Daily Digest 2/9/2018 (Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor...)

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Communications and Democracy

FCC Chairman Pai's Response to Sen Markey Regarding the First Amendment

On October 11, 2017, Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) wrote to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai asking for a response to President Donald Trump's call to challenge television broadcasters' licenses because of their news coverage. On February 1, 2018, Chairman Pai wrote back saying that he is a strong supporter of the First Amendment and the FCC will continue to protect the First Amendment. "I have made clear that the FCC does not have the authority to revoke a license of a broadcast station based on the content of a particular newscast," Chairman Pai wrote. He also let Sen Markey know that he had no correspondence/communication from the White House or other members of the Trump administration seeking FCC action against a broadcaster.


Russians penetrated US voter systems, top US official says

The US official in charge of protecting American elections from hacking says the Russians successfully penetrated the voter registration rolls of several US states prior to the 2016 presidential election. Jeanette Manfra, the head of cybersecurity at the Department of Homeland Security, said she couldn't talk about classified information publicly, but in 2016, "We saw a targeting of 21 states and an exceptionally small number of them were actually successfully penetrated." Jeh Johnson, who was DHS secretary during the Russian intrusions, said, "2016 was a wake-up call and now it's incumbent upon states and the Feds to do something about it before our democracy is attacked again...We were able to determine that the scanning and probing of voter registration databases was coming from the Russian government."  NBC News reported in Sept. 2016 that more than 20 states had been targeted by the Russians. There is no evidence that any of the registration rolls were altered in any fashion, according to US officials.

UK lawmakers press social media giants over Russian influence

British lawmakers grilled Silicon Valley social media giants over the presence of “fake news” and Russian influence on their platforms in Washington (DC). The British parliament members asked Twitter, Facebook and YouTube representatives pointed questions during a special US hearing over how hoax content disseminated from their websites may have swayed the 2016 British "Brexit" referendum on leaving the European Union.  The tech representatives downplayed those concerns, citing internal data they said found that accounts linked to Russians did not heavily use their platforms in the same way that they did around the time of the US elections. Nick Pickles, Twitter’s UK senior public policy manager, told the panel that the company had only found 49 accounts linked to the Internet Research Agency, a Russian "troll farm," that were active during the Brexit referendum. These accounts tweeted 942 times, and these tweets received a cumulative 461 retweets and 637 likes. Pickles stressed that the numbers represented the IRA’s limited engagement and reach on its platform around the time of the Brexit vote, but did not provide deeper analytics. “We are not the arbiters of truth,” said Pickles. “We are not going to remove content based on the fact this is untrue. The one strength that Twitter has is it's a hive of journalists, of citizens, of activists correcting the record, correcting information.”

Net Neutrality

Sorry, FCC: Charter will lower investment after net neutrality repeal

The Federal Communications Commission's quest to prove that killing network neutrality is somehow raising broadband investment recently focused on Charter Communications. Charter, the second largest US cable company after Comcast, "is investing more in its broadband network and workforce because of the FCC's Restoring Internet Freedom Order [that repealed net neutrality rules] and last year's tax reform legislation," FCC Chief of Staff Matthew Berry claimed in a tweet Feb 8. But Charter raised its capital investment in 2017 while the net neutrality rules were in place. And with the repeal soon to take effect, Charter says it is preparing for a "meaningful decline" in spending on building and upgrading broadband networks. This doesn't mean that Charter boosted investment because of the presence of net neutrality rules or that it is now lowering investment because of the repeal. That would be an overly simplistic conclusion, when the reality is that ISPs make investment decisions based on a variety of factors such as changes in customer demand and the peaks and valleys of technology upgrade cycles. But the opposite, equally simplistic conclusion—that broadband investment falls because of net neutrality rules and rises when net neutrality rules are repealed—is exactly what FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his staff have repeatedly claimed despite what the evidence shows. This argument is what drove the FCC's public defense of its decision to eliminate popular rules that prevent ISPs from blocking, throttling, or speeding up Internet traffic in exchange for payment.

