Thursday, February 28, 2019
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A Q&A with former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler.
When asked, "The FCC approved the Open Internet Order while you were chair, which imposed network neutrality as a check on the centralizing power of broadband networks. But it only covers the carriers, not the platforms. Do we need net neutrality for platforms too?" Wheeler responded, "I think the regulators need to think of the totality of the digital economic environment... There are two basic concepts that I think are universal to both networks and platforms and that we need regulations to protect. One is the duty to deal....requirement that essential networks have nondiscriminatory access....The other is the duty to care. As the provider of a service to you, I have the responsibility to anticipate and mitigate harms that my service might cause." He continued, "Unfortunately what happens today is that the networks and platforms are making their own rules, and those are designed to advantage them. Where does the public interest get a seat at the table? That has to be in the form of new rules. That's what we were trying to do with net neutrality, that's what we were trying to do with the privacy rules we passed and Congress repealed. That's what we have to have in order to get some sort of equilibrium in the digital era."
Technology is the third most important consideration for when selecting a multi-tenant residence, according to a survey of Comcast customers conducted by Comcast’s Xfinity Communities division, which provides network services for multi-tenant properties. While extremely important, technology still falls behind price and location, but ahead of other considerations such as gyms, clubhouses, outdoor spaces, common areas and even the quality of schools/districts, according to the survey. Respondents from 26 years of age and up said that fast internet speed was the most important amenity a property could offer. After speed, older residents said they were most interested in ubiquitous Wi-Fi access, while younger residents (26-35) desire more smart connected home solutions, such as lights, door locks and thermostats. Other findings: Millennial residents’ satisfaction with speeds is nearly 20 points lower than the satisfaction of seniors.
By now, most of you have already had two days of non-stop talk about 5G. So, I was trying to think of a way to mix things up—to keep it fresh. And I came up with an idea. I will deliver my remarks in Spanish. [Chairman Pai proceeded to deliver the remarks in Spanish. Below is a brief translation.]
At the Federal Communications Commission, we are pursuing a comprehensive strategy to facilitate 5G technology. We call it our 5G FAST Plan. It has three key components: (1) Pushing more spectrum into the marketplace; (2) Updating infrastructure policy; and (3) Modernizing outdated regulations.
On Feb 27, the first six of satellites of Greg Wyler's company, OneWeb, are expected to be launched from a remote launch site in French Guiana, a key step toward building out a constellation that could eventually reach nearly 2,000. If the company's plans are successful, it would be nothing short of revolutionary: becoming one of the world’s largest providers of Internet service by building the architecture in space, allowing the billions without access to Wi-Fi to finally use the Web. “The ultimate goal is to connect every school in the world, and bridge the digital divide,” Wyler said. “We’re bringing connectivity and enabling it for people around the world, and in rural populations.” If successful, remote areas all over the world, from Alaska to Africa, that are out of reach of fiber optic cables could suddenly join the world of Google and YouTube, a feat Wyler and others believe could be transformative. The key question: Can they deliver a product that competes and wins?
Many complain about the price of cable, but few realize that key culprits can be state and local franchising authorities (LFAs), whose taxes, fees, and surcharges on top of the basic price can account for 20 percent or more of the total price. Operators need to secure a franchise agreement to build and run cable service, and that can entail acceding to all types of demands from LFAs over and above the franchise fees that operators have to pay under federal law. These exactions range from providing free cable and internet service to government buildings to support for government access channels, free fiber hookups, and taxes on broadband, voice, and other services delivered over the cable system. What’s more, some LFAs are now imposing fees on the revenues from broadband services even though the law only allows franchise fees for cable video services. As broadband becomes increasingly important for daily life, local leaders are hurting their own residents through fees that increase the cost of new broadband deployment and raise the price of internet access, thereby slowing adoption. As municipalities attempt to build their own broadband networks, they should first look at their own role in undermining efforts to make broadband better, faster, and cheaper.
