Monday, August 12, 2019
Headlines Daily Digest
- Jon Healey: Hands off the internet, President Trump | Los Angeles Times
- Public Knowledge Responds to White House Proposal to Require FTC, FCC to Monitor Speech on Social Media | Public Knowledge
- YouTube’s Susan Wojcicki: 'Where's the line of free speech – are you removing voices that should be heard?' | Guardian, The
Stories From Abroad
It's easy to say all Americans should be able to use the Internet in the 21st century, which is probably why several leading candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination have done just that. It’s much harder to say how to get there. Almost everyone, even on both sides of the aisle in Congress, seems able to agree on the need to fix the maps first. That’s because the Federal Communications Commission relies on coverage reports from industry, and carriers have incentive to exaggerate their reach. The system also marks areas as large as hundreds of square miles as serviced even when only a single household has access, and companies are instructed to indicate where they could easily offer broadband rather than where consumers actually use it. All that needs to change. The next question is what type of technology can best solve the digital divide. Fiber is fast, powerful and reliable. It’s also what researchers call “future-proof” — unlikely to become outdated and even likely to outlast the electronics that run on it today. But fiber is also expensive, which is why some propose supporting a mix of methods, from satellites to unused spectrum, for hooking people up as speedily and cheaply as possible. Then there’s the who. Large providers have channeled existing grants into offering service at inadequate speeds. Shifting the focus to local actors is smart — and state rules that prohibit towns and counties from building their own networks need to go. But the government may get more bang for every buck by upping requirements and accountability for everyone rather than keeping some out altogether.
Two 2020 presidential candidates released plans for investing in rural America this week. And broadband plays a key role in both. Senator Elizabeth Warren's (D-MA) plan to invest in rural America includes a "public option for broadband" and a proposal to create an Office of Broadband Access that will manage an $85 billion federal grant program to expand broadband access across the country. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's (D-NY) plan includes having the White House be a funding partner for communites and a call for a $60 billion investment to connect all Americans. Senators Warren and Gillibrand are the latest candidates to stress the importance of bringing broadband internet access service everywhere in the U.S.
Rural America deserves a partner in the White House. Here’s my plan to put rural Americans back in the driver’s seat:
- Invest $60 billion to connect all rural Americans to high-speed Internet, including next-generation gigabit systems, by working with private providers, states, rural electric cooperatives, broadband cooperatives, and community broadband networks. The investment would be directed by detailed, accurate broadband service maps that reflect actual service availability.
- Create a Digital Extension Service to advise and assist farmers, rural entrepreneurs, and community leaders in adopting digital technologies for precision agriculture, e-commerce, telemedicine, high-tech manufacturing, and opportunities for attracting remote workers as new residents.
- The Digital Extension Service would work with 4-H and Future Farmers of America (FFA) to inspire and mentor young people across rural America in the application of STEM education.
- Create a $750 million Rural Tech Skills initiative to fund training partnerships between community colleges, community-based and labor organizations, and employers to prepare the rural workforce for tech jobs across industries like clean energy, advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, and health IT.
- Create a White House Council on a Cooperative Economy to ensure all federal loan, contracting, and technical assistance programs are accessible by cooperatives
- Increase funding for the Rural Cooperative Development Program to $40 million per year.
We need to lift rural communities up as places of opportunity, both for this generation and future ones. That work begins by deploying investment and innovation to secure the health of all rural residents. Mayor Pete's rural health policies will:
- Make it easier for patients to be treated at or near their home by investing in telehealth.
- Massively expand coverage of high-speed broadband Internet across the country.
- Help health providers purchase and implement the technology necessary to provide telehealth services by doubling funding for the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Health Care Program to $1 billion annually.
- Ensure that expansion of telehealth services is accompanied by investments in quality of care.
- Expand the types of care settings that can receive reimbursement for telehealth services.
- Allow health professionals to get compensated for virtually treating patients at home, including for annual wellness visits, chronic care management, acute visits, and remote patient monitoring.
