Tuesday, August 13, 2019
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The Federal Communications Commission authorized over $121 million in funding over the next decade to expand broadband to 36,579 unserved rural homes and businesses in 16 states, representing the fourth wave of support from 2018’s successful Connect America Fund Phase II auction. The FCC has already authorized three waves of funding in May, June, and July. Aug 12's action brings total authorized funding to over $924 million, expanding connectivity to 342,097 homes and businesses; additional rounds will be authorized in the coming months. Funding applications approved by the FCC Aug 12 include:
- Northern Arapaho Tribal Industries, which is owned by the Northern Arapaho Tribe, is receiving $4.1 million to deploy service to 849 homes and businesses on the Wind River Reservation in WY, all of which will get access to service delivering Gigabit speeds
- Tri-Co Connections is receiving $32.3 million to deploy Gigabit service to over 7,015 homes and businesses in rural PA over its fiber network
- Midcontinent Communications is receiving $39 million to deploy service to 9,371 homes and businesses in rural MN, ND, and SD, all of which will get service delivering speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream/20 Mbps upstream
- Citynet West Virginia will receive $6.5 million over the next decade to deliver Gigabit service over its fiber network to 898 homes and businesses in rural WV
The Federal Communications Commission authorized nearly $16.2 million in federal funding over the next decade to expand broadband to 8,088 unserved rural New York homes and businesses, the second round of matching funds being provided in a partnership with the state’s New NY Broadband Program. The New York federal funding applications authorized today are as follows:
- Armstrong Telecommunications Inc. will receive $12,821,813 over the next decade to expand broadband to 6,709 rural homes and businesses at downstream speeds of at least 100 Megabits per second and upstream speeds of 20 Mbps
- DTC Cable Inc. will receive $2,103,935 over the next decade to expand broadband to 712 rural homes and businesses at downstream speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps
- Haefele TV Inc. will receive $1,257,581 over the next decade to expand broadband to 667 rural homes and businesses at downstream speeds of at least 100/20 Mbps
Measuring broadband is an ongoing challenge for policymakers and, for many participants in broadband policy debates, often a source of frustration. The frustration about broadband measurement emanates from what seems knowable – at least it is about other infrastructure. We know where our roads and highways run. Today it is easy to know when they are clogged, where there are tolls, and how much those tolls cost. Electric infrastructure is essentially ubiquitous and it isn’t hard, in most places, to find out the cost of a kilowatt hour and compare prices among providers. Broadband is another story. For at least a decade, policymakers and other stakeholders have sought to better understand broadband – where networks run, how fast they are, how much service costs, and who uses it. Answers on those issues turn out neither to be simple nor agreed upon. How many Americans do not have access to network download speeds of 25 Megabits per second (Mbps) – the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of broadband? It could be 21 million or it could be 162 million. When you measure network speeds, what do you find is the average speed in the United States? It could be 72 Mbps, or possibly 119 Mbps, or maybe something else. How many people have broadband internet subscriptions at home? It could be more than 80% or it might be something like 70%. What follows is an overview of broadband’s measurement challenges and what they mean for policymakers and other stakeholders.
[John B. Horrigan is Senior Fellow at the Technology Policy Institute, with a focus on technology adoption, digital inclusion, and evaluating the outcomes and impacts of programs designed to promote communications technology adoption and use. Horrigan is also currently a consultant to the Urban Libraries Council.]
Nineteen states have established legal barriers or even outright bans on publicly owned networks, according to well-respected communications law firm Baller Stokes & Lide. These state laws, often enacted at the behest of large telecom monopolies, slow the development of community owned connectivity in various ways. Many news outlets have erroneously reported that 26 states now preempt municipal broadband networks, based off unintentionally misleading research from BroadbandNow. Unlike Baller Stokes & Lide, which only considered the state laws that actively prevent local governments from investing in community networks, BroadbandNow cast a wider net. As a result, BroadbandNow identified some laws that either aren’t applicable to local governments or haven’t proven to be significant barriers to municipal investment.
