Wednesday, February 27, 2019
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- Critics are wary of the FTC's new tech antitrust task force | Wired
Stories From Abroad
Internet inclusion is not guaranteed. Because of the Internet’s power and reach in our lives, uneven access can compound existing social and economic inequalities. The latest edition of the Inclusive Internet Index reveals that progress on closing the digital divide between low-income countries and the rest of the world has stalled, reflecting slow growth in internet connections and 4G network coverage in the past year. However, the gender gap, which favors men’s internet access over that of women, continues to narrow. The index, compiled by The Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by Facebook, provides an international benchmark of internet inclusion across four categories: Availability, Affordability, Relevance, and Readiness. Its aim is to measure the extent to which internet use promotes positive social and economic outcomes.
- Growth in internet connections slowed in 2019, while a concerning divide is emerging between low-income countries and the rest. Among the 68 countries that were included in all three years of the index, the rate of growth in household internet connections slowed to 3% in 2019, from 8% in 2018. In low-income countries, expansion of internet connections was a mere 1%. This stands in marked contrast to 2018, when this latter group saw a 65% expansion in internet connections.
- While men still have higher rates of internet and mobile access than women, the gender gap is narrowing. Low-income and lower-middle-income countries are driving the change. There is a gender gap in internet access in favor of men in 84% of the countries in the 2019 index. This gap widened in high-income countries, to 4.3% more men than women having access, up from 3.5% in 2018. However, low-income and lower-middle-income countries actually drove progress overall.
- Connection quality has improved overall, driven mostly by lower-middle-income countries, but low-income nations are falling behind on 4G coverage. Low-income countries saw the share of population covered by 4G networks rise nearly four percentage points to 21%. In addition, mobile broadband subscriptions per 100 inhabitants grew by 0.3% this year globally, but low-income countries actually saw a decline of 2%.
It’s concerning when one of the nation’s largest internet and voice service providers files for bankruptcy. Windstream provides critical 9-1-1 service and I will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure that there are no disruptions. Windstream also provides broadband service to over 1 million customers across the US and it is essential that their interests are represented and protected as the company reorganizes. I will also be watching to ensure that Windstream makes proper use of the millions of dollars in Universal Service funding it receives and that it meets all broadband connectivity and other commitments related to that funding. I’m sure that this process is unsettling for Windstream’s customers and employees, so I am glad that Windstream took immediate steps to ensure that it can continue to operate.
Companies hunting for space to place wireless equipment in New York City snapped up the rights to street lamps and traffic lights dotting Fifth Avenue in the heart of Manhattan in 2013. They didn’t stake claims to large clusters of sites in less affluent areas until three years later. City officials are now trying to change that trend, pushing companies that lease public space for telecom-equipment installations to move more aggressively beyond the city’s core, to improve wireless services more quickly for a broader swath of residents. The city limited the number of poles those companies could claim within the core area of Manhattan in its most recent round of leasing, in an effort to get the companies to allocate money that they would have spent there to poles that were available elsewhere. New York’s efforts underscore questions of digital access and economic inequality that municipalities across the country are grappling with as they determine how to lease public space to facilitate the buildout of 5G networks.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected the Justice Department’s bid to roll back AT&T’s 2018 acquisition of entertainment company Time Warner, a second defeat for government antitrust enforcers who sought to sink the $80 billion-plus deal. A three-judge panel of the appeals court affirmed a trial judge’s ruling in June that found the deal was unlikely to harm competition. Justice Department lawyers have argued that the combination of the two companies would reduce competition and hurt consumers.
The House Consumer Protection Subcommittee hearing on privacy showcased both the bipartisan call for federal legislation and the reason a bipartisan bill will be no slam dunk. Republican representatives talked about privacy, but also about the need to protect small businesses, the targeted-ad based internet economy, and talked up the wisdom of preempting state attempts to regulate privacy that veer into the feds lane. House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) said that privacy means different things to different people, but that both sides should be able to agree that any bill needs 1) improved transparency and accountability, 2) to protect innovation and small business (don't overregulate), and 3) to set a national standard (which means preempt state efforts over what is an interstate service).
