Monday, March 18, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
News from the FCC
Communications and Democracy
The Federal Communications Commission proposed to help first responders more accurately locate people who make wireless 911 calls from multistory buildings. The proposal would assist 911 call centers in identifying the floor level where the 911 call occurred, which can reduce emergency response times and ultimately save lives. The FCC proposed a vertical (or “z-axis”) location accuracy metric of plus or minus three meters relative to the handset for 80% of indoor wireless 911 calls. The FCC tentatively concluded that such a location accuracy metric—within three meters above or below the phone—would be sufficiently accurate to identify the caller’s floor level in most cases and would be technically feasible under the timeframes established in the Commission’s Enhanced 911 rules.
The Federal Communications Commission adopted new rules to encourage the development of new communications technologies and expedite the deployment of new services in the spectrum above 95 GHz. Prior to this decision, the FCC had no rules for authorizing communications above 95 GHz, other than by amateur operators or through experiments of limited duration and scope. To enable innovators and entrepreneurs to most readily access this spectrum, the Spectrum Horizons First Report and Order creates a new category of experimental licenses for use of frequencies between 95 GHz and 3 THz. These licenses will give innovators the flexibility to conduct experiments lasting up to 10 years and to more easily market equipment during the experimental period. The item also makes a total of 21.2 gigahertz of spectrum available for use by unlicensed devices. The FCC selected bands with propagation characteristics that will permit large numbers of unlicensed devices to use the spectrum, while limiting the potential for interference to existing governmental and scientific operations in the above-95 GHz bands, such as space research and atmospheric sensing. The First Report and Order provides unprecedented opportunities for new experimental and unlicensed use in the frequencies above 95 GHz and will help ensure that the United States stays at the forefront of wireless innovation. Moreover, study of these uses could ultimately lead to further rulemaking actions and additional licensing opportunities within the Spectrum Horizons bands.
The Federal Communications Commission opened a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to develop a record on whether the existing partitioning, disaggregation, and spectrum leasing rules have succeeded and to evaluate whether they could be modified. Specifically, the Notice:
- Seeks comment on whether to establish a program, or modify existing programs, for partitioning, disaggregation, and spectrum leasing as a potential means to increase the availability of advanced telecommunications services in rural areas and spectrum access by small carriers.
- Asks commenters to address the three considerations delineated in the MOBILE NOW Act:
- Whether reduced performance requirements applicable to partitioned or disaggregated licenses would promote the availability of advanced telecommunications services in rural areas or spectrum availability for small covered carriers;
- What conditions may be needed to eliminate impediments to transfers of spectrum to small carriers to allow them to build out in a reasonable time; and
- What incentives may encourage licensees to lease or sell spectrum to small carriers or unaffiliated carriers that will serve rural areas.
- Seeks comment on whether to allow “reaggregation” for spectrum that has been partitioned or disaggregated on the secondary market—up to the size of the original market area.
This Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes to reconfigure the 900 MHz band to facilitate broadband via a market-driven, voluntary exchange process to allow existing licensees to agree to a voluntarily plan for relocating incumbents and for transitioning the band. The 900 MHz band (896-901/935-940 MHz) is designated for narrowband private land mobile radio (PLMR) communications by Business/Industrial/Land Transportation (B/ILT) licensees and for Specialized Mobile Radio (SMR) providers, with deployed systems primarily used for two-way communication by land transportation, utility, manufacturing, and petrochemical companies. The FCC is proposing to reconfigure the 900 MHz band to facilitate the development of broadband technologies and services as well, including for critical infrastructure.
WT Docket No. 17-200
Using new authority granted by Congress, the Federal Communications Commission took additional steps to combat the persistent problem of long-distance calls placed to rural America failing to reach their destination. Under the Improving Call Quality and Reliability (RCC) Act of 2017 and rules set by the FCC in 2018, “intermediate providers” must register with the FCC, and certain carriers that originate long-distance calls, called “covered providers,” may not hand off calls to an unregistered intermediate provider. The Report and Order adopted 3/15 continues the FCC’s implementation of the RCC Act and sets clear, enforceable service quality standards for intermediate providers to help ensure that calls to all Americans are in fact completed. Specifically, intermediate providers will now be required to:
- Take steps reasonably calculated to ensure that all calls they handle are delivered to their destination
- When routing calls to rural areas, monitor the performance of any other intermediate providers with which they directly contract, and based on the results of that monitoring, take steps to address any performance problems with those providers
- Ensure that any intermediate providers to which they hand off calls are registered
Intermediate providers that fail to abide by these standards are subject to fines from the FCC. The FCC can also remove non-compliant providers from its registry, which would make those providers ineligible for use by covered providers and other intermediate providers in completing calls.
