Verizon and AT&T Decline Regulators’ Request to Delay New 5G Services

Transportation officials said they feared a risk to flight safety. The standoff could complicate a tumultuous travel period filled with cancellations.

#5g-wireless-communications, #airlines-and-airplanes, #att-inc, #federal-aviation-administration, #federal-communications-commission, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #verizon-communications-inc

White House to Name Rosenworcel as F.C.C.’s First Female Leader

Jessica Rosenworcel, the acting chairwoman of the powerful regulator, campaigned vigorously for a permanent appointment.

#appointments-and-executive-changes, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #computers-and-the-internet, #content-type-personal-profile, #federal-communications-commission, #net-neutrality, #news-and-news-media, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #rosenworcel-jessica, #united-states-politics-and-government, #women-and-girls

Robocalls Are Not Even the Worst of It

Updating our war against the scammers and assorted interrupters.

#cellular-telephones, #consumer-protection, #federal-communications-commission, #federal-trade-commission, #frauds-and-swindling, #spam-electronic, #telemarketing, #telephones-and-telecommunications

The Maps That Steer Us Wrong

Misleading maps are leading us astray.

#apple-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #federal-communications-commission, #geography, #google-maps, #maps, #rosenworcel-jessica, #wireless-communications

In Race for 5G, Alarm and Security Services Get Stuck in the Middle

Covid-19 shutdowns and chip shortages have made it more difficult to upgrade devices and meet a deadline set by AT&T.

#5g-wireless-communications, #adt-corporation, #att-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #federal-communications-commission, #radio-spectrum, #security-and-warning-systems, #shortages, #telephones-and-telecommunications, #verizon-communications-inc, #wireless-communications

SpaceX to acquire satellite connectivity startup Swarm Technologies

SpaceX will be acquiring satellite connectivity startup Swarm Technologies, the first such deal for the 19-year-old space company headed by Elon Musk.

Swarm operates a constellation of 120 sandwich-sized satellites as well as a ground station network. The deal would transfer control of Swarm’s ground and space licenses to SpaceX, in addition to any licenses pending before the commission. If the transaction is approved, the startup would become a “direct wholly-owned subsidiary” of the larger company.

The acquisition, which was reported in under-the-radar filings with the Federal Communications Commission, marks a sharp departure from the launch giant’s established strategy of internally developing its tech.

The deal was reportedly reached between the two companies on July 16. The FCC filings do not disclose any financial details or terms of the transaction. Neither SpaceX nor Swarm could be reached for comment.

“Swarm’s services will benefit from the better capitalization and access to resources available to SpaceX, as well as the synergies associated with acquisition by a provider of satellite design, manufacture, and launch services,” the companies said in the filing. For SpaceX’s part, the company will “similarly benefit from access to the intellectual property and expertise developed by the Swarm team, as well as from adding this resourceful and effective team to SpaceX.”

What this means for SpaceX’s operations, particularly its Starlink satellite network, is unclear, as these satellites operate in a different frequency band from that of Swarm. In the short term, Swarm CEO Sara Spangelo told TechCrunch last month that the company is “still marching” toward its goal of operating a 150-satellite constellation.

Compared to SpaceX, Swarm is a relatively new company. It raised a $25 million Series A almost exactly three years ago, in August 2018, but it only went commercially live with its flagship product earlier this year. That product, the Tile, is a small modem that can be embedded in various connectivity devices and linked to the satellite network, to allow users a low-cost way to power Internet of Things devices.

Swarm’s Evaluation Kit. Image Credits: Swarm (opens in a new window)

Swarm also launched its second product last month, the $499 Evaluation Kit, an all-in-one package designed to give anyone the ability to create a IoT device using a Tile, a solar panel, and a few other components.

#aerospace, #elon-musk, #federal-communications-commission, #sara-spangelo, #space, #spacex, #startups, #swarm, #swarm-technologies

The RapidSOS EC-1

Three digits, so little time.

Numbers can take on profound cultural significance, but few numbers have quite the resonance as 911, the emergency number for the United States. Few want to dial it, but when they must, it works — every single time. One industry trade association estimates that 240 million 911 phone calls are made every year, ranging from the quotidian loud dog to the exceptional terrorist attack.

While it may be a singular number, 911 calls are directed to roughly 5,700 public safety answering points (PSAPs) across the country, all with independent operations, variegated equipment, disparate software, multifarious organizational structures, and vast inequalities of staffing and resources.

“Every 911 center is very different and they are as diverse and unique as the communities that they serve,” Karin Marquez, who we will meet later, put it. You have massive urban centers with dozens of staffers and the best equipment, and “you have agencies in rural America that have one person working 24/7 and they’re there to answer three calls a day.”

These organizations face a tough challenge: Transitioning their systems to incorporate information from billions of new consumer devices into the heart of 911 response. Location from mobile GPS, medical information from health profiles, video footage from cameras — all of this could be useful when police, firefighters and paramedics arrive on a scene. But how do you connect hundreds of tech companies to a myriad of 911 technology providers?

Over the last eight years, RapidSOS has become the go-to solution for addressing this problem. With more than $190 million raised, including an $85 million round this past February, RapidSOS now covers nearly 5,000 PSAPs and processes more than 150 million emergencies every year, and it’s technology is almost certainly integrated into the smartphone you’re carrying and many of the devices you have lying around (the company counts about 350 million connected devices with its software).

Yet, like many emergencies, the company’s story is one of reverses, misdirections and urgency as its founders worked to find a model to jump-start 911 response. RapidSOS may well be the only startup to pivot from a consumer app to a govtech/enterprise hybrid, and it has the most extensive directory of partnerships and integration relationships of any startup I have ever seen. Now, as it expands to Mexico, the United Kingdom and elsewhere, this startup with its roots in a rural farm in Indiana, is redefining emergency response globally for the 21st Century.

The lead writer of this EC-1 is Danny Crichton. In addition to being the EC-1 series editor, managing editor at TechCrunch, and regularly talking about himself in the third person, Danny has been writing about disaster tech and first covered RapidSOS back in 2015 prior to its public launch. The lead editor for this story was Ram Iyer, the copy editor was Richard Dal Porto, and illustrations were drawn by Nigel Sussman.

RapidSOS had no say in the content of this analysis and did not get advance access to it. Crichton has no financial ties to RapidSOS, and his ethics disclosure statement is available here.

The RapidSOS EC-1 comprises four articles numbering 12,400 words and a reading time of 50 minutes. Here are the topics we’ll be dialing into:

We’re always iterating on the EC-1 format. If you have questions, comments or ideas, please send an email to TechCrunch Managing Editor Danny Crichton at danny@techcrunch.com.

#911, #america, #communication, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-1, #emergency-response, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #federal-communications-commission, #government, #govtech, #gps, #indiana, #rapidsos, #rapidsos-ec-1, #smartphone, #startups, #tc, #telecommunications, #united-kingdom, #united-states

Smoking pizza ovens and pilfered dollar bills, or the early story of RapidSOS

The irony of 911 is that it’s a number that everyone knows (at least in the United States), and yet, no one really thinks about it. Few of us will dial 911 more than a handful of times in our lives, and even when we do, we will meet the police officers and paramedics who respond, never the 911 call taker who handled the dispatch. These systems and the people behind them garner meager attention, whether from Congress, state legislatures, the public or anyone else outside the emergency response community.

Except, that is, for Michael Martin.