In contrast to sensationalist reports of growing state preemption, the 2019 legislative session was actually more of a detente rather than a call to arms for municipal broadband networks and state legislatures. No states passed new laws to restrict community owned connectivity, and at least one state, Arkansas, even loosened its ban on some municipal networks. While it’s unclear whether this is a turning point in the fight for local authority or just the calm before the storm, laws in 19 states still prevent local governments from investing in municipal broadband networks. Legislators in those states should remove these legal barriers if they truly want all of their constituents to have a choice in modern, high-speed Internet access.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai sent letters to Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Jerry Moran (R-KS) and Jon Tester (D-MT), and Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) on July 31, 2019, and August 1, 2019, in response to their letters expressing concern with broadband mapping. Chairman Pai agreed updated and accurate broadband deployment data is critical to bridging the digital divide and said the FCC will consider an order at the FCC’s August Open Meeting that would result in more granular and accurate broadband maps through the creation of the digital opportunity data collection. Chairman Pai said these updated maps would be used to focus funding to expand broadband through future initiatives such as the second phase of the proposed rural digital opportunity fund.
Political and economic power is shifting to the cities, and 20% of the population — 46 million people — is being left behind in rural America. These communities face increasingly difficult barriers to education, wealth and health. Technological advancements such as 5G and automated vehicles won't directly make life harder for rural America, but instead will fuel inequality by making life that much easier for urban America. The rural-urban divide will continue to play a central role in politics and elections for the next several years — unless and until rural America's population declines enough that their political power dwindles. The bottom line: States, municipalities and the federal government have spent billions to draw jobs and prosperity to stagnant rural areas. But not much has changed.
California-based company Cloudfare, which is a market leader in web infrastructure, was thrust into the spotlight of international debate after abruptly terminating its contract with 8chan, the far-right internet forum known for perpetuating conspiracy theories and hate speech, in the wake of the El Paso shooting. Few of us think about the millions of servers facilitating our everyday online activity until they stop us from buying tickets to a hotly anticipated football match, music festival or theatre production. When you type a web address into your internet browser (Google Chrome, for example), your computer communicates with the server hosting that site to pull it on to your machine. The more servers supporting your site, the more visitors it can handle. While visiting the web pages of tech companies such as Facebook or Google, you’re likely using their specially-designed in-house servers. Cloudflare, a relatively late entrant in the brave new world of web infrastructure, was founded in 2009. It is among the best-known in its field, having received financial backing from the likes of Microsoft, Qualcomm and Google’s CapitalG. As of 2017, Cloudflare provided services to 19 million websites globally. Within minutes of losing Cloudflare’s global network of servers, 8chan became inaccessible and vulnerable to DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks.
Frontier Communications customers are reporting more outages and longer repair times, and state government officials have decided to investigate. NY Public Service Commission (NY PSC) staff reported "that several Frontier Communications subsidiaries have significant service-quality problems, including escalating complaint rates, lengthy repair durations, and localized network reliability issues." NY PSC staff is seeking more detailed information from Frontier on customer trouble reports and "will work with Frontier to develop and implement a plan to improve poor localized network reliability conditions," the announcement said. New York isn't the only state investigating the company's service. A 2019 investigation by the Minnesota Commerce Department found that Frontier has failed to properly maintain its telecom network and failed to give refunds or bill credits to customers affected by outages that have sometimes lasted for months.
CenturyLink said that it will invest “several hundred million dollars” in edge computing, following in the footsteps of AT&T and Verizon. AT&T and Verizon both have mobile businesses and with the advent of low-latency 5G networks, they and other mobile carriers are recognizing the need to minimize the distance between mobile users and the cloud. CenturyLink’s entry into edge computing suggests that the edge compute market may be like the fiber backhaul market— a mobile-driven opportunity even for non-mobile carriers. CenturyLink Senior Vice President of Product Management Paul Savill referenced wireless carriers as one of several target groups for the company’s edge compute offerings, along with enterprises, hyperscalers and systems integrators. “Forward-looking companies seeking the advantages of next-generation IoT, AI and machine learning applications increasingly need distributed solutions— from the local edge to the public cloud core— that combine compute, storage and networking in an integrated package,” CenturyLink said.