Internet Association Calls for Senate to Act to Preserve Net Neutrality Protections

Internet Association called for the Senate to preserve a free and open internet with strong, enforceable network neutrality protections. In a letter to the Senate, IA stated its support for the Senate Congressional Review Act resolution to invalidate the Federal Communication Commission’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order and other bipartisan legislation to reinstate strong net neutrality rules. The letter says, “IA supports bright-line rules that ban throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization, as well as a general conduct standard that ensures these protections stand the test of time...Legislation that memorializes all of the protections from the 2015 Order would also enjoy support from IA and its member companies. The time has come for a bipartisan effort to establish permanent net neutrality rules for consumers, startups, established internet businesses, and internet service providers.” 

Rep Coffman Says No Way to CRA

Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), who opposed the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the network neutrality order, said he would not support efforts to restore the Obama-era rules via the Congressional Review Act. “The CRA is a non-starter for me as it defers again to agency rulemaking,” Rep Coffman said at the Incompas policy summit . “This is Congress’s job.” Rep Coffman plans to introduce legislation that would create a new classification for broadband, and prohibit internet service providers from blocking or throttling web traffic, or negotiating paid prioritization deals with websites.

More on Broadband

America Needs More Fiber

[Commentary] The solution to the country’s digital divide isn’t going to come from private-market competition, but rather from massive government mobilization. Just don’t call it “nationalization.” We should be driving forward upgrades to fiber optic networks running right to to homes and businesses, by lowering the barriers to fund shared fiber networks everywhere. We could be facilitating increased use of bonds, local financing, and tax breaks, and reducing the risks of investments and the costs of capital by issuing government guarantees, all aimed at attracting private investment in the shared fiber optic lines needed for 5G to function. The resulting basic networks could be shared by a multitude of private companies, for 5G purposes and wired connections as well. The resulting competition would drive down prices charged to the rest of us. The networks would be overseen or owned outright, where appropriate, by government. That's not "nationalization." It's common sense—in the same way that government responsibility for an extensive system of roads is common sense. It's an unleashing of the private market through harnessing private and public investment in the service of competitive, ubiquitous network coverage. [Susan Crawford is a professor at Havard Law School]

via Wired

Mediacom takes shot from Alabama mayor

A year after Mediacom paid an undisclosed sum to take over the cable system in Andalusia (AL) the town’s mayor is warning the operator that if he continues to hear complaints, Andalusia will shop for a municipal broadband provider. “For the entire time that I have been mayor, I have not received as many complaints about anything as I have received about the cable and broadband service from Mediacom,” said Andalusia Mayor Earl Johnson. “Whatever it is that they’re doing here, they need to make some changes.”

via Fierce

Internet Access Services: Status as of December 31, 2016

This report summarizes information about Internet access connections in the United States as of December 31, 2016 as collected by FCC Form 477. For purposes of this report, Internet access connections are those in service, over 200 kilobits per second (kbps) in at least one direction, and reported to the FCC through Form 477. The report includes data on total and residential Internet access connections by downstream and upstream speed, by technology, by geography, and over time. Section 2 of the report presents nationwide statistics, Section 3 provides state-level data, and Section 4 includes data on the subscribership differences among counties and census tracts.2 In addition, Section 5 of the report includes an analysis of the correlations between subscribership ratios and various demographic measures.3 Maps depicting the number of fixed connections per 1,000 households by census tract and the number of fixed providers by census block are available online at https://www.fcc.gov/reports-research/reports/internet-access-services-re...

  • The total number of Internet connections increased by about 6% between December 2015 and December 2016 to 376 million.
  • Most of the growth in total Internet connections is attributable to increased mobile Internet access subscribership. The number of mobile Internet connections increased 7% year-over-year to 270 million in December 2016, while the number of fixed connections grew to 106 million – up about 3% from December 2015.

