Thursday, April 4, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
Government & Communications
Stories From Abroad
After over nine hours of debate over mostly failed amendments, and delays, legislation that would re-regulate internet access by reinstating the Federal Communications Commission's 2015 Open Internet Order's Title II-based net neutrality rules is on its way to a vote in the full House, where it is likely to pass. An amended version of the Save the Internet Act (HR 1644) was approved by the House Commerce Committee on a party-line vote. The vote approving the amended version was 30 to 22, and on favorably referring the underlying bill, as amended, to the House, was also 30 to 22. The all-day markup was extended by a series of protracted roll call votes on a host of amendments floated by Republicans and shot down by the Democratic majority. Net neutrality activists had warned that Republicans would try to pepper the bill with amendments and that prediction proved out. Democrats were offering up a bill that Republicans advised, and some Democrats conceded, would almost certainly not pass the Senate, while Republicans were offering up amendments they knew Democrats would not approve.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation approved two telecommunications bills:
S. 151, Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, Sponsors: Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.)
a. Thune Substitute (modified)
b. Moran 1
The bill boosts the Federal Communications Commission's authority to fine telemarketers, gives it more time to identify them and take action, and requires carriers to adopt call ID technologies.
House Commerce Committee leadership -- Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Communications Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA), and Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-VA) -- wrote the Federal Communications Commission looking for answers as to how inaccurate broadband data made it into a draft of its upcoming Sec. 706 report to Congress on the availability of advanced communications. “If we don’t have accurate information about where broadband Internet is available, how are we ever going to connect our rural and underserved communities?” Rep. McEachin said. “We have to know where we are to figure out where we need to go. Instead of taking a victory lap for imaginary progress, the FCC needs to correct the record and explain how these apparent mistakes were made."
Fiber cities know the difference between publicly overseen networks, aimed at providing a utility service, and wholly private, “demand-driven” communications networks. There is no single meaning of the word utility, but the concept is familiar to many people. The basic idea is that a utility is a service that 1) relies on a physical network of some kind and 2) is a basic input into both domestic and economic life. A utility is not a luxury. Utility services can be sold by private or public entities, but they are always subject to public obligations to reach everyone at a reasonable price, with a service meeting public quality standards.
A wireless network will only be as good as the wired infrastructure beneath it. More users and devices on a wireless network eventually necessitate more wired infrastructure upgrades to accommodate increased traffic and consumer demands, and many consumers’ bandwidth consumption is growing at a pace where only fiber will ultimately be able to satisfy demands. Moreover, in sparsely populated rural America, the distances between homes and businesses make it such that fiber is going to have to be nearly ubiquitous in order to deliver 5G at the same kinds of speeds that are promised in urban areas. I hope policymakers will continue to keep these lessons of physics and economics in mind as they craft policies to bridge the digital divide.
When Microsoft announced plans in 2017 to work with network operators to bring broadband to rural areas lacking broadband service, the company had no problem finding network operators to participate in the program, dubbed Microsoft Airband. Microsoft’s initial plans called for 12 rural broadband projects in 12 states, with a strong emphasis on fixed wireless technology. The company later extended the timeframe and raised the goal to 25 states.
To date, the company has announced eight partners, primarily wireless internet service providers (WISPs), for 16 states. But so many other companies expressed interest in the Airband project that Microsoft decided to create a program to help those companies with their own deployments. More than 230 WISPs currently participate in that program, which as McKinley explains, provides benefits such as access to hardware at lower prices. The service providers that were chosen for Airband projects were chosen based on “how committed to and interested they were in developing new solutions and being creative in solving problems,” said McKinley, adding that “we need everyone’s creativity to come to the front.” Other selection factors: Microsoft wanted providers that were “actively engaged in the community” and who wanted to “ensure that the community has access to greater economic opportunities,” as well as opportunities for healthcare and education.
The Federal Trade Commission told Congress that it only has 40 full-time employees dedicated to overseeing internet privacy and data security and requested lawmakers give the agency more resources to adequately police tech companies. FTC Chairman Joseph Simons wrote in a letter to House leaders that the commission lags far behind other developed countries’ data watchdogs. Chairman Simons was responding to an inquiry from House Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr (D-NJ) and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) asking if the agency needed more resources to police internet giants. The FTC chairman said that an additional $50 million would allow the agency to hire 160 new staffers, $75 million would get 260 and $100 million would get 360. Chairman Simons said that the additional staff would allow the commission to bring more privacy cases. He said that the current 40 employees have averaged about 20 cases a year over the past five years.
