Wednesday, March 6, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
Communications and Democracy
Stories From Abroad
A global reckoning around the future of the internet is underway as autocratic regimes look to censor the internet in their countries, and races to develop new internet technologies, such as blockchain and 5G, heat up between the US and China. The next version of the internet could be split between countries that embrace an open web and isolationists that don't. It could also be fractured by different technologies that could fundamentally change the interconnected nature of the network and limit who can do business where.
Ultimately, the ping-pong match of network neutrality will not be resolved by political struggles over control of the Federal Communications Commission. A lasting solution can only come from bipartisan legislation, which will involve compromise. Identifying the points of compromise, places where each side is willing to give ground, is impossible if the two sides see each other as enemies worthy of contempt rather than basically good people who can reasonably disagree, even about important issues. I agree with Arthur Brooks that we need to think better of one another — and recognize that even our political adversaries are merely our partners in the joint, but messy, project of democratic governance.
[Daniel Lyons is an associate professor at Boston College Law School]
Municial broadband initiatives across the country seem to be gaining steam as cities look to encourage equitable access — but pitfalls around cost and taxpayer risk remain. Despite many cities and counties looking to put together a municipal broadband initiative of their own, there remains strong opposition from telecom companies, as well as concerns over cost. While the Columbia Telecommunications Corporation report found that municipal internet in Seattle is feasible, it also raised concerns about the price tag of the project, which is complicated by the fact that Seattle City Light cannot assume additional financial risk and so would need guaranteed payments to cover operations and maintenance. And the need to raise money through a tax hike put San Francisco’s plans for citywide broadband on hold after polls showed that a revenue initiative would not have received the two-thirds support needed from voters. The Federal Communications Commission seems to agree that the private sector is helping close the digital divide and deploying broadband in a timely manner. Deb Socia, executive director of nonprofit Next Century Cities that works with cities to promote equitable internet access, said that localities have been relied upon to build all manner of public services, and if internet is viewed as such, this would be an extension of those efforts. “The issue is: the market isn't solving the problem,” she said. “I don't expect a for-profit company to take on an effort that will not make them money; that's not what they do, they are for-profit.”
Rep Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) is leading a group of progressive Democratic Representatives in calling on regulators to block the proposed $26 billion merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, arguing that the deal will hurt workers and the low-income consumers who rely on the two telecommunications giants' affordable offerings. Rep Tlaib and 36 Democratic Reps are sending letters to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai and Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim. “The T-Mobile-Sprint merger is a gross example of corporate greed that will leave many working and vulnerable Americans with higher costs, lower wages, and less jobs,” Rep Tlaib said. “This merger stands to have a negative impact on constituents and districts like the one I serve, and Chairman Pai and Assistant Attorney General Delrahim must hear about why this merger is bad for Americans. I have a duty to ensure that people come before profits.”
A Q&A Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidentional nomination.
When asked, "Which industries pose the biggest antitrust problems?" Sen Klobuchar said, "First is tech. We haven’t been able to move privacy legislation for years." Asked, "A number of antitrust critics have called for breaking up Facebook. Do you agree?" Sen Klobuchar said, "I would like to see investigations which are going on right now at the Federal Trade Commission of the different aspects of these monopoly companies. That’s what I’m pushing for right now, and then you look at the facts and you make a decision then. But I would love to get more competition in. And it’s going to be very hard to do that before we get major investigations and we start changing the law."
The connective tissue that unites Louis Brandeis’s view of legislative action, the creation and enforcement of antitrust law, and the use of sectoral regulation is the willingness to experiment. We are well-acquainted with Brandeis’s invocation of the “laboratories of the states” but his reliance on experimentation, what we might today call innovation, runs much deeper than that well-known aphorism.
The Federal Communications Commission will soon decide whether to side with foreign satellite companies, and allow them to sell their rights to a swath of public airwaves to speed the deployment of 5G technology. Such a sale to the nation’s biggest wireless providers could bring in as much as $40 billion—and now Congress is threatening to step in and prevent the FCC from allowing the satellite companies to pocket the money. Several influential lawmakers have fired warning shots at the agency in recent weeks, casting doubt over whether they’ll sit idly by if the FCC permits that kind of private sale of public airwaves at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. “I think we have to ask ourselves: why should the FCC allow a group of foreign satellite providers to walk away with potentially tens of billions of dollars that could be used to solve our own country’s broadband needs?” asked House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA). Chairman Doyle plans to introduce legislation that could address his concerns with satellite companies’ proposal, including ensuring that US taxpayers get a piece of the spectrum proceeds. Sens Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) are also working on spectrum legislation that may include provisions on C-band airwaves, apparently.
Honesty with the Federal Communications Commission is a foundational requirement for a broadcast licensee. Indeed, providing false statements to the FCC has been a basis for license revocation since the inception of the Communications Act in 1934. But the dissolution of the Sinclair/Tribune consolidation is a circumstance that would render a hearing at this time in the context of this proceeding an academic exercise. That is not to say that Sinclair’s alleged misconduct is nullified or excused by the cancellation of its proposed deal with Tribune. Certainly, the behavior of a multiple-station owner before the FCC “may be so fundamental to a licensee’s operation that it is relevant to its qualifications to hold any station license.” That broad inquiry, however, would be more appropriately considered in the context of a future proceeding in which Sinclair is seeking FCC approval, for example, involving an application for a license assignment, transfer, or renewal. At that time, it may be determined that an examination of the misrepresentation and/or lack of candor allegations raised in this proceeding is warranted as part of a more general assessment of Sinclair’s basic character qualifications to be an FCC licensee. Absent a specific transaction or other proceeding to provide context for this unresolved character issue, however, conducting a hearing at this time would not be a prudent use of FCC time and resources. Accordingly, Sinclair’s request to terminate this hearing proceeding is granted.
The Federal Trade Commission is seeking comment on proposed amendments to two rules that protect the privacy and security of customer information held by financial institutions. In separate notices to be published in the Federal Register shortly, the FTC is seeking comment on proposed changes to the Safeguards Rule and the Privacy Rule under the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. The Safeguards Rule, which went into effect in 2003, requires a financial institution to develop, implement, and maintain a comprehensive information security program. The Privacy Rule, which went into effect in 2000, requires a financial institution to inform customers about its information-sharing practices and allow customers to opt out of having their information shared with certain third parties. “We are proposing to amend our data security rules for financial institutions to better protect consumers and provide more certainty for business,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “While our original groundbreaking Safeguards Rule from 2003 has served consumers well, the proposed changes are informed by the FTC’s almost 20 years of enforcement experience. It also shows that, where we have rulemaking authority, we will exercise it as necessary to keep up with marketplace trends and respond to technological developments.”
Cellphone numbers have become a primary way for tech companies like Facebook to uniquely identify users and secure accounts, in some ways becoming a proxy for a national ID. That over-reliance on cellphone numbers ironically makes them a less effective and secure authentication method. And the more valuable the phone number becomes as an identifier, the less willing people will be to share it for communication.
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