Thursday, April 11, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
Campaign Journalism; Robocalls; Safety Net tech on Today's Agenda
The House of Representatives passed legislation that would guarantee broadband internet users equal access to online content, in a crucial step toward bringing back so-called net neutrality regulations overturned by the Trump administration. In a 232 to 190 vote, divided along party lines, the Democratic majority made good on a promise that became a rallying cry in many progressive circles during the 2018 election. The legislation prohibits blocking and throttling web traffic and categorizes broadband as a service open to heavy regulation. Supporters say the regulation will prevent companies from blocking or slowing the delivery of content like videos. Opponents say it will strap broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast with heavy-handed restrictions and could lead to price controls. The biggest disagreement between Republicans and Democrats is whether broadband should be considered a utility like phone service. Republicans say that doing so could lead to the possible regulation of broadband rates. Democrats say the categorization is an important update that recognizes the importance of broadband to the economy, culture, and education.
In short, the Save the Internet Act would repeal the Federal Communications Commission's Restoring Internet Freedom Order adopted in 2017 (although it did not go into effect until 2018). But the act was amended on its way to passage by the full House of Representatives; the legislation now also includes the following provisions:
- An amendment sponsored by Rep Ben McAdams (D-UT) which affirms that internet service providers can still block unlawful content, such as child pornography or copyright-infringing materials.
- An amendment sponsored by Rep David Trone (D-MD) that finds that annual Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports on the state of broadband deployment are important to fostering further deployment and that Congress relies on the accuracy of these reports.
- An amendment introduced by Rep Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) that requires the FCC to submit to Congress within 30 days a plan for how the FCC will evaluate and address problems with the collection on Form 477 of data regarding the deployment of broadband Internet access service. [Form 477 is used by the FCC to determine which providers are servicing which areas and it is the government's main source of data used for identifying underserved areas of opportunity.]
- An amendment introduced by Sharice Davids (D-KS) that requires that within 1 year of enactment, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) shall produce a report examining the FCC's efforts to assess competition in the wireline and wireless broadband internet access markets, and how the FCC can better assess competition, and what steps, if any the FCC can take to better increase competition in the wireless and wireline broadband internet access markets.
- An amendment sponsored by Rep Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) that requires the GAO to determine the accuracy and granularity of broadband maps produced by the FCC, and to submit to Congress a report that identifies programs and actions restored under 2(b) that rely on these maps and that makes recommendations for how the FCC can produce more accurate maps.
- An amendment sponsored by Rep Antonio Delgado (D-NY) that requires the GAO to produce a report, within 1 year, reviewing the benefits to consumers of broadband internet access providers offering broadband internet access service on a standalone basis and what steps Congress can take to increase the availability of standalone broadband internet access service to consumers, particularly those living in rural areas.
- An amendment from Rep Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) that requires the GAO to produce a report about the ways in which the US government can promote the deployment of broadband Internet access service, especially to rural areas and areas currently unserved by high-speed broadband access.
- An amendment from Rep Greg Stanton (D-AZ) that directs the Chairman of the FCC to engage tribal stakeholders and providers to ensure accessible and affordable broadband on tribal lands.
The Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on how the Federal Communications Commission collects and maps data on the availability of broadband connectivity. Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS) said it was crucial to have accurate broadband maps on where broadband is and isn't available at certain speeds if the country wants to close the digital divide, and that inaccurate maps waste money and stifle opportunity for economic development in rural areas. He wanted to know how long the FCC's data collection process (form 477) had been deficient. Tim Donovan of the Competitive Carriers Association said the FCC form was showing its age, as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has acknowledged, and was not designed to be used to distribute Universal Service Fund subsidies, but instead to show over time where resources were being deployed. Jonathan Spalter, president of USTelecom, agreed that the process needed to be updated ASAP, as USTelecom is trying to do with its mapping initiative.
Ranking Member Maria Cantwell (D-WA) decided not to make an opening statement at the hearing, saying there had been too much talking about mapping and that it was time for action. She said there needed to be better data on the cost of build-outs so they could determine what role the federal government should play.
NCTA-The Internet & Television Association has provided the Federal Communications Commission with some more details about its proposal to improve broadband deployment data, which the FCC collects from carriers to determine if advanced telecommunications is being deployed in a reasonable and timely manner. NCTA wants to get more granular data by using "shape files", rather than the current census blocks, that illustrate the actual contours of service. Crowdsourcing could help make sure providers aren't overstating coverage areas, NCTA says, as one provider did in the FCC's most recent Section 706 draft report on broadband availability. Cable operators argue that using addresses, as USTelecom has proposed, is imprecise since some folks don't have traditional addresses: like tribal lands or rural roads. NCTA also commented on Microsoft's recent calls for better data from the FCC. "The Commission should not be distracted by Microsoft’s unsubstantiated attack on the Form 477 [broadband data collection] process," NCTA said.