RapidSOS’ story is one of a mission, a community, a team and a dream that every emergency should have the best chance to be resolved as positively as possible.

He, along with Nick Horelik and Matt Bozik very early on, became fascinated by the complexity and lack of innovation in the sector. “Uber had just come out. I could press a button and get a car. Why can’t I just press a button and get an ambulance? And then it sparks this curiosity,” Martin said. He sought knowledge, but for such a critical system, information was sparse. “The Wikipedia article on George Clooney is way longer than the one on 911,” he noted.

So began a nearly decade-long journey with RapidSOS that would see Martin and his team first attempt to build a consumer-safety app called Haven before pivoting exclusively to helping dozens of tech companies, including Apple and Google and device companies like SiriusXM, connect to a myriad of 911 software vendors. Along the way, they experienced the full vagaries of startup life, frenetically pivoting from product to product as they tried to get consumers to even care about emergencies.

It wasn’t easy, and it took years before the company finally hit its stride. But RapidSOS’s story is one of a mission, a community, a team and a dream that every emergency should have the best chance to be resolved as positively as possible.

Indiana: The callroads of America

Martin grew up outside the rural town of Rockport, Indiana, population about 2,500 today. His mother was the local doctor, and he and his brother habituated to the openness and ennui of rural farming life. “We grew up on 35 acres of land; we had an enormous garden and a little hobby orchard and stuff like that,” he said. “We had ‘Drive-Your-Tractor-To-School Day.’”

#911, #api, #apple, #braemar-energy-ventures, #ec-1, #emergency-response, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #federal-communications-commission, #finance, #google, #government, #harvard, #highland-capital, #indiana, #kickstarter, #michael-martin, #motorola-solutions, #nashville, #rapidsos, #rapidsos-ec-1, #startups, #tc, #telecommunications, #teller, #uber, #venture-capital

After a decade, Congress might finally bring 911 into the internet age

When it comes to user-interface design, 911 is about as good as it gets. It’s the “most recognized number in the United States,” Steve Souder, a prominent 911 leader, points out. Simple, fast, and it works from any telephone in the United States. No matter what the emergency is, the call takers on the other side will triage and dispatch assistance.

I’ve taken that ubiquity and simplicity for granted over the past three parts of this EC-1 on RapidSOS as we’ve looked at the startup’s origin story, business and products, as well as its partnerships and business development engine. The company is deeply enmeshed with 911, which means that the prospects of 911 as a system will heavily determine the trajectory of RapidSOS in the coming years, or at least, until its international expansion hits scale and it isn’t so dependent on the U.S. market.

Right now, a $15 billion funding bill to invest in NG911 has been proposed in Congress as part of the LIFT America infrastructure bill that is currently winding its way through the appropriations process and negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders.

Now, you might think, “911, how could they screw that up?” But this is America, and you’d be surprised.

Despite the daily heroic work of tens of thousands of 911 personnel who keep this brittle system afloat, the reality today is that America’s emergency call infrastructure is in a perilous state. After more than a decade of heavy advocacy, the transition to the “next generation” of 911 (dubbed NG911), which would replace a voice-centric model with an internet-based one designed around data streams, has been trundling along, with some early traction but little universality.

As a Congressional Research Service report described it just a few years ago, “funding has been a challenge, and progress has been relatively slow.” Three years later, the words are just as true as they were then.

Given that RapidSOS’ future ultimately relies on a competent government capable of providing core infrastructure, this fourth and final part of the EC-1 will look at the current state of 911 services and what their prospects are, and finally, how one should ultimately judge RapidSOS given all that we have seen.

The three-digit number that feels like it is three-digits old

911 was invented in the late 1960s to unify America around one emergency number. Early forays to create emergency lines had sprouted up across cities and states, but each used their own system and telephone number, creating massive complications for travelers and people living on jurisdictional boundaries. President Lyndon Johnson’s 1967 crime task force recommended creating a single number for emergency calls as a crime-prevention tool, and on February 16, 1968, the first 911 call was dialed in Haleyville, Alabama.

#911, #america, #amy-klobuchar, #anna-eshoo, #communication, #congress, #ec-consumer-applications, #ec-enterprise-applications, #ec-1, #extra-crunch-ec-1, #federal-communications-commission, #government, #gps, #home-security-systems, #michael-martin, #rapidsos, #rapidsos-ec-1, #senate, #startups, #tc, #telecommunications, #united-states

How Do I Stop Robocalls

An F.C.C. rule that went into effect last month is meant to help put a stop to those relentless calls about your extended warranty, and others.

#better-business-bureaus, #federal-communications-commission, #federal-trade-commission, #frauds-and-swindling, #identification-devices, #rosenworcel-jessica, #telemarketing

Biden’s sweeping executive order takes on big tech’s ‘bad mergers,’ ISPs and more

The Biden administration just introduced a sweeping, ambitious plan to forcibly inject competition into some consolidated sectors of the American economy — the tech sector prominent among them — through executive action.

“Today President Biden is taking decisive action to reduce the trend of corporate consolidation, increase competition, and deliver concrete benefits to America’s consumers, workers, farmers, and small businesses,” a new White House fact sheet on the forthcoming order states.

The order, which Biden will sign Friday, initiates a comprehensive “whole-of-government” approach that loops in more then twelve different agencies at the federal level to regulate monopolies, protect consumers and curtail bad behavior from some of the world’s biggest corporations.

In the fact sheet, the White House lays out its plans to take matters to regulate big business into its own hands at the federal level. As far as tech is concerned, that comes largely through emboldening the FTC and the Justice Department — two federal agencies with antitrust enforcement powers.

Most notably for big tech, which is already bracing for regulatory existential threats, the White House explicitly asserts here that those agencies have legal cover to “challenge prior bad mergers that past Administrations did not previously challenge” — i.e. unwinding acquisitions that built a handful of tech companies into the behemoths they are today. The order calls on antitrust agencies to enforce antitrust laws “vigorously.”

Federal scrutiny will prioritize “dominant internet platforms, with particular attention to the acquisition of nascent competitors, serial mergers, the accumulation of data, competition by ‘free’ products, and the effect on user privacy.” Facebook, Google and Amazon are particularly on notice here, though Apple isn’t likely to escape federal attention either.

“Over the past ten years, the largest tech platforms have acquired hundreds of companies—including alleged ‘killer acquisitions’ meant to shut down a potential competitive threat,” the White House wrote in the fact sheet. “Too often, federal agencies have not blocked, conditioned, or, in some cases, meaningfully examined these acquisitions.”

The biggest tech companies have regularly defended their longstanding strategy of buying up the competition by arguing that because those acquisitions went through without friction at the time, they shouldn’t be viewed as illegal in hindsight. In no uncertain terms, the new executive order makes it clear that the Biden administration isn’t having any of it.

The White House also specifically singles out internet service providers for scrutiny, ordering the FCC to prioritize consumer choice and institute broadband “nutrition labels” that clearly state speed caps and hidden feeds. The FCC began working on the labels in the Obama administration but the work was scrapped after Trump took office.

The order also directly calls on the FCC to restore net neutrality rules, which were stripped in 2017 to the widespread horror of open internet advocates and most of the tech industry outside of the service providers that stood to benefit.

