Thursday, March 28, 2019
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Count Federal Communications Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) as critics of a proposal from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to explore a spending cap on telecommunications subsidies to expand telephone and broadband access. “Any effort that could harm classroom learning, broadband deployment, rural health opportunities, or connecting more individuals should be shelved and never considered again,” said Markey said of the FCC proposal, which would target Universal Service Fund programs. Commissioner Rosenworcel said the item, which was circulated among commissioners March 26, “flies in the face of the agency’s own rhetoric about bridging the digital divide.” The measure seeks comment on what the cap should be, including whether it should be set at $11.4 billion, the sum of all USF program budgets in 2018. (Actual disbursements from the fund were about $9.6 billion that year.) Still, the idea has strong support from FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, who voted to approve it already, calling an overall spending cap “overdue and incredibly needed.”
The Benton Foundation unequivocally opposes any proposals from the Federal Communications Commission that would allow the FCC to shirk its responsibilities to meet its Congressionally-mandated mission. The FCC is supposed to ensure:
- Quality services are available at just, reasonable, and affordable rates.
- Access to advanced telecommunications and information services are provided in all regions of the Nation.
- Consumers in all regions of the Nation, including low-income consumers and those in rural, insular, and high cost areas, have access to telecommunications and information services, including interexchange services and advanced telecommunications and information services, that are reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas and that are available at rates that are reasonably comparable to rates charged for similar services in urban areas.
- There are specific, predictable, and sufficient Federal and State mechanisms to preserve and advance universal service.
- Elementary and secondary schools and classrooms, health care providers, and libraries should have access to advanced telecommunications services.
USF budget reductions or caps could stall and stifle America’s internet opportunity. They would undercut critical efforts to close the digital divide, efforts meant to ensure that every American can take advantage of the transformative opportunities that broadband can deliver. Capping internet opportunity is not the right answer. Rather, the FCC should spend its time working to eliminate the bureaucratic barriers that are preventing these programs from getting the most bang for the buck and achieving their maximum potential.
We can’t extend broadband’s reach throughout rural America with a USF cap. We can’t solve the homework gap with a USF cap. We can’t ensure that everyone can afford essential voice and broadband service with a USF cap. We can’t bring world-class medical care to rural areas with a USF cap. So why is the FCC talking about a USF cap?
Lawmakers said that they continue to have questions after Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft briefed a House panel on their efforts to take down extremist content online. Members of the House Homeland Security Committee questioned representatives from some of Silicon Valley's largest companies in a closed-door briefing about how they deal with white supremacist and bigoted content online. "While I'm encouraged by their answers, we still have a long way to go," said Rep Val Demings (D-FL), who sits on the committee. Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MI) invited the tech companies to come to Capitol Hill and discuss their efforts to crack down on violent extremists following the mass shooting at two New Zealand mosques earlier this month, an attack that was live-streamed online. "While I appreciate the tech sector’s cooperation in coming to Congress to brief us on their efforts to stop the propagation of terrorist content on their platforms, we still need more information," Chairman Thompson said.
Facebook will begin banning posts, photos and other content that reference white nationalism and white separatism, revising its rules in response to criticism that a loophole had allowed racism to thrive on its platform. Previously, Facebook only had prohibited users from sharing messages that glorified white supremacy -- a rhetorical discrepancy, in the eyes of civil-rights advocates, who argued that white nationalism, supremacy and separatism are indistinguishable and that the policy undermined the tech giant's stepped-up efforts to combat hate speech online. Facebook now agrees with that analysis. The new policy also applies to Instagram.
For the third year in a row, the Trump Administration’s proposed federal budget would zero-out funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger doesn’t understand why. “I wish I knew,” Kerger said. “I don’t understand why we seem to be perennially in this fight.” “I see the impact our local stations have in communities; red states, blue states. I see the work that our stations are doing for advancing civil conversation,” Kerger said. “I am in places where local journalism has really collapsed, and our local radio and TV stations really are the local media presence.” President Donald Trump’s cuts could, she worries, create new media deserts across vast expanses of America. “When you look at the entire economy of public broadcasting, about 15 percent of the funding for our stations comes from federal appropriations — but that’s an aggregate number,” Kerger said. “For some of our stations in rural parts of the country — so Cookeville, Tennessee, for example, it’s probably about 40 percent.” President Trump’s proposed 2020 federal budget, which was released on March 11, would eliminate all taxpayer funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting over a two-year timespan, cutting the organization’s annual appropriation in the first year from $465 million to $30 million, or 94 percent. More than 70 percent of the CPB’s annual funding goes to local public TV and radio stations.
