Thursday, March 21, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
Government & Communications
Stories From Abroad
A Q&A with Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA).
Like her Democratic colleagues, Rep McMorris Rodgers agrees that rules are needed to ban internet service providers from blocking or slowing web traffic on their networks. She even agrees with Democrats and consumer advocates that broadband providers shouldn't be charging companies for speedier access to consumers. But she stops short of supporting the Democrats' net neutrality bill -- the Save the Internet Act -- that's been introduced in the House and Senate, because she says it gives the Federal Communications Commission too much authority. Her bill, as well as two others introduced by Republicans in February, includes the bright-line rules, but still strips the FCC of oversight. Instead, it makes the Federal Trade Commission the net neutrality watchdog. "I am most concerned about a regulatory approach that classifies the internet under Title II [of the Telecommunications Act] and applies 1930s regulations to the internet," Rep McMorris Rodgers said. "I am concerned about the impact on innovation and investment. When we saw the  FCC regulations put in place, it resulted in a pulling back of investment among small and medium-sized ISPs. These are the ones that operate largely in rural and underserved areas. I represent a district that still has some tremendous broadband needs. We need more deployment, and I am concerned that these areas are being left behind and that this kind of an approach will have even more of a negative impact on those deployments."
Eighty percent of Americans say they support net neutrality, according to a new poll from Comparitech. The Comparitech survey, which tracks with other polls that have found high levels of support for net neutrality among US voters, was conducted a week after Democrats introduced the Save the Internet Act in early March. Almost 87 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans surveyed said they support net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers should allow users to access all content without fees or interruption. Three in five Democrats said the issue is "very important" to them, while 31 percent of Republicans said the same. More than sixty-seven percent of respondents said they are concerned Internet content will be blocked or censored, while 63.5 percent said they fear customers will receive different services and web speeds.
Benton Foundation Senior Fellow Jonathan Sallet's remarks at the Federal Trade Commission's hearing on Consumer Protection Issues in US Broadband Markets:
As the Federal Trade Commission considers the actions it can take to further broadband competition, I believe that it should consider three important points:
- The State of Competition: Few Americans Have Even Three Choices Among Fixed Broadband Providers
- The Federal Trade Commission Should Carefully Consider the Application of Section 5 to Broadband Conduct That Threatens to Harm Competition
- The Federal Trade Commission Has the Tools to Advance Broadband Competition
As a competition advocate, it is important that the FTC enter the debate against state laws that force consumers to bear the higher prices and lower quality that antitrust tells us come from restrictive barriers to entry.
The Baltimore (MD) City Council is considering asking voters to block the sale of Baltimore’s 700-mile, century-old underground conduit system, a move supporters say could encourage a public broadband system in the future. The terra cotta system dates to 1898 and contains telephone, electric and fiber-optic cables. Owning the system leaves open the possibly for the city to create a public broadband network. Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young is the lead sponsor on a bill that would seek a charter amendment in Nov 2020 to permanently revoke the authority of city officials to sell the vast system. “I am introducing these two pieces of legislation to think further about how city government can better preserve and improve internet access for Baltimore residents, businesses, students and visitors,” Young said. “I have always been a proponent of keeping our city assets public.” A public broadband network, Young said, could ensure residents have access to affordable, high-speed internet.
AT&T and Comcast said that they can authenticate calls made between the two different phone providers' networks, a potential industry first and the latest in the long-running battle against spam calls. AT&T and Comcast have successfully completed a real-world call authentication test using the STIR/SHAKEN protocols across landline networks. The STIR/SHAKEN protocols were developed by industry groups ATIS and SIP Forum to tackle the issue of phone spamming and robocalls. The protocols use digital certificates to ensure the incoming phone number is coming from the proper device. Operators obtain a digital certificate from a third-party certificate authority, which is then used to ensure that a phone call is originating from a device that is registered to that number.
In a report and order adopted March 20, the Federal Communications Commission has sent the signal that allowing the so-called white spaces between TV channels to be used for fixed and mobile wireless devices are ready for prime time. The FCC also resolves a number of petitions to reconsider (recon) the TV White Spaces Order that initially opened up the spectrum to broadband. Specifically, the FCC finalized its reconsideration proceeding and its database accuracy proceeding so that broadband providers can invest in rural connectivity. The FCC is permitting the use of white space devices (notably computers), both fixed and mobile, in unused channels, ch. 37, guard bands between broadcast and wireless spectrum and between uplink and downlink spectrum in the 600 MHz band--which they are sharing after the incentive auction.
At the Federal Communications Commission, we’re working to be good partners for broadband builders like you [Wireless internet service providers]. And today, I’d like to mention a few of the ways we’re trying to do that: through modernized infrastructure rules, fair support programs, and smarter spectrum policies. In 2019, I am taking another look at the federal rules governing wireless infrastructure deployment. We will look to fully and faithfully implement the decisions Congress has made to streamline the deployment of next-generation technologies. We will push the government to be more pro-infrastructure by eliminating needless restrictions on siting wireless facilities.
House Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) wrote to the Federal Trade Commission asking how it would use additional resources to protect consumer privacy and increase data security enforcement activity. The Committee leaders asked how the FTC would deploy resources under three different scenarios – if it received an additional $50, $75 or $100 million for consumer protection and privacy. Chairmen Pallone and Schakowsky requested responses from the FTC to a series of questions by April 3, 2019, including:
- What resources would the FTC require to dramatically boost its enforcement activity with respect to privacy and data security?