Democratic representatives talked more about the need to shift the focus from protecting businesses, large or small, to protecting consumers, and they have issues with preempting states unless the bipartisan bill has sufficient teeth to make those bills unnecessary. “Without a comprehensive federal privacy law,” said Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), “the burden has fallen completely on consumers to protect themselves, and this has to end.” Democratic representatives pledged to grill tech companies, shine a harsher light on their missteps, and write tough federal laws. “We’ve been talking about it for years, yet nothing has been done to address the problem,” said House Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ). “It’s time that we move past the old model that protects the companies using our data and not the people.” Democratic representatives also promised to initiate probes to study social media sites, their approach to abusive content online, and the ways these companies affect competition and consumers.
Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS), together with Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Communications Subcommittee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), sent a letter to Google chief executive officer Sundar Pichai seeking information about recent news that Google had not disclosed the presence of a microphone in its Nest Secure home security device. In the letter, the Chairmen question Pichai on details related to when Google became aware of the undisclosed microphones, any third party using the Nest Secure microphone for any unauthorized purpose, the steps taken to inform purchasers, and Google’s process for developing technical specifications for its products.
The California state attorney general is aiming to give more teeth to a new data privacy law before it takes effect in 2020 by expanding his and Californians’ right to sue companies for damages. Under SB561, unveiled by CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra and CA state Sen Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), consumers would be able to take a business to court for sharing or selling their personal information without permission. The attorney general’s office also would be allowed to take action against a company without first giving it a chance to correct violations of the data privacy law. CA AG Becerra said the proposed changes were based on concerns he raised in 2018 as the original bill was being drafted that it was not enforceable. CA AG Becerra said giving companies a chance to address violations of the law before they can be held accountable is a “get-out-of-jail-free pass.” Consumers also would be able to sue for more than just a data breach under SB561. Justice Department officials said customers could sue if, for example, a company didn’t provide a link on its website where customers could opt out of having their data sold.
Quadrennial Review: The Commission may have to acknowledge that the current media marketplace can no longer be defined solely by traditional media voices stovepiped into discrete categories, such as television and radio. If done properly, this action will allow the Commission to jettison its myopic vision that broadcasters experience little competition in favor of one that recognizes the fulsome competitive forces in the current marketplace.
DOJ workshop: The DOJ has announced that it intends to hold a workshop to examine how digital advertising should affect its broadcast merger review.
Radio Ownership: As the Quadrennial proceeds, I trust that those of you in the radio business will become active participants in the debate over how best to reform our radio ownership rules.
Broadcast Incentive Auction Repack: While I fully want the 600 MHz spectrum cleared as soon as possible, no station should be worried that the FCC would make it to go dark and cease offering programming to viewers. You have my word that I will not let that happen.
C-Band Reallocation: The policy issue is how to go about repurposing a good portion of the existing C-Band satellite spectrum downlink – or 3.7 to 4.2 GHz – to provide a new mid-band spectrum play for 5G wireless services. From a broadcasting perspective, I have made it one of my conditions for approving any reallocation that the proposal include full reimbursement and retuning for those broadcasters that currently use C-band satellite services. My message to you is that if you don’t get greedy or seek unfair enrichment for the reallocation, your concerns will have to be fully addressed.
KidVid: We may see compliance becoming a bit more complex in order to bring necessary flexibility to those managing the programming schedules for stations. That’s a trade I am willing to make, and I am hopeful, in the end, that you all will see benefits far exceeding any added compliance burdens.
