Friday, March 15, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
Today: FCC Open Meeting
Government & Communications
Stories From Abroad
During the push to repeal net neutrality in 2017, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai made a lot of big promises. At the top of the list were assurances that if America would only revert back to “light-touch” regulation of the broadband industry, we’d all see huge boosts in network investment, in new jobs, and in access to a “better, cheaper internet” for all Americans. A year after the repeal, Pai’s claim that net neutrality’s disappearance would spur a broadband investment renaissance and generate new jobs seems dubious at best—likely because capital investment by ISPs doesn’t revolve around the introduction or repeal of any single government policy. Meanwhile, the companies that Pai held up as the job creators of the future, if only they could shed those burdensome regulations, have been busy laying off workers in droves. And now Verizon customers will be shelling out additional fees to access the next generation of wireless technology.
Sens Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and John Hoeven (R-ND) introduced bipartisan legislation to improve the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband coverage maps. The Improving Broadband Mapping Accuracy Act directs the FCC to initiate a rulemaking to consider using consumer-reported data and state and local data from government entities to improve broadband mapping accuracy while also considering ways that both fixed and mobile coverage data can be challenged. The bill will help close the digital divide by giving policymakers more accurate data on broadband coverage nationwide. “As the only member of Congress to formally challenge a federal broadband coverage map through the Mobility Fund Phase II challenge process, I know firsthand just how valuable public input can be in validating and supplementing the provider data that is used to draw these maps. This bill is a good first step, and I hope the FCC will take action to begin this rulemaking process,” said Sen Manchin.
A Q&A with San Jose (CA) Mayor Sam Liccardo.
The federal government has a role to play in addressing the digital divide and allowing the tech industry to flourish, but so far its policies have only gotten in the way, he said. “Bluntly, [closing the digital divide] hasn’t been a priority for the federal government, at least under this administration. Recent [Federal Communications Commission] rulings are really cutting the knees out of local governments, local communities and their ability to negotiate deals that ensures that technology is broadly distributed. Right now, the FCC’s taken the position that we should somehow or another treat the telecom companies as if they’re public utilities. That would be fine if they also had the responsibilities of public utilities to serve everyone. They’re not doing that today, and unless they’re prodded by the government they’re not going to.”
Asked what his ideal federal policy for closing the digital divide would be, he answered, “Good policy could take one of two forms. If you want to treat telecom companies as public utilities … mandate they serve everyone in all parts of a community. Secondly, if you decide they’re not going to be public utilities then simply allow cities ... to negotiate at the table so the city can ensure their residents are well-served. Either way, we will get to better digital equity, but the worst of both worlds is what we have right now.”
The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) approved an application by AT&T Ohio to end its participation in the federal Lifeline program. AT&T Ohio will stop providing Lifeline discounts to the majority of its landline customers on June 11, 2019. AT&T Ohio will continue to provide landline telephone service to all of its current customers; however, customers wishing to continue to receive discounts through the Lifeline program will need to find another telephone provider. Affected AT&T Ohio customers that cannot find an alternative Lifeline provider are encouraged to notify the PUCO as soon as possible by Aug. 10, 2019. The PUCO will assist customers in finding an alternative Lifeline provider, and if one does not exist, AT&T Ohio will continue to provide a discount for an additional year. A PUCO staff investigation determined that wireless providers currently offering Lifeline discounts cover 99.85 percent of AT&T Ohio’s affected service territory. Lifeline is a federally funded program that provides monthly discounts to eligible consumers of landline, wireless or broadband services. AT&T Ohio serves 7,301 landline customers enrolled in the Lifeline program.
Smartphone 911 location data is getting more precise, but the Federal Communications Commission isn't updating its privacy rules despite carriers' history of selling their customers' location data. The FCC is scheduled to vote on a Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPRM) requiring collection of more precise location data. The data would identify a person's floor in a multi-story building when someone calls 911 and is being referred to as "Z-axis" data. Carriers could gather this data by using the barometric pressure sensors in a customer's phone to determine a person's distance above the ground to within three meters. But the Z-axis proposal by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai never mentions the word "privacy," and it doesn't say which privacy rules would apply to carriers' collection of Z-axis data from customers' phones. A public notice on the topic issued in September also didn't mention privacy.
“The four elements of literacy—the ability to find, understand, create and act on information—are part of the ‘new literacies’ of the modern era: information literacy, digital literacy, media literacy and news literacy. … No one is born with these literacies. Education matters,” writes the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Eric Newton for the Knight Commission on Trust, Media, and Democracy. "Whose job is it to help a community understand news?” Journalism is an inextricable component of a healthy democracy. But unlike running water or the Red Line, people can’t use it properly without understanding how it works. But journalists might actually feel a little relief knowing that they’re not in this alone. No one expects members of Congress to spend their days teaching constituents how the government works. Similarly, we shouldn’t leave the explanation of how journalism works only to journalists. All citizens need a baseline understanding before they’re pushed out into the world and left to fend for themselves.
[Glendora Meikle is an independent consultant based in Washington, DC. She was previously the deputy director of the International Reporting Project.]
Democratic presidential candidate Sen Kamala Harris (D-CA) is introducing the Digital Service Act of 2019 on March 14 that would give state and local governments access to a pool of $15 million a year in grant funding, which they could use to set up tech teams and overhaul the often outdated tools and websites their constituents use every day. The bill is modeled after the United States Digital Service, an elite team of geeks inside the White House working on ways to make federal government technology less clunky and confusing—and maybe even good. Launched in 2014, USDS is one of the few Obama-era passion projects to survive the Trump administrationp similar teams. Under the bill, government officials would be able to apply for two-year grants, ranging from $200,000 to $2.5 million per year, based on their population. USDS would be responsible for distributing the grants, giving preference to state and local governments, as well as Indian tribes, with a proven track record of investing in tech and modernizing government.
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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