The White House will also tell the FTC to create new privacy rules meant to guard consumers against surveillance and the “accumulation of extraordinarily amounts of sensitive personal information,” which free services like Facebook, YouTube and others have leveraged to build their vast empires. The White House also taps the FTC to create rules that protect smaller businesses from being pre-empted by large platforms, which in many cases abuse their market dominance with a different sort of data-based surveillance to out-compete up-and-coming competitors.

Finally, the executive order encourages the FTC to put right to repair rules in place that would free consumers from constraints that discourage DIY and third-party repairs. A new White House Competition Council under the Director of the National Economic Council will coordinate the federal execution of the proposals laid out in the new order.

The antitrust effort from the executive branch mirrors parallel actions in the FTC and Congress. In the FTC, Biden has installed a fearsome antitrust crusader in Lina Khan, a young legal scholar and fierce Amazon critic who proposes a philosophical overhaul to the way the federal government defines monopolies. Khan now leads the FTC as its chair.

In Congress, a bipartisan flurry of bills intended to rein in the tech industry are slowly wending their way toward becoming law, though plenty of hurdles remain. Last month, the House Judiciary Committee debated the six bills, which were crafted separately to help them survive opposing lobbying pushes from the tech industry. These legislative efforts could modernize antitrust laws, which have failed to keep pace with the modern realities of giant, internet-based businesses.

“Competition policy needs new energy and approaches so that we can address America’s monopoly problem,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a prominent tech antitrust hawk in Congress, said of the executive order. “That means legislation to update our antitrust laws, but it also means reimagining what the federal government can do to promote competition under our current laws.”

Citing the acceleration of corporate consolidation in recent decades, the White House argues that a handful of large corporations dominates across industries, including healthcare, agriculture and tech and consumers, workers and smaller competitors pay the price for their outsized success. The administration will focus antitrust enforcement on those corners of the market as well as evaluating the labor market and worker protections on the whole.

“Inadequate competition holds back economic growth and innovation… Economists find that as competition declines, productivity growth slows, business investment and innovation decline, and income, wealth, and racial inequality widen,” the White House wrote.

 

#amazon, #america, #biden, #biden-administration, #big-tech, #broadband, #competition-law, #congress, #department-of-justice, #executive, #facebook, #federal-communications-commission, #federal-government, #federal-trade-commission, #google, #government, #healthcare, #internet-service-providers, #lina-khan, #president, #tc, #white-house, #youtube

Biden to Urge More Scrutiny of Big Business

An executive order reflects the administration’s growing embrace of warnings by some economists that declining competition is hobbling the economy’s vitality.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #computers-and-the-internet, #drugs-pharmaceuticals, #federal-communications-commission, #federal-trade-commission, #khan-lina, #law-and-legislation, #net-neutrality, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #ships-and-shipping

Biden to Urge More Scrutiny of Tech Mergers and Data Privacy

The order is the president’s latest acknowledgment of concerns that the tech giants have obtained outsize market power.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #computers-and-the-internet, #federal-communications-commission, #federal-trade-commission, #khan-lina, #law-and-legislation, #net-neutrality, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry

A Rural-Urban Broadband Divide, but Not the One You Think Of

Many more people in cities lack broadband access than in rural areas, but lawmakers are primarily focused on extending high-speed access to remote areas.

#american-jobs-plan-2021, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #computers-and-the-internet, #federal-communications-commission, #fiber-optics, #local-government, #poverty, #prices-fares-fees-and-rates, #rural-areas, #rural-utilities-service, #telephones-and-telecommunications, #united-states, #united-states-politics-and-government, #urban-areas, #welfare-us

What if Space Junk and Climate Change Become the Same Problem?

Changes to the atmosphere caused by carbon dioxide emissions could increase the amount of debris that stays in orbit.

#carbon-dioxide, #federal-communications-commission, #global-warming, #pollution, #satellites, #space-and-astronomy, #space-debris, #space-exploration-technologies-corp

Amazon taps ULA as first launch provider for Project Kuiper satellite constellation

Amazon’s Project Kuiper satellite constellation is one step closer to actually making it to space: The company announced it has secured an agreement with the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to fly its satellites on nine Atlas V rocket launches. Amazon intends to use multiple launch providers and spacecraft to ultimately get the full complement of 3,236 Kuiper satellites into low Earth orbit (LEO), but ULA is the first launch provider that Amazon has signed or announced.

ULA’s Atlas V is a proven workhorse in the space launch industry, having flown 85 prior missions with a perfect track record. The spacecraft was used to launch NASA’s Perseverance rover, for example, as well as Lockheed Martin’s OSIRIS-REx robotic asteroid exploration craft. While Amazon and ULA detailed to total number of launch vehicles that the contract covers, they didn’t share a timeline about when we can expect the launches to take place.

Late last year, I spoke to Amazon SVP of Devices & Services Dave Limp at our TC Sessions: Space events, and I asked him about timelines for launches. Limp said at the time that Amazon was about at the “middle of [its] design phase” for the Project Kuiper satellites, which indicates there’s still work to be done before they enter mass production, which would obviously precede launch.

Limp also pointed out that the clock is ticking for Amazon in terms of its FCC license to operate the constellation, so it essentially has to “have half [its] constellation up in about six years.” That will mean an aggressive launch schedule once the design phase is complete and its actually in the process of building its satellites.

Amazon has invested a lot of capital and time into Project Kuiper, with a commitment to back it with an initial $10 billion investment, and a dedicated staff on the project that now includes 500 people, as well as a dedicated office and research & development facility in Redmond near its global HQ.

#aerospace, #amazon, #atlas, #federal-communications-commission, #lockheed-martin, #osiris-rex, #outer-space, #satellite-constellation, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #svp, #tc, #united, #united-launch-alliance

Reform the US low-income broadband program by rebuilding Lifeline

“If you build it, they will come” is a mantra that’s been repeated for more than three decades to embolden action. The line from “Field of Dreams” is a powerful saying, but I might add one word: “If you build it well, they will come.”

America’s Lifeline program, a monthly subsidy designed to help low-income families afford critical communications services, was created with the best intentions. The original goal was to achieve universal telephone service, but it has fallen far short of achieving its potential as the Federal Communications Commission has attempted to convert it to a broadband-centric program.

The FCC’s Universal Service Administrative Company estimates that only 26% of the families that are eligible for Lifeline currently participate in the program. That means that nearly three out of four low-income consumers are missing out on a benefit for which they qualify. But that doesn’t mean the program should be abandoned, as the Biden administration’s newly released infrastructure plan suggests.

Now is the right opportunity to complete the transformation of Lifeline to broadband and expand its utilization by increasing the benefit to a level commensurate with the broadband marketplace and making the benefit directly available to end users.

Rather, now is the right opportunity to complete the transformation of Lifeline to broadband and expand its utilization by increasing the benefit to a level commensurate with the broadband marketplace and making the benefit directly available to end users. Instead, the White House fact sheet on the plan recommends price controls for internet access services with a phaseout of subsidies for low-income subscribers. That is a flawed policy prescription.

If maintaining America’s global competitiveness, building broadband infrastructure in high-cost rural areas, and maintaining the nation’s rapid deployment of 5G wireless services are national goals, the government should not set prices for internet access.

Forcing artificially low prices in the quest for broadband affordability would leave internet service providers with insufficient revenues to continue to meet the nation’s communications infrastructure needs with robust innovation and investment.

Instead, targeted changes to the Lifeline program could dramatically increase its participation rate, helping to realize the goal of connecting Americans most in need with the phone and broadband services that in today’s world have become essential to employment, education, healthcare and access to government resources.

