Thursday, July 18, 2019
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Stories From Abroad
The Federal Communications Commission's Wireline Competition Bureau announces that there is sufficient funding available to fully meet the Universal Service Administrative Company’s (USAC) estimated demand for category one and category two requests for E-Rate supported services for funding year 2019. On April 1, 2019, USAC submitted a demand estimate for the E-Rate program for funding year 2019. It estimates the total demand for funding year 2019 will be $2.896 billion, which includes estimated demand for category one services of $1.91 billion and of $985 million for category two services. The Bureau announced that the E-Rate program funding cap for funding year 2019 is $4.15 billion. Additionally, according to USAC projections, $1 billion in unused funds from previous years is available for use in E-Rate funding year 2019.5 The Chief of the Bureau is delegated authority to determine the proportion of unused funds needed to meet category one demand and to direct USAC to use any remaining funds to provide category two support. In light of the current funding cap of $4.15 billion and available carry forward funding of $1 billion, there is sufficient funding to fully fund all category one and category two funding requests. The FCC therefore directs USAC to fully fund eligible category one and category two requests, using the $1 billion in E-Rate funds unused from previous years, and any additional funds needed under the current cap to fully meet demand for such services.
Around the country, local governments are grappling with the challenge of getting quality broadband access to their citizens, but without data about what speeds customers are actually experiencing, making effective policy becomes impossible. Internet speed tests can help inform those policies, and while there are several tests available to users, they are not all the same. The United States of Broadband (USBB) map attempts to fill the gap in understanding between the FCC’s data and the actual speeds experienced by Americans, based on billions of speed tests conducted through M-Lab’s platform (almost 900,000 people run M-Lab tests per day in the United States alone). The USBB map shows data both collected through the M-Lab platform, and collected by the FCC through Form 477. You can compare the datasets at the census tract, county, zip code, State House, and State Senate levels by zooming in and out. You can challenge FCC data, determine trends, and identify problem areas.
In an effort to expand the use of telecommunications services by low-income Americans, the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline program offers subsidies to qualifying low-income households. In recent years, the program has undergone significant reform and more modifications have been proposed. Much attention is devoted to improving the administration of the program to reduce waste, fraud and abuse, but some reforms appear motivated by the claim that nearly all Lifeline subscribers would obtain service even without the subsidy. I review the evidence supporting that claim and find it lacking. I then offer new empirical evidence showing that in modern times the relationship between regular paid subscriptions and Lifeline accounts reveal no displacement. Theoretical analysis is offered showing that the “free but limited” service packages offered by resellers may explain this result. This analysis also reveals that many of the Commission’s reforms, including proposals to exclude resellers from the program and the scheduled increases in minimum service standards, are counterproductive in that both reforms will increase the alleged displacement of Lifeline for regular accounts and reduce the adoption of advanced telecommunications services by low-income Americans.
While broadband availability in the United States continues to expand, people living in rural areas remain among the least likely to have broadband access. Mississippi, for example, is ranked 46 in broadband access and 47 in terms of urban population. The lack of broadband access and usage places rural areas across the nation at a disadvantage for a variety of reasons including economic growth, healthcare, and education. However, cost-to-serve is the primary challenge associated with bringing broadband to rural areas. As a result, the C Spire Rural Broadband Consortium is actively tackling this problem and finding new solutions.
In light of continued rapid changes in technology, the Federal Trade Commission is seeking comment on the effectiveness of the amendments the agency made to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA Rule) in 2013 and whether additional changes are needed. The COPPA Rule, which first went into effect in 2000 to implement the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, requires certain websites and other online services that collect personal information from children under the age of 13 to provide notice to parents and obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing personal information from these children. In a notice to be published shortly in the Federal Register, the FTC is seeking comment on a wide range of issues related to the COPPA Rule. Specific questions on which the FTC is seeking comment include:
- Has the Rule affected the availability of websites or online services directed to children?
- Does the Rule correctly articulate the factors to consider in determining whether a website or online service is directed to children, or should additional factors be considered? For example, should the Rule be amended to better address websites and online services that may not include traditionally child-oriented activities, but have large numbers of child users?
- What are the implications for COPPA enforcement raised by technologies such as interactive television, interactive gaming, or other similar interactive media?
- Should the Commission consider a specific exception to parental consent for the use of education technology in schools?
- Should the Commission modify the Rule to encourage general audience platforms to identify and police child-directed content uploaded by third parties?
Comments on the Commission’s review of the COPPA Rule will be welcomed for 90 days after the notice is published in the Federal Register.
In addition, the FTC will hold a public workshop on October 7, 2019 to examine the COPPA Rule.
President Donald Trump’s campaign has boasted about efforts to expand the 2020 electoral map and compete in far-flung Democratic territory from OR to NM while along the way winning over some of the voters who have been turned off by aspects of his presidency. The campaign plans to roll out a new mobile application in the coming weeks aimed at engaging its most loyal supporters. Known internally as the “Trump app” and set to be released as early as within the next month, the app is part of an effort by campaign manager Brad Parscale to juice enthusiasm among Trump supporters and capitalize on the energy at Trump’s rallies. Trump loyalists who download the app will be able to use it to get registered to vote, recruit additional supporters and stay up to date on what Trump is doing. It will include incentives for supporters who actively volunteer to help the campaign, and facilitate neighborhood watch parties and other volunteer work. For instance, supporters waiting in line to attend a rally who get a dozen friends to download the app might earn VIP seats once inside.
Stories From Abroad
For all the promise of digital technologies to promote religious freedom, there are also very real downsides. When it comes to harnessing digital tools to punish religious minorities, the biggest offender is the world’s most populous country: China. China employs significantly more people to violate the rights of their citizens than the United States employs to militarily defend rights like free expression and freedom of assembly.
So what approach should governments take to the intersection of the digital revolution and religion? Speaking for myself, I believe that our top priority must be to safeguard the freedom of expression. Second, it is vital for countries that believe in religious freedom to join together on the international stage to fight for an Internet where the freedom of conscience is respected. And third, we need to recognize that these problems can’t be solved by just changing an algorithm or passing a law. Instead, people with open hearts and minds from all faiths need to come together to promote positive narratives to counter extremism and hatred.
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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