CLOUD Act Promotes Surveillance-Data Access Framework

With government access to foreign communications much on the minds of Washington legislators these days--particularly a FISA Act warrant related to a Trump Administration official--a bipartisan group of Congressmen is introducing the Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data (CLOUD) Act. Its backers say the act is meant to encourage governments the world over to come up with a "clear" framework for technology companies--like Internet service providers--to follow when governments make cross-border demands for data stored in the cloud. “The CLOUD Act is landmark legislation that addresses an increasingly pressing problem,” said Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT), one of the sponsors of the Senate version of the bill. “In today’s world of email and cloud computing, where data is stored across the globe, law enforcement and tech companies find themselves encumbered by conflicting data disclosure and privacy laws." A few keys to the bill are bilateral agreements, extraterritoriality of US warrants and international comity, transparency, and reciprocity. 


How some cities are attracting 5G investments ahead of others

[Commentary]  As communities across the United States wait to learn how high-speed mobile networks will figure in a long-promised infrastructure plan, some cities are already attracting private investment in next-generation 5G networks. They are doing so by finding new ways to collaborate with network and equipment providers, creating a set of “best practices” that other local governments can follow. Forward-thinking officials at the federal, state and local levels are hurrying to update their processes, looking for new approaches that maximize community value and minimize delay. Based on what we’ve seen successful cities do, here are key recommendations for communities seeking to accelerate their transition to become a 5G smart city:

  1. Preempt unnecessary intergovernmental conflict
  2. Dig once, climb once and other process streamlining
  3. Partner with providers eager to test 5G infrastructure 
  4. Target applications that can energize local economies 
  5. Establish pro-investment pricing policies 

[Blair Levin is a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. In 2009, he oversaw development of the National Broadband Plan. Larry Downes is project director at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy.]

Brace Yourself for Higher Cellphone Bills in 2018

Cheap wireless plans might be harder to find in 2018. The two most aggressive US wireless carriers, Sprint Corp and T-Mobile US Inc,  are signaling they will scale back discounting this year after a failed attempt to combine their businesses. Sprint, the No. 4 carrier by subscribers, said that it would only chase new customers it considers profitable. No. 3 T-Mobile said it will also be more selective with the deals it offers as it focuses on boosting cash flow while still expanding its customer base. The forecast “takes into account our desire to balance growth and profitability,” Chief Financial Officer Braxton Carter said, adding that T-Mobile’s push into rural areas would provide enough new sign-ups to “afford us the opportunity to be less promotional in existing markets.”


Remarks of FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn before the National Rural Health Association

Simply and admittedly boldly put, broadband is, I believe, the public health tool, of, our, time. New thinking, innovative cross-sector collaborations, these hold significant promise, for the future of broadband and improved health, in rural America. And I have absolutely no doubt, that government can be a powerful catalyst, to achieving these shared goals for rural America, but as important a player as we are, we cannot do it alone. Each of you in this room, has got to lock arms with us. You are to be commend for gathering in Washington this week, and we are grateful that you are sharing your vision and passion, about leveraging technology to address rural health disparities; but you must push and continue to work with allies like those of us at the Federal Communications Commission, because you know better than I, that by working together, we can, and will, succeed.

Critics shame Silicon Valley firms over addictive technologies

Tech industry critics spent a daylong event on Capitol Hill Feb 7 airing concerns that Facebook, Google, Apple and other major companies are peddling addictive products that damage young minds. Critics are seeking some sort of policy to address the problem. “Should there be some common sense regulation of the tech industry? Obviously,” said Jim Steyer, the head of Common Sense, the group that organized the conference. Franklin Foer, the author of a recent book critical of tech powerhouses, said that a “sense of shame” would shift norms in the industry. “Apologies for shaming you,” he said, “but I think that that is the first step of what’s happening right now.” Lawmakers who attended were less willing to attack the industry. Sen Mark Warner (D-VA) said he hoped concerns about tech’s addictive qualities could be addressed through “a collaborative effort with the companies.” Both Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) and Rep John Delaney (D-MD) support a soon-to-be-introduced bill commissioning a National Institutes of Health study on the effects of technology on children.

