Friday, April 12, 2019
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President Donald Trump is set to hold a White House event April 12 with the Federal Communications Commission on next-generation 5G wireless networks and efforts to boost rural broadband internet access. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and President Trump would deliver remarks on 5G deployment. Chairman Pai is expected to announce additional funds to help rural areas that lack broadband get access to the high-speed service.
On April 10, 2019, in a 232-to-190 vote divided along party lines, the House of Representatives voted to approve the Save the Internet Act (HR 1644). In doing so, Democrats made good on a promise that became a rallying cry in many progressive circles during the 2018 election: restore net neutrality. For the first time ever, net neutrality legislation has cleared the House of Representatives. The Save the Internet Act would repeal the Federal Communications Commission's Restoring Internet Freedom Order adopted in 2017. House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) said the bill would give the “FCC the authority to protect consumers now and in the future.” Full House Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden (R-OR) blasted the bill as “another plank in [Democrats’] socialist agenda.”
Gigi Sohn, a former counselor to former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said, “I just have to push back a little bit on this [claim the bill] doesn’t have a chance in the Senate. I know what leader [Mitch] McConnell said — I believe the American people will resuscitate the dead on arrival bill. Referring to a case that is challenging the decision to end the Obama-era rules on net neutrality, she added, "What you must understand is that there is litigation going on right now to challenge the 2018 repeal. I was at the five-hour oral argument and I think we have a really good chance of winning — if we win and the 2015 open internet order gets restored, I think that may bring the broadband providers back to the table." But Sohn argued that internet service providers would be “better off” with the net neutrality bill rather than waiting to let the fight play out in the courts. "They’re better off with this bill that puts in place the restrictions on what the FCC can do to broadband internet access providers — if they lose the case the FCC has more power to regulate them than if this bill passes.”
Led by Sen Patty Murray (D-WA) -- the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee -- a group of Senate Democrats introduced new legislation aimed at closing the growing digital divide in communities across the country. The Digital Equity Act of 2019 creates new federal investments targeted toward a diverse array of projects at the state and local level that promote “digital equity”— a concept defined by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance as the “condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.” The the Digital Equity Act of 2019strengthens federal support for efforts to help ensure students, families, and workers have the information technology capacity needed to fully participate in society by creating an annual $125 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each State, as well as an additional annual $125 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, or communities of interest. Finally, the legislation tasks the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) with evaluating digital equity projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective.
The legislation was cosponsored by Sens Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tina Smith (D-MN), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Gary Peters (D-MI), and Jack Reed (D-RI) and a companion bill will also be introduced in the House of Representatives.
The Digital Equity Act of 2019 is endorsed by the Alliance for Community Media, American Library Association, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Broadband Connects America, Center for Law and Social Policy, Center for Media Justice, Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, Coalition on Adult Basic Education, Common Cause, Consortium for School Networking, Competitive Carriers Association, Free Press Action Fund, International Society for Technology in Education, National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors, National Coalition for Literacy, National Collaborative for Digital Equity, National Congress of American Indians, National Consumer Law Center on behalf of their low-income clients, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Hispanic Media Coalition, National League of Cities, National Parent Teacher Association, New America's Open Technology Institute, Next Century Cities, NTEN, Public Knowledge, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition, State Educational Technology Directors Association, and the Urban Libraries Council.
Accusing Twitter and Facebook of suppressing conservative voices, Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) floated an overhaul to a key law that protects Internet platforms from legal liability for content posts on their sites, breaking up the companies, or even charging them with fraud. His three-part playbook:
- Overhaul Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — a law that grants online platforms legal immunity for content posted on their sites. "That provides a special immunity from liability that Big Tech enjoys that nobody else gets,” Sen Cruz said. “Big Tech made effectively a bargain with Congress and a bargain with Congress and a bargain with the American people,” he added, which he termed as: “We'll be neutral, we'll be fair, and in exchange for that we'll receive what is effectively a federal subsidy for immunity from liability.”
- Take antitrust action against the tech giants.
- Charge the companies with fraud.
Facebook spent 3 hours detailing its efforts to fight misinformation, highlighting points of improvement but leaving unanswered the overarching question of whether users are safer than they were 2 years ago. Facebook is getting better at both detecting and removing some types of content, with a particular focus on efforts to subvert democratic elections. But other types of negative content remain prevalent on Facebook. Facebook's pledge to shift toward private, encrypted conversations is likely to make it harder for the company to monitor and remove objectionable content. Facebook executives acknowledged the issue but declined to offer any specifics on how the company will deal with it.
When it comes to false information, in most cases Facebook isn't looking to remove it, though it is working to keep such information from being viewed and shared as broadly.
