Thursday, May 2, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
As the House Commerce Commerce settles in after the latest recess, Telecommunication Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) has been talking up Democrats’ near-term tech and telecom policy plans. He and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chair Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) both reaffirmed their plans to soon bring in Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission commissioners before their respective subpanels for separate hearings (the telecom panel was eyeing May 15 for an FCC oversight hearing).
What else? Robocalls. Chairman Doyle said “there’s strong bipartisan support for getting a bill out of the committee and onto the floor” and expects a markup “sometime in the near future.” A Doyle aide pushed back on taking up Senate robocall-fighting legislation known as the TRACED Act (S. 151), saying House Democrats’ plan “does all the things the TRACED Act does, plus a lot more.” Chairman Doyle is also still planning to reintroduce his AIRWAVES Act, which would free up more spectrum for building 5G wireless networks. “I definitely want to move that bill,” he said. He is still seeking a Republican partner, he added (previous GOP ally Leonard Lance (NJ) lost his 2018 re-election bid).
The Federal Communications Commission has revised the 2019 Broadband Deployment Report to reflect a thorough review of the initial draft triggered by the discovery that a company submitted drastically overstated deployment data to the FCC. But the FCC still concludes that significant progress has been made in closing the digital divide in America. The revised report shows that since the last report, the number of Americans lacking access to a fixed terrestrial broadband connection meeting the FCC’s advanced telecommunications capability benchmark speed of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps has dropped by over 18%, from 26.1 million Americans at the end of 2016 to 21.3 million at the end of 2017. Moreover, the majority of those gaining access to such high-speed connections, approximately 4.3 million, live in rural America, where broadband deployment has traditionally lagged.
The number of Americans with access to at least 250 Mbps/25 Mbps broadband grew in 2017 by more than 36%, to 191.5 million. And the number of rural Americans with access to such broadband increased by 85.1% in 2017. In addition, the number of Americans with access to 100 Mbps/10 Mbps broadband grew in 2017 by more than 18%, to 288.4 million, while the number of rural Americans with access to such broadband increased by 44% in 2017, to 37.4 million.
Free Press was able to discover the huge error that led to the revision. Free Press General Counsel and VP of Policy Matt Wood said:
We're very glad to see that the FCC has addressed the error Free Press identified. While Chairman Pai isn't a big-enough person to say our name or to mention Free Press's role in discovering an error that had eluded staff, we will take heart in the good result and leave Pai's pettiness out of it. Of course, fixing this error doesn't fix the other huge flaw we cited in our letter about BarrierFree: the Pai FCC keeps trying to take credit for broadband deployment and speed increases well under way before and during Title II's reinstatement. So when Chairman Pai takes credit for ISP investment and improvements he quite literally had nothing to do with, it's an ongoing embarrassment that simply revising the numbers down cannot fix.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said she won't support the report's conclusions.
While it's a good thing the FCC has finally fixed this mess with its data, the fact of the matter is that millions of American households—in rural and urban communities—have no access to high-speed service. That's a problem. With tens of millions of Americans without access to broadband, it's simply not credible for the agency to conclude that broadband deployment across the country is reasonable and timely.
As this report (based on super-accurate Dec 2017 Form 477 data) shows, while broadband deployment to Tribal lands has increased in recent years, additional work remains to increase deployment to the certain Tribal areas and reach the FCC's goal of closing the digital divide for all Americans. Tribal lands experience lower rates of both fixed and mobile broadband deployment as compared to non-Tribal areas of the United States, particularly in rural areas. For example, while 92% of housing units on urban Tribal lands are covered by a fixed terrestrial provider of 25/3 Mbps broadband service—just six points behind their non-Tribal urban counterparts—just 46.6% of housing units on rural Tribal lands have access to that service, a nearly 27-point gap compared to nonTribal rural areas. Mobile LTE coverage on Tribal lands is similarly behind deployment on non-Tribal lands; while 99.8% of the population living on non-Tribal areas are covered by mobile LTE service, only 96% of the population living on Tribal land are covered with such service. And generally, individuals living on Tribal lands that are covered have access to fewer carriers providing 4G LTE coverage. The FCC will initiate a proceeding in the near term to address these deployment challenges and help to close the broadband gap on Tribal lands.
This report explores the availability and adoption of broadband Internet access services by veterans throughout the nation. While the FCC finds that many veterans have access to both fixed and mobile broadband options, a significant number still lack access to fixed broadband, mobile broadband, or both. Specifically, for 92.5% of veterans at least one provider of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps fixed broadband services is available, while only 78.4% of veterans have 10 Mbps/3Mbps mobile LTE broadband coverage. Among households with veterans, approximately 85%, or 14.4 million, reported that they had paid connections to the Internet in their homes. However, households with veterans subscribe to mobile broadband services at lower rates than households without veterans. For those veterans who lack a broadband connection, barriers to broadband adoption may include lack of deployment where they live, price, and digital illiteracy or perceived irrelevance. Ensuring that all veterans enjoy the benefits of broadband access implicates not only Commission efforts, but collaboration across other federal agencies, industry stakeholders, and local communities to ensure lasting universal broadband access.
More than 106,000 rural homes and small businesses in 43 states will get access to 25 megabit per second (Mbps) broadband at some point in the next decade thanks to a Federal Communications Commission policy change. The FCC's Connect America Fund (CAF), which distributes money to internet service providers (ISPs) in exchange for new broadband deployments in underserved areas, had been requiring speeds of just 10Mbps downstream and 1Mbps upstream over the past few years. But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai led a vote in Dec 2018 to raise the standard for new CAF projects to 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up.
