Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
Government & Communications
Stories From Abroad
I'd like to give a brief high-level overview of the Federal Communications Commission's priorities and activities since I became Chairman in January 2017. In 2019, if you can’t get online, the field is tilted against you—whether you’re a student, entrepreneur, a farmer, or someone with a chronic healthcare issue. To highlight this digital divide, I’ve made it a point to get out of Washington (DC) whenever I can. I’ve seen firsthand the ways that digital technologies are transforming communities. And I’ve also seen how the lack of Internet access is creating problems for the people and places being bypassed by the broadband revolution.
2018 was a record-breaking year for fiber deployment in the United States, with buildout to nearly six million additional homes. And we’ve seen significant increases in broadband speeds. In 2018, according to a report from Ookla, the average fixed broadband download speed in the United States increased by more than 35% over the prior year. And after network investment by broadband providers declined for two straight years at the end of the prior Administration, it is once again on the rise.
Local leaders met with the Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau staff on March 13, 2019, to suggest the FCC continuing to re-evaluate the appropriate broadband speed requirements for service to rural areas by carriers receiving federal support. They discussed their concerns with filings, asking the FCC to extend to wireline providers the interpretation of section 253 set forth in the September 27, 2018 Wireless Infrastructure Order. They also requested the FCC act on pending petitions for reconsideration of the order as well as the August 3, 2018 Pole Attachment Order. NATOA, et al. also met with Commissioner Starks, his chief of staff and legal advisor to discuss various issues, including the August and September 2018 orders.
Microsoft met with Federal Communications Commissioner Starks’ legal advisor on March 11, 2019, to discuss broadband mapping. Microsoft asserted the FCC’s broadband availability data appears to overstate the extent to which broadband is actually available throughout the nation. Microsoft suggested the FCC’s effort to accurately measure broadband could be improved by drawing on the FCC’s subscription data, along with other broadband data sets from third parties such as Microsoft, to complement survey data submitted under the current rules.
Vantage Point Solutions (VPS) met with the Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau staff on March 14, 2019 to discuss Form 477 broadband data. VPS said broadband providers need an opportunity to analyze Form 477 reports to identify potential errors and correct them before the FCC makes key decisions on the 477 data, like Alternative Connect America Cost Model (A-CAM) II offers. VPS provided some short‐term recommendations to correct known Form 477 errors that could be implemented prior to the A‐CAM II offers, such as allowing a 30-to 45-day window to allow Form 477 corrections that would not involve a challenge process. VPS also recommended several longer‐term changes to the Form 477 process to help minimize 477 errors and maximize broadband deployment.
What should be the broadband agenda for infrastructure legislation? Here are some key principles.
- Provide more dedicated funding to broadband.
- Clarify the definition of what constitutes acceptable broadband for rural areas.
- Clarify geographic eligibility.
- Prioritize funds for capital expenditures.
- Eliminate barriers to co-ops.
- Require new technologies to meet market metrics before eligibility.
- Preempt laws that prohibit local communities from addressing local digital divides.
The current prospects for an infrastructure bill are not strong. Nonetheless, we should analyze and debate these ideas as if we actually were going to have to decide tomorrow because that day may arrive sooner than we think.
With high-speed internet access hard to find in South Carolina’s rural and high-poverty areas, some public libraries are trying something new: letting patrons check out free wireless hotspots that can connect to the internet just about anywhere. Public libraries are letting patrons check out personal Wi-Fi devices. A statewide K-12 Technology Initiative provided $115,000 of grant money, so some counties can set up “homework help centers” for students to visit after school. The Charleston County Public Library announced it had used $21,000 to buy 121 hotspot devices, which are currently available at every one of its branches. “Children in many of these counties are issued laptops by their schools but have been unable to access the internet because of low or no bandwidth in their area of the county,” said Kathy Sheppard, director of library development for the South Carolina State Library. She said the county libraries were chosen because they serve areas with high poverty and spotty internet access.
After last week’s deadly white-nationalist domestic terror attack on two New Zealand mosques, and the shooter’s concurrent live-stream of the attack, House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), has written a letter to the CEOs of four major technology companies (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Microsoft) urging them to prioritize the immediate removal of violent terrorist content, including that of far-right, domestic terrorists. In the letter, Chairman Thompson requested a briefing from the companies the week of March 25 on their efforts to prevent the dissemination of this type of violent content moving forward. "Your companies must prioritize responding to these toxic and violent ideologies with resources and attention. If you are unwilling to do so, Congress must consider policies to ensure that terrorist content is not distributed on your platforms—including by studying the examples being set by other countries," Chairman Thompson wrote.
After each misdeed becomes public, Facebook alternates between denial, hollow promises and apology campaigns. As chairman of the House Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, I am calling for an investigation into whether Facebook’s conduct has violated antitrust laws. Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the Federal Trade Commission has confirmed that it is investigating Facebook to determine whether it violated a consent order it entered into with the commission in 2011.
The FTC is facing a massive credibility crisis. For years, privacy advocates have alerted the commission that Facebook was likely violating its commitments under the agreement. Not only did the commission fail to enforce its order, but by failing to block Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram, it enabled Facebook to extend its dominance. American antitrust agencies have not pursued a significant monopoly case in more than two decades, even as corporate concentration and monopoly power have reached historic levels. It’s clear that serious enforcement is long overdue.
A Q&A with Sen Josh Hawley (R-MO).