The surprising role of the rural co-ops in providing high-speed internet mirrors an important chapter in US history, and sheds light on the financial challenges of connecting rural America, where residents say the lack of high-speed internet makes them feel left behind. After hearing requests, the Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative in Mansfield (PA), surveyed its members to see if they wanted the co-op in the broadband business. The response was a resounding yes. Advocates for cellular companies say eventually there will be rural buildout for fifth generation, or 5G, cellular networks that are at least 10 times faster than fourth generation, or 4G, widely in use now. But some experts say rural residents shouldn’t hold their breath. “5G is not going to happen in rural America, not for a long, long time,” said Christopher Ali, a professor at the University of Virginia.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association estimates that it would cost $40 billion to reach 98 percent of the 6.3 million of its members who don’t have broadband currently, and another $40 billion to reach the final 2 percent. While such costs are huge, not spending the money also inflicts an economic penalty. Those costs range from lower property prices to lost income-generating potential for residents who want to telecommute or operate businesses with an online presence. The association estimates that its 6.3 million members without robust broadband suffer lost economic gains of $68 billion, failing to receive such benefits as improved healthcare, online learning opportunities, increased housing values and obtaining savings through competitive online retailers.
Almost 340,000 youths in Pennsylvania who do not have access to a reliable broadband connection. At Penns Valley Area High School (PA), where at least 8% of students have only dial-up internet access at home, many teachers don’t assign internet-based homework. The district’s handbook suggests that teachers “adjust assignments and strategies to reflect the limited availability of broadband access in our area, (encourage) students to use the Internet while at school (when needed) and use the software at home to complete their tasks.” But in an increasingly digital world, that’s becoming more difficult. Reliable internet is a selling point and often a deciding factor for people in his generation, said Penns Valley graduate David Keller. “I grew up (in the Seven Mountains) my entire life. I love where I live, but to sit back and say internet wouldn’t be an aspect I’d be thinking about I’d totally be lying,” he said. “... When I’m able to afford to, I’ll most definitely look (for housing) somewhere else.”
In rural America, many grain legs (bucket elevators for moving grain) have small wireless radios attached to them, providing the grain leg’s owner with broadband service. But a loophole in the current Federal Communications Commission rules means that the same service provider seeking to use the same type of radio and infrastructure to provide service to the next farmer a couple of miles down the road could have to go through an onerous permitting process, or be denied access altogether. Thankfully, the FCC is looking to close that loophole, proposing an important update to its over-the-air-reception device (OTARD) rule that will have significant, positive implications for bringing broadband to unserved and underserved parts of America. Among other things, the agency is looking to allow broadband “hubs” — technology the size of a pizza box — to be placed on private property to serve small clusters of homes, modernizing its rule to accord with the advance of today‘s wireless broadband networks. Updating OTARD means both the farmer and his neighbor can get broadband quickly and cost-effectively. And that is the right thing to do.
[Claude Aiken is president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA)]
AT&T is the fastest US mobile provider but probably not by as much as first reported, according to new information from speed-test company Ookla. AT&T’s overall mobile speed was artificially inflated in Ookla’s latest speed ratings by the sheer number of people testing their new “5G E” connections, whose icon notificationhas recently started showing up on newer iPhone models. This, along with AT&T’s extensive 5G E advertising, is currently the subject of a Sprint lawsuit against the company for deceptive practices. Thanks to 5G E visibility, owners of newer, faster iPhones in select cities conducted more speed tests than normal. As a result, the data is skewed more in favor of AT&T iPhone users than usual, because a larger share of survey takers were people with new AT&T iPhones than would normally occur on Ookla’s tests. Ookla measures speed on iPhones and Androids through user-initiated speed tests.
Republicans led by Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) pilloried Facebook, Google and Twitter over allegations they censor conservative users and news sites online, threatening federal regulation in response to claims that Democrats long have described as a hoax. The tensions played out early at the Senate Judiciary's Subcommittee on The Constitution hearing where Chairman Cruz said that Silicon Valley’s largest companies had deployed their “power to silence voices with which they disagree.” "Not only does big tech have the power to silence voices with which they disagree, but big tech likewise has the power to collate a person's feed so they only receive the news that comports with their own political agenda," Chairman Cruz said. But Democrats sharply rebuked Chairman Cruz and his GOP allies for convening the hearing in the first place, arguing that they had ignored the real ills of social media — including the rise of hate speech and disinformation online. “For decades, Republicans have bashed the supposedly liberal mainstream media in an effort to work the refs,” said Ranking Member Mazie Hirono (D-HI). “Now that two-thirds of Americans get their news from social media, Republicans have a new boogeyman to target — big tech.”
Sens Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) introduced the Algorithmic Accountability Act, which requires companies to study and fix flawed computer algorithms that result in inaccurate, unfair, biased or discriminatory decisions impacting Americans. The Algorithmic Accountability Act would:
- Authorize the Federal Trade Commission to create regulations requiring companies under its jurisdiction to conduct impact assessments of highly sensitive automated decision systems. This requirement would apply both to new and existing systems.