The Senate Communications Subcommittee reviewed regulators' efforts to cut down on illegal robocalls during a hearing, which comes on the heels of the Federal Communications Commission's first-ever report on robocalls and as lawmakers push bipartisan legislation to crack down on the problem. Senators heard from Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson who discussed the legal challenges in bringing robocallers to justice. "One of the challenges whether or not it is a civil penalty or criminal penalty is the ability to get our hands around these people... to actually get them in a headlock," he said. Subcommittee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) reintroduced bipartisan legislation in 2019 to crack down on robocalls through the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Defense (TRACED) Act. The bill would improve enforcement policies and have agencies better coordinate on tackling robocalls.
British authorities arrested WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in response to an American extradition request, and a US federal court unsealed an indictment charging him with a single count of conspiracy to hack a classified Defense Department computer. Assange was taken into custody by British police after Ecuador rescinded his asylum at its embassy in London, ending a media-saturated standoff that lasted nearly seven years. British authorities originally sought custody of Assange for jumping bail after Sweden requested his extradition in a separate case stemming from sexual assault allegations. In an indictment unsealed hours later, Assange was accused of conspiring in 2010 with Chelsea Manning, a US Army intelligence analyst then known as Bradley Manning, and others to illegally obtain secret US military and diplomatic documents whose dissemination could be used to injure the United States. Outside court, one of Assange’s attorneys, Jennifer Robinson, said Assange would fight extradition to the United States. She called the action against him “a dangerous precedent for all news media.”
Decades later, Signaling System No. 7 (SS7) and other components of the nation’s digital backbone remain flawed, leaving calls and texts vulnerable to interception and disruption. Instead of facing the challenges of our hyper-connected age, the Federal Communications Commission is stumbling, according to documents obtained by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) and through extensive interviews with current and former agency employees. The agency is hampered by a lack of leadership on cybersecurity issues and a dearth of in-house technical expertise that all too often leaves it relying on security advice from the very companies it is supposed to oversee.
[Andrea Peterson is an investigator at Project On Government Oversight]
The New York Times Company is pressing a judge to order the Federal Communications Commission to turn over information about comments submitted in the 2017 net neutrality proceeding. “The logs will likely reveal the true extent of the fraud that infected the net neutrality rulemaking,” the newspaper argues in court papers filed April 10 with US District Court Judge Lorna Schofield in the Southern District of New York. “In the wake of Special Counsel’s Robert Mueller’s recent indictment of 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies for interfering with U.S. elections and the U.S. political system, the public interest in understanding how these cloud-based automated bots are being used to influence an array of U.S. political activities -- including the agency notice-and-comment process -- is exceptionally high.” The Times is seeking IP addresses, timestamps and user-agent headers — which could provide information about commenters' browsers — for all public comments regarding net neutrality submitted between April 26, 2017 and June 7, 2017.
The White House moved to exert greater control over the federal regulatory process by imposing additional scrutiny over independent government agencies when they establish new policies, guidelines or rules that affect large swaths of the economy. (According to the memorandum, proposals that have an effect of $100 million or more annually on the economy would be considered “major” and would require a review by Congress.) The new policy was laid out in a memorandum written by Russell Vought, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget. It broadens the scope of rules that would be subject to White House review and scrutiny by Congress through the Congressional Review Act. A senior administration official played down the scope of the memorandum, saying that it simply provided clarification that guidance documents were covered by Congressional Review Act statutes and needed to be reviewed to determine their economic effects.
OMB is also seeking comment on the possibility of slashing a decades-old rule that prevents US officials from making public statements about key government economic reports until one hour after their release. Top White House officials are briefed on key, market-sensitive statistics—like jobs numbers—before they are released. The OMB, in its notice, proposed that advances in information technology since the rule’s issuance in 1985 could merit a shorter time delay, or possibly no wait at all. Some economists say the rule is outdated in an era of instant communication. Others argue the rule is still needed to preserve the integrity of government economic news releases and to ensure the public’s views about them aren’t distorted by politics.
The 2019 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill Conference Report encouraged the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) to reorganize its technology and science function by creating a new office within GAO and to report to the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittees on plans for doing so. In January 2019, GAO created the Science, Technology Assessment, and Analytics (STAA) team to build on its decades-long track record of providing Congress with science and technology (S&T) analysis. GAO is implementing a number of steps that take into account unique requirements of technology assessments and related S&T work in order to meet the needs of Members of Congress and congressional staff. As GAO builds on its existing capabilities and grow the new STAA team, it will focus on the following areas to continue and further enhance this line of work:
- development of additional product types and formats to ensure clear and concise communication on technical topics with quick turnaround;
- development of additional methods and standards that are appropriate to TAs and separate from those covering our audit work;
- designation of staff whose primary focus will be TAs and technical assistance;
- continued engagement with external experts and advisory boards, as appropriate; and
- development of policy options to provide Members of Congress and staff with a broader base of information for decision-making.
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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