When asked, "Do you think [it's a good idea to force Facebook to spin off Instagram and WhatsApp]? Or have they done a good enough job integrating the services?" Sen Hawley said, "I think Facebook is an extremely creepy company. I don’t know if they’ve done a good job with anything. I’m not a very big fan. We need to have a discussion, though, about what antitrust looks like when applied to the tech world. Our antitrust laws and our antitrust doctrine in the courts are not really developed to talk about this. So we’ll have that discussion in the courts. It should probably also happen here [in Congress]. You have to think about privacy. You have to think about competition. You have to think about speech bias. I mean, these companies are so huge and their influence is so massive that any action impacts huge parts of society and law." When asked, "Some conservatives see it as government overreach, using regulatory agencies to interfere with private business. Why don’t you see it that way?" Sen Hawley said, "I dispute that it hasn’t been a part of conservative values. If you believe in the free market then you’re not a monopoly. You have to be for free, open, fair competition and that’s what we’re talking about here. Monopoly control of markets that is anti-competitive, that keeps new competition out, that is not pro-free market. That is not something as a part of conservatism that I’ve recognized."
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has reached a historic settlement with Facebook over advertising practices that allegedly discriminated against minorities. As part of five settlements totaling nearly $5 million, Facebook has agreed to make major changes to its ad platform that will help curb discrimination against certain people when it comes to employment, housing and credit ads. Facebook is creating a new advertising process, specifically for marketers that are purchasing ads around employment, housing and credit. The new process will guide ad buyers through a separate portal that will certify that advertisers understand the policies and legal specifications around targeting population segments. As part of this process, Facebook is further cutting the number of options advertisers can use to target ads.
While Democrats' campaign launches have sucked up national attention, President Donald Trump's re-election campaign has quietly spent nearly twice as much as the entire Democratic field combined on Facebook and Google ads. Political advertising strategists say that this level of ad spend on digital platforms this early in the campaign season is unprecedented. The data (captured between December 2018 and now) provides a window into the Trump campaign's 2020 strategy, which until now has been virtually invisible aside from a few rallies. President Trump is outspending the top-spending Democratic candidates -- Sens Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Kamala Harris (D-CA -- 9-to-1 when it comes to total advertising spend on Google and Facebook so far. "This is an unprecedented level of investment this early, and especially from an incumbent President," says Mike Schneider, partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive. "Trump has spent at least $13 million in digital media since May 2018, and over $4.5 million in 2019 alone," says Schneider.
President Donald Trump accused tech companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Google, of promoting "the Radical Left Democrats." "Facebook, Google and Twitter, not to mention the Corrupt Media, are sooo on the side of the Radical Left Democrats. But fear not, we will win anyway, just like we did before! #MAGA," the president wrote online. Beyond general accusations of bias, President Trump and other conservatives have frequently claimed that social media companies are "shadow banning" conservative users by silencing or minimizing their accounts amid efforts to purge their platforms from bots and fraudulent accounts. The President also responded to an opinion article reporting that the President’s social media manager Dan Scavino Jr. was temporarily blocked from Facebook. Scavino posted a screenshot on his Facebook page of a notification he got saying that some his comments had been reported as spam. “I will be looking into this! #StopTheBias,” President Trump wrote, without elaborating what steps he might take. Facebook in a statement said that it has a policy to “cap the amount of identical, repetitive activity coming from one account in a short period of time, such as @mentioning people” as a way to curb posting from automated bots. The company said that is what accidentally happened to Scavino and apologized to him.
Stung by obscene and pointed criticism, Rep Devin Nunes (R-CA) has sued Twitter and three users for defamation, claiming the users smeared him and the platform allowed it to happen because of a political agenda. The complaint, which was filed in Henrico County Circuit Court in Virginia, seeks $250 million in damages. In making his case, Rep Nunes, a loyal ally of President Donald Trump and the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, repeated several common Republican complaints that Twitter has repeatedly denied: that it censors Republicans, “shadow bans” their accounts and actively helps their opponents. Though absorbing criticism comes with the territory for politicians, the complaint described the objectionable tweets from the three users as something “that no human being should ever have to bear and suffer in their whole life.” To make his case, he cited a wide variety of tweets that included accusations of criminal misconduct, crude jokes at his expense and relatively banal criticism. The complaint says the tweets “falsely stated” that Rep Nunes had brought “shame” to his family and that he was voted “Most Likely to Commit Treason” in high school, and that one of them included a cartoon image of a sexual act with President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The complaint lists dozens of other tweets he found insulting.
Apple announced a new initiative in support of leading nonprofit organizations in the US and Europe that offer nonpartisan, independent media literacy programs. The News Literacy Project (NLP) and Common Sense in the US and Osservatorio Permanente Giovani-Editori in Italy will each receive support from Apple to advance their efforts in empowering young people with the critical thinking skills necessary in today’s digital age. “News literacy is vital to sustaining a free press and thriving democracy, and we are proud to be collaborating with organizations on the front lines of this effort,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We’ve been impressed by the important work being done by the News Literacy Project, Common Sense and Osservatorio, empowering young people to be active and engaged citizens.”
The European Union fined Google €1.49 billion for hampering potential rival search advertisers between 2006 and 2016, closing the last formal EU investigation into the US tech company. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said, “Google has cemented its dominance in online search adverts and shielded itself from competitive pressure by imposing anti-competitive contractual restrictions on third-party websites . . . The misconduct lasted over 10 years and denied other companies the possibility to compete on the merits and to innovate — and consumers the benefits of competition.” The case focused on Google’s AdSense business which provides text-only ads to third-party websites based on searches performed on their site, such as blogs and retailers. The niche business has been in decline as online advertisements have shifted to picture and video formats as well as ads that recall where you have been.
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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