To start, Lifeline program participation should be made much easier. Today, individuals seeking the benefit must go through a process of self-enrollment. Implementing “coordinated enrollment” — through which individuals would automatically be enrolled in Lifeline when they qualify for certain other government assistance benefits, including SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) and Medicaid — would help to address the severe program underutilization.

Because multiple government programs serve the same constituency, a single qualification process for enrollment in all applicable programs would generate government efficiencies and reach Americans who are missing out.

Speaking before the American Enterprise Institute back in 2014, former FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said, “In most states, to enroll in federal benefit programs administered by state agencies, consumers already must gather their income-related documentation, and for some programs, go through a face-to-face interview. Allowing customers to enroll in Lifeline at the same time as they apply for other government benefits would provide a better experience for consumers and streamline our efforts.”

Second, the use of the Lifeline benefit can be made far simpler for consumers if the subsidy is provided directly to them via an electronic Lifeline benefit card account — like the SNAP program’s electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card. Not only would a Lifeline benefit card make participation in the program more convenient, but low-income

Americans would then be able to shop among the various providers and select the carrier and the precise service(s) that best suits their needs. The flexibility of greater consumer choice would be an encouragement for more program sign-ups.

And, the current Lifeline subsidy amount — $9.25 per month — isn’t enough to pay for a broadband subscription. For the subsidy to be truly meaningful, an increase in the monthly benefit is needed. Last December, Congress passed the temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit to provide low-income Americans up to a $50 per month discount ($75 per month on tribal lands) to offset the cost of broadband connectivity during the pandemic. After the emergency benefit runs out, a monthly benefit adequate to defray the cost of a broadband subscription will be needed.

In order to support more than a $9.25 monthly benefit, the funding source for the Lifeline program must also be reimagined. Currently, the program relies on the FCC’s Universal Service Fund, which is financed through a “tax” on traditional long-distance and international telephone services.

As greater use is made of the web for voice communications, coupled with less use of traditional telephones, the tax rate has increased to compensate for the shrinking revenues associated with landline phone services. A decade ago, the tax, known as the “contribution factor,” was 15.5%, but it’s now more than double that at an unsustainable 33.4%. Without changes, the problem will only worsen.

It’s easy to see that the financing of a broadband benefit should no longer be tied to a dying technology. Instead, funding for the Lifeline program could come from a “tax” shared across the entire internet ecosystem, including the edge providers that depend on broadband to reach their customers, or from direct congressional appropriations for the Lifeline program.

These reforms are realistic and straightforward. Rather than burn the program down, it’s time to rebuild Lifeline to ensure that it fulfills its original intention and reaches America’s neediest.

#biden-administration, #broadband, #column, #digital-divide, #federal-communications-commission, #government, #internet-access, #internet-service-providers, #opinion, #policy

SpaceX launches 60 more Starlink satellites, now at 300 launched in just over one month

SpaceX has launched another batch of Starlink satellites, keeping up its rapid pace of launches for the broadband constellation it’s deploying in low Earth orbit. This now makes 300 Starlink satellites launched since March 4, with 60 on each of five flights between then and now.

The most recent launch before this one happened on March 24, with prior flights on March 14, March 11 and March 4 , respectively. That pace is intentionally fast, since SpaceX has said it aims to launch a total of 1,500 Starlink satellites over the course of this calendar year. Before that especially busy month, SpaceX also flew four other Starlink missions, including a shared ride on SpaceX’s first dedicated rideshare mission that also carried satellites for other customers.

In total, SpaceX has now launched 1,443 satellites for its Starlink constellation. That doesn’t reflect the total number of satellites on orbit, however, as a handful of those earlier satellites have been deorbited as planned. In total, the eventual planned sizer fo the constellation is expected to include up to 42,000 spacecraft based on current FCC frequency spectrum filings.

SpaceX recently signed a new agreement with NASA that outlines how the two organizations will avoid close approach or collision events between their respective spacecraft. NASA has measures it requires all launchers to follow in order to avoid these kinds of incidents, but the scale and frequency of SpaceX’s Starlink missions necessitated an additional, more extensive agreement.

This launch also included a landing of the Falcon 9 booster used, its seventh so far. The booster touched down as intended on SpaceX’s floating landing pad in the Atlantic Ocean, and will be refurbished for another potential reuse. SpaceX is also going to be looking to recover its fairing halves at sea, which are the two cargo covering shields that encase the satellites during take-off. The company actually just decommissioned two ships it had used to try to catch these out of mid-air as they fell slowed by parachutes, but it’s still looking to retrieve them from the ocean after splashdown for re-use.

Image Credits: SpaceX

#aerospace, #broadband, #federal-communications-commission, #outer-space, #satellite, #space, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc

Supreme Court Lets F.C.C. Relax Limits on Media Ownership

The justices said the commission had adequately considered whether easing rules on cross-ownership of radio and TV stations and newspapers would hurt female and minority ownership of media outlets.

#cable-television, #federal-communications-commission, #kavanaugh-brett-m, #news-and-news-media, #news-media-alliance, #newspapers, #prometheus-radio-project, #radio, #supreme-court-us, #television, #thomas-clarence

That Spotty Wi-Fi? There’s $100 Billion to Fix It.

President Biden’s infrastructure proposal aims to close the digital divide, which has existed since the Clinton administration.

#biden-joseph-r-jr, #computers-and-the-internet, #e-learning, #education-k-12, #federal-communications-commission, #infrastructure-public-works, #rural-areas, #united-states-politics-and-government, #wireless-communications

Misinformation Isn’t Just on Facebook and Twitter

Broadcast television and talk radio are just as problematic as social media.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #computers-and-the-internet, #fairness-doctrine, #federal-communications-commission, #freedom-of-speech-and-expression, #law-and-legislation, #news-and-news-media, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #rumors-and-misinformation, #section-230, #social-media, #television, #united-states

F.C.C. Broadband Plan Includes $50 Monthly Subsidy for Millions

A proposal released by the acting chairwoman of the commission is an attempt to close the digital divide.

#computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #e-learning, #federal-aid-us, #federal-communications-commission, #income-inequality, #rosenworcel-jessica, #telephones-and-telecommunications

F.C.C. Approves a $50 Monthly High-Speed Internet Subsidy

The money, aimed at low-income households, is part of an effort to bridge the access gap to broadband connectivity amid the pandemic.

#computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #federal-aid-us, #federal-communications-commission, #rosenworcel-jessica, #rural-areas, #telephones-and-telecommunications

Arise, Robocall Resistance!

Whatever you do, don’t press anything.

#federal-communications-commission, #pallone-frank-jr, #republican-attorneys-general-assn, #telemarketing, #united-states-politics-and-government

Amazon’s Project Kuiper will seek multiple launch providers to carry its satellites to space

Amazon SVP of Devices & Services David Limp joined us at TC Sessions: Space today, and he shared some new details about the company’s Project Kuiper broadband satellite constellation. Limp shared more details on the technical design challenges that the Kuiper team solved with its revolutionary customer terminal, but he also shared more info on the company’s plans around launching its constellation, which will number 3,236 per the current plan approved by the FCC.