The Georgia state senate unanimously passed a bill Feb 25 aimed at making it easier for telecommunications companies to extend small-cell wireless broadband, the latest iteration of the technology, along public rights of way. Meanwhile, separate bills allowing Georgia's electric membership corporations to enter the broadband business, aimed primarily to increase broadband capacity in rural counties, also has cleared the House and won approval in a Senate committee. The 5G bill, which for the time being would benefit mostly urban and suburban communities, would standardize the permit application process statewide. While standardization would benefit the telecom industry by helping streamline applications, the legislation also has won support from groups representing cities and counties. Under a compromise reached between the telecoms, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association during seven months of talks, the bill would require the companies to place broadband antennas on decorative poles in areas designated as historic districts and keep them out of sight in neighborhoods with underground utilities.
The operators of the video social networking app Musical.ly, now known as TikTok, have agreed to pay $5.7 million to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that the company illegally collected personal information from children. This is the largest civil penalty ever obtained by the Commission in a children’s privacy case. The Musical.ly app allowed users to create short videos lip-syncing to music and share those videos with other users. To register for the app, it required users to provide an email address, phone number, username, first and last name, a short biography, and a profile picture. Since 2014, more than 200 million users have downloaded the Musical.ly app worldwide, while 65 million accounts have been registered in the United States.
In addition to creating and sharing videos, the app allowed users to interact with other users by commenting on their videos and sending direct messages. User accounts were public by default, which meant that a child’s profile bio, username, picture, and videos could be seen by other users. While the site allowed users to change their default setting from public to private so that only approved users could follow them, users’ profile pictures and bios remained public, and users could still send them direct messages, according to the complaint. In fact, as the complaint notes, there have been public reports of adults trying to contact children via the Musical.ly app. In addition, until October 2016, the app included a feature that allowed users to view other users within a 50-mile radius of their location. The operators of the Musical.ly app were aware that a significant percentage of users were younger than 13 and received thousands of complaints from parents that their children under 13 had created Musical.ly accounts, according to the FTC’s complaint.
The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing a federal data privacy law -- and displayed the same political divide that appeared in a House hearing earlier in the week. Republicans and industry witnesses warned against a "patchwork" of potentially conflicting state privacy regimes, perhaps most notably the California privacy law that takes effect in 2020. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) and various witnesses from the telecommunications and computer industries talked throughout about needing strong federal regulation, addressing concern that stronger state regulations would be preempted by weaker federal law based on giving consumers a clearer picture of how their data was being harvested and commoditized, rather than focused on the consumer first and the internet economy second. Everyone appeared to agree that the notice and choice regime doesn't work and that companies are incentivized to make privacy policies complicated so that users will overshare, as it were. But Republicans were talking up making those policies clearer, combined with more consumer control over the data -- rights to correct or delete -- for example.
The American Journalism Project, a new initiative to reinvigorate mission-driven local news through the power of venture philanthropy, announced its official launch with $42 million in lead funding commitments, a Board of Directors, and its first three hires. Founded by Elizabeth Green and John Thornton (founders of Chalkbeat and The Texas Tribune, respectively), the American Journalism Project is the first venture philanthropy organization dedicated to strengthening an ecosystem of civic news organizations that believe local journalism a public good. The organization will support existing and emerging news organizations with grants and hands-on support to ensure their long-term sustainability through diverse revenue generation and modern technology operations. With these investments, the American Journalism Project will help transition these organizations from primarily grant-funded newsrooms into integrated nonprofit media organizations and catalyze a step-function increase in journalism philanthropy.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced that Alexander Sanjenis will serve as his acting media advisor. Sanjenis replaces Alison Nemeth Steger, who is departing the FCC. Sanjenis currently serves as a Legal Advisor in the front office of the Media Bureau, and previously served as a staff attorney in the Media Bureau’s Audio Division, where he focused on a wide range of broadcast policy issues including the licensing of translator, noncommercial educational and low power FM stations. Sanjenis graduated from the University of Miami School of Law. He earned his LLM from the American University Washington College of Law and received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University.
INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering announced that former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn would be leading a new campaign on behalf of the trade association to focus on boosting technology innovation and inclusion in America’s heartland.
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