Stories from Abroad

Since 2010, the Benton Foundation and the New America Foundation have partnered to highlight telecommunications debates from countries outside the U.S.

The US is now the world’s smartphone and wireless tech champ

The US leads most of the world in both hardware and networks, according to new research the GSMA wireless industry group released. In what GSMA calls “North America” (U.S. and Canada, but dominated by the U.S.), 78% of people with phones own smartphones. (Which begs the question: Who are all those people with flip models?) The region closest to North America is Europe, with just 60% smartphone ownership. And 266 million Americans had at least one mobile service subscription—in a country with a total population—including children—of 326 million.

The US tops the planet in fast wireless: From 2011 to 2012, 4G coverage jumped from reaching 35% to 90% of the US population. (Apple’s first 4G-capable phone, the iPhone 5, came out in September 2012.) Today, 99% of Americans can access 4G, according to the report (although I know plenty of backroads where they can’t); and 63% of people with phones have 4G/LTE service. 5G is expected to take off just as quickly. With widespread launch in 2019 (led by AT&T and Verizon), 39% of U.S. customers will be able to get 5G service; by 2025, it will be 82%.

Russia Used Facebook Events to Organize Anti-Immigrant Rallies on US Soil

Russian operatives hiding behind false identities used Facebook’s event management tool to remotely organize and promote political protests in the US, including an August 2016 anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rally in Idaho. A Facebook spokesperson confirmed that the social-media giant “shut down several promoted events as part of the takedown we described last week.” The company declined to elaborate, except to confirm that the events were promoted with paid ads. (This is the first time the social media giant has publicly acknowledged the existence of such events.)

The Facebook events—one of which echoed Islamophobic conspiracy theories pushed by pro-Trump media outlets—are the first indication that the Kremlin’s attempts to shape America’s political discourse moved beyond fake news and led unwitting Americans into specific real-life action.

Sputnik, the Russian news agency, is under investigation by the FBI

The FBI recently questioned a former White House correspondent for Sputnik, the Russian-government-funded news agency, as part of an investigation into whether it is acting as an undeclared propaganda arm of the Kremlin in violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). As part of the probe, the bureau has obtained a thumb drive containing thousands of internal Sputnik e-mails and documents — material that could potentially help prosecutors build a case that the news agency played a role in the Russian government “influence campaign” that was waged during last year’s presidential election and, in the view of US intelligence officials, is still ongoing.

The e-mails were turned over by Andrew Feinberg, the news agency’s former White House correspondent, who had downloaded the material onto his laptop before he was fired in May. He confirmed that he was questioned for more than two hours on Sept. 1 by an FBI agent and a Justice Department national security lawyer at the bureau’s Washington field office. Feinberg said the interview was focused on Sputnik’s “internal structure, editorial processes and funding.” “They wanted to know where did my orders come from and if I ever got any direction from Moscow,” Feinberg said. “They were interested in examples of how I was steered towards covering certain issues.”

Murdoch Bid for Sky Control Hits New Bump as UK Official Hints at Inquiry

Britain’s culture minister said that she was inclined to ask the country’s competition regulator to carry out a detailed review of a bid by Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox to take full control of the British satellite television giant Sky. In an address to Parliament, the minister, Karen Bradley, said she was “minded” to refer the $15 billion deal to the Competition and Markets Authority for a more intensive inquiry into concerns about whether Fox would uphold broadcast standards in Britain and whether owning all of Sky would give it too much control of the British media. Sky and Fox have 10 days to respond before Bradley makes a final decision.

Bradley’s announcement move was expected: She had indicated previously that concerns about how much control the Murdoch family would have over the country’s media merited a further review. What was unexpected was the potential for additional scrutiny of whether Fox would uphold broadcasting standards in Britain.

When it comes to Facebook, Russia’s $100,000 is worth more than you think

[Commentary] Facebook revealed that during the 2016 presidential campaign it sold more than $100,000 in ads to a Kremlin-linked “troll farm” seeking to influence US voters. An additional $50,000 in ads also appear suspect but were less verifiably linked to the Russian government. In the grand — at this point, far too grand — scheme of campaign spending, $150,000 doesn’t sound like much. It’s a minor TV ad buy, perhaps, or a wardrobe makeover for one vice-presidential candidate. But in the context of Facebook, it matters quite a bit. Not just for what it might have done to the election but also for what it says about us.