- Make it easier for a doctor in one state to virtually treat a patient in another by amending licensure for virtual care programs.
Installing high-speed fiber-optic infrastructure is incredibly expensive. By some accounts, it can cost up to $8,000 per home to have the cabling put in place. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, a Federal Highway Administration report detailed that up to 90 percent of this cost was tied up in the process of actually digging up roadways, not the fiber lines themselves. As a result, some cities and states champion the idea of future-proofing PROW’s (public rights-of-ways) during road construction projects. This common-sense concept is frequently referred to as ‘Dig Once’, and would mandate the inclusion of broadband conduit—flexible plastic pipes which can be used to more easily install fiber-optic communications cable—during the construction of any road receiving federal funding.
The practice effectively eliminates the need to dig up recently-paved roads to expand broadband infrastructure, significantly reducing the cost of building out internet access to underserved communities across the country. Congress had the chance to make this the national standard in 2018 with the Broadband Conduit Deployment Act of 2018, but the bill didn’t pass. A similar bill was ultimately enacted, though lacking any specific dig once requirement. Goldman Sachs has estimated that it could cost upwards of $140 billion to build high-speed service out to the entire country. If dig once had been implemented nationally, it could’ve provided up to $126 billion in savings, bringing the estimated total to a far more palatable $14 billion. Despite the fact that this basic principle is widely agreed-upon by both sides of the political aisle, progress at the national level has stalled completely, and only 11 states have actually followed through with implementing formal or informal policies. 18 cities around the nation have done the same.
Telecom experts have long pushed for a “dig once” law that would mandate the installation of fiber conduit during roadway construction and upgrades. A new study by BroadbandNow states that passing “dig once” legislation could have saved the US $126 billion in broadband deployment costs. Dig once legislation has been routinely proposed since 1996 by a rotating crop of lawmakers, but the legislation rarely goes anywhere. Reps Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and David McKinley (R-WV) introduced bipartisan dig once legislation in 2018, though it failed to gain traction in Congress. Three other efforts by Rep Eshoo (2009, 2011, and 2015) were similarly unsuccessful.
Matt Wood, General Counsel of consumer group Free Press said that there’s a number of reasons why such laws don’t gain traction. The biggest being that incumbent ISPs like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast aren’t keen on anything that would make it easier for competitors to challenge their regional broadband monopolies. Ultimately, big telecom’s lobbying stranglehold over both state and federal government remains the biggest obstacle to better broadband.
It’s time to recognize that inequal access to broadband translates into inequality of opportunity. People in rural areas that lack broadband face higher unemployment rates, see fewer job and economic opportunities and place children from these communities behind their suburban and peers in school. Of course, this is not just a rural issue – broadband deserts exist within very urban areas as well, where costs can be unaffordable and availability non-existent. To be sure, there are efforts underway to provide the funding and assistance needed to expand broadband coverage for rural areas, by the administration, Congress, governors and the private sector, including Microsoft and our Airband partners. But much more needs to be done to translate proposals into action.
That’s why we’re at the Iowa State Fair. Microsoft is hosting a booth, where we’ll learn from Iowans about their digital realities, discuss what we can do through the Airband Initiative to help and what other opportunities can be unlocked with reliable, affordable broadband access. We hope to discuss the issue with political leaders attending the fair as well. Solving the broadband gap should be a national issue because we are leaving millions of Americans behind. We look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to make meaningful progress on this important national issue.
A small library that lends out mobile hotspots is facing a tough budget decision because one of its borrowers accidentally ran up $880 in roaming fees, and Verizon refuses to waive or reduce the charges. The Tully (NY) Free Library has an "unlimited" data plan for the hotspots, but Verizon says it has to pay the $880 to cover less than half a gigabyte of data usage that happened across the border with Canada. Generally, the library pays $40 a month for each of the three hotspots, for a total of $120 a month. Between the regular charges and the unexpected roaming fee, the latest bill came to $1,000. Aside from the roaming bill, the library is facing another new problem with Verizon. The hotspot data plans seemed to be truly unlimited when the regional library council paid for them, allowing borrowers to stream video or do other data-heavy activities. But since the plan changeover, Verizon has capped their data at 25GB a month, even though the new plan seemed to be identical to the old one.