The Federal Communications Commission is officially moving its Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) team from the Media Bureau to the Enforcement Bureau. The EEO team’s work is primarily focused on periodic random audits of broadcast licensee and multichannel video programming distributors (MVPD) EEO programs, along with any necessary enforcement actions arising from those audits. The team also investigates complaints and takes enforcement action based on those investigations when necessary. The FCC voted in 2018 to move its EEO audit and enforcement functions to the Enforcement Bureau to better serve the public interest and improve the FCC’s operations. This transfer required approval from the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and the Office of Management and Budget. The FCC also negotiated an agreement regarding the implementation of the realignment with the National Treasury Employees Union. All of these steps have now been completed.
The state of Vermont has agreed to suspend enforcement of its network neutrality law pending the outcome of a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission. In Oct, the nation's largest broadband industry lobby groups sued VT in a US District Court to stop a state law that requires Internet service providers to follow net neutrality principles in order to qualify for government contracts. But the lobby groups and state agreed to delay litigation and enforcement of the VT law in a deal that they detailed in a joint court filing. The lawsuit against VT was filed by mobile industry lobby CTIA, cable industry lobby NCTA, telco lobby USTelecom, the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association, and the American Cable Association (ACA). The delay will remain in place until after a final decision in the lawsuit seeking to reverse the FCC's net neutrality repeal and the FCC's preemption of state net neutrality laws.
A collaboration of three national rural nonprofits hopes to create a more accurate picture for researchers and advocates to use to see how their communities measure up. The TestIT smartphone app invites rural residents to participate in the effort, identifying current broadband speed and service gaps in underserved communities. The Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) is partnering with the National Association of Counties (NACo) and Rural Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) on the project. The app was developed with the Measurement Lab, a private initiative that includes industry leaders like Google, nonprofits like New America’s Open Technology Project, and researchers like Princeton University’s Planet Lab. The data through the tests collected will be shared publicly.
On March 8, 2019, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) took to Medium to outline her plan to break up digital monopolies. Her proposal aims to restore competition in the tech sector and ensure online platforms play by the rules. Warren goes beyond the familiar “break ‘em up” rhetoric and actually offers sustainable sector-specific regulation -- an important step in advancing the policy debate around Big Tech.
As privacy scandals mount at firms such as Facebook, Presidential candidate Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) is positioning her data tax as a way to make technology companies think twice about how they share and profit from users’ data. But implementing such an idea might be difficult, experts noted. Taxing data means you have to know what such information is worth, for instance. Former Facebook employee Antonio García Martínez says data is often compared to oil, but that's a poor analogy because unlike oil that has a clear price, the ultimate value of data is unknown. Outside of using data to allow targeted advertising, it’s difficult to measure such information's value because that can change dramatically depending on the context.
Want to know where Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) stands on key tech and telecom policy debates? 1) He's a longtime net neutrality, privacy advocate, 2) he supports beefing up antitrust, and 3) he's a favorite among tech staffers and a prolific social media campaigner.
Some of the country’s most influential state attorneys general are signaling they’re willing to take action against Facebook, Google and other tech giants, warning that the companies have grown too big and powerful -- and that Washington has been too slow to respond. Some state officials feel that Washington bears some of the blame for the tech industry’s string of scandals in the first place. Lawmakers in Congress long have struggled to adopt a national law targeting tech giants’ data-collection practices, while federal agencies have allowed many of the headline-grabbing mishaps at Facebook and Google to go unpunished. In response, states like Arizona and Mississippi now are taking aim at Google for the way it collects and monetizes web users’ data. The District of Columbia, meanwhile, is challenging Facebook’s business practices in court. And there are “numerous bipartisan discussions” among Democrats and Republicans about other areas where attorneys general can coordinate their attention on big tech. “We are in a moment where the federal government’s level of effectiveness and engagement on a range of issues, on technology, consumer protection and privacy, is limited,” said Phil Weiser, the Democratic attorney general of Colorado. Absent federal intervention, he said, “states in general or state AGs are able to act.”
The gatekeeper and competition issues caused by app stores aren’t going away. At the same time, solutions to them should seek to maintain the convenience, security, and privacy benefits of software that is at least somewhat screened, since we’ve learned from experience that allowing any app, from anywhere, to have unfettered access to a user’s computer or other device is not good, either. No one wants smartphones to become like the virus and “toolbar”-infested Windows 98 family computers of the past. Security and openness may need to be balanced, but neither needs to come at the sacrifice of another.
