Monday, February 4, 2019
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Federal Communications Commission General Counsel Thomas Johnson faced a skeptical panel of judges of the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit as he defended the agency's repeal of net neutrality rules and deregulation of the broadband industry. Johnson struggled to explain why broadband shouldn't be considered a telecommunications service, and struggled to explain the FCC's failure to protect public safety agencies from Internet providers blocking or slowing down content. Circuit Judge Patricia Millett expressed the most skepticism of Johnson's arguments, repeatedly challenging the FCC's definition of broadband and its disregard for arguments made by public safety agencies. She also questioned the FCC's claim that the net neutrality rules harmed broadband investment. Circuit Judge Robert Wilkins also expressed some skepticism of FCC arguments, while Senior Circuit Judge Stephen Williams seemed more amenable to FCC arguments. (Judge Williams previously dissented in part from a 2016 ruling that upheld the Obama-era net neutrality rules. Now the same court is considering FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's repeal of those rules.)
Today in federal court, this Federal Communications Commission is attempting to explain why it ignored the evidence before it and hastily abandoned the carefully crafted, common sense Open Internet framework established in 2015. In the process, it ignored the will of millions of people who made their support for a free and open Internet crystal clear. Like many others, I am paying close attention. We know that consumers cannot count on the goodwill of big business to protect their interests. Unfettered access to the Open Internet provides a gateway to opportunity. Strong, enforceable rules empower consumers to make sure they get the service that they pay for and expect. I strongly believe that the FCC made the right call with the framework it established in 2015, and I am hopeful that these critical consumer protections will soon be restored.
Whether in the halls of the courts or the halls of Congress, we will fight to defend net neutrality. Nothing less than the fate of the internet is being argued in this court case, and we must do everything we can in this historic fight. We will soon lay down a legislative marker in the Senate in support of net neutrality to show the American people that we are on their side in overwhelming supporting a free and open internet. Both the plain language and Congressional intent behind the Telecommunications Act of 1996 make clear that today, broadband access to the internet is a telecommunications service. As the House author of that landmark bill, I know first-hand what we intended. Yet Chairman Pai and President Trump ignored the statute and Congress’s intent when the FCC reclassified broadband back to an information service and eviscerated the net neutrality rules. They are on the wrong side of history, and I believe the court will find in our favor.
An organization run by a former Trump campaign statewide director is being investigated by the New York attorney general’s office for its role in submitting potentially hundreds of thousands of fraudulent comments to the Federal Communications Commission during the agency’s 2017 efforts to rollback Obama-era network neutrality rules. Research reveals the group’s deep ties to prominent GOP firms, including one paid more than $31 million by the Republican National Committee (RNC) to provide email lists of potential voters during the 2016 campaign. Americans whose names were attached to fraudulent FCC comments linked to the ex-Trump campaign staffer confirmed during a series of interviews that their identities had been stolen. Sen Ron Wyden (D-OR), who has repeatedly pressed the FCC for answers about potential malfeasance during the net neutrality process, said it was clear that “dirty tricks” had been used, including identity theft, to generate millions of fake comments ascribed to real Americans. “It is especially troubling,” he said, “that someone closely associated with the Trump campaign may have been the mastermind behind the underhanded, likely illegal, tactics waged against internet freedom.”
Rep Will Hurd (R-TX) — the only Republican to hold a district that falls along the southern border — is not in favor of a border wall. Instead, he’s partial to the idea of a “digital” wall: a border-wide system of technology such as cameras, sensors, and drones communicating through a fiber optic network to keep the border secure. And he thinks it could have the added benefit of closing the digital divide. Rep Hurd believes that a fiber optic network installed for the purpose of connecting border security technology could pull double duty as an internet backbone for local communities to tap into. “The added benefit of using a fiber optic cable is that you can then bring broadband access to some of the rural communities along the border,” Rep Hurd said. “In 13 out of the 29 counties I represent, fewer than 20 percent [of people] have access to broadband. We can’t let rural areas be deprived of the benefits of a digital economy.” Rep Hurd admits that local Internet service providers or communities would have to pay for the rest of the infrastructure to connect homes, but said a fiber optic border network would at least “give [communities] the chance.”
Fall 2018, Corey Chase drove 6,000 miles around his state to ground-truth what every Vermonter with a cell phone knows: there are many, many places in the state where you simply can't get a signal, not to mention the 5 megabits per second data download speeds the carriers were claiming. What Chase, a VT Department of Public Service employee, found is now part of a detailed challenge before the Federal Communications Commission that officials hope will bring federal dollars into the state to improve the wireless network. Chase says roughly two-thirds of the tests that the FCC accepted showed service less than the carriers claimed. "What we were looking at was being almost completely foreclosed from any [federal money] because our state was considered nearly completely covered with 4G LTE service," said ClayPurvis, VT's telecommunications director. "And now we've opened up a significant amount of that space."
Phone calls are sometimes the only comfort for families who live far from the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center, run by the Hampden County Sheriff's Department, where prisoners are held both before trial and while serving sentences. But the calls are costly because they must be made through an outside company — much more costly than for people outside jails. Calls at the jail cost 12 cents per minute. While this is one of the lowest rates in jails across the state, and 42 percent lower than the 21-cents-per-minute rate cap set by the state Department of Telecommunications and Cable, critics say the cost penalizes poor people. Global Tel-Link Corp. is one of two corrections phone companies that dominate the national $1.2 billion per year industry. It paid the Hampden County department $725,000 for phone calls to and from all its facilities between July 2016 and June 2017, according to records supplied by the department. Phone calls to and from the women's jail during that same period netted the department $110,000. Opponents see the system as unethical and predatory. Companies are using jails and prisons as a profit center, they say, and shifting what should be governmental costs onto people who are poor and powerless.
