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Biden Nominates Broadband-for-all Advocate Rosenworcel to Lead FCC

Phillip Dampier October 27, 2021 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters No Comments

Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Jessica Rosenworcel, a champion of broadband access for low-income American households, is President Joe Biden’s choice for permanent chair of the Federal Communications Commission, the White House confirmed on Tuesday.

A Democrat who already serves as acting FCC chairwoman under Biden, she is expected to win U.S. Senate approval for a new term on the five-member telecoms regulator. Biden announced he intends to nominate her for a new term and a White House official said Biden will tap her to become the first woman to serve as permanent FCC chief.

Biden has waited more than nine months to make nominations for the FCC, which has not been able to address some issues because it currently has one vacancy and is divided 2-2 between Democrats and Republicans.

For the open seat, the White House confirmed to nominate Gigi Sohn, a former senior aide to Tom Wheeler, who served as an FCC chairman under President Barack Obama, a Democrat.

Rosenworcel has overseen the FCC’s temporary $3.2 billion broadband subsidy program created by Congress in December that provides discounts on monthly internet service and on the purchase of laptops or tablet computers to more than 6 million lower-income American households or people afflicted by COVID-19.

She has said the lack of broadband access leads to a “homework gap” for lower-income Americans because most teachers assign homework that requires internet access.

The White House also confirmed Biden will nominate Alan Davidson, a senior adviser at Mozilla, as director of the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the executive branch agency principally responsible for advising the White House on telecommunications and information policy issues. NTIA is also expected to oversee tens of billions of dollars in funding from Congress to expand internet access.

Last month, a group of 25 U.S. senators wrote to Biden in support of Rosenworcel, a former Senate staffer, for a new term and the chair role. They wrote “further delays will unnecessarily imperil our shared goal of achieving ubiquitous broadband connectivity.”

Rosenworcel and her staff did not respond late on Monday to requests for comment on the announcement expected as soon as Tuesday. Without being confirmed to a new term, Rosenworcel would need to leave the FCC at the end of the year.

She has said the FCC decision under then-Republican President Donald Trump in 2017 to overturn net neutrality rules had put the FCC “on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public.”

The FCC under Obama, Trump’s predecessor, adopted the net neutrality rules in 2015 barring internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes.

Supporters of net neutrality say the protections ensure a free and open internet. Broadband and telecoms trade groups contend their legal basis from the pre-internet era was outdated and would discourage investment.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Howard Goller and David Gregorio

FCC Votes Unanimously to Expand 5 GHz Wi-Fi Frequencies Despite Auto Industry Protests

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. communications regulator on Wednesday approved a plan to allow a growing number of wireless devices to use part of a spectrum previously set aside for automakers to develop methods for vehicles to communicate with each other, a decision that the Transportation Department warned could result in “thousands of accidents.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 5-0 to split the spectrum block set aside for auto safety. Over the objections of automakers and some U.S. agencies, the FCC decision finalized a plan announced last year to divide a block of the 5.9 GHz spectrum band that was reserved in 1999 for automakers to develop technology called DSRC, but has so far gone largely unused. Under today’s decision, a 45 MHz portion of the band — 5.850GHz to 5.895GHz will be reallocated to unlicensed Wi-Fi services and made available for consumer use. Consumers may have to purchase new equipment to take advantage of the new frequencies.

45 MHz of the wireless auto band, shown in green, will join the 5 GHz Wi-Fi band shown in blue. Automakers will still be able to use 30 MHz of frequencies from 5.895-5.925 GHz.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said there is “a pressing need for us to allocate additional spectrum” for Wi-Fi, noting the coronavirus pandemic underscored “consumers need access and more bandwidth to be able to engage in telework, remote learning, telehealth, and other broadband-related services.”

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao had warned the FCC decision could result in “thousands more deaths annually on road and millions more injuries than would be the case otherwise.”

Major cable, telecom and content companies back the FCC proposal to open most of the spectrum band to Wi-Fi use.