via Axios

Sinclair-Tribune deal shifts DOJ decision deadline to Feb. 11

Sinclair Broadcast Group has extended the deadline for the Justice Department’s decision regarding its proposed $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media. In an SEC filing, Sinclair and Tribune said that they had agreed to not consummate the merger before Jan. 30, 2018, but now that deadline has been moved to Feb. 11, 2018. Tribune and Sinclair also agreed to provide 10 days’ notice to the DOJ before closing the merger. The development comes after the Federal Communications Commission, which is also evaluating the deal, paused its review process in Jan. Sinclair’s bid for Tribune is reportedly on track for DOJ approval, but the company and the government agency are reportedly still discussing Sinclair divesting television stations in order to reduce its market control and national audience reach.

via Fierce

Newsonomics: Inside Tronc’s sale of the L.A. Times (and all the new questions to come)

Patrick Soon-Shiong has finally won his hometown prize. After a number of years of trying to buy his local paper, Los Angeles’ richest billionaire has seized an unpredictable opportunity.   In a move that’s shocking but not really surprising, 65-year-old Soon-Shiong will pay a chunk of his estimated $7 billion-plus fortune to finally split with his erstwhile partner in Troncdom, chairman Michael Ferro. Beyond staunching the bleeding of staff, which would have continued under Tronc, how and where will the new ownership reinvest? Jeff Bezos at the Post, most successfully, and John Henry at The Boston Globe have both trod this path. They took ailing enterprises private and injected new life, under a new mission-oriented strategy. That’s the possible upside for the Times, and for Los Angeles — if all the woulds and coulds recede. This new ownership then would reset the Los Angeles Times (and the kind-of-orphaned Union-Tribune, which needs its own jolt of restaffing and reimagining to serve the country’s eighth-largest city) on a new path. But given the huge challenges still faced by news publishing in the age of Google/Facebook ad duopoly and ongoing digital disruption, even a billionaire has his work cut out for him.


Puerto Rican journalists sue over under-reported hurricane death toll

A Puerto Rican journalists’ organization is suing the island’s Demographic Registry over what it says are under-reported death counts following Hurricane Maria. The Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI) filed the suit Feb 7, arguing that the registry did not provide statistical updates on the death count after the hurricane. The suit cites a right to “public information and high public interest for Puerto Rico." The official death count from September’s hurricane is 64 people, but multiple analyses over the past few months have found that the actual total is likely to be over 1,000. The lawsuit requests that the department provide an updated database that includes the total number of 2017 deaths, death certificate information since late September, when the hurricane hit, and documents related to burial and cremation requests. 

Local TV news gets a $2.6 million boost from the Knight Foundation

The Knight Foundation announced that it is boosting local TV news with $2.6 million across five organizations that will help students of color gain experience in local TV markets, bring together broadcast journalists focused on digital innovation in conferences and workshops, and offer ethics, leadership, and data journalism training for newsrooms. The grantees are:

  • Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, $1.9 million
  • Emma Bowen Foundation, $250,000
  • Investigative Reporters and Editors Inc., $390,000
  • Radio Television News Directors Foundation, $55,000
  • The Carole Kneeland Project for Responsible Television Journalism, $50,000

Journalism’s New Patrons: Newspapers deepen embrace of philanthropy

[Commentary] Until recently, it was unthinkable that newspapers would become major recipients of charitable subsidies. But as newsroom layoffs continue with no apparent end, increasingly they are seeking philanthropic support, and the nonprofit world is delivering. In recent months, the nonprofit sector has grown even more aggressive in providing firepower for traditional media, including newspapers. Nationally, though, the biggest splash could come from Report for America, which aims to enrich coverage of underserved communities. Feb 8 it’s announcing additional reporters in 2018 at nine news organizations ranging from digital native Mississippi Today to the Dallas Morning News. And in the next few years, it projects rapid growth: 250 reporters by 2020, and 1,000 by 2022.  [David Westphal is a senior fellow at the Center on Communication Leadership and Policy at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.]

