Thursday, September 24, 2020
Headlines Daily Digest
Elections & Media
Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-DE) called for bridging the digital divide to help stimulate employment and workplace equity. They both pushed for congressional passage of infrastructure packages that would increase broadband access to rural and urban areas across the country. Data maps inaccurately portray parts of the U.S. as having broadband access, making it difficult for lawmakers to know which areas need more attention, said Rep Brooks. Rep Blunt Rochester noted there is bipartisan support for infrastructure legislation that would eliminate disparities. “Even when people of color have the same skills, we still see inequities,” she said.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai says he believes there will be enough companies to bid on broadband work in West Virginia at the end of Oct to bring new service to un-served areas. “I think these companies have a very strong interest in deploying very quickly and if we give them the money, we give them the tools, they will connect West Virginians as soon as they possibly can,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. A FCC-sponsored reverse auction is scheduled to start Oct. 29 in connection with the agency’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). There’s up to $20 billion available nationally. Those bidding on projects in West Virginia could receive up to $760 million, Chairman Pai said. “That’s actually 13th most in the country. So West Virginia is punching about its weight in the money it could get in the RDOF,” Pai said.
The city of Dayton is searching for a vendor to help bring high-speed internet to some high-poverty areas in the northwestern part of the city using federal coronavirus relief money. The city has issued a notice of funding opportunities that says it has $1.4 million in federal CARES Act dollars available to expand broadband access to multiple neighborhoods, including Philadelphia Woods, Fairview, Hillcrest, Dayton View, Mount Vernon, and Santa Clara. About 952 households in those neighborhoods do not have internet access, or nearly a quarter of the total (22.8%), according to Census data. The city is interested in offering free wireless internet to those neighborhoods and possibly others during the pandemic when a lot of business activities, work, learning and medical services have shifted to online platforms, officials said.
By unanimous vote, the Henry County Commission entered into a partnership with the West Kentucky & Tennessee Telecommunications Cooperative with a goal to provide the opportunity for broadband services for every household in Henry County. “Broadband is extremely necessary for our underserved areas,” County Mayor Brent Greer said. “Within a short period of time, we’ve put a lot of things together because of the importance of this.” Mayor Greer noted the work on providing broadband to Henry County actually started 18 months ago with much the same goals as there are now. “And 18 months ago, COVID was not even an issue, but we were already working on telehealth and other aspects that are being presented today. Then COVID hit and our world changed overnight.”
On behalf of the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice sent draft legislation to Congress to reform Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The draft legislative text implements reforms that the Department of Justice deemed necessary in its June Recommendations and follows a yearlong review of the statute. The legislation also executes President Trump’s directive from the Executive Order on Preventing Online Censorship. The Department of Justice’s draft legislation focuses on two areas of reform:
- Promoting Transparency and Open Discourse: First, the draft legislation has a series of reforms to promote transparency and open discourse and ensure that platforms are fairer to the public when removing lawful speech from their services. The current interpretations of Section 230 have enabled online platforms to hide behind the immunity to censor lawful speech in bad faith and is inconsistent with their own terms of service. To remedy this, the department’s legislative proposal revises and clarifies the existing language of Section 230 and replaces vague terms that may be used to shield arbitrary content moderation decisions with more concrete language that gives greater guidance to platforms, users, and courts. The legislative proposal also adds language to the definition of “information content provider” to clarify when platforms should be responsible for speech that they affirmatively and substantively contribute to or modify.
- Addressing Illicit Activity Online: The second category of amendments is aimed at incentivizing platforms to address the growing amount of illicit content online, while preserving the core of Section 230’s immunity for defamation claims. Section 230 immunity is meant to incentivize and protect online Good Samaritans. Platforms that purposely solicit and facilitate harmful criminal activity — in effect, online Bad Samaritans — should not receive the benefit of this immunity. Nor should a platform receive blanket immunity for continuing to host known criminal content on its services, despite repeated pleas from victims to take action. The department also proposes to more clearly carve out federal civil enforcement actions from Section 230. Although federal criminal prosecutions have always been outside the scope of Section 230 immunity, online crime is a serious and growing problem, and there is no justification for blocking the federal government from civil enforcement on behalf of American citizens. Finally, the department proposes carving out certain categories of civil claims that are far outside Section 230’s core objective, including offenses involving child sexual abuse, terrorism, and cyberstalking. These amendments, working together, will be critical first steps in enabling victims to seek redress for the most serious of online crimes.