- If Congress were to direct the FTC to hire technologists to aid in case development, enforcement, rulemaking and/or policy recommendations, what resources would the FTC need to fulfill its consumer protection mission, and how would the agency deploy those new resources?
- If the FTC received notice-and-comment rulemaking authority with respect to privacy and data security, would the FTC require additional resources to develop and update new rules without detracting from the agency’s enforcement activity?
- What would the FTC be able to accomplish with 100 new attorneys focused on privacy and data security that it cannot do with current resources?
Democratic leaders and industry officials cast GOP talk of cracking down on tech’s content moderation practices as out of touch with conservative values. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), who helped author Section 230, said “calls for government regulation of online speech and the business practices of private corporations run counter to everything conservatives claim to believe.” Sen Wyden added altering liability protections would unleash “an onslaught of bad-faith lawsuits and pressure campaigns” on tech companies. "Conservatives must keep to their principles and respect that online platforms are private businesses not public utilities,” said Carl Szabo, vice president at e-commerce trade group NetChoice.
Tech firms have already leaned on the law to shield themselves against allegations of political bias. Recently a Trump-appointed federal judge dismissed a case brought by right-wing activist Laura Loomer and Freedom Watch that claimed Google, Facebook, Apple, and Twitter were suppressing conservatives. The companies are out to “re-craft the nation into their leftist design,” the complaint asserted. The companies barked back that Loomer and Freedom Watch failed to show they’ve been harmed and, even if they had, Section 230 protects internet platforms from liability for policing their content. The court agreed.
From constructing, reforming, and operating more efficient subsidy programs, to installing regulatory flexibility for operators, to striking the byzantine regulatory straightjacket of socalled “net neutrality,” this Commission has taken necessary actions to facilitate nationwide broadband deployment by the private sector. Of course, more needs to be done, but considering the starting point and where we are today, it is fair to say the Commission is on the right path. In reality, the Commission plays a small role in improving broadband deployment. The heavy lifting comes from broadband providers, like you, who are willing to put capital at risk, build out your respective networks, and serve those within your area. Deregulatory efforts: The Federal Communications Commission has been committed to removing existing Commission rules and regulations that no longer make sense in the current competitive media environment. And, we have more items in the pipeline awaiting Commission action. But now it’s time for more substantial reform to be done at a far quicker pace than previously imagined.
Government & Communications
The Federal Communications Commission admitted in court that its Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS) does not track where comments submitted to the system originate. The filing is part of a lawsuit the FCC is facing from The New York Times. The New York Times, Washington Post, BuzzFeed and Gizmodo have been investigating claims about fake/mass-generated comments since 2017, when the FCC began collecting public comments on its proposed repeal of the Title II designation for broadband. The NYT used a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to ask for access to FCC internal logs which should contain each comment and the IP address that it was sent from. The FCC initially refused to comply with the request, arguing that providing NYT with IP addresses would “constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy,” and that handing over the internal logs would compromise the security of the ECFS. In court documents filed March 14, the FCC clarified its stance. It admitted that complying with the request would be incredibly difficult and possibly impossible. “The retracing process would allow the FCC to identify several requests made close in time to the second the comment appears in the database, and guess which one is the actual originating request,” it said. “However, the FCC cannot directly and conclusively correlate one ECFS request with one ECFS comment.”
As lawmakers prepare to weigh in on high-profile tech issues like artificial intelligence, 5G and online privacy, the Government Accountability Office wants to make sure they know what they’re doing. On March 20, GAO submitted a letter to Congress outlining its vision for the group. The plan, which has not yet been made public, will include specifics on the size and scope of the office. The organization, officially created in Jan, comes as both “an internal merger and a great expansion” of the agency’s science and tech operations, according to GAO Chief Scientist Tim Persons, who will co-lead the office with John Neumann, the agency’s former director of science and technology issues. The group will pull in experts from the agency’s audit and science teams, as well as some new hires, creating a single spot where Congress can access a wide variety of advisory services. By the end of 2019, the office will house some 60 engineers, physicists, data analysts, computer scientists, federal auditors and other diverse specialists. And in the coming years, the staff could potentially double in size.
Stories From Abroad
The European Commission has fined Google €1.49 billion for breaching European Union antitrust rules. Google has abused its market dominance by imposing a number of restrictive clauses in contracts with third-party websites which prevented Google's rivals from placing their search adverts on these websites. Google's practices amount to an abuse of Google's dominant position in the online search advertising intermediation market by preventing competition on the merits. Today's decision concludes that Google is dominant in the market for online search advertising intermediation in the European Economic Area (EEA) since at least 2006. This is based in particular on Google's very high market shares, exceeding 85% for most of the period. Google has abused this market dominance by preventing rivals from competing in the online search advertising intermediation market. Based on a broad range of evidence, the Commission found that Google's conduct harmed competition and consumers, and stifled innovation. Google's rivals were unable to grow and offer alternative online search advertising intermediation services to those of Google. As a result, owners of websites had limited options for monetizing space on these websites and were forced to rely almost solely on Google.
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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