Monday, February 18, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
Government & Communications
Stories From Abroad
On February 13, 2019, the White House released the American Broadband Initiative Milestones Report, an update on the Trump Administration’s signature inter-agency strategy to stimulate increased private investment in broadband infrastructure and services to fill broadband connectivity gaps in America. The Trump Administration is making it clearer that the billions needed to connect everyone to broadband will come from private investment facilitated by cutting red tape and access to federal assets. The Administration stands ready to serve the broadband industry better. The question remains: will the broadband industry serve rural America better?
A recently introduced Senate bill would create a dedicated office for rural-broadband expansion inside the Federal Communications Commission. If enacted, the legislation would order the FCC to create an Office of Rural Broadband. That new agency would coordinate with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service and the Universal Service Administrative Company — an FCC-backed nonprofit that distributes broadband funds to underfunded areas — to maintain information on federal rural broadband programs.
The bill is sponsored by Sens Kevin Cramer (R-ND), John Hoeven (R-SD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
Tim Berners-Lee wants to change the face of the internet he created. In Sept 2018, the father of the world wide web announced the launch of startup Inrupt, co-founded with cybersecurity entrepreneur John Bruce, which has as its mission “to restore rightful ownership of data back to every web user.” Since 2015, Berners-Lee has been working on a new web infrastructure called Solid, which rethinks how web apps store and share personal data. Inrupt aims to drive the development of the Solid platform and transform it from an innovative idea to a viable platform for businesses and consumers. The big idea behind Solid is that, instead of a company storing all your personal data on their servers, you would keep it on your own personal data “pod”, located on a Solid server. You could run your own server or host it with a provider, much like a personal website. You could then give individual apps permission to read and write to your pod. When you want to stop using an app, you just revoke its access. The data remains on your pod, and businesses making apps never have to worry about storing it, deleting it, or making it easily exportable.
High school students in rural parts of the US face significant challenges accessing technology that may adversely affect their learning — access that students in more populated parts of the country and policymakers may take for granted, according to surveys of students who took the national ACT test. A new report, “Rural Students: Technology, Coursework and Extracurricular Activities” found that rural students were less likely than non-rural students to claim that their home internet access was “great” (36 percent vs. 46 percent). Similarly, rural students were almost twice as likely as non-rural students to state that their internet access was “unpredictable” (16 percent vs. 9 percent). At school, however, there were no substantive differences in reported internet quality between rural and non-rural students. Given that rural students lack access to rigorous coursework, this lack of technological access may impede their course-taking success and their ability to participate in online courses and other opportunities for personalized learning.
Organisations run by Charles Koch have begun to lobby US politicians on data privacy, as the American billionaire and conservative donor deepens his unlikely alliance with Silicon Valley, and Google in particular. Koch-affiliated organisations, including the Charles Koch Institute and Americans for Prosperity, have identified privacy as one of their top political priorities for the year, as politicians prepare the first drafts of a bill that could, for the first time, place national limits on how technology companies use data, including banning companies from passing on customer data to third parties. The issue has brought together the Republican power broker and major players in the technology industry, including Google.
Billy Easley, senior technology policy analyst at Americans for Prosperity, said, "It is essential to protect privacy without destroying Americans’ ability to create groundbreaking technology. Heavy-handed measures can choke off innovation while doing little to protect consumers and unleashing unintended consequences.”
In 2018, Congress set the stage to pass a sweeping consumer data-privacy law in 2019, but prospects for legislation are dimming amid sharpening divides among lawmakers over how far the federal government should go in reining in Big Tech. Silicon Valley and its Republican allies are pushing for a national standard that would override state regulations—including California’s landmark 2018 law, which broadens the definition of personal information and gives consumers the right to prevent their data from being sold. They are running up against fierce resistance from Democrats, especially the party’s ascendant young progressives and its large California delegation. Many of these lawmakers are wary of the expanding influence of companies such as Facebook, Alphabet, and Amazon, and don’t want a national law that weakens state measures already in place.
“The fact that—even after many hearings last year on the misuse of personal data—not one consensus bill has been introduced is telling,” said Gigi Sohn of the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology and Policy. “Republicans and Democrats seem to still be far apart on the best way to address this problem.”