“We’re launch agnostic” Limp said. “If you know somebody who has a rocket out there, give us a call. “One of the reasons we thought the time was right to do a constellation now is because of some of the dynamics happening in the launch industry. Every day, we see a new demonstration of reusability every day, we see new demonstration of breakthroughs in better engines, whether that’s Raptor [SpaceX’s engine] or BE-4 [Blue Origin’s].”

Part of the FCC’s approval for Amazon’s constellation requires it to send up around half of its planned total constellation within the next six years, which is a significant volume and will require an aggressive launch pace to achieve. SpaceX’s Starlink, for context, has launched 16 batches of 60 satellites each for its network, with 14 of those happening in 2020 alone. In order to achieve that pace, Limp said that while he hopes Blue Origin (the Jeff Bezos-owned private rocket launch company) can provide some of its launch capacity, they will be looking elsewhere for rides to space as well.

“When you have to put 3,200-plus things into space, you will need will need launch a lot lots of launch capacity,” he said. “Our hope is that it’s not just one provider, that there will be multiple providers.”

Depending on the final Project Kuiper satellite spec, this could be a huge opportunity for new small satellite launchers coming on board, including companies like Astra, Kuiper and Virgin Orbit who spoke earlier today at the event on the progress their launch companies are making. It could also be a windfall for existing providers like Rocket Lab – and even potentially SpaceX. In response to a separate question, Limp noted that he doesn’t believe Project Kuiper is in direct competition with SpaceX’s Starlink, since there’s such a broad addressable market when it comes to connectivity for unserved and underserved customers globally.

#aerospace, #amazon, #blue-origin, #broadband, #david-limp, #federal-communications-commission, #internet-service-providers, #jeff-bezos, #outer-space, #rocket-lab, #satellite, #satellite-constellation, #space, #space-tourism, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #svp, #tc, #virgin-orbit

Amazon’s Project Kuiper has developed a small, low-cost customer terminal for its broadband satellite network

Amazon’s Project Kuiper is perhaps one of the company’s most ambitious projects yet: Building a globe-spanning broadband wireless network to deliver affordable connectivity to underserved communities. Project Kuiper has made progress this year with a key FCC approval, and now it’s also created a prototype of a key piece of hardware that will help its future customers take advantage of the satellite network on the ground.

This is actually a big part of what will help make Project Kuiper a service that’s broadly accessible, and a development that puts the Amazon project in an industry-leading position with a unique advantage. The prototype developed by the team communicates on the Ka-band of the wireless spectrum, and is the smallest and lightest piece of hardware that can do that. It’s able to achieve speeds of up to 400 Mbps, and Amazon says that it’ll actually get better through future iterations.

For technical details on how this was accomplished and what it means for the final design, Amazon explains from a blog post describing the design process:

Our phased array antenna takes a different approach. Instead of placing antenna arrays adjacent to one another, we used tiny antenna element structures to overlay one over the other. This has never been accomplished in the Ka-band. The breakthrough allows us to reduce the size and weight of the entire terminal, while operating in a frequency that delivers higher bandwidth and better performance than other bands. Our design uses a combination of digital and analog components to electronically steer Ka-band beams toward satellites passing overhead.

The result is a single aperture phased array antenna that measures 12 inches in diameter, making it three times smaller and proportionately lighter than legacy antenna designs. This order of magnitude reduction in size will reduce production costs by an equal measure, allowing Amazon to offer customers a terminal that is more affordable and easier to install.

Image Credits: Amazon

The bottom line is that Amazon’s design for Kuiper can greatly reduce the cost and complexity of building the ground-based infrastructure that will be required in order to provide access to its network to end-users. It’s also low-latency, and Amazon has found that it can provide 4K streaming capabilities even during its testing with geostationary satellites today – which are as much as 50 times further out from where Project Kuiper satellites will eventually be positioned in low-Earth orbit.

Amazon isn’t yet sharing specific pricing information about what the terminal will eventually cost, beyond touting its affordability relative to existing solutions. I’ll be talking to Amazon SVP of Devices and Services Dave Limp at TC Sessions: Space today, and we’ll discuss the antenna along with everything else about the project.

#aerospace, #amazon, #antenna, #broadband, #electronics, #federal-communications-commission, #hardware, #project-kuiper, #science, #space, #svp, #tc, #telecommunications, #wireless-spectrum

The FCC rejects ZTE’s petition to stop designating it a “national security threat”

The Federal Communications Commission has rejected ZTE’s petition to remove its designation as a “national security threat.” This means that American companies will continue to be barred from using the FCC’s $8.3 billion Universal Service Fund to buy equipment and services from ZTE .

The Universal Service Fund includes subsidies to build telecommunication infrastructure across the United States, especially for low-income or high-cost areas, rural telehealth services, and schools and libraries. The FCC issued an order on June 30 banning U.S. companies from using the fund to buy technology from Huawei and ZTE, claiming that both companies have close ties with the Chinese Communist Party and military.

Many smaller carriers rely on Huawei and ZTE, two of the world’s biggest telecom equipment providers, for cost-efficient technology. After surveying carriers, the FCC estimated in September that replacing Huawei and ZTE equipment would cost more than $1.8 billion.

Under the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, passed by Congress this year, most of that amount would be eligible for reimbursements under a program referred to as “rip and replace.” But the program has not been funded by Congress yet, despite bipartisan support.

In today’s announcement about ZTE, chairman Ajit Pai also said the FCC will vote on rules to implement the reimbursement program at its next Open Meeting, scheduled to take place on December 10.

The FCC passed its order barring companies deemed national security threats from receiving money from the Universal Service Fund in November 2019. Huawei fought back by suing the FCC over the ban, claiming it exceeded the agency’s authority and violated the Constitution.

TechCrunch has contacted ZTE for comment.

#asia, #china, #fcc, #federal-communications-commission, #huawei, #tc, #u-s-government, #zte

Biden Is Expected to Keep Scrutiny of Tech Front and Center

Issues like antitrust and privacy would remain on the agenda as his administration pursued policies to limit the power of the industry’s giants.

#antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #computers-and-the-internet, #democratic-party, #federal-communications-commission, #federal-trade-commission, #law-and-legislation, #presidential-election-of-2020, #privacy, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-politics-and-government

How to Take On the Tech Barons

Something has to be done about the technology sector. Here’s what to keep in mind.

#amazon-com-inc, #antitrust-laws-and-competition-issues, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #computers-and-the-internet, #data-mining-and-database-marketing, #federal-communications-commission, #freedom-of-speech-and-expression, #google-inc, #hawley-josh-d-1979, #huawei-technologies-co-ltd, #microsoft-corp, #politics-and-government, #social-media, #trump-donald-j

Trump Allies Amp Up Fight Over Tech’s Legal Shield Before Election

Their animosity is likely to be on full display at a hearing on Wednesday with the leaders of Facebook, Google and Twitter.

#biden-hunter, #biden-joseph-r-jr, #censorship, #commerce-department, #dorsey-jack, #executive-orders-and-memorandums, #federal-communications-commission, #federal-trade-commission, #freedom-of-speech-and-expression, #law-and-legislation, #pichai-sundar, #social-media, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-politics-and-government, #zuckerberg-mark-e

Talk Radio Is Turning Millions of Americans Into Conservatives

The medium is at the heart of Trumpism.

#conservatism-us-politics, #federal-communications-commission, #limbaugh-rush, #radio, #savage-michael, #trump-donald-j, #united-states

US cell carrier Assist Wireless exposed thousands of customer IDs

U.S. cell carrier Assist Wireless left tens of thousands of personal customer documents on its website by mistake.