The rapid pace of digital technology means companies can move rapidly to advantage themselves by exploiting consumers and eliminating potential competition. Congress has traditionally created new expert agencies to oversee new technology platforms. Whether the Interstate Commerce Commission (railroads), Federal Communications Commission (broadcasting), Federal Aviation Administration (air transport), Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (finance), or any other of the alphabet agencies, the precedent is clear: new technologies require specialized oversight. In our report, “New Digital Realities; New Oversight Solutions” we conclude such regulation in the digital era warrants creation of a Digital Platform Agency to establish public interest expectations that promote fair market practices while being agile enough to deal with the rapid pace of digital technology. Such an agency should be governed by a new congressio nally established digital policy built on three pillars:
- Risk management rather than micromanagement: rigid industrial era utility-style regulation is incompatible with today’s rapid pace of technological change. Regulation should be based on risk-targeted remedies focused on market outcomes.
- Restoration of common law principles: for hundreds of years common law has required those providing services to anticipate and mitigate harmful effects (a “duty of care”), as well as providing access to essential services (a “duty to deal”). Oversight of Big Tech need do nothing more than reinstate such expectations.
- Agile regulation: in lieu of top-down dictates, the new agency should be the forum to involve the industry in developing enforceable behavioral standards similar to fire and building codes. Such codes introduce innovation-promoting agility to the oversight process while protecting consumers and competition.
From the outset of the pandemic, it was clear that we needed to do everything we could to connect patients with their health care providers. So back in March, the Federal Communications Commission immediately made an additional $42 million available through our Rural Health Care Program. We also waived socalled “gift rules” so that participants in the Rural Health Care Program could solicit and accept better services or additional equipment for telemedicine from their broadband providers. And thanks to Congress, we were able to do much, much more. As part of the CARES Act, Congress appropriated $200 million for the FCC to support health care providers’ use of telehealth services during this national emergency. Just days after the President signed the CARES Act into law on March 27, the FCC established the program. By April 13, the FCC had already begun accepting applications. We evaluated and approved applications on a rolling basis, and, by July 8, we had awarded all $200 million. In the end, we approved 539 funding applications from 47 states plus Washington, DC and Guam. Recipients ranged from community health centers to mental health clinics to non-profit hospital systems in both rural and urban areas of the country.
One might be excused for thinking that by now, more than 200 years after the first disputed presidential election, our forebears or ourselves would have stepped up to the issue and put in place the mechanics necessary to allow a democratic nation to hold a democratic election. Yet here we are, in one of the worst economic recessions in history and amidst a pandemic that has already cost the country two hundred thousand lives, and we still don't know how to count the votes, who should be "allowed" to vote (as if anyone's permission needs to be granted!), how to set up credible polling places, whether those standing in lines for hours in deliberately scarce polling sites should be allowed to cast ballots, what to do when those in power use the agencies of government to subvert the process, and debating whether a president who loses at the polls can nevertheless hold onto power by threat or by coup. America's election process is subverting America's democracy. The story is occasionally told in bits and pieces, but it receives nowhere near the attention it merits -- indeed, the attention it should command. There are reasons for this shortfall. One of them, and I submit the most important one, is mainstream media's failure to highlight the issue.
We have never, under any administration, had a national mission to get high-speed, affordable broadband deployed and adopted in every household and business across the land. Individual agencies work at it, but no individual agency can get this job done by itself. We have lacked a mission and a plan to connect America for a quarter of a century, while much of the rest of the world moves ahead. The private sector is not going to get this done by itself, nor can government. We need meaningful working partnerships among the private sector, federal, state, and local governments, cooperatives, and regional entities. What is required is leadership from the top and coordination across the board. It must start with a president who presents the vision and develops the mission. Then it requires funding for this essential infrastructure that, to be effective, must be universal. It also requires realizing that this is how most of the country's earlier vital infrastructures were built -- from the roads, bridges, and canals of early days through the railroads, highways, and electrification projects of more recent years. We are today paying a disastrous and totally unnecessary price for the short-sightedness of recent years. The longer we delay, the more we will hurt.
For people who spend a lot of time on TikTok, the last few months have been surreal: a president with no presence on the platform has been agitating to ban it on the basis of national security. (TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese company.) In contrast to mounting political criticisms of, say, Facebook and Twitter, platforms where the president is extremely active and invested, the government’s public case against TikTok has been largely speculative, citing theoretical dangers and hardly trying to appeal to the app’s users directly. It’s no surprise that the vague message from TikTok’s interim global head, Vanessa Pappas, gave some users comfort, given how little this process has addressed them. TikTok’s users are experiencing for the first time something long familiar to much of the world outside the United States: a flourishing online social space existentially threatened by diplomatic and political fights between states and corporations, with little input from those affected by their decisions.
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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