Google is launching the Local Experiments Project, an effort to fund dozens of new local news websites around the country and eventually around the world. The tech giant says it will have no editorial control over the sites, which will be built by partners it selects with local news expertise. The first effort within the new Local Experiments Project will be ‘The Compass Experiment," which is a partnership between Google and McClatchy to launch three new, digital-only local news operations on multiple platforms. Google says the investments will be significant. "We will be spending many millions of dollars on this overall," says Richard Gingras, Google's VP of news. McClatchy will choose 3 cities that are less than a half million people for the site launches.
The British government released a scathing assessment of the security risks posed by the Chinese telecom company Huawei to Britain’s telecom networks, as London weighs whether to heed US calls to bar the firm from the next-generation 5G network over fears it will enable spying by the Chinese government and potential cyberattacks. This is the second consecutive year the Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ — the British spy agency equivalent to the US National Security Agency — has identified serious problems. This year, officials said they have found “further significant technical issues” in the firm’s engineering processes, as well as continued “concerning issues” in Huawei software, “leading to new risks” in Britain’s 4G telecom networks. Most ominously, the spy agency, which oversees a center that vets Huawei hardware and software for bugs and security vulnerabilities, said it can provide “only limited assurance” that the long-term national security risks can be managed in the Huawei equipment deployed in Britain, and that “it will be difficult” to manage the risk of future products until the current defects are fixed.
[Prepared statement before the House Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee]
Consumer reporting agencies (CRA) collect, maintain, and sell to third parties large amounts of sensitive data about consumers, including Social Security numbers and credit card numbers. This statement is based on GAO’s Feb 2019 report on the CRA oversight roles of Federal Trade Commission and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPR). This statement summarizes (1) measures FTC has taken to enforce CRA compliance with requirements to protect consumer information, (2) measures CFPB has taken to ensure CRA protection of consumer information, and (3) actions consumers can take after a breach.
In its Feb 2019 report, GAO recommended that Congress consider giving FTC civil penalty authority to enforce Gramm-Leach Bliley Act's (GLBA) safeguarding provisions. FTC lacks a practical enforcement tool for imposing civil money penalties that could help to deter companies, including CRAs, from violating data security provisions of GLBA and its implementing regulations. GAO also recommended that CFPB (1) identify additional sources of information on larger CRAs, and (2) reassess its prioritization of examinations to address CRA data security. CFPB neither agreed nor disagreed with GAO’s recommendations.
The US Census Bureau has asked tech giants Google, Facebook and Twitter to help it fend off “fake news” campaigns it fears could disrupt the upcoming 2020 count. The push follows warnings from data and cybersecurity experts dating back to 2016 that right-wing groups and foreign actors may borrow the “fake news” playbook from the last presidential election to dissuade immigrants from participating in the decennial count. Apparently, evidence has included increasing chatter on platforms like “4chan” by domestic and foreign networks keen to undermine the survey. The census, they said, is a powerful target because it shapes US election districts and the allocation of more than $800 billion a year in federal spending. Ron Jarmin, the Deputy Director of the Census Bureau, confirmed the bureau was anticipating disinformation campaigns, and was enlisting the help of big tech companies to fend off the threat. “We expect that (the census) will be a target for those sorts of efforts in 2020,” he said.
President Donald Trump revealed he had met with Google CEO Sundar Pichai to discuss the company's work in China and allegations of anti-conservative bias. The president said on Twitter that the unscheduled meeting went "very well" following months of Republican attacks against Silicon Valley over how social media companies handle conservative speech. "Just met with @SundarPichai, President of @Google, who is obviously doing quite well. He stated strongly that he is totally committed to the U.S. Military, not the Chinese Military," President Trump wrote. "Also discussed political fairness and various things that @Google can do for our Country. Meeting ended very well!"
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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