July 13, 2024

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Congress faces broadband crunch – POLITICO

8 min read

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— Broadband, here we go: As the Senate weighs voting to kickstart infrastructure consideration, here comes final lobbying around how fast (or not) to make internet buildouts.

— White House targets online disinfo: Pressure is escalating on Silicon Valley to take action against anti-vaccine posts after top Biden officials chided social media giants.

— One year post-Privacy Shield: The U.S. and Europe are still struggling to nail down a successor data-sharing framework — and the lack of American privacy safeguards isn’t helping.

CONGRATS, IT’S FRIDAY! WE ALL DID IT. John Hendel here today, the first guest writer to fill in for Benjamin these next few weeks on Morning Tech. I’ll stick around through Wednesday — and for now, am still puzzling out what a “soundmoji” is (send your favorite!).

Leak infrastructure details to [email protected] or @JohnHendel on Twitter. Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. Anything else? Team info below. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.

INTERNET SPEEDS WIRELESS CAN LIVE WITH — Wireless Infrastructure Association CEO Jonathan Adelstein is feeling “very encouraged” by recent Capitol Hill machinations over how to structure the $65 billion chunk of the bipartisan infrastructure deal intended to close the digital divide. Speaking during a Media Institute luncheon Thursday, Adelstein cited recent rumblings (which MT has also heard) that lawmakers may ultimately opt for lower minimum internet speed requirements than what Democrats had previously hoped for.

— Controversy inside the telecom industry: Democrats had wanted to require super-fast download and upload speeds of 100 Megabits per second — speeds Adelstein and others warned would only allow for more expensive fiber-optic buildout and would effectively prevent cable, satellite and wireless companies from competing for subsidies. But Adelstein was a happier man on Thursday, suggesting senators are now looking at making the speed requirements 100 Mbps download and just 20 Mbps upload, well within the range wireless companies can offer.

— “Both [fiber and wireless] are part of the solution,” he said — a point he argued for senators during testimony last month “It’s a dangerous time to experiment with putting all our eggs in a single fiber basket.”

The Information Technology Industry Council also wrote Hill leaders favoring “technology neutrality” that would allow a range of broadband deployment methods to be eligible for subsidies under the infrastructure bill.

— Fiber fans, however, aren’t backing down: In a separate statement, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Fiber Broadband Association, Incompas, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, NTCA — The Rural Broadband Association and Public Knowledge urged Congress to stick to the 100/100 Mbps speed requirement for eligible projects, while still prioritizing money for areas that lack the current FCC definition of broadband (just 25/3 Mbps, as you may recall). Otherwise, they said, the U.S. will fall further behind China, the EU and the UK.

— The bipartisan gang of senators hasn’t released the details of their framework, so most observers don’t believe anything is settled yet. And the pressure is on: Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer just announced that he’ll force a vote Wednesday on advancing the measure, whatever is in it, as senators scramble to sort out the various funding provisions and pay-fors.

SOCIAL MEDIA FEELS THE HEAT ON CONTENT MODERATION — The White House chided leading social media companies Thursday over the rapid spread of vaccine-related misinformation and disinformation on their platforms. The Biden administration’s aggressive posture on vetting online content is also likely to frustrate conservatives already chafing against what they feel is excessive moderation.

— Critics balked at the administration’s pressuring of private companies. A VP for the right-leaning Taxpayers Protection Alliance warned that the White House flagging “problematic” posts to Facebook “sets off my First Amendment alarm.” And libertarian-leaning former Rep. Justin Amash also cautioned against government “bans” of content. For a sign of the partisan divisions, compare the reactions of Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), who dubbed it “a public-private partnership to censor the speech of the American people” and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who lauded the administration’s focus as an overdue attempt to address the “danger” of misinformation.

— Facebook defended its moderation record, after White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki charged during Thursday’s press briefing that the company had left up bogus posts about the Covid vaccine. Facebook spokesperson Kevin McAlister countered in a statement that the company has worked with government experts, health authorities and researchers to remove “more than 18 million pieces of COVID misinformation” and the accounts that repeatedly spread it.

— Left-leaning advocates, who have compared the health risks of unmitigated online speech to the physical harms of tobacco, were thrilled to see U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy stepping in with his own advisory dubbing such misinformation an “urgent threat.” The White House’s warning comes as the Delta variant has continued to drive both rising coronavirus caseloads and a greater urgency around vaccinating the parts of the country that have so far been averse.

RIP PRIVACY SHIELD — Today marks one year since a European court killed the transatlantic data-sharing agreement between the U.S. and Europe known as the Privacy Shield, and the question of what will replace it is still bedeviling policymakers and corporations on both continents. Although the Biden administration has said setting up a new Privacy Shield is a top priority, there’s no successor agreement yet.