More than 540 million Facebook records — including users’ comments, likes, account names and more — were left exposed on an Amazon cloud-computing server, researchers announced, marking the latest major privacy and security mishap to plague the social-networking giant. The trove is one of two data sets discovered to be in full public view by the security firm UpGuard, which also raised alarms with a second app developer that appears to have mishandled Facebook records including users’ interests and potentially their app passwords. Facebook said its policies prohibit app developers from “storing information in a public database,” adding it has worked with Amazon to take them down.
The media landscape used to be straightforward: Content companies (studios) — made stuff (TV shows and movies) and sold it to pay TV distributors, who sold it to consumers. Now things are up for grabs: Netflix buys stuff from the studios, but it’s making its own stuff, too, and it’s selling it directly to consumers. That’s one of the reasons older media companies are trying to compete by consolidating. Disney, for example, recently completed its purchase of 21st Century Fox. Distributors like AT&T, which bought Time Warner, are becoming media companies, too. Meanwhile, giant tech companies like Google, Amazon, and Apple that used to be on the sidelines are getting closer and closer to the action.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s call for new rules for the Internet is a start. The four proposals he makes open the door to a meaningful discussion about the effects of internet capitalism. Now what is needed is a similar look at the issues underlying the market dislocations caused by a handful of internet companies. As significant as Zuckerberg’s proposals are, it is important to recognize they deal with the effects of internet commerce more than their causes: the business model of internet companies. Economists define that business model as a “two-sided market.” On one side, the companies collect the assets they sell on the other side. Each of those sides requires a set of behavioral rules, yet today the companies make those rules. On the collection side, consumers should have more control over their data. In his embrace of GDPR by name and in its entirety, Zuckerberg recognizes the importance of protecting consumer sovereignty over their own data. It is the sell side of the market—where the money comes from—that Zuckerberg’s proposals ignore. The internet business model relies on companies like Facebook hoarding personal information in order to collect monopoly-based prices. It is this data bottleneck that is at the root of the digital companies’ power to dominate and control markets.
The city of Charlotte’s namesake, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was Queen of Great Britain at the time of the US Revolution. Therefore, it seems appropriate to revisit the Queen’s City and celebrate the people and the organizations who are ensuring this digital revolution benefits everyone. This is the fourth time the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and the Benton Foundation have teamed up to present the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award – and the first time we’ve been smart enough to realize that just one awardee per year is not enough to recognize all the great work being done around the country. This year’s awards honor PCs for People CEO Casey Sorensen and San Antonio Housing Authority Digital Inclusion Program Manager Munirih Jester.
[Adrianne B. Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Foundation]
Communications technologies power one-sixth of the nation’s economy—and every American needs access to these technologies to have a fair shot at 21st century success. That is why the budget request from the Administration before you today is so striking. It asks for less than the $339,000,000 the agency is set to spend in the current fiscal year and is almost $4,000,000 less than the budget level authorized by Congress. If adopted, it would result in the smallest payroll in decades—at a time when communications technologies loom larger than ever before in every aspect of civic and commercial life.
Here are the Federal Communications Commission's priorities for the next year:
- We will continue our work to secure our nation’s leadership in 5G, the next generation of wireless connectivity. We’ve developed a comprehensive strategy that will “Facilitate America’s Superiority in 5G Technology”; it’s called the “5G FAST” plan. It has three key components: (1) pushing more spectrum into the marketplace; (2) promoting the deployment of wireless infrastructure; and (3) modernizing outdated regulations.
- We will continue our to close the digital divide. We will soon be sending you a reorganization plan to create a Fraud Division within the Enforcement Bureau. We will offer many small, rural carriers the opportunity to opt into model-based universal service support, tying greater funding to greater accountability and increased deployment of high-speed broadband. We also expect to move forward with additional funding through the Uniendo a Puerto Rico and Connect USVI Funds in the coming months.
- We will continue to fulfill our important mission to protect public safety. The FCC intends to take further steps to improve 911 calling.
- We will continue our efforts to modernize and reform the FCC’s media regulations.
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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