The Trump administration's policy toward big tech moved in two opposite directions recently, as the White House sought the big platforms' help in predicting mass shootings while it was also reportedly drafting plans to punish them for perceived bias. On Aug 9, the administration invoked the help of Google, Facebook and other companies to detect and deter mass shooters before they act. Meanwhile, the White House has circulated a draft of a new executive order aimed at imposing new restrictions on tech platforms' freedom to moderate the content users contribute. But, the draft order on platform moderation wasn't on the agenda at the Aug 12 White House meeting, and the topic didn't come up at all. Another contradiction: the FBI is seeking private-sector proposals to build it a vast dragnet of social media data intended "to proactively identify and reactively monitor threats to the United States and its interests." This comes at the same time that Facebook has agreed to a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission for violating its users' privacy rights.
As the two-year anniversary of the deadly 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville approaches, civil rights and digital activists say Twitter has not done nearly enough to prevent white nationalists from spreading hate speech online. Twitter is facing increased pressure to take action following the mass shooting in El Paso, where the shooter—who appeared to embrace white nationalism—killed 22 people and injured dozens more. Patrick Crusius shared his anti-immigrant screed on the online message board 8chan. Following the shooting, Twitter users urged the tech company to also ban 8chan's verified account from its platform, using the hashtag "untwitter8chan." Some activists say Twitter is responsible for allowing far-right actors to spread violent ideologies on its platform.
"This is a sophisticated and organized international network designed to bring about white ethnostates," said Jessica J. González, the vice president of strategy and senior counsel at Free Press and co-founder of the Change the Terms coalition. There's been "incomprehensible levels of white supremacist and misogynist violence," in the two years since the 2017 rally, said González, adding that it's time for tech companies to take the steps to curb the spread of that violence online.
Not long ago, many leading technologists considered themselves too lofty and idealistic to concern themselves with the petty affairs of government. But that was before privacy scandals, antitrust investigations, congressional hearings, Chinese tariffs, presidential tweets and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Now, as they try to fend off regulation and avoid being broken up, some of the largest companies in Silicon Valley are tripping over their Allbirds in a race to cozy up to the United States government. These companies’ motives vary — some are vying for lucrative public-sector contracts, while others are lobbying against regulation by painting China as a red menace that must be defeated for the good of the country. Either way, the game is the same: Salute the flag, save our bacon.
The incentives for foreign countries to meddle are much greater than in 2016, and the tactics could look dramatically different.
- The Hack and Leak: Overcome or Poised for a Comeback? It’s unclear whether the Russian government will reprise its most infamous and innovative act in 2016: the hacking and leaking of emails from the Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
- The Dawn of a New Disinformation Age: Social-media giants such as Facebook and Twitter have grown far more sophisticated since 2016 at detecting and disabling coordinated foreign campaigns of misinformation and fake accounts, honing their approach based on challenges confronted not just during the US midterms but in elections everywhere from India to the European Union. These crackdowns, however, have exposed how the actors behind these schemes have multiplied beyond Russia and employed new tactics and tools to exert influence on political processes worldwide.
- The Soft Underbelly of America’s Election Infrastructure: While there’s no evidence that votes were altered or vote tallies manipulated during the 2016 US presidential election, the Russians likely targeted election systems in all 50 US states, including research on “election-related web pages, voter ID information, election system software, and election service companies.” Foreign actors could also try to make it harder for Americans to exercise the right to vote, perhaps by modifying voter-registration rolls, tampering with government mechanisms for informing voters when and where to vote, indirectly stifling the vote through attacks on systems such as the power grid.
- The Influence Hiding in Plain(ish) Sight: Governments can spread propaganda to American audiences through state-run news organizations such as China’s Global Times or Russia’s RT. And, perhaps the most common way for other countries to sway American politics and policy is through “dark money,” or other direct and indirect funding and influence channels—whether that comes in the form of U.S.-based foreign agents meeting with campaign officials abroad or American lobbyists making campaign contributions to American politicians while simultaneously working on behalf of foreign clients.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai issued the following statement the official launch of a new Fraud Division within the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau: "Combatting fraud aggressively, especially fraud related to misuse of the Universal Service Fund, lies at the core of this agency’s responsibility to the American people to make sure that every dollar of taxpayer funding we oversee is used efficiently to close the digital divide. This new Fraud Division will play a key role in leading our efforts to get rid of waste, fraud, and abuse in the Universal Service Fund."
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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