Senate Commerce Committee leaders signaled they do not expect to unveil a draft privacy bill along with the committee’s hearing on Feb. 27. “There won’t be any unveiling,” said Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS). “But I know a lot of people are working hard on various approaches.” Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) echoed the remarks. “I don’t think it’s that close,” he said of the prospects of a draft bill unveiling at the hearing. Still, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said the panel’s working group has made “steady progress.”
For the last 25 years, the official policy of the United States with regard to digital privacy has been to rely on "market mechanisms," primarily policed by the Federal Trade Commission's Section 5 authority to prosecute "unfair and deceptive" practices. Despite 25 years and increasing dissatisfaction, both industry proponents and other stakeholders and decisionmakers continue to insist that market forces will either produce market-based privacy solutions or, in the alternative, consumers do not actually value privacy despite their statements to the contrary. In this blog post, I apply the rationale of George Akerlof's seminal paper "The Market For Lemons" to the existing privacy market. I conclude that, like the used car market analyzed by Akerlof, the structure of the privacy market makes it unreasonable to expect that privacy friendly services to emerge, with the exception of "pay for privacy" services (similar to the way that the market for new cars differs from the market for used cars).
Businesses with websites that can’t be navigated by the blind are getting pummeled with lawsuits. The new frontier in federal disability litigation has accelerated dramatically in recent years, with some companies now getting hit by lawsuits for the second or third time even after they’ve reached settlements to upgrade their sites. The complaints typically detail roadblocks that visually impaired individuals face when using “screen reader” tools that read the contents of a website aloud. The lawsuits often seek improvements to websites to ensure the technology functions. Companies say the suits—targeting restaurants and retail stores, art galleries and banks—are fueled by plaintiffs’ lawyers looking for an easy payday. Disabled consumers argue they deserve to be able to access the internet freely.
The Federal Communications Commission takes an all-of-the-above approach to public safety, so in addition to meeting our statutory obligations, the Commission is pursuing its own initiatives to strengthen emergency calling. One issue we took on in 2018 was the problem of “misrouted” 911 calls from wireless phones. Another challenge on the horizon is identifying a wireless 911 caller’s vertical location in multistory buildings. The last issue I want to hit on is one that makes me and a lot of other people angry: 911 fee diversion. Each year, the FCC submits a report to Congress on this issue. And each year, we see that a small but significant number of states continue to divert resources that should go to 911 but don’t. In light of the fact that this is the tenth iteration of this report and we still see states diverting funds, it’s clear that transparency alone isn’t enough to shame the offending states into doing the right thing. I’m ready and willing to work with Congress and other stakeholders to make sure that all public safety communications fees strengthen the public safety communications system.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, who has long attracted rumors about a potential run for political office, shot down speculation that he would seek the seat in his home state of Kansas that Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) will vacate with his upcoming retirement. Asked about his interest at a press conference following the FCC’s February meeting, Chairman Pai said, “I’ve said repeatedly that I’m going to be the FCC chairman for the next two years, and I have no plans to do anything else during that time.”
Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O’Rielly announced that he has hired Joel Miller as new chief of staff, press contact, and media advisor in his office. Miller intends to begin work on Feb 25, 2019. He replaces Brooke Ericson, who previously departed for a position in the private sector. Miller is currently employed as Deputy Chief of Staff and Legislative Director for Rep Brett Guthrie (R-KY) with responsibility for Rep Guthrie’s communications work on the House Commerce Committee.
British Members of Parliament have called for a regulator to police content on social media sites, financed by a new levy on tech companies, and an inquiry into the effect of disinformation on past electoral contests. Concluding an 18-month long investigation into “fake news”, disinformation and political campaigns, the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee also accused Facebook of “intentionally and knowingly” violating data privacy laws and said it should be the subject of a probe by the competition and data watchdogs. Damian Collins, the Conservative MP who chairs the committee, warned that democracy was at risk because of targeted disinformation campaigns from unidentifiable sources, delivered through social media platforms.
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.
© Benton Foundation 2019. Redistribution of this email publication — both internally and externally — is encouraged if it includes this message. For subscribe/unsubscribe info email: headlines AT benton DOT org
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
727 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
headlines AT benton DOT org
The Benton Foundation All Rights Reserved © 2019