Assist provides free government-subsidized cell phones to low-income households across Oklahoma through the Lifeline program, set up by the Federal Communications Commission in 1985. Lifeline helps households on federal assistance programs, like food stamps or public housing, get access to cheap cell phone plans.

But part of the carrier’s website was leaking customer documents — including driver’s licenses, passports and Social Security cards — which customers submit to verify their eligibility to sign up for a free phone and a plan.

The documents are dated between 2019 and 2020.

Security researcher John Wethington found the exposed documents through a simple Google search result, and asked TechCrunch to alert the carrier to the leak. Assist removed the exposed documents from its website a short time later.

Assist told TechCrunch that it traced the issue to a third-party plugin, Imagify, which the carrier uses to optimize images on its website. Assist said that the plugin by default puts a backup of uploaded images in a separate folder, but that the backup location in Assist’s case was not secure.

“We have resolved the issue by turning the backup off and removed the folder from public view,” said Assist.

The carrier told TechCrunch it also submitted an “urgent request” to Google to remove the documents from its cached image search results. (TechCrunch held this story until the images were scrubbed.)

Assist said it is investigating if anyone else found the exposed data before the issue was fixed.

“Assist Wireless takes security and consumer data very seriously. We are hiring a third-party security firm to provide us with a thorough security audit and subsequent consultation on ensuring customer data is as safe as possible moving forward,” the carrier said.

The carrier also said it would notify customers if their data was exposed in the security lapse.

#computer-security, #cryptography, #data-security, #driver, #federal-communications-commission, #food-stamps, #oklahoma, #security, #sim-card

Amazon Satellites Add to Astronomers’ Worries About the Night Sky

The F.C.C. approved the company’s 3,236-satellite constellation, which aims to provide high-speed internet service around the world.

#amazon-com-inc, #computers-and-the-internet, #corporate-social-responsibility, #federal-communications-commission, #pollution, #private-spaceflight, #research, #satellites, #space-and-astronomy, #telescopes-and-observatories

With Covid-19, Broadband Internet Access Is a Civil Rights Issue

In a pandemic-plagued country, high-speed internet connections are a civil rights issue.

#buses, #clyburn-james-e, #computers-and-the-internet, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #education-k-12, #federal-communications-commission, #law-and-legislation, #quarantines, #rural-areas, #upton-fred, #wireless-communications

Decrypted: Police hack criminal phone network; Randori raises $20M Series A

Last week was, for most Americans, a four-day work week. But a lot still happened in the security world.

The U.S. government’s cybersecurity agencies warned of two critical vulnerabilities — one in Palo Alto’s networking tech and the other in F5’s gear — that foreign, nation state-backed hackers will “likely” exploit these flaws to get access to networks, steal data or spread malware. Plus, the FCC formally declared Chinese tech giants Huawei and ZTE as threats to national security.

Here’s more from the week.


THE BIG PICTURE

How police hacked a massive criminal phone network

Last week’s takedown of EncroChat was, according to police, the “biggest and most significant” law enforcement operation against organized criminals in the history of the U.K. EncroChat sold encrypted phones with custom software akin to how BlackBerry phones used to work; you needed one to talk to other device owners.

But the phone network was used almost exclusively by criminals, allowing their illicit activities to be kept secret and go unimpeded: drug deals, violent attacks, corruption — even murders.

That is, until French police hacked into the network, broke the encryption and uncovered millions of messages, according to Vice, which covered the takedown of the network. The circumstances of the case are unique; police have not taken down a network like this before.

But technical details of the case remain under wraps, likely until criminal trials begin, at which point attorneys for the alleged criminals are likely to rest much of their defense on the means — and legality — in which the hack was carried out.

#advisors, #ceo, #chief-information-security-officer, #china, #computing, #cryptography, #data-breach, #data-protection, #decrypted, #encryption, #extra-crunch, #federal-communications-commission, #huawei, #hunt, #information-technology, #internet-security, #market-analysis, #palo-alto, #security, #series-a, #social, #startups, #u-s-government, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #video-conferencing

F.C.C. Designates Huawei and ZTE as National Security Threats

American cellular businesses will no longer be able to spend federal money on equipment from the two Chinese companies.

#5g-wireless-communications, #computers-and-the-internet, #defense-and-military-forces, #federal-communications-commission, #huawei-technologies-co-ltd, #pai-ajit, #politics-and-government, #telephones-and-telecommunications, #zte-corp

FCC declares Huawei, ZTE ‘national security threats’

The Federal Communication Commission has declared Chinese telecom giants Huawei and ZTE “national security threats,” a move that will formally ban U.S. telecom companies from using federal funds to buy and install Huawei and ZTE equipment.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai said that the “weight of evidence” supported the decision. Federal agencies and lawmakers have long claimed that because the tech giants are subject to Chinese law, they could be obligated to “cooperate with the country’s intelligence services,” Pai said, claims that Huawei and ZTE have repeatedly rejected.

“We cannot and will not allow the Chinese Communist Party to exploit network vulnerabilities and compromise our critical communications infrastructure,” the Republican-majority FCC said in a separate statement.

The order, published by the FCC on Tuesday, said the designation takes immediate effect, but it’s not immediately clear how the designation changes the status quo.

In November of last year, the FCC announced that companies deemed a national security threat would be ineligible to receive any money from the Universal Service Fund. The $8.5B fund is the FCC’s main way of purchasing and subsidizing equipment and services to improve connectivity across the country.

Huawei and ZTE were “initially designated” as security threats at the time, but the formal process of assigning them that status has taken place in the intervening months, resulting in today’s declaration.

We’ve asked the FCC for comment but did not immediately hear back. In a public statement, FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks, a Democrat, explained that labeling the companies threats is a start, but that there is a great deal of Huawei and ZTE equipment already in use that needs to be identified and replaced.

“The Commission has taken important steps toward identifying the problematic equipment in our systems, but there is much more to do,” he wrote. “Funding is the missing piece. Congress recognized in the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act that many carriers will need support to transition away from untrustworthy equipment, but it still has not appropriated funding for replacements.”

The declaration is the latest move by the FCC to crack down on Chinese technology providers seen. But it puts telecom companies working to expand their 5G coverage in a bind. Huawei and ZTE are seen as leading the way in 5G, far ahead of their American rivals.

Spokespeople for Huawei and ZTE did not immediately comment.

#federal-communications-commission, #huawei, #national-security, #security, #telecoms, #zte

SpaceX will have to demonstrate Starlink internet’s low latency within the next month to qualify for up to $16B in federal funding

SpaceX is in the process of building out its Starlink network of low Earth orbit small satellites that will provide the backbone of a global, high-bandwidth, low-latency internet service – but there’s a clock running out in terms of at least one potential source of funding for it to recoup revenue from those efforts: The FCC requires that anyone participating in its $16 billion federal funding auction for rural broadband access demonstrate latency under a 100-million threshold, but anyone who hopes to quality must meet that threshold within the next month.

The FCC has issued a report (via Engadget) on the Phase 1 auction for this lucrative funding, serving as advance notice ahead of its actual auction date of October 29, 2020 – but companies have to submit their applications to compete for said auction by July 15. In the report. the FCC acknowledges that any satellite provider operating at LEO has a potential advantage over providers who are using much higher altitude, geostationary satellites instead, but also qualifies that by noting that in order to pass the stated threshold they must also pass it taking into account delays introduced by relay stations, hubs and destination terminals.