Russia spent at least $100,000 on Facebook ads because of Americans’ known susceptibility to partisan division, our willingness to outsource the work of analysis to social-media algorithms and our tendency to not think too hard about what we see. No, the money isn’t minor. But the real problem is us.

Google appeals $2.9 billion EU fine

Google has appealed a record $2.9 billion fine from the European Union over its comparative shopping service, the EU Court of Justice announced. The EU’s enforcement wing, the European Commission, issued the massive penalty in June, accusing Google of boosting its own comparative shopping tool in its search results at the expense of other services. “What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules,” said EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager at the time. “It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation."

Spicer, Priebus, Hicks among six current and former Trump aides Mueller has expressed interest in interviewing for Russia probe

Apparently, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has alerted the White House that his team will likely seek to interview six top current and former advisers to President Trump who were witnesses to several episodes relevant to the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election. Mueller’s interest in the aides, including trusted adviser Hope Hicks, ex-press secretary Sean Spicer and former chief of staff Reince Priebus, reflects how the probe that has dogged Trump’s presidency is starting to penetrate a closer circle of aides around the president.

Each of the six advisers was privy to important internal discussions that have drawn the interest of Mueller’s investigators, including his decision in May to fire FBI Director James B. Comey and the White House’s initial inaction following warnings that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had withheld information from the public about his private discussions in December with Russia’s ambassador to the United States, according to people familiar with the probe. The advisers are also connected to a series of internal documents that Mueller’s investigators have asked the White House to produce, apparently.

Three Companies Agree to Settle FTC Charges They Falsely Claimed Participation in EU-US Privacy Shield Framework

Three US companies have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they misled consumers about their participation in the European Union-United States Privacy Shield framework, which allows companies to transfer consumer data from EU member states to the United States in compliance with EU law.

In separate complaints, the FTC alleges that human resources software company Decusoft, LLC, printing services company Tru Communication, Inc. (doing business as TCPrinting.net), and Md7, LLC, which manages real estate leases for wireless companies, violated the FTC Act by falsely claiming that they were certified to participate in the EU-US Privacy Shield. The FTC also alleged that Decusoft falsely claimed participation in the Swiss-U.S. Privacy Shield framework. Despite these claims, all three companies failed to complete the certification process for the Privacy Shield, according to the FTC complaints. The actions against the three companies are the first cases the FTC has brought to enforce the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield framework, which was put in place in 2016 to replace the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework. The FTC brought 39 enforcement actions against companies under the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework. Like the Safe Harbor, the Privacy Shield is aimed at providing companies on both sides of the Atlantic with a mechanism to comply with EU data protection requirements when transferring consumer data between the EU and the United States. These cases join the four enforcement actions the FTC has brought related to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Cross-Border Privacy Rules (CBPR) system.

Twitter Is Expected to Brief Senate Panel on Activity by Russians

Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner (D-WV) said that he expects Twitter to brief the panel soon on any Russian activity on its social-media platform during the campaign. “The American people deserve to know both the content and the source of information that is trying to be used to affect their votes,” Sen Warner said. Warner said he had been in touch with Twitter and expected company representatives to answer the committee’s questions.

Remarks of FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly at Latin America Spectrum Management Conference

By most accounts, the U.S. broadcast incentive auction was a success. Does that mean it was perfect? No. This was a very complex undertaking. Were lessons learned? Absolutely, and I will discuss that a bit later. But all things considered, the mechanisms designed and put in place worked relatively well. Through the incentive auction, the U.S., on a completely voluntary basis, reallocated broadcast spectrum to mobile use, which will now be used by private commercial providers to offer 4G and 5G broadband networks. In fact, one U.S. winning bidder has already announced that it will initiate 5G in 600 MHz and has already turned on its first 600 MHz LTE system.