Coverage of how Internet service is deployed, used and regulated.

How lobbyists convinced lawmakers to kill a broadband privacy bill

When a California state legislator proposed new broadband privacy rules that would mirror the federal rules previously killed by Congress, broadband industry lobbyists got to work. The lobbyists were successful in convincing the state legislature to let the bill die without passage in Sept, leaving Internet users without stronger rules protecting the privacy of their Web browsing histories.

The week of Oct 23, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) released documents that lobbyists distributed to lawmakers before the vote. The EFF described one as "an anonymous and fact-free document the industry put directly into the hands of state senators to stall the bill" and the other as "a second document that attempted to play off fears emerging from the recent Charlottesville attack by white supremacists." The California bill, introduced by Assembly-member Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), was modeled on now-defunct Federal Communications Commission rules and would have required Internet service providers to obtain customers' permission before they use, share, or sell the customers' Web browsing and application usage histories.

Big Telecom Spent $200,000 to Try to Prevent a Colorado Town From Even Talking About a City-Run Internet

In Fort Collins (CO)—a town of about 150,000 north of Denver—Big Telecom has contributed more than $200,000 to a campaign opposing a ballot measure to simply consider a city-run broadband network. It's the latest example of how far Big Telecom is willing to go to prevent communities from building their own internet and competing with the status quo.

"It's been wild," said Glen Akins, a Fort Collins advocate for municipal broadband. "We're overwhelmed by the amount of money the opposition is spending." When the residents of Fort Collins vote on November 7 they'll have a couple of ballot measures to consider, including one on city-run internet. If that measure is approved, Fort Collins will be able to change the city charter to allow it to run a municipal broadband utility. This doesn't mean it will happen for sure, and the city still hasn't finalized what that utility would look like, but it opens the door to further discussions.

California rural broadband bill signed by Gov Brown

Among hundreds of bills signed into law on Oct 22 by Gov Jerry Brown (D-CA) was the rural broadband measure championed by Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D — Winters), Several past efforts to increase funding to close the Digital Divide were intensely opposed by the largest telecommunications and cable companies. After a three-year stalemate, this bill represents a cooperative effort between legislators of both houses and both parties, consumer advocates, and representatives from the telecommunications and cable industries to invest in broadband access and rural development.

The California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) is a state program aimed at closing the Digital Divide. The CASF does not depend upon General Fund dollars, but instead is funded by a small, existing surcharge on in-state phone bills. The current goal of this program is to incentivize the expansion of broadband infrastructure to 98% of California households. AB 1665 expands this goal to 98% of households in every geographic region of the state. This new goal creates a target that cannot be achieved by serving urban and suburban areas alone; it will ensure broadband infrastructure projects funded by AB 1665 are focused in rural California. The law will take effect beginning January 1, 2018.

Rep Pallone: Google, Facebook, Twitter Content Treatment Not 'Neutral'

House Commerce Committing Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) says top edge player online content management policies are not "neutral," a charge that comes as the network neutrality debate continues to rage on. “With a goal of ad clicks or driving page views, these companies’ policies are not neutral; they actively shape content on the web," said Ranking Member Pallone. That came in a request for a meeting with representatives of those edge giants about how they police content on their sites as social media's role in fake news and Russian election meddling becomes grows as a focus of Hill attention. It also is a response to reports of vague, confusing, and inconsistently applied content guidelines.

Usually, ISPs have been targeted for net neutrality criticisms, but increasingly edge providers are at least at the edges of the conversation on Capitol Hill, and Pallone, along with the committee Democrats of which he is the leader, is clearly trying to include tech companies in conversations about their role in net neutrality and the First Amendment going forward.

A Legislative Solution For Net Neutrality May Be Close

[Commentary] It might seem that the prospects for a return to strong bi-partisan Internet policy, which began during the Clinton Administration, are no better now. There’s been no visible movement, for example, on a simple but effective compromise bill offered by senior Republicans in 2015. According to its sponsors, it remains on the table. But the stakes are about to get higher. The Federal Communications Commission is likely to vote before year-end to undo much of the Commission’s 2015 order reclassifying broadband Internet service providers as public utilities, an order which, almost as an after-thought, included the agency’s third attempt at network neutrality rules that could pass legal muster. Added urgency may help the stars align for serious negotiations in Congress.

