecurity practices and restore consumer trust in the marketplace.
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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