SpaceX, for its part, believes that the FCC needn’t doubt its network’s abilities, and says that in fact it’s aiming for latency times under the 20 millisecond mark, which is better in some cases than traditional terrestrial cable-backed bandwidth networks.

In terms of deployment, SpaceX has been moving fast with Starlink, especially in 2020. Thus far, it has launched seven missions this year for the constellation, sending up a total of 418 satellites – which is actually more than any other private satellite operator even has currently working. The sprint is about building the network to the point where it can begin to serve customers in the U.S. and Canada by sometime later this year, and then expand to more customers globally later on.

SpaceX seems to be on track to make that happen, but the requirements for this more lucrative tranche of government funding might be too soon relative to those goals. Still, there are other federal contracts related to this initiative that it would be eligible for later on.

#aerospace, #canada, #federal-communications-commission, #satellite, #satellites, #spacecraft, #spaceflight, #spacex, #starlink, #tc, #transportation, #united-states

Senate Faults Oversight of Chinese Telecom Companies in U.S.

A multiagency group does a “minimal” job of assessing security risks posed by China Unicom, China Telecom and ComNet, investigators said.

#china-mobile-ltd, #china-telecom, #china-unicom-hong-kong-ltd, #federal-communications-commission, #homeland-security-department, #senate-permanent-subcommittee-on-investigations, #telephones-and-telecommunications, #united-states-international-relations

Trump’s Order Targeting Social Media Sites, Explained

The president wants to narrow legal protections for companies like Twitter after it began appending fact-check labels to his postings.

#computers-and-the-internet, #executive-orders-and-memorandums, #facebook-inc, #federal-communications-commission, #immunity-from-prosecution, #law-and-legislation, #libel-and-slander, #regulation-and-deregulation-of-industry, #social-media, #trump-donald-j, #twitter, #united-states-politics-and-government, #youtube-com

Trump Signs Executive Order on Social Media, Claiming to Protect ‘Free Speech’

The president and his allies have often accused Twitter and Facebook of bias against conservatives, and had resisted taking action until this week, when Twitter fact-checked his own false statements.

#computers-and-the-internet, #executive-orders-and-memorandums, #federal-communications-commission, #social-media, #trump-donald-j, #twitter, #united-states-chamber-of-commerce, #united-states-politics-and-government

The real threat of fake voices in a time of crisis

As federal agencies take increasingly stringent actions to try to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus pandemic within the U.S., how can individual Americans and U.S. companies affected by these rules weigh in with their opinions and experiences? Because many of the new rules, such as travel restrictions and increased surveillance, require expansions of federal power beyond normal circumstances, our laws require the federal government to post these rules publicly and allow the public to contribute their comments to the proposed rules online. But are federal public comment websites — a vital institution for American democracy — secure in this time of crisis? Or are they vulnerable to bot attack?

In December 2019, we published a new study to see firsthand just how vulnerable the public comment process is to an automated attack. Using publicly available artificial intelligence (AI) methods, we successfully generated 1,001 comments of deepfake text, computer-generated text that closely mimics human speech, and submitted them to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) website for a proposed federal rule that would institute mandatory work reporting requirements for citizens on Medicaid in Idaho.

The comments we produced using deepfake text constituted over 55% of the 1,810 total comments submitted during the federal public comment period. In a follow-up study, we asked people to identify whether comments were from a bot or a human. Respondents were only correct half of the time — the same probability as random guessing.

deepfake text question

Image Credits: Zang/Weiss/Sweeney

The example above is deepfake text generated by the bot that all survey respondents thought was from a human.

We ultimately informed CMS of our deepfake comments and withdrew them from the public record. But a malicious attacker would likely not do the same.

Previous large-scale fake comment attacks on federal websites have occurred, such as the 2017 attack on the FCC website regarding the proposed rule to end net neutrality regulations.

During the net neutrality comment period, firms hired by industry group Broadband for America used bots to create comments expressing support for the repeal of net neutrality. They then submitted millions of comments, sometimes even using the stolen identities of deceased voters and the names of fictional characters, to distort the appearance of public opinion.

A retroactive text analysis of the comments found that 96-97% of the more than 22 million comments on the FCC’s proposal to repeal net neutrality were likely coordinated bot campaigns. These campaigns used relatively unsophisticated and conspicuous search-and-replace methods — easily detectable even on this mass scale. But even after investigations revealed the comments were fraudulent and made using simple search-and-replace-like computer techniques, the FCC still accepted them as part of the public comment process.

Even these relatively unsophisticated campaigns were able to affect a federal policy outcome. However, our demonstration of the threat from bots submitting deepfake text shows that future attacks can be far more sophisticated and much harder to detect.

The laws and politics of public comments

Let’s be clear: The ability to communicate our needs and have them considered is the cornerstone of the democratic model. As enshrined in the Constitution and defended fiercely by civil liberties organizations, each American is guaranteed a role in participating in government through voting, through self-expression and through dissent.

search and replace FCC questions

Image Credits: Zang/Weiss/Sweeney

When it comes to new rules from federal agencies that can have sweeping impacts across America, public comment periods are the legally required method to allow members of the public, advocacy groups and corporations that would be most affected by proposed rules to express their concerns to the agency and require the agency to consider these comments before they decide on the final version of the rule. This requirement for public comments has been in place since the passage of the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946. In 2002, the e-Government Act required the federal government to create an online tool to receive public comments. Over the years, there have been multiple court rulings requiring the federal agency to demonstrate that they actually examined the submitted comments and publish any analysis of relevant materials and justification of decisions made in light of public comments [see Citizens to Preserve Overton Park, Inc. v. Volpe, 401 U. S. 402, 416 (1971); Home Box Office, supra, 567 F.2d at 36 (1977), Thompson v. Clark, 741 F. 2d 401, 408 (CADC 1984)].

In fact, we only had a public comment website from CMS to test for vulnerability to deepfake text submissions in our study, because in June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 7-1 decision that CMS could not skip the public comment requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act in reviewing proposals from state governments to add work reporting requirements to Medicaid eligibility rules within their state.

The impact of public comments on the final rule by a federal agency can be substantial based on political science research. For example, in 2018, Harvard University researchers found that banks that commented on Dodd-Frank-related rules by the Federal Reserve obtained $7 billion in excess returns compared to non-participants. When they examined the submitted comments to the “Volcker Rule” and the debit card interchange rule, they found significant influence from submitted comments by different banks during the “sausage-making process” from the initial proposed rule to the final rule.

Beyond commenting directly using their official corporate names, we’ve also seen how an industry group, Broadband for America, in 2017 would submit millions of fake comments in support of the FCC’s rule to end net neutrality in order to create the false perception of broad political support for the FCC’s rule amongst the American public.

Technology solutions to deepfake text on public comments

While our study highlights the threat of deepfake text to disrupt public comment websites, this doesn’t mean we should end this long-standing institution of American democracy, but rather we need to identify how technology can be used for innovative solutions that accepts public comments from real humans while rejecting deepfake text from bots.

There are two stages in the public comment process — (1) comment submission and (2) comment acceptance — where technology can be used as potential solutions.

