Friday, March 1, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
Government & Communications
The Federal Communications Commission issued a public notice stating that it is “ready to authorize” $140 million in rural broadband funding for a portion of the entities that had winning bids in the Connect America Fund CAF II auction. The FCC is still reviewing required information submitted by auction winners and said other winners that meet all requirements to be deemed “ready to authorize” will be included in a future public notice. Entities on the “ready to authorize” list have 10 business days to submit additional information, including a letter of credit from a “bank that is acceptable to the commission,” before their funding will be fully authorized, the FCC notes. Verizon and Hawaiian Telcom, along with several rural telcos and electric cooperatives and other entities, were on the list of “ready to authorize” entities.
Speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said of the 2020 election, “It’s going to be a choice. Are we going to want capitalism? Look at all the great achievements of our country: flight, cars, the Internet. Sorry, Al Gore. The Internet. None of that came from government. It came from innovation. It came from the greatness of America.”
So here’s the thing. The Internet very much did come from government, quite literally. The Internet itself derived directly from government work. It began as ARPAnet — named for the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency. In 1972, ARPA became DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Closing the digital divide and increasing broadband adoption within households and communities continues to be a target for government and nonprofit groups. While a large number of studies have examined policies and programs aimed at improving broadband infrastructure availability, little analysis to date has focused on evaluating efforts to increase adoption. One of the most well-known programs focused on adoption is Connected Nation, which partnered with 14 states to provide local curricula aimed at raising residential connection rates. This analysis uses a generalized difference-in-difference methodology to evaluate the effectiveness of the Connected Nation program in 5 states during 2012 and 2013. The results indicate that participation in the Connected Nation program had no significant impact on broadband adoption rates. This paper represents a rigorous evaluation of one of the most well-known adoption-oriented programs and emphasizes that measurable impacts of such efforts may not accrue over the short term.
Telecommunications companies would be barred from receiving state grants if they don't follow network neutrality standards that have been abandoned by the Federal Communications Commission under a bill working its way through the Colorado Legislature. The measure, introduced by CO State Sens Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) and Jeff Bridges (D-Greenwood Village), is in reaction to the FCC's reversal of net neutrality standards set under President Barack Obama. "We felt that the bill could focus on the very clear nexus of saying, if you receive taxpayer dollars to go out into rural Colorado and deploy broadband infrastructure, then the state has the authority and obligation to say that infrastructure is going to be used to treat everyone the same," said State Sen Donovan.
The European Commission published reports by Facebook, Google and Twitter covering the progress made in January 2019 on their commitments to fight disinformation. These three online platforms are signatories of the Code of Practice against disinformation and have been asked to report monthly on their actions ahead of the European Parliament elections in May 2019. More specifically, the Commission asked to receive detailed information to monitor progress on the scrutiny of ad placement, transparency of political advertising, closure of fake accounts and marking systems for automated bots.
- Facebook has not reported on results of the activities undertaken in January with respect to scrutiny of ad placements. It had earlier announced that a pan-European Union archive for political and issue advertising will be available in March 2019. The report provides an update on cases of interference from third countries in EU Member States, but does not report on the number of fake accounts removed due to malicious activities targeting specifically the European Union.
- Google provided data on actions taken during January to improve scrutiny of ad placements in the EU, divided per Member State. However, the metrics supplied are not specific enough and do not clarify the extent to which the actions were taken to address disinformation or for other reasons (e.g. misleading advertising). Google published a new policy for 'election ads' on 29 January, and will start publishing a Political Ads Transparency Report as soon as advertisers begin to run such ads. Google has not provided evidence of concrete implementation of its policies on integrity of services for the month of January.
- Twitter did not provide any metrics on its commitments to improve the scrutiny of ad placements. On political ads transparency, contrary to what was announced in the implementation report in January, Twitter postponed the decision until the February report. On integrity of services, Twitter added five new account sets, comprising numerous accounts in third countries, to its Archive of Potential Foreign Operations, which are publicly available and searchable, but did not report on metrics to measure progress.
President Donald Trump’s technology adviser Abigail Slater suggested that Congress should consider changes to a little-known provision of the Communications Decency Act called Section 230. Section 230 has a simple, sensible goal: to free internet companies from the responsibilities of traditional publishers. Sites like Facebook and Twitter host comments and commentary that they don’t produce, edit, or even screen themselves, and Section 230 of the act ensures that those companies can’t be sued for content they host for which they haven’t assumed responsibility. But that’s not how CDA critics see it. There are two primary camps here. One thinks that Section 230 demands neutrality from tech platforms as a predicate for immunity. The other thinks that the provision completely frees tech companies from responsibility for moderating content on their platforms.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced a data privacy bill that would explicitly bar platforms like Facebook and Google from serving targeted ads that discriminate against protected groups, particularly by race, sexual orientation or gender. The DATA Privacy Act would empower the Federal Trade Commission to put in place specific definitions for what is considered discriminatory behavior in targeted ad and data practices. It would also extend the FTC’s civil penalty authority for violations of those rules, alongside broader protections on user data. The bill would require platforms to be more transparent in how they collect, process, and store user data. Any collection would only be warranted for what the bill calls “legitimate business or operational purpose” and would not subject a user to privacy risk. It would also prohibit platforms from deceiving users on how their data is used. Platform would also be required to allow users access to opt-out of the collection and storage of their data in most cases.
The week of Feb 25 featured back-to-back privacy hearings on Capitol Hill to discuss principles for federal privacy legislation. Industry players that have fiercely lobbied against federal privacy legislation in years past are now suddenly calling on Congress to pass a comprehensive privacy bill. Here’s a quick look at what happened in each hearing and a few key takeaways.
- Senate Republicans have gotten slightly further along than their House counterparts in moving beyond the issue of preempting state laws, but the debate is still devoting too much time to it.
- Democrats in both chambers are eager to move the conversation beyond notice and choice.
- This debate still has a long way to go.
Where does antitrust law fit in when consumer privacy is at stake? Antitrust law promotes competition—not privacy. The courts’ interpretation of antitrust laws limits their ability to protect privacy. The slow nature of law enforcement means that protecting privacy through antitrust enforcement alone would likely still leave consumers vulnerable. Antitrust enforcement agencies sometimes also bear substantial risks in bringing a lawsuit. Regulating the use of data needs to involve more than just antitrust law—because only by having clear privacy rules is it possible to fully protect consumers’ privacy.
Some Federal Trade Commission officials are calling the agency's $5.7 million fine against Musical.ly (now known as TikTok) for children’s privacy violations a “big win.” But critics say it highlights how Washington regulators aren’t doing enough to keep kids safe online. “While this fine may be a historic high for a [Children's Online Privcacy Protection Act (COPPA)] violation, it is not high enough for the harm that is done to children and to deter violations of the law in the future by other companies,” Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) said. “I urge the FTC to make COPPA enforcement a top priority and protect the privacy of a uniquely vulnerable class of Americans — our children. That means making companies pay higher monetary penalties that will actually incentive COPPA compliance.” Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said, “TikTok and others have been failing to comply with COPPA for years, and the FTC has been reluctant to challenge the privacy invasive practices of the companies that target children. This is too little, too late.”
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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