For one thing, an inevitable legal challenge to the upcoming order will go nowhere. Though it may take a year or more to work its way through the courts, the FCC’s undo of its earlier order will almost certainly be upheld.

The time for a straightforward, uncontroversial legislative solution is now—not after the pro-utility advocates lose in court in another year or more, and not after another few turns of FCC Chairmen flipping the switch again and again. The net neutrality bill introduced in 2015--before the FCC needlessly reversed twenty years of bi-partisan policy--remains the best starting point we have. Assuming, that is, that Congress really wants to solve this problem once and for all.

[Larry Downes is the Project Director at Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy.]

Homegrown ‘fake news’ is a bigger problem than Russian propaganda. Here’s a way to make falsehoods more costly for politicians.

[Commentary] State-sponsored propaganda like the recently unmasked @TEN_GOP Twitter account is of very real concern for our democracy. But we should not allow the debate over Russian interference to crowd out concerns about homegrown misinformation, which was vastly more prevalent during and after the 2016 election. The problem isn’t that we’re only willing to listen to sources that share our political viewpoint; it’s that we’re too vulnerable as human beings to misinformation of all sorts. Given the limitations of human knowledge and judgment, it is not clear how to best protect people from believing false claims.

Brendan Nyhan is a professor of government at Dartmouth College.

Yusaku Horiuchi is a professor of government at Dartmouth College.

How Facebook’s Master Algorithm Powers the Social Network

[Commentary] Artificial intelligence permeates everything at Facebook, the social network’s head of applied machine learning says—and humans are bound to understand Facebook less than ever. The algorithm behind Facebook’s News Feed, a “modular layered cake,” extracts meaning from every post and photo.

The unintended consequences of Europe’s net neutrality law after one year

[Commentary] The European Union’s law “laying down measures concerning open internet access” came into force in 2016. After a year with the law on the books, telecom regulators across Europe have submitted compliance reports to the supervisory Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) and the European Commission. While no bad internet service providers (ISPs) or violations have emerged, a regulatory bureaucracy is growing because of the law. 

You can't wish away hard truths. One is we must fix Lifeline phone plan abuse.

[Commentary] No matter how valuable the Lifeline program is in theory, it’s wasting millions of taxpayer dollars. It allows the telecommunications carriers who profit from the program to verify eligibility for their participants — and too many are turning a blind eye. Lifeline was poorly structured and badly executed from the start. The goal of providing low-income Americans help regaining their economic footing with phone and broadband service is worthwhile and admirable — but that doesn’t mean that any plan doing that is worthy of unequivocal support.

Sidestepping the problems in this terribly run program is a disservice to all participants as well as those footing the bill, and will endanger the program’s existence if we allow it to continue. I’ll remain engaged on this issue and committed to serious changes. In the meantime, I encourage my party, as well as my friends from across the aisle, to join me in pushing for oversight and accountability regardless of its political convenience.

Sens Wicker, Cortez Masto Introduce ‘SPEED Act’

Sens Roger Wicker (R-MS) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) have introduced the “Streamlining Permitting to Enable Efficient Deployment of Broadband Infrastructure Act of 2017” (SPEED Act) (S 1988). Specifically, the SPEED Act would streamline federal permitting processes that impede the quick and efficient deployment of next-generation broadband technologies, including 5G.

Currently, new and replacement telecommunications infrastructure is subject to numerous, sometimes duplicative federal approvals, including environmental and historical reviews. These duplicative approvals extend to areas that have already been established as a public right-of-way (ROW), and where telecommunications infrastructure already exists. The SPEED Act would not preempt the authority of a State or local government to apply and enforce all applicable zoning and other land use regulations on communications providers.