- Require companies to assess their use of automated decision systems, including training data, for impacts on accuracy, fairness, bias, discrimination, privacy and security.
- Require companies to evaluate how their information systems protect the privacy and security of consumers’ personal information.
- Require companies to correct any issues they discover during the impact assessments.
The obligations in the bill only apply to companies that are already regulated by the FTC and that make more than $50 million per year. However, data brokers or companies that have data on more than 1 million consumers or consumer devices are covered, regardless of their revenue.
The bill is endorsed by tech and civil rights groups, including Data for Black Lives, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law and the National Hispanic Media Coalition
There can be little doubt that the major digital companies have gained a level of economic control akin to the industrial barons of the Gilded Age. It is important to take steps to introduce much needed competition into the digital marketplace. Clearly, a more active review of mergers is necessary, even when the acquired company is comparatively small. However, the other prong of antitrust policy, the physical breakup of dominant companies, may not be the only path to competition in a world where the tools of dominance are virtual rather than physical. Breaking up the digital companies into smaller clones may reduce their size, but each new company will still possess the virtual assets that enabled their parents’ anticompetitive activities in the first place: the databases full of information about you and I. Break open that hoard of digital information, make it available to innovators and competitors, and the marketplace can function. Requiring competitive interconnection to databases would have the effect of an “internal break up” by going after the source of its market control.
[Tom Wheeler served as the 31st Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission from 2013-2017]
The costs to American consumers for the collection of disability-related programs is growing at a fairly aggressive and unsustainable rate. Accordingly, the Disability Advisory Committee can play an important role, and I believe has an obligation, to help the Commission contain costs. I strongly believe that we need to move away from specialized services with proprietary equipment and towards increased use and adoption of modern communications technology to serve the most vulnerable populations. This means more use of email, text, video chat, real time text, and the like. Substitutable services need to be employed to a greater extent to drive down overall costs. Many of these services, which clearly will not work for every disabled consumer, are free today and provide a great means to communicate, conduct business, entertain, and offer the various myriad of features and functions that non-disabled individuals take for granted each day. I implore you to consider how best to move away from proprietary technologies and providers. If the DAC submits recommendations along these lines, then we have a real chance to preserve our efforts to help a valuable population of Americans.
You find yourselves in a war for attention with well-funded media giants, Internet companies, and telecom companies. In such a crowded and rapidly evolving marketplace, how can broadcasters succeed? The trust that broadcasters have built over the years is real, and Americans’ personal connections with you are your greatest competitive edge....I believe a strong broadcasting industry serves the interest of the American people. Which raises an obvious question: what’s the FCC doing to help make this happen?
As US officials have pressured allies not to use networking gear from Chinese technology giant Huawei over spying concerns, President Donald Trump has urged American companies to “step up” and compete to provide the next generation of high-speed, low-lag wireless service known as 5G. There’s just one problem: There are barely any US companies manufacturing the technology’s most critical components. The absence of a US alternative to foreign suppliers of 5G networking equipment underscores the growing dominance of Huawei, which has evolved into the world’s biggest supplier of telecom equipment, sparking fears within the Trump administration that a 5G network powered by Huawei’s wireless parts could endanger national security. And it throws into sharp relief the years-long retreat by US firms from that market. Carriers such as Sprint and Verizon have moved swiftly to launch 5G services for consumers. But the wireless networking gear the industry relies on still comes from foreign suppliers: four companies, Sweden’s Ericsson, Finland’s Nokia and China’s Huawei and ZTE, account for two-thirds of the global market for telecom equipment, according to analyst estimates.
The Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission announced the renewal of the charter of the FCC’s Consumer Advisory Committee, the appointment of members for the Committee’s tenth two-year term, and the Committee’s next meeting date, time, and agenda. The membership consists of a diverse mix of organizations representing consumers, the communications industry, government regulators, trade associations, academia, and other stakeholders including four individuals serving as Special Government Employees. The first meeting of the CAC under its renewed charter will take place on June 3, 2019. American Consumer Institute President/CEO Stephen Pociask will chair the Committee; Debra Berlyn, representing the National Consumers League, will serve as Vice Chair.
Detroit has hired its first director of digital inclusion, making it one of a growing number of cities to have a full-time employee within its government tackling issues of digital equity. The city tapped Joshua Edmonds to fill the new role. Edmonds comes to the city from Cleveland, where he previously worked in the digital inclusion space. In Cleveland, Edmonds helped lead the deployment of more than $1.5 million of investments related to digital equity through The Cleveland Foundation, an influential community foundation in the Ohio city. Before working with the Cleveland Foundation, Edmonds was with the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority. In that capacity, he participated in President Obama’s ConnectHome initiative, which fostered partnerships between localities, private companies and government at the federal level, all in the service of increasing the number of households nationwide with high-speed Internet.
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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