Tuesday, January 8, 2019
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In trying to push 5G to rural areas, telecommunication companies say they are faced with high costs to install infrastructure and not enough customers to defray those costs. Companies believe they would need to charge unreasonably high rates in order to cover their costs, which would likely mean fewer subscribers. If the costs of investing in 5G infrastructure to help roll the technology out nationwide are too burdensome, experts have a few ideas on how to help bear those costs, including using partnerships with local governments and encouraging carriers to work together. Former Gov Jack Markell (D-DE) said public-private partnerships (P3s) could be a good way to stimulate 5G activity in rural communities, although that represents a departure from the federal government’s position that leaders should be “clearing the way for innovation” and letting the private sector lead the way. A state’s public service commissions, which regulate public utilities’ rates and services, are an opportune place to start. Markell said if commissioners can be convinced of the need to modernize and upgrade communications networks, they could help ease the way forward.
AT&T has updated three smartphones from Samsung and LG to make them show 5G connectivity logos, even though none of them are capable of connecting to 5G networks. Now, when the Samsung Galaxy S8 Active, LG V30, or LG V40 are connected to portions of AT&T’s LTE network that have received some speed-boosting updates, they’ll show an icon that says “5G E” instead of “LTE.” That “E” in the “5G” logo is supposed to tip you off that this isn’t real 5G — just some marketing nonsense. But there’s no way of knowing that just from looking at the logo. The “E” is smaller than the rest of the icon. And even if you do learn that “5G E” stands for “5G Evolution,” it isn’t immediately clear what that means.
To win the 5G marketing wars, AT&T has decided to brand portions of its LTE network as “5G Evolution.” These portions of AT&T’s network have received speed-boosting upgrades and should be faster than typical LTE, but AT&T isn’t doing anything that other carriers haven’t already implemented. And these are still, by definition, LTE technologies — not 5G ones. So this is exclusively about marketing, not about improving your phone.
The digital divide looks like Buffalo’s (NY) Broadway Market on a Friday afternoon: a dozen round tables thronged with lunchgoers – and nary a laptop or tablet among them. Most households in this neighborhood don’t own such devices, new first-of-its-kind federal data show. And even fewer have the means to go online with them, either at the Broadway Market or in their own homes. The data, released by the Census Bureau in Dec, expose for the first time the true depths of the digital gap in the region: While 80 percent of households in Erie and Niagara counties are online, low-income pockets of Buffalo, Lockport and Niagara Falls have fallen off the grid. The disparities are starkest on Buffalo’s East Side, particularly in the Broadway-Fillmore district, where fewer than two in five homes have internet on some blocks. The new numbers come at a time of mounting alarm among city and school officials, who have called for more aggressive policy action to address disparities they say could deepen poverty in the region. Luis Taveras, the city’s new chief information officer, says his department will soon begin advocating for free, citywide public Wi-Fi to advance what he calls “digital inclusion.” “It's something that we need to really focus on,” he said. “We've been talking about the digital divide for a long time – but here we still are with these statistics.”
Will this new Congress be the one to pass data privacy legislation? So far the Senate has done the most visible work. And, with a variety of stakeholders contributing input, will this be enough to bring about passage? As a committed optimist, it’s my belief that there is a sweet spot where business interests and privacy advocates can converge. There is a brief window for this to happen, because once California’s new privacy law takes effect at the beginning of 2020 and the next federal election takes shape, agreement is likely to become more difficult. Privacy and consumer legislation have fared well in divided government. The cornerstones of federal privacy law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Privacy Act, were enacted in 1974 when Republicans held the White House and Democrats the Congress. Another wave of privacy laws—the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 on financial privacy—was passed under the Clinton administration with Republicans in control of Congress. Whether privacy legislation can follow this pattern in 2019 will test whether this Congress seeks to pass legislation—or to build political brands.
A bill in the North Dakota Senate would require patients to do a video or in-person examination for their initial visit with a telemedicine provider. In 2017, the North Dakota Board of Medicine drafted a rule that would require a video exam or face-to-face visit for the patient's first telemedicine appointment. But the rule was shot down by the state legislature's Administrative Rules Committee in March. Committee members stated that the rule was "arbitrary and capricious," according to meeting minutes. The rule also received strong pushback from some health care organizations, including Teladoc, whose representatives told lawmakers that the requirement would disenfranchise people without access to broadband or technology.
Facebook said it is investigating whether an organization backed by Internet billionaire and Democratic megadonor Reid Hoffman violated the social media giant’s policies when it set up several misleading news pages in a bid to target US voters with left-leaning political messages. The probe focuses on News for Democracy, whose Facebook ads and affiliated pages about sports, religion, the American flag and other topics were viewed millions of times during the 2018 midterm elections, according to an analysis of the company ad archive conducted by New York University. News for Democracy’s potential violations may have included Facebook's community standards and advertising policies which emphasize authenticity and ban “misrepresentation,” including coordinated efforts to mislead people about the origin of content.
Government & Communications
President Donald Trump is ramping up his efforts to make a public case for his border wall as the partial government shutdown is now in its third week, planning a prime-time address Jan 8 and a visit to the border Jan 10. Some Democrats responded to the news of Trump’s address with concern that he would mislead the American people about the situation at the border. The speech shapes up as both a policy issue and a political stunt — an attempt by the president to persuade the public that his vision of a border wall trumps Democratic opposition to it. As such, the White House’s request for airtime is more problematic than other kinds of presidential addresses, such as a response to a national defense emergency, an economic crisis or the annual State of the Union speech. The networks also have to balance their obligation to inform viewers about current affairs versus their desire not to preempt lucrative prime-time entertainment programs for the speech.
