Government & Communications

Attempts by governmental bodies to improve or impede communications with or between the citizenry.

FCC Chairman Pai Orders Immediate Action on Lifeline Waste, Fraud and Abuse

In a letter to Universal Service Administration Company CEO Vickie Robinson, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai responded to a recent Government Accountability Office report on potential waste, fraud and abuse in the FCC’s Lifeline program and additional internal FCC investigations. “In light of these investigations and their findings, I believe immediate action is warranted.” He called on USAC to implement safeguards in six areas to ensure Universal Service Fund monies are not used by “unscrupulous eligible telecommunications carriers (ETCs)”:

  • Audit the ten ETCs with the highest number of potential ineligible Lifeline subscribers
  • Review a sampling of Lifeline subscribers each month to determine if they are eligible
  • Require ETCs to verify Lifeline subscribers’ eligibility and de-enroll any subscribers who are not eligible
  • Refer ETC abuses to the FCC’s Office of Inspector General for possible civil or criminal action
  • For addresses with 500 or more Lifeline subscribers, require ETCs to de-enroll subscribers who cannot verify their address and confirm they are “independent economic households” from other Lifeline subscribers -- and, on a quarterly basis, review in a similar way a sampling of addresses with 25 or more subscribers
  • Recapture improper payments associated with de-enrolled Lifeline subscribers
  • Explore automating the process of detecting oversubscribed addresses
  • Step up efforts to identify “phantom,” deceased and duplicate subscribers, de-enroll them, and prosecute ETCs who collect USF funds for serving these fictitious customers
  • Require Lifeline sales agents to register with USAC, block new subscribers enrolled by sales agents who are registering too many customers, and stepping up prosecution of fraudulent sales agents.

Chairman Pai asked USAC to report to him on implementation of these safeguards by August 8, 2017.

President Trump defends Trump Jr.: 'I applaud his transparency'

President Donald Trump praised his son, Donald Trump Jr., who is under fire for meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have compromising information about Trump's Democratic rival in the presidential race, Hillary Clinton. “My son is a high-quality person and I applaud his transparency,” President Trump said in a brief statement, which White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders read to reporters during an off-camera briefing.

President Trump had previously remained silent on the growing controversy surrounding the meeting at the height of the campaign. The revelation has shaken the White House, which for months has struggled to contain the fallout from a wide-ranging investigation into Russia’s election-meddling effort in 2016. Sanders acknowledged that, “the president is, I would say, frustrated with the process of the fact that this continues to be an issue.”

Virginia is First State to Opt in to AT&T FirstNet Plan

Virginia is expected to be the first state to opt in to AT&T FirstNet plans to build a wireless public safety network that ultimately will interconnect with public safety networks in all 50 states. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe announced the decision at an event July 11.

For Every 1 Net Neutrality Comment, Internet & Cable Providers Spent $100 on Lobbying Over Decade

Three of the largest internet service providers and the cable television industry’s primary trade association have spent more than a half-billion dollars lobbying the federal government during the past decade on issues that include network neutrality, according to a MapLight analysis.

Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) have spent $572 million on attempts to influence the Federal Communications Commission and other government agencies since 2008. The amount represents more than $100 for each of the 5.6 million public comments on the FCC’s proposed elimination of net neutrality rules. Despite the resources devoted to the rollback by the big internet service providers, net neutrality advocates haven’t been totally bereft of support in the nation’s capital. Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, has spent $41.1 million lobbying in the nation’s capital. Facebook, which boasts 2 billion unique monthly users, has spent almost $43.3 million.

Paying Professors: Inside Google’s Academic Influence Campaign

Google operates a little-known program to harness the brain power of university researchers to help sway opinion and public policy, cultivating financial relationships with professors at campuses from Harvard University to the University of California, Berkeley. Over the past decade, Google has helped finance hundreds of research papers to defend against regulatory challenges of its market dominance, paying stipends of $5,000 to $400,000, The Wall Street Journal found.

Some researchers share their papers before publication and let Google give suggestions, according to thousands of pages of e-mails obtained by the Journal in public-records requests of more than a dozen university professors. The professors don’t always reveal Google’s backing in their research, and few disclosed the financial ties in subsequent articles on the same or similar topics. The funding of favorable campus research to support Google’s Washington, D.C.-based lobbying operation is part of a behind-the-scenes push in Silicon Valley to influence decision makers. The operation is an example of how lobbying has escaped the confines of Washington’s regulated environment and is increasingly difficult to spot.