The report calls for a tax on targeted online advertising to respond to the crisis in journalism and fund diverse, local, independent and non-commercial news and information. The report proposes a series of proposals to levy a small tax on ads sold by highly profitable companies like Facebook and Google. The proceeds would go to support local-news startups, sustain investigative projects, seed civic-engagement initiatives, and lift up diverse voices that have long been excluded from traditional media coverage. Under one Free Press proposal, a 2 percent ad tax on all online enterprises that in 2018 earned more than $200 million in annual digital-ad revenues would yield more than $1.8 billion a year for a new and independent Public Interest Media Endowment that would hand out grants to news and information projects.
Officials from the US State Department and the Federal Communications Commission outlined their campaign to exclude Huawei from allies’ next generation communications networks, calling the Chinese equipment-maker “duplicitous and deceitful”. The officials, however, declined to offer any specific evidence of so-called backdoors in Huawei infrastructure that would permit it to spy on the US or its allies. Robert Strayer, the State Department’s top cybersecurity official, said the US has had successful conversations with international allies about what it sees as security threats posed by Huawei. Those discussions are taking place as carriers around the globe race to roll out faster, 5G networks. “People are understanding the points that we’re making,” he said, standing alongside FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. His comments come despite recent moves by allies such as Germany, the U.K. and United Arab Emirates that indicate telecom companies in those nations will find ways to include Huawei gear in their infrastructure.
The US military blocked Internet access to an infamous Russian entity seeking to sow discord among Americans during the 2018 midterms, several US officials said, a warning that the group’s operations against the United States are not cost-free. The strike on the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, a company underwritten by an oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin, was part of the first offensive cyber campaign against Russia designed to thwart attempts to interfere with a US election, the officials said. The operation marked the first muscle-flexing by US Cyber Command, with intelligence from the National Security Agency, under new authorities it was granted by President Donald Trump and Congress in 2018 to bolster offensive capabilities.
The Federal Communications Commission adopted a change to a rule to incorporate a statutory update to the authorities of the FCC’s Chief Information Officer (CIO) into the FCC’s organizational rules. The purpose of this rule change is to demonstrate the FCC’s commitment to ensuring that the FCC’s CIO has a significant role in advancing the Commission’s overall information technology capabilities. Section 502 of the Repack Airwaves Yielding Better Access for Users of Modern Services Act of 2018 (RAY BAUM’S Act), Division P of Public Law 115–141, provides the FCC’s CIO with enhanced responsibilities.
The Chief Information Officer shall have a significant role in: The decisionmaking process for annual and multiyear planning, programming, budgeting, and execution decisions, related reporting requirements, and reports related to information technology; the management, governance, and oversight processes related to information technology; and the hiring of personnel with information technology responsibilities. The Chief Information Officer, in consultation with the Chief Financial Officer and budget officials, shall specify and approve the allocation of amounts appropriated to the Commission for information technology, consistent with the provisions of appropriations Acts, budget guidelines, and recommendations from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
The Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition announced the creation of a task force dedicated to monitoring competition in US technology markets, investigating any potential anticompetitive conduct in those markets, and taking enforcement actions when warranted. The approximately 17 task force members, who will join the task force from divisions within the Bureau, will include attorneys with unique expertise in complex product and service markets and ecosystems, including markets for online advertising, social networking, mobile operating systems and apps, and platform businesses. The task force will include a Technology Fellow, who will provide important technical assistance and expertise to support the task force’s investigations.
The creation of this task force is modeled on the FTC’s successful Merger Litigation Task Force, launched in 2002 by then-Bureau of Competition Director Joe Simons. The new task force will be led by Patricia Galvan, currently the Deputy Assistant Director of the Mergers III Division, and Krisha Cerilli, currently Counsel to the Director. The task force will be overseen by Director Bruce Hoffman, Deputy Director Gail Levine, and Associate Director for Digital Markets Daniel Francis. In addition to examining industry practices and conducting law enforcement investigations, the Technology Task Force will, among other things, coordinate and consult with staff throughout the FTC on technology-related matters, including prospective merger reviews in the technology sector and reviews of consummated technology mergers.
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