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) is adding its voice to those calling on the Federal Communications Commission to open a public comment period since new developments were made related to the proposed merger of T-Mobile and Sprint. WISPA, which previously called for a public comment period, notes the series of agreements that T-Mobile and Sprint entered into with the Department of Justice in July. Those conditions include the divestiture of certain spectrum assets to Dish Network. Prior to that, the companies committed to a number of conditions with the FCC, including 5G build-out targets in rural areas. WISPA told the FCC, “[T]he Conditions Letter and the Consent Decree propose changes to the rural broadband marketplace that could affect competition with smaller fixed broadband providers and eligibility for universal service high-cost funding. The build-out extensions also could impact the ability of small providers to access spectrum to provide fixed wireless services to consumers in rural areas.”
Apparently, a draft executive order from the White House could put the Federal Communications Commission in charge of shaping how Facebook, Twitter, and other large tech companies curate what appears on their websites. A summary of the draft order calls for the FCC to develop new regulations clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms. Although still in its early stages and subject to change, the Trump administration's draft order also calls for the Federal Trade Commission to take those new policies into account when it investigates or files lawsuits against misbehaving companies. If put into effect, the order would reflect a significant escalation by President Donald Trump in his frequent attacks against social media companies over an alleged but unproven systemic bias against conservatives by technology platforms. And it could lead to a significant reinterpretation of a law that, its authors have insisted, was meant to give tech companies broad freedom to handle content as they see fit. The FTC will also be asked to open a public complaint docket, according to the summary, and to work with the FCC to develop a report investigating how tech companies curate their platforms and whether they do so in neutral ways.
Top officials in the Trump administration expressed interest in tools that might anticipate mass shootings or predict attackers by scanning social media posts, photos and videos during a meeting with online platforms including Facebook, Google and Twitter. The technology could serve as an early-warning system for potential attacks, White House officials proposed at the brainstorming session, perhaps compiling information from across social sites to identify deadly incidents before they occur, according to three people familiar with the matter but not authorized to discuss a private gathering on the record. In response, though, tech leaders expressed doubt that such technology is feasible, while raising concerns about the privacy risks that such a system might create for all users
Facebook has started to modify its behavior — in both pre-emptive and defensive ways — to deal with threats of regulation. Facebook has its eye particularly on the Federal Trade Commission, the agency that is now investigating it for anticompetitive practices. The social network’s changes are now prompting a debate about whether a more knitted-together Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram is just smart business or helps strengthen potential anticompetitive practices. “The big question is, is this a logical business plan?” said Gene Kimmelman, a former antitrust official in the Obama administration and senior adviser to Public Knowledge, a nonprofit think tank in Washington. “For a social network with enormous growth in photos and messaging, there’s probably significant business justification for combining the units.”
Two key strategies have emerged to hold online forums responsible for violence: deplatforming and increasing the liability imposed on internet intermediaries by changing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (CDA). Both strategies are notable because they are not directly aimed at the perpetrators of violence, or even at others who are participating in the hateful forums. They are instead aimed at the chain of companies or nonprofits that host the speech of others. For either approach, there is reason to tread carefully. Both strategies have surface appeal in response to hateful speech. But once you’ve turned it on, whether through pressure or threats of lawsuits, the power to silence people doesn’t just go in one direction. In our 30 years of helping people make their voices heard online at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, we have seen how censorship reinforces power far more than it protects the powerless.
In response to ongoing issues with the major hosts of user-generated content, EFF helped write and promulgate the Santa Clara Principles in May 1998 to try to outline some basic transparency and due process standards that those companies should implement when they directly host user-generated content. Deplatforming and eliminating Section 230 both satisfy a craving to do something, to hold someone or something responsible. But make no mistake: Both carry great risks if we want the internet to remain a place where powerful entities cannot easily silence their less powerful critics.