Government Performance

FCC Chairman Pai's Response to Rep. Matsui Regarding Implementation of the Lifeline National Verifier

On January 31, 2018, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai provided Rep Doris Matsui (D-CA) an update on the FCC's efforts to advance the implementation of the National Life Verifier. Over the last quarter, FCC staff have:

  • reviewed the Universal Service Administrative Company's (USAC) National Verifier development and implementation plans
  • overseen development of the National Verifier processes to ensure compliance with Lifeline rules and applicable laws
  • provided guidance to USAC as it developed a process for reverifying consumer eligibility
  • provided ongoing feedback and guidance to USAC as it finalized consumer and providers online portals
  • assisted in finalizing paper and online forms for use with the National verifier and obtained Paperwork Reduction Act approvals for the forms
  • reviewed and provided guidance on training materials
  • engaged in finalizing and publishing data sharing agreements with New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and Mississippi
  • met with leaders of the Navajo Nation to discuss improvements enrollment processes on Tribal lands
  • provided feedback on USAC's information technology and security compliance

U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross Appoints Public Safety, Business Leaders to the First Responder Network Authority Board

US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the appointment of four members to serve on the Board of the FirstNet Responder Network Authority. The appointees are leading experts in the fields of public safety, wireless broadband technology, and network engineering. The Board will oversee the activities of FirstNet to ensure that AT&T develops, builds, and operates a nationwide broadband network that will best equip first responders to save lives and protect US communities. Secretary Ross appointed the following three individuals to the FirstNet Board for three-year terms:

  • Richard Ross, Police Commissioner, City of Philadelphia, which is one of the largest police departments in the nation with more than 6300 sworn members and 800 civilian personnel.
  • David Zolet, Chief Executive Officer, LMI, who has more than 30 years of corporate experience and leadership roles in business development, engineering, strategic planning, and customer relations.
  • Robert Osterthaler, Consultant and Strategic Advisor, focusing primarily on communications networks and government programs. He also served for 28 years in the US Air Force, retiring as a Brigadier General in 1997.

In addition, Secretary Ross reappointed one current Board member to serve in a new three-year term:

  • Richard W. Stanek, Sheriff, Hennepin County (Minnesota), who serves on the FirstNet Consultation and Outreach Committee. He is a member of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA) Executive Committee and chairs the NSA’s Homeland Security Committee.

OSTP Staffing Update

Roughly half of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) consists of Trump administration hires. More than 20 new people have joined the office since the start of President Donald Trump’s term. The total size of OSTP, including employees who are on detail from other agencies or participating in fellowships, has hovered around 50 people, making it significantly smaller than during the Obama era, when it totaled about 115. There are some new additions to the Tech division. Seven policy advisers have been added including Winter Casey, a veteran of the NTIA and Google; Kelsey Guyselman, formerly of the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Danielle Metz, who has worked at the Department of Defense; and Stephanie Xu, previously of the Republican National Committee. Some staffers for the National Space Council, revived by President Trump in June, are housed at OSTP. The staffers working on that effort are John Giles, who has served in the U.S. Air Force, and Jared Stout, previously of the FAA. Mike Mineiro, who’s worked for the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, is also concentrating on space policy.

FCC Seeks Nominations for Tribal Gvt Reps to Serve on Renewed FCC Native Nations Communications Task Force

Since its establishment in March 2011, the Federal Communications Commission Native Nations Communications Task Force has been composed of senior FCC staff and elected or appointed leaders from federally recognized Tribal governments or governmental entities, or their designated employees, and has helped the Commission fulfill its commitment to increasing broadband deployment and adoption on Tribal lands.  In view of the Task Force’s increasing involvement in a range of Commission matters and undertakings going beyond broadband deployment and adoption, the Commission, through its Office of Native Affairs and Policy (“ONAP”), finds it appropriate to renew the Task Force and seeks applications for membership on the Task Force. The issues to be considered by the Task Force may include, but are not limited to: (i) executing the Commission’s Tribal Consultation policy; (ii) identifying barriers to broadband deployment that are unique to Tribal lands; (iii) ensuring Tribal concerns are considered in all Commission proceedings related to broadband and other Commission undertakings that affect Tribal interests regarding communications services and facilities.

More Online

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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