Comcast Corp praised the FCC vote, saying Wi-Fi is “central to American homes, schools, and workplaces and carries more broadband traffic than all other wireless technologies combined.”

Automakers favor using the spectrum for developing technology to allow vehicles to exchange data about location, speed and direction.

House of Representatives Transportation Committee chairman Peter DeFazio called the decision “a gift to corporate interests at the expense of public safety,” adding it “will undermine decades of development and over a billion public dollars that the transportation community has invested in these technologies.”

The technology has previously been offered on just one General Motors Co vehicle. Government studies have suggested that, if widely adopted among, it could prevent at least 600,000 U.S. crashes annually.

GM said “the FCC has moved towards jeopardizing roadway safety.”

The FCC plans to transition the upper 30 megahertz from DSRC to enable a different automotive communications technology called Cellular Vehicle-to-Everything and use the other 45 megahertz for wireless use. Safety advocates question if the new technology will work.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

U.S. Senate Hearing on Social Media Devolves Into Partisan Scuffle; “Bullying for Electoral Purposes”

Phillip Dampier October 28, 2020 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters No Comments

Sen. Wicker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. Senate hearing to reform an internet law and hold tech companies accountable for how they moderate content quickly turned into a political scuffle as lawmakers not only went after the companies but also attacked each other.

Lawmakers are split on ways to hold Big Tech accountable under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act – which protects companies from liability over content posted by users but also lets the firms shape political discourse.

Republican lawmakers used most of their time during the hearing to accuse the companies of selective censorship against conservatives. Democrats primarily focused on insufficient action against misinformation that interferes with the election.

In response to a limited number of questions discussing the law, the chief executives of Twitter, Facebook, and Google said it was crucial to free expression on the internet. They said Section 230 gives them the tools to strike a balance between preserving free speech and moderating content, even as they appeared open to suggestions the law needs moderate changes.

All three CEOs also agreed the companies should be held liable if the platforms act as a publisher but denied being the referees over political speech – a claim that angered some Republicans.

Senator Ted Cruz went after Twitter’s Jack Dorsey after the CEO said Twitter has no influence over elections.

“Who the hell elected you and put you in charge of what the media are allowed to report and what the American people are allowed to hear,” Cruz said, referring to the platform’s decision to block stories from the New York Post about the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Ahead of the hearing, the senator released a picture on Twitter titled “Free Speech showdown Cruz vs Dorsey” that showed him and Twitter’s Dorsey pitted against each other.

Democratic Senator Brian Schatz said he did not have any questions, calling the hearing “nonsense”.

“This is bullying and it is for electoral purposes,” he said.

Other Democrats including Tammy Baldwin, Ed Markey and Amy Klobuchar also said the hearing was held to help President Donald Trump’s re-election effort.

Trump, who alleges the companies’ stifle conservative voices, tweeted “Repeal Section 230!” during the hearing.

Twitter’s Dorsey, who drew the most amount of criticism from Republicans, warned the committee that eroding the foundation of Section 230 could significantly hurt how people communicate online. Pichai said Google operates without political bias and that doing otherwise would be against its business interests.

Zuckerberg at today’s hearing.

Zuckerberg, who briefly had difficulty with his internet connection at the start of the hearing, said he supports changing the law but also warned that tech platforms are likely to censor more to avoid legal risks if Section 230 is repealed. Biden has expressed support for revoking the law.

NO MORE “FREE PASS”

Republican Senator Roger Wicker, who chairs the committee, said it was important to shield companies from liability without giving them the ability to censor content they dislike.

“The time has come for that free pass to end,” he said.

Wicker also criticized Twitter’s decision to block the New York Post stories about Biden’s son and Facebook’s move to limit their reach.

He and other senators such as Cory Gardner went after Twitter for not taking down tweets from world leaders that allegedly spread misinformation but going aggressively after Republican President Donald Trump’s tweets.