In the last Weekly Digest, I presented a retrospective of a major policy story from 2018: The democratic harms of “Big Tech.” This week, a polar vortex accompanied a vortex of more privacy abuses from Big Tech, and further concerns about the very bigness of Big Tech. The major news: Facebook has been secretly paying users -- some as young as 13 years old -- $20 each month to install a “research app” that collected intimate information about online behavior and communications. Some lawmakers are not happy. And the calls to break up Facebook are mounting. All signs point to lots of policy debates over the privacy violations of Big Tech in 2019. Whether those debates turn into meaningful privacy legislation will be one of the main telecommunications policy stories in 2019.
Apparently, Facebook has become the target of at least three more state probes into the alleged mishandling of user data, expanding the number of government agencies investigating privacy-violation claims against the company. The state probes are coalescing into two main groups scrutinizing the social-media company’s data-protection practices. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Illinois counterpart, Kwame Raoul, have joined forces with Connecticut’s William Tong, apparently. That group is focused on investigating existing allegations. New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts, which were already known to be probing Facebook, are seeking to uncover any potential unknown violations. North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein is also investigating as part of a multi state effort, according to his office.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) reintroduced two pieces of legislation to modernize antitrust enforcement and promote competition. 1) The Merger Enforcement Improvement Act would update existing law to reflect the current economy and provide agencies with better information post-merger to ensure that merger enforcement is meeting its goals. This bill would modernize antitrust enforcement by improving the agencies’ ability to assess the impact of merger settlements, requiring studies of new issues, adjusting merger filing fees to reflect the 21st century economy, and providing adequate funding for antitrust agencies to meet their obligations to protect American consumers. 2) The Consolidation Prevention and Competition Promotion Act of 2019 would restore the original purpose of the Clayton Antitrust Act to promote competition and protect American consumers. The bill would strengthen the current legal standard to help stop harmful consolidation that may materially lessen competition. It would clarify that a merger could violate the statute if it gives a company “monopsony” power to unfairly lower the prices it pays or wages it offers because of lack of competition among buyers or employers. The bill further strengthens the law to guard against harmful “mega-mergers” and deals that substantially increase market concentration, shifting the burden to the merging companies to prove that their consolidation does not harm competition.
The lack of diversity in tech policy means that regulators and lawmakers make policy decisions that impact marginalized groups from a perspective that is not inclusive of the viewpoints of these communities. I thought it was important to bring these thoughts to the forefront and also identify some solutions for resolving this diversity issue so we can make a transition from #TechPolicySoWhite to #TechPolicyKindaWhite to #TechPolicySoDiverse. Solutions to remedy the lack of diversity in tech policy:
- Diversify Tech Policy Panels and Events
- Make Diverse Hires
- Create Fellowship Programs With Meaningful Pay
The digital publishing industry took a big hit in recent days, when more than 1,000 employees were laid off at BuzzFeed, AOL, Yahoo and HuffPost. The cuts at BuzzFeed were the most alarming. Wasn’t this the company that was supposed to have it all figured out? But look past the gloom, and a complicated narrative emerges that does not lend itself to a one-size-fits-all interpretation of What Went Wrong or a handy forecast of journalism’s future. While leading digital publishers have resorted to harsh measures, legacy titles such as The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The New Yorker and The New York Times have seen growth as they accommodate the habits of their increasingly digitally oriented readers. At the same time, a digital-native business, Vox Media, the owner of The Verge and Eater, turned a profit in 2018, its first as a large company. Even BuzzFeed may hit its financial marks in 2019. If it does, the reason will most likely be a combination of old-school business methods tried elsewhere (including layoffs), rather than its ability to crack some esoteric digital code.
Government & Communications
President Donald Trump takes credit for popularizing the term “fake news.” But the consequences? Not his concern. In lengthy and at times contradictory remarks about the news media — which he deemed “important” and “beautiful,” but also “so bad” and “unfair” — President Trump called himself “a victim” of unfair coverage and declined to accept responsibility for a rise in threats against journalists since he took office. “I do notice that people are declaring more and more fake news, where they go, ‘Fake news!’” the President said. “I even see it in other countries. I don’t necessarily attribute that to me. I think I can attribute the term to me. I think I was the one that started using it, I would say.” When it was brought up that foreign leaders were increasingly using the term “fake news” to justify suppressing independent scrutiny, President Trump replied: “I don’t like that. I mean I don’t like that.” But, in a common pattern whenever the President speaks about the press, President Trump quickly refocused on his personal grievances. “I do think it’s very bad for a country when the news is not accurately portrayed,” he said. “I really do. And I do believe I’m a victim of that, honestly.”
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced the appointment of Christine Calvosa as the FCC's Chief Information Officer. Chairman Pai said, "During her time as Acting CIO, she oversaw the information technology for the 28 GHz auction and led implementation of the FCC’s updated and modernized National Broadband Map. In short, Ms. Calvosa has demonstrated the ability to deliver on this agency’s complex information technology requirements. I look forward to continuing to work with her.”
Prior to being named Chief Information Officer, Calvosa was the Acting CIO for the FCC for over one year and for several years was the FCC’s Deputy CIO for Technology and Resiliency. Prior to joining the FCC in 2014, Calvosa served as the Chief Technology Officer at the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the second largest agency within USDA. In addition, from 2005 to 2010, Calvosa served as a senior consultant for management oversight and information technology for multiple Federal agencies, including the US Department of Defense, US Department of the Treasury, and US Department of Homeland Security. Calvosa holds a Master of Science in Information System Technology from George Washington University. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Management Information Systems and a Minor in International Studies from Pennsylvania State University.
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