It’s been almost exactly a year since news broke that Facebook had allowed the personal data of tens of millions of users to be shared with Cambridge Analytica, a consulting company affiliated with Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. That revelation sparked an investigation by the Justice Department into the company's data-sharing practices, which has broadened to include a grand jury. Privacy breaches are hardly as serious as ethnic violence, but the ordeal did mark a palpable shift in public awareness about Facebook’s immense influence. Plus, it followed a familiar pattern: Facebook knew about the slip-up, ignored it for years, and, when exposed, tried to downplay it with a handy phrase that Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg repeated ad nauseam in his April congressional hearings: “We are taking a broader view of our responsibility.” He struck a similar note with a 3,000-word blog post in early March that promised the company would focus on private communications, attempting to solve Facebook’s trust problem while acknowledging that the company’s apps still contain “terrible things like child exploitation, terrorism, and extortion.” If Facebook wants to stop those things, it will have to get a better handle on its 2.7 billion users, whose content powers its wildly profitable advertising engine.
The Federal Trade Commission’s privacy and security enforcement actions in 2018 included shutting down revenge porn website MyEx.com, approving a settlement with peer-to-peer payment service Venmo over deceptive privacy settings, approving an expanded settlement with Uber Technologies to resolve data security and privacy allegations, and approving a privacy and data security settlement with mobile phone maker BLU Products, Inc. The FTC also obtained a $3 million civil penalty against RealPage, Inc., for violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act by failing to ensure the accuracy of tenant screening information. The FTC announced separate settlements with electronic toy maker VTech Electronics Limited and online talent site Explore Talent over allegations that they violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. The FTC also is committed to enforcing the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework. In 2018, five US companies settled FTC charges that they misled consumers about their participation in the Framework. The FTC also issues reports, conducts research, and hosts events to discuss emerging issues in consumer privacy and security. In February 2018, FTC staff released a report examining security updates issued by mobile phone manufacturers, which coincided with the Commission’s third annual PrivacyCon event.
President Donald Trump threatened “Saturday Night Live” and other late-night shows with a federal investigation for poking fun of him. He said, “It’s truly incredible that shows like Saturday Night Live, not funny/no talent, can spend all of their time knocking the same person (me), over & over, without so much of a mention of ‘the other side.’ Like an advertisement without consequences. Same with Late Night Shows." “Should Federal Election Commission and/or [Federal Communications Commission] look into this?” he added. “There must be Collusion with the Democrats and, of course, Russia! Such one sided media coverage, most of it Fake News. Hard to believe I won and am winning. Approval Rating 52%, 93% with Republicans. Sorry! #MAGA”
It was quite noteworthy to see Freshman Sen Josh Hawley (R-MO) tear the Federal Trade Commission a new one for its failure to do anything about how tech companies generally (and Google and Facebook specifically) vacuum up everyone’s personal information. I’m not going to argue with Sen Hawley, but since he is new in town I think it is important for him to understand why the FTC (and other federal agencies charged with consumer protection) have generally gone from fearsome watchdog to timorous toothless Chihuahua with laryngitis. Short answer, Congress has spent the last 40 years training agencies to not do their job and leave big industry players with political pull alone by abusing them at hearings, cutting their budgets, and — when necessary — passing laws to eliminate or massively restrict whatever authority the agency just exercised. Put another way, Congress has basically spent the last 40 years conditioning consumer protection agencies to think about enforcement in much the same way Alex DeLarge was conditioned to think about violence in A Clockwork Orange, keep applying negative stimulus until the very thought of trying to enforce the law against any powerful company in any meaningful way makes them positively ill.
Developing countries typically have significantly lower levels of internet penetration and usage. Market power in respect of internet access looks quite different given that mobile is the predominant means of connection and there are often three or more mobile operators. In South Africa, there is a quasi-monopoly in the paid satellite broadcasting market and broadband providers zero-rating content from third parties (such as Netflix) may bring about more competition. We test the main theories of harm arising in the net neutrality debate, including network operator market power and exclusion among content providers using data on the number of announced prefixes and peers and IP addresses and considering examples of bundling and zero-rating conduct by operators. We find that net neutrality rules are less likely to be required in South Africa and other developing countries and that strict enforcement of such rules could in fact hinder competition in markets for content, telecommunications networks and other related markets.
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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