U.S. lawmakers are not the only ones pushing for reform. The European Union’s executive Commission is drafting a new Digital Services Act that, in addition to tackling market abuses by dominant platforms, would also address liability for harmful or illegal content. Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager is due to unveil her proposals on Dec. 2.

Reporting by Nandita Bose and David Shepardson in Washington; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz in Washington and Douglas Busvine in Frankfurt; editing by Kirsten Donovan and Lisa Shumaker

Republican Majority Votes 3-2 to Maintain Repeal of Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules

Phillip Dampier October 27, 2020 Net Neutrality, Public Policy & Gov't, Reuters No Comments

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 on Tuesday to maintain its 2017 repeal of Obama-era net neutrality rules, even after a federal court directed a review of some provisions of the repeal.

The 2015 net neutrality rules barred internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing internet content or offering paid “fast lanes.” Under President Donald Trump, the 2017 FCC order granted ISPs sweeping powers to recast how Americans use the internet, as long as they disclose changes.

A federal appeals court in October 2019 largely upheld the FCC’s repeal of the rules, but ordered the agency to reconsider the repeal’s impact on public safety; regulations on attachments to utility poles; and the FCC’s ability to provide subsidies for broadband service. The FCC majority opted to leave the order unchanged.

The net neutrality repeal was effective in June 2018. ISPs have not changed how users access the internet, but consumer groups fear that they could move to raise prices or slow speeds selectively for some customers.

“It is patently obvious to all but the most devoted members of the net neutrality cult that the case against the (net neutrality repeal) was a sham,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Tuesday.

ISPs and other advocates of the net neutrality repeal say the new rules have boosted investment. Consumer groups and other critics of the dispute the assertion that loosening net neutrality rules led to new investment.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said, “this agency is not interested in getting it right. Instead, it doubles down, rather than recognizing the realities of the world around us.”

Democrats have made net neutrality repeal a campaign issue. Presidential candidate Joe Biden, who was Obama’s vice president, is expected if he wins to designate an FCC chair who would move to would reinstate net neutrality.

Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat, said “without net neutrality protections, it’s just a matter of time before big broadband providers start raising prices, slowing down internet speeds, and making it harder for families, small business, and students to access the opportunities to recover and rebuild from this pandemic.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio

No Means No: Cogeco Rejects Sweetened Altice USA Offer – ‘We Aren’t Selling,’ Audet Family Insists

Phillip Dampier October 19, 2020 Altice USA, Canada, Cogeco, Competition, Consumer News, Reuters, Rogers No Comments

(Reuters) – Altice USA Inc’s C$11.1 billion ($8.43 billion U.S.) revised offer to acquire Cogeco was rejected on Sunday by the Canadian cable company’s top investor, the Audet family.

Altice USA Inc said it had sweetened its unsolicited offer to acquire Cogeco by adding a premium for shares held by the Audet family, which had rejected the previous offer.

“As we did on September 2nd, 2020, following the announcement of their first unsolicited proposal, members of the Audet family unanimously reject this further proposal,” Louis Audet, president of Gestion Audem said in a statement. “We repeat today that this is not a negotiating strategy, but a definitive refusal. We are not interested in selling our shares.”

Gestion Audem is the holding company of the Audet family that holds 69% of the voting share of Cogeco.

Altice offered C$11.1 billion to acquire Cogeco, up from the C$10.3 billion bid that was rejected by the Audet family last month.

New York-based Altice said the revised offer included C$900 million to the Audet family for their ownership interests, from C$800 million previously.

It also revised its offer to Cogeco’s second-largest shareholder, Rogers Communications Inc, to sell it all of Cogeco’s Canadian assets for C$5.2 billion.

Upon completion of the overall transaction, Altice USA would own all the U.S. assets of Cogeco and Rogers would own the Canadian assets, Altice said in a statement.

Altice said it would withdraw its revised offer if a deal was not reached by Nov. 18.

($1 = 1.3173 Canadian dollars)

Reporting by Sabahatjahan Contractor in Bengaluru; Editing by Stephen Coates and Lincoln Feast.

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