— One conflict at play, per our friends at POLITICO Europe: “The EU law basically requires privacy, and the U.S. law requires surveillance, and that is fundamentally the conflict of jurisdiction we have here,” said Max Schrems, the Austrian privacy campaigner behind the court challenge that ultimately invalidated the deal.

— The privacy challenge: The core of the issue is European agencies’ concerns about the U.S. unduly surveilling Europeans’ data, and the lack of a federal U.S. privacy law isn’t helping matters. “This anniversary is a sharp reminder of the need for Congress to step up and do its job,” House Energy and Commerce Republicans Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington and Gus Bilirakis of Florida said in a joint statement.

And as my colleague Alex reports this morning, the lack of a transatlantic deal is creating a new political headache for Biden — a privacy law vacuum, critics warn, that could let surveillance-friendly China provide a different global model.

BIDEN OFFICIALS SEEK 5G OPEN RAN PRINCIPLES — The Biden administration is looking to juice the nascent marketplace around open 5G architecture — specifically, in ways that will avoid any thornier prescriptive mandates. This new style of network building (often dubbed “5G open RAN” in reference to opening the radio access network protocols) appeals to U.S. policymakers eager to give U.S vendors a greater role in building 5G and challenge the dominance of China’s telecom giants like Huawei.

— Collecting the best ideas: “We are actively engaging with industry and global counterparts to advance progress toward a set of high-level principles on this issue,” Evelyn Remaley, acting chief of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, said Thursday during an FCC showcase featuring open RAN vendors.

— NTIA also plans to soon announce more details about a “5G challenge” put together by the department’s Boulder, Colo. lab and the Pentagon, Remaley added. “We are not looking to mandate what technology any operator should use or to have government distort the market,” she said, emphasizing that the administration wants to encourage private-sector cooperation. The FCC is following suit with its own vendor showcase and a vote next month on making Boston and Raleigh, N.C., “test beds” for 5G open RAN.

— Still, some open RAN advocates want more: Companies including Mavenir, Parallel Wireless and Altiostar recently asked the FCC to “issue a policy statement or rules that call for carriers to adopt Open RAN principles” and start the rulemaking process to codify them.

FIRST IN MT: TECH INDUSTRY SEEKS AI FUNDING — BSA | The Software Alliance, the ITIC, the Internet Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Technology Engagement Center are asking Hill appropriators to fully fund the artificial intelligence provisions of last year’s defense bill, arguing that well-funded R&D will mean safer AI.

— “AI can … pose some risks if improperly created or used, so it is essential that stakeholders collaborate to address and mitigate risks stemming from AI,” they warn. The proposed funding would flow to the National Science Foundation, National Institute of Standards and Technology and Department of Energy.

SENATORS TO WIRELESS PROVIDERS: DON’T UNDERMINE SUICIDE HOTLINE — Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and two of his Senate colleagues warned wireless trade group CTIA in a Thursday letter not to undermine efforts to rollout the suicide hotline shortcode of 988 by trying to limit the fees states can collect to help pay for mental health crisis centers.

— CTIA declined to address the apparent concern, instead countering that providers “pulled out all the stops to implement this critical resource a full year ahead of the mandated launch” and issuing a blog post along those lines.

Beam it over, Joe: The White House is “considering whether we have the technological ability to reinstate” access to the internet in Cuba, President Joe Biden told reporters.

Twitter’s standoff in India: “Police have raided Twitter’s offices and have accused its India chief, Manish Maheshwari, of spreading ‘communal hatred’ and ‘hurting the sentiments of Indians,’” per the Associated Press.

Forecast looking cloudy: “Google has parted ways with its VP of developer relations for Google Cloud after a contentious all-hands meeting,” CNBC reports.

Not the cute kind of Tortoiseshell: “Facebook has interrupted a sophisticated and highly targeted hacking campaign by a group that some experts have linked to the Iranian government,” via POLITICO.

A Dish best served wireless? An executive for satellite provider Dish Network, which has made several wireless acquisitions as it prepares to enter the 5G market, tells Fierce Wireless “there’s likely to be another acquisition” coming soon.

So, about that Emergency Broadband Benefit: The FCC’s broadband affordability subsidy “has thus far enrolled just 1 in 12 eligible households, but places with low broadband adoption rates show better results,” writes John Horrigan at the Benton Institute.

Rural broadband check-in: Two GOP senators want an update on how the FCC’s review of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund long-form applications is going.

Tips, comments, suggestions? Send them along via email to our team: Bob King ([email protected]), Heidi Vogt ([email protected]), John Hendel ([email protected]), Alexandra S. Levine ([email protected]), Leah Nylen ([email protected]), Emily Birnbaum ([email protected]), and Benjamin Din ([email protected]). Got an event for our calendar? Send details to [email protected]. And don’t forget: Add @MorningTech and @PoliticoPro on Twitter.


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