In fact, the broadcast networks — ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC — didn’t show President Barack Obama’s immigration speech in November 2014, when he outlined changes in immigration policy. That speech was delivered during a “sweeps” month, in which ratings for prime-time programs are used to set future ad prices. Only the cable networks CNN, Fox News and Fox Business Network had confirmed that they would carry Trump’s speech. The major broadcast networks said they were considering the request or remained silent when asked for comment.
While the broadcast networks typically carry presidential addresses, there is no requirement or regulation compelling them to do so. “This isn’t state television,” in which authorities control the airwaves, said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, a veteran communications attorney at the Georgetown University Law Center. Nor are the networks’ hundreds of affiliated local stations required to air programs distributed by their network partners. On the other hand, they can choose to air a presidential speech even if their affiliated network isn’t airing it. A spokesman for the National Association of Broadcasters, which represents local stations, said “traditionally and typically” networks and stations will carry a presidential address “since we are committed to our role as first informers.”
President Donald Trump launched a fresh attack on the news media, writing in tweets that it consists of many “crazed lunatics,” and he again invoked the derogatory term “enemy of the people.” “With all of the success that our Country is having, including the just released jobs numbers which are off the charts, the Fake News & totally dishonest Media concerning me and my presidency has never been worse,” President Trump said in the first of the tweets. “Many have become crazed lunatics who have given up on the TRUTH!” President Trump asserted, without citing any specifics, that the “Fake News” knowingly lies and makes up sources to make him look bad. “The Fake News Media in our Country is the real Opposition Party,” he said. “It is truly the Enemy of the People! We must bring honesty back to journalism and reporting!” President Trump has described the news media as the “enemy of the people” in 18 tweets since June. He has said about 80 percent of the media falls into that category. A couple of hours later, President Trump was back on Twitter, taking issue with a New York Times story that reported that his national security adviser, John Bolton, had rolled back President Trump’s decision to rapidly withdraw US troops from Syria.
An elected official in Virginia violated the First Amendment when she temporarily blocked a constituent on Facebook, a federal appeals court ruled Jan 7, in a novel case with implications for how government officials nationwide interact with constituents on social media. The unanimous ruling from the US Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit is the first from an appeals court to answer the question of whether free speech protections prevent public officials from barring critics from their social media feeds. The 42-page opinion addresses the Facebook page of Phyllis J. Randall, chair of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors, but President Donald Trump is facing a similar lawsuit for silencing critics on his active Twitter account, which has millions of followers. Both officials, in separate court filings, contend their accounts on privately owned digital platforms are personal and that they can restrict who gets a chance to speak there without crossing constitutional lines. The Richmond-based appeals court disagreed. Public officials cannot block critical comments on digital platforms used to conduct official government business and to interact with constituents, the court concluded.
The 2019 Consumer Electronics Show is revving up in Las Vegas (NV), but even technology’s biggest trade event isn’t immune to the effects of the partial government shutdown. Organizers said that several scheduled government speakers have canceled their travel plans. These include Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and at least nine other federal officials. Transportation Sec Elaine Chao is still planning to deliver a keynote talk Jan 9 on federal initiatives to advance drone technology and self-driving vehicles.
A legend is leaving the Federal Communications Commission as the new year begins. Her name is Karen Peltz Strauss. Some of you may not have heard of her, but to the nation’s disabilities communities, she is a hero. She achieved this status the old-fashioned way. She earned it. In over 40 years in Washington, I have been privileged to work with many brilliant public servants. Karen Peltz Strauss is in the top-most tier of these incredibly able people. Her star shines brightly in the public service firmament. She came to the agency with a goal, she never wavered from that goal, and she achieved an awesome number of accomplishments that made millions of lives better. What better accolade than that a person helped make people’s lives better?
[Michael Copps served as a commissioner on the Federal Communications Commission from May 2001 to December 2011 and was the FCC's Acting Chairman from January to June 2009.]
Before the Senate voted to bring the Federal Communications Commission back to full strength, the White House informally discussed a potential slot on the commission with Senate Commerce Committee aide Crystal Tully. The conversations came amid a flurry of speculation about FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s future at the agency, though he said in November he expects to stay on for the next two years. The talks were preliminary, given that it’s unclear when a Republican seat will open up. Commissioner Mike O’Rielly’s term expires in June, but he can stay on as late as the end of 2020.
Tully, if you're scoring at home, is described by some as a well-qualified candidate with strong Senate support, should a seat become available. “When there is an opening, I know she gets talked about,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD). He named her deputy staff director of the Senate Commerce Committee after she served as policy director and counsel for communications and technology. Her portfolio has included work on legislation related to online sex trafficking, 5G infrastructure deployment and the slew of telecommunications provisions in 2018’s omnibus spending bill. Her background also includes stints at the Competitive Carriers Association and Charter Communications.
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance is looking for nominations for the fourth annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. This year, we are excited to announce that not only one award will be presented, but two. In addition to recognizing an outstanding person who has truly made a difference in the field of Digital Equity, we wish to recognize an up and coming Digital Inclusion Practitioner as well. Nominees should exhibit some combination of the following characteristics on which the award will be based:
- Sustained commitment to digital inclusion programs, practices, and/or policy work
- Applied innovative approaches to addressing and solving problems
- Promoted impact evaluation and made extensive use of data to shape digital inclusion programs and share best practices
- Demonstrated leadership in his/her community, with impact and inclusion in mind
- Showed commitment to collaboration and inclusion that can be scaled and replicated
- Eligibility for this award is limited to U.S. residents.
The nomination form can be completed here: Nomination Form. The deadline for nominations for this year’s award is midnight Eastern Daylight Time Feb 1, 2019.
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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