On April 29, the FCC announced that its Dec 2018 vote is leading to tangible results: 186 Internet providers accepted a total of $65.7 million in additional annual funding and "committed to deploying 25/3Mbps service to 106,365 homes and small businesses that would have otherwise only received slower 10/1Mbps service." Carriers had previously committed to deploy 25Mbps/3Mbps in 334,443 locations, so the additional locations announced April 29 brings the total to 440,808. It'll take nearly a full decade for all those homes and businesses to get the service. Under the funding terms, the FCC said ISPs "must deploy 25/3Mbps service to 40 percent of locations by end of the 2022, and increase deployment by 10 percent annually until buildout is complete at the end of 2028."
To safeguard the privacy and safety of American consumers, Commissioner Rosenworcel sent letters to major phone companies to confirm whether they have lived up to their commitments to end location aggregation services. The FCC needs to do more to protect the privacy and security of American consumers. It needs to do more to provide the public with basic information about what is happening with their realtime location information. That’s why I’m taking steps to ensure for the public that carriers are living up to their commitments to protect their customers’ most sensitive information, because this agency has failed to do so to date.
Apparently, Attorney General William Barr has recused himself from weighing in on a planned $26 billion merger of T-Mobile and Sprint due to potential conflicts of interest. That gives Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim, head of the Department of Justice’s antitrust division, final word on the controversial proposed merger between the nation’s third- and fourth-largest wireless providers. AG Barr was on Time Warner’s board until it was acquired in 2018 by AT&T and still owns stock in the new company. In his financial disclosure form signed Dec 24, Barr disclosed that he had AT&T vested stock options valued at between $250,000 and $500,000 and AT&T dividends valued at between $500,000 and $1 million. T-Mobile buying Sprint would have an impact on AT&T, which vies with Verizon for the title of nation’s largest carrier.
As the head of the Federal Communications Commission, I’ve been working for the past two-plus years to advance a market-based strategy to promote US leadership in 5G. As part of what we call our 5G FAST Plan, the FCC finished its first 5G spectrum auction in Jan, and we’re holding a second right now that’s already generated almost $2 billion in bids. The recipe for US leadership in wireless technology is proven and simple: Free up airwaves to accommodate the increase in wireless traffic. Get rid of the red tape that slows the deployment of wireless infrastructure. Provide targeted investments in a fiscally responsible way to extend coverage to areas where there isn’t business case to build. And then get government out of the way as much as possible.
Sen Ed Markey (D-MA) and House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) sent a letter to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai urging the FCC to deny a petition by the ITTA-Voice of America’s Broadband Providers that would permit carriers to display Telecommunications Relay Service (TRS) Fund contributions on customer bills. TRS ensures persons with hearing or speech disabilities are able to use necessary telephone services at no additional cost to an individual consumer. “To specifically identify the cost of any [Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)] service (whether it be for a handicap accessible ramp or TRS) on any consumer or corporate bill in the form of a surcharge, fee, or any other form of a line-item discriminates against and ostracizes people with disabilities,” write Sen Markey and Chairman Doyle. “Highlighting such costs creates an unacceptable environment where individuals with disabilities are seen as a ‘cost burden’ to society. This is exactly what the passage of the ADA attempted to prevent.”
As Mark Zuckerberg filled in the details of his new, privacy-oriented vision of Facebook at the F8 developers conference, he left out a key episode from the past: Long before Facebook's pivot to privacy, the company pivoted to make everything more public. There's a reason Facebook's new "digital living room" where you are "free to be your true self" sounds familiar. You've already been there, if you were one of the hundreds of millions of people who used Facebook before roughly 2010. Facebook's original superpower — and the reason so many users flocked to it from the untamed wilds of the wider web — was that it gave you an assurance of semi-privacy and a respite from the anonymity that fueled so much online conflict. But roughly a decade ago, as the company turned its gaze from user growth to making money, it started deprecating privacy and altering its default settings toward more public interactions. Public pages were more valuable as ad inventory. Privacy, Zuckerberg said in 2010, was no longer a "social norm."
The US justice system is under attack as part of a long-term Russian effort to undermine the appeal of democracy and weaken the West. Via multi-platform disinformation operations, Kremlin-backed operatives work to exacerbate existent divisions within populations and increase overall mistrust and paranoia against democratic institutions. In the process, justice systems are portrayed as corrupt, inept, and hypocritical. This report describes the nature of this threat and proposes measures for countering it. The report focuses on activities by the Russian government, including the ways it feeds, is fed by, and amplifies domestic voices to weaken public confidence in the justice system. The insights gained by examining Russia’s efforts can and should inform our understanding of both threats from other nations and the challenges contemporary communications technologies pose to a healthy democracy generally.
We are a coalition of 103 civil liberties, civil rights, corporate responsibility, faith-based, human rights, immigrant rights, journalism, media, privacy, and government transparency organizations, legal service providers, and trade associations. We write to express our deep concern with reports of surveillance and targeting of activists, journalists, and lawyers by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Those reports indicate that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) created dossiers on activists, journalists, and lawyers, and targeted these individuals for heightened border screening based on their association with migrants seeking asylum. They also indicate that Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) documented and shared a spreadsheet of “Anti-Trump” protests in New York City. The actions of CBP and ICE-HSI may violate the Privacy Act of 1974 and threaten the exercise of First Amendment-protected activities, including freedom of speech and association and freedom of the press, as well as the delivery of legal services. These actions also diminish public confidence that the power granted to DHS and its agencies is wielded with appropriate discretion.
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.
© Benton Foundation 2019. Redistribution of this email publication — both internally and externally — is encouraged if it includes this message. For subscribe/unsubscribe info email: headlines AT benton DOT org
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
727 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
headlines AT benton DOT org
The Benton Foundation All Rights Reserved © 2019