Lawsuit alleges President Trump violated 1st Amendment by blocking US citizens on Twitter

With each tweet, President Trump says he’s redefining the American presidency, describing his use of social media as “modern day presidential” and necessary to fight what he deems fake news. Not everyone agrees on the substance of Trump’s social media message, but both his supporters and detractors have something in common: They want access to Trump’s frenetic Twitter feed. Which is why the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of seven Twitter users who say their 1st Amendment rights were violated after they were blocked from reading Trump’s personal account (@realDonaldTrump, not the official @POTUS account) after criticizing him or his policies. The suit, filed in US District Court in the Southern District of New York in Manhattan, names President Trump, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer and White House director of social media Dan Scavino as defendants. The Knight Institute sent a letter to the White House in June threatening legal action if it didn’t heed its call to unblock followers.

President Trump Has Secretive Teams to Roll Back Regulations, Led by Hires With Deep Industry Ties

President Donald Trump entered office pledging to cut red tape, and within weeks, he ordered his administration to assemble teams to aggressively scale back government regulations. But the effort — a signature theme in Trump’s populist campaign for the White House — is being conducted in large part out of public view and often by political appointees with deep industry ties and potential conflicts.

Most government agencies have declined to disclose information about their deregulation teams. But ProPublica and The New York Times identified 71 appointees, including 28 with potential conflicts, through interviews, public records and documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Some appointees are reviewing rules their previous employers sought to weaken or kill, and at least two may be positioned to profit if certain regulations are undone. The appointees include lawyers who have represented businesses in cases against government regulators, staff members of political dark money groups, employees of industry-funded organizations opposed to environmental rules and at least three people who were registered to lobby the agencies they now work for.

Are Americans moved by Trump’s media-as-enemy war cry? The opposite may be true.

[Commentary] At first glance, a new report from Pew Research looks devastating for President Trump’s favorite punching bag, the nation’s news media. One might think that the message Trump has been hammering home is really getting through. After all, Pew’s polling clearly shows that a big chunk of the American public buys his message that the press is a negative force in our society. Amy Mitchell, Pew’s director of journalism research, said the growing partisan divide in attitudes about the news media mirrors a Pew study done earlier in 2017 in which Democrats showed a growing appreciation of the press’s watchdog role; but appreciation for that role plummeted among Republicans. If journalism is to do its job fully, and as the founders intended, it can’t speak primarily to one side of the political aisle. I don’t have the answers to that problem, though I’m planning to explore them in the coming weeks. In the meantime, it’s important to acknowledge what this report doesn’t show: That Trump’s traitorous-media-scum message is moving the needle as he intends. And that — although in a grasping-at-straws way — is good news.

Sinclair increases 'must-run' Boris Epshteyn segments

Even while under fire for requiring its outlets to run conservative content, Sinclair Broadcast Group is increasing the "must-run" segments across its affiliates featuring former Trump White House official Boris Epshteyn to nine times a week. The move comes as the company is seeking to dramatically expand its holdings by purchasing Tribune Media for $3.9 billion, which would make it the largest local television operator in the country, with more than 200 stations.

But Sinclair's unusual practice of requiring all its stations to run reports dictated from the corporate offices has been flagged by critics of the Tribune acquisition and even become a subject of late-night TV ribbing by HBO's John Oliver. Epshteyn was hired by Sinclair as chief political analyst in April after a short ride in the White House overseeing the choice of Trump surrogates for TV appearances. Now, on Sinclair, he is offering his own political commentary. His "Bottom Line with Boris" segments already air three times a week, but will now triple in frequency, featuring a mix of his political commentary as well as "talk backs" with local stations and interviews with members of Congress. The segments will have a “billboard,” meaning they’re sponsored, but will not be sponsored content, a Sinclair spokesperson said. Epshteyn’s segments are “must runs,” so all the Sinclair stations across the country will air them along with their other “must-run” segments including conservative commentary from Mark Hyman and the Terrorism Alert Desk segments. Epshteyn reliably parrots the White House's point of view on most issues.

Who Has Your Back? AT&T, Verizon, Other ISPs Lag Behind Tech Industry in Protecting Users from Government Overreach

While many technology companies continue to step up their privacy game by adopting best practices to protect sensitive customer information when the government demands user data, telecommunications companies are failing to prioritize user privacy when the government comes knocking, an Electronic Frontier Foundation annual survey shows. Even tech giants such as Apple, Facebook, and Google can do more to fully stand behind their users.

EFF’s seventh annual “Who Has Your Back” report digs into the ways many technology companies are getting the message about user privacy in this era of unprecedented digital surveillance. The data stored on our mobile phones, laptops, and especially our online services can, when aggregated, paint a detailed picture of our lives—where we go, who we see, what we say, our political affiliations, our religion, and more. AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon scored the lowest, each earning just one star. While they have adopted a number of industry best practices, like publishing transparency reports and requiring a warrant for content, they still need to commit to informing users before disclosing their data to the government and creating a public policy of requesting judicial review of all NSLs.