[Cindy Cohn is the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation]
Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to major US telecommunications companies AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon urging them to lower the amount of sensitive data they store on customers. Those large pools of data present a significant hacking risk, Sen Wyden argued. "Your companies collectively hold deeply-sensitive information about hundreds of millions of Americans. It should come as no surprise that this data is a juicy target for foreign spies," he said.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai wrote to various Members of Congress about the impact of an FCC order on the statutory cap on franchise fees has on funding for public, educational, or governmental (PEG) channels. Some Members of Congress wrote in support of the new FCC changes, others expressed concern. Chairman Pai replied to both, offering an explanation to the FCC's action. To those who were concerned about the order, he wrote, "Among other things, the Commission observed that Congress broadly defined franchise fees; indeed, with respect to PEG channels, it only excluded support payments with respect to franchises granted prior to October 30, 1984 as well as certain capital costs required by franchises granted after that date. The draft order therefore concludes that cable-related, in-kind contributions—including PEG-related contributions—are 'franchise fees' subject to the Act’s five-percent cap unless otherwise expressly excluded. At the same time, the order defers ruling on the complex issues raised by PEG channel capacity and concludes that the costs of providing PEG channel capacity should not be offset against the franchise fee cap until the Commission can address the issue on a more complete record. The draft order also broadens the Commission’s interpretation of an exclusion for certain PEG-related capital costs. These latter two conclusions directly address the concerns raised in your letter concerning the order’s potential impact on PEG programming."
People of color made up nearly 40 percent of the US population, according to 2018 Census Bureau figures. In comparison, only 16.55 percent of journalists in US newsrooms in 2017 were people of color — down from 16.94 percent in 2016, according to the American Society of News Editors’ newsroom census. Knight Foundation’s $1.2 million investment in the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education is an attempt to help newsrooms rethink solutions to the diversity crisis. Maynard will use the new funding to launch its Equity and Inclusion Transformation Program, embedding specialists in newsrooms to help them better inform underserved communities and establish more equitable and inclusive workplaces. Maynard’s embedded coaches will assess the organization’s internal processes, workplace culture, connection to community, hiring and retention rates, and its leadership’s management skills, among other elements. From there, Maynard will then work closely with the outlet to devise strategies, plans and benchmarks to become more equitable and inclusive, and provide the necessary training and oversight to accomplish this goal.
Netflix has been evolving its public policy strategies in recent months to align itself more with Hollywood and less with Silicon Valley, a shift driven by the streamer's maturation into a full-fledged film and TV studio, by its international expansion and by the intense scrutiny Washington is now applying to the tech companies. In Jan, Netflix abandoned its previous lobbying cohort, the Internet Association, which represents companies like Facebook and Google, and became the first streaming company to join the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), which represents the major studios. The MPAA's global reach gives Netflix a bargaining advantage on issues as varied as Latin American tax policy and new European laws regulating streaming companies. "Netflix is a hybrid company," says Benton fellow Gigi Sohn, who also serves as a distinguished fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy. "It's not your typical Silicon Valley firm and not your typical Hollywood studio, and their policy positions reflect that." Liabilities have driven tech companies to drop record sums on domestic lobbying — Facebook spent $12.6 million on DC influence in 2018 and Google $21.2 million. By contrast, Netflix doled out only $800,000 for domestic lobbying (though the company spent much more internationally; those figures are not compiled).
By this Public Notice, the Federal Communications Commission announces that Gov Doug Ducey (R-AZ), Chair of the FCC’s Intergovernmental Advisory Committee (IAC), has named Ben Blink, Policy Advisor, Transportation and Technology Innovation, as his new designee to the IAC, replacing Kirk Adams, prior designee. The IAC provides guidance, expertise, and recommendations to specific requests from the FCC on a range of issues affecting local, state, and Tribal governments that are within the jurisdiction of the FCC.
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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