In the first stage of comment submission, technology can be used to prevent bots from submitting deepfake comments in the first place; thus raising the cost for an attacker to need to recruit large numbers of humans instead. One technological solution that many are already familiar with are the CAPTCHA boxes that we see at the bottom of internet forms that ask us to identify a word — either visually or audibly — before being able to click submit. CAPTCHAs provide an extra step that makes the submission process increasingly difficult for a bot. While these tools can be improved for accessibility for disabled individuals, they would be a step in the right direction.

However, CAPTCHAs would not prevent an attacker willing to pay for low-cost labor abroad to solve any CAPTCHA tests in order to submit deepfake comments. One way to get around that may be to require strict identification to be provided along with every submission, but that would remove the possibility for anonymous comments that are currently accepted by agencies such as CMS and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Anonymous comments serve as a method of privacy protection for individuals who may be significantly affected by a proposed rule on a sensitive topic such as healthcare without needing to disclose their identity. Thus, the technological challenge would be to build a system that can separate the user authentication step from the comment submission step so only authenticated individuals can submit a comment anonymously.

Finally, in the second stage of comment acceptance, better technology can be used to distinguish between deepfake text and human submissions. While our study found that our sample of over 100 people surveyed were not able to identify the deepfake text examples, more sophisticated spam detection algorithms in the future may be more successful. As machine learning methods advance over time, we may see an arms race between deepfake text generation and deepfake text identification algorithms.

The challenge today

While future technologies may offer more comprehensive solutions, the threat of deepfake text to our American democracy is real and present today. Thus, we recommend that all federal public comment websites adopt state-of-the-art CAPTCHAs as an interim measure of security, a position that is also supported by the 2019 U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Investigations’ Report on Abuses of the Federal Notice-and-Comment Rulemaking Process.

In order to develop more robust future technological solutions, we will need to build a collaborative effort between the government, researchers and our innovators in the private sector. That’s why we at Harvard University have joined the Public Interest Technology University Network along with 20 other education institutions, New America, the Ford Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation. Collectively, we are dedicated to helping inspire a new generation of civic-minded technologists and policy leaders. Through curriculum, research and experiential learning programs, we hope to build the field of public interest technology and a future where technology is made and regulated with the public in mind from the beginning.

While COVID-19 has disrupted many parts of American society, it hasn’t stopped federal agencies under the Trump administration from continuing to propose new deregulatory rules that can have long-lasting legacies that will be felt long after the current pandemic has ended. For example, on March 18, 2020, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new rules about limiting which research studies can be used to support EPA regulations, which have received over 610,000 comments as of April 6, 2020. On April 2, 2020, the Department of Education proposed new rules for permanently relaxing regulations for online education and distance learning. On February 19, 2020, the FCC re-opened public comments on its net neutrality rules, which in 2017 saw 22 million comments submitted by bots, after a federal court ruled that the FCC ignored how ending net neutrality would affect public safety and cellphone access programs for low-income Americans.

Federal public comment websites offer the only way for the American public and organizations to express their concerns to the federal agency before the final rules are determined. We must adopt better technological defenses to ensure that deepfake text doesn’t further threaten American democracy during a time of crisis.

#ajit-pai, #artificial-intelligence, #column, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #deepfakes, #federal-communications-commission, #harvard-university, #machine-learning, #net-neutrality, #opinion, #policy, #security, #social, #tc

Intelsat files for bankruptcy protection

Global satellite operator Intelsat has voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, the company announced late on Wednesday. Intelsat has attempted to position this as a positive moment that sees it embark on a “financial restructuring” project to enable its future growth, but a bankruptcy filing is seldom cause for celebration.

The company cites a need to participate in the FCC’s C-band spectrum clearing for 5G network built out in the U.S. as one of the factors behind its decisions to file, as well as “managing the economic slowdown impacting server of its markets caused by the COVID-19 global health crisis.”

Intelsat notes that its current plan involves no changes to the day-to-day operation of the company, or any reduction in headcount. The company also said that it has secured $1 billion in committed new financing, which will come in the form of debtor-in-position funds, subject to court approval. That just describes any company that plans to continue to operate its business while also undergoing Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

The company also says it’ll be continuing to launch new satellites, building out its ground network, and adding new services as it continues the process, and that its goal is to to get through the restructuring process “as quickly as possible.” The satellite operator cites GM and American Airlines as models that show is goal with the filing, having also undertaken a similar restructuring in the past and emerged with greater fiscal viability.

Intelsat’s bankruptcy filing isn’t the first noteworthy space co. filing resulting from the global pandemic: Would-be global satellite internet provider OneWeb filed for Chapter 11 protection in March.

#5g-network, #aerospace, #american-airlines, #bankruptcy, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #federal-communications-commission, #finance, #gm, #intelsat, #oneweb, #private-equity, #satellite, #space, #tc, #united-states

FCC orders Sinclair to pay $48 million fine related to its failed merger with Tribune

Sinclair Broadcast Group has agreed to pay a $48 million fine to the Federal Communications Communication to close investigations related to its attempted merger with Tribune Media. The FCC said in its announcement that this is the largest civil penalty paid by a broadcaster in the agency’s history. It added that Sinclair will also have to “abide by a strict compliance plan in order to close three open investigations.”

The merger, which was valued at $3.9 billion and would have created one of the largest broadcasters in the United States, was called off by Tribune in August 2018. Tribune also filed a lawsuit accusing Sinclair of breaching contract and misleading regulators “in a misguided and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to retain control over stations that it was obligated to sell.”

In today’s announcement, the FCC said its agreement with Sinclair was related to investigations into the company’s disclosure of information related to the acquisition of Tribune-owned stations, its failure to identify sponsored content it produced for broadcast, and “whether the company has met its obligations to negotiate retransmission consent agreements in good faith.”

In today’s FCC statement, chairman Ajit Pai, who was critical of the deal before it was scrapped, said “Sinclair’s conduct during its attempt to merge with Tribune was completely unacceptable. Today’s penalty, along with the failure of the Sinclair/Tribune transaction, should serve as a cautionary tale to other licensees seeking Commission approval of a transaction in the future.”

He also added that the FCC would not revoke licenses granted to the conservative-leaning broadcaster. “On the other hand, I disagree with those who, for transparently political reasons, demand we revoke Sinclair’s licenses,” Pai said. “While they don’t like what they perceive to be the broadcaster’s viewpoints, the First Amendment still applies around here.”

In a statement, Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO Chris Ripley said that the company is “pleased with the resolution announced today by the FCC and to be moving forward. We thank the FCC staff for their diligence in reaching this resolution. Sinclair is committed to continue to interact constructively with all of its regulators to ensure full compliance with applicable laws, rules and regulations.”

#federal-communications-commission, #media, #sinclair-broadcast-group, #tc, #tribune-media, #tv

Sinclair Wanted to Rival Fox News. Now It Faces a $48 Million Fine.

The F.C.C. levied the largest civil penalty in its history against a conservative owner of local TV stations, scuttling its ambitious merger plans.

#federal-communications-commission, #fines-penalties, #mergers-acquisitions-and-divestitures, #pai-ajit, #sinclair-broadcast-group-inc

Some Trump Officials Take Harder Actions on China During Pandemic

Since the coronavirus spread from a metropolis on the Yangtze River across the globe, hard-liners in both Washington and Beijing have accelerated efforts to decouple elements of the relationship.

#5g-wireless-communications, #china-telecom, #coronavirus-2019-ncov, #federal-communications-commission, #huawei-technologies-co-ltd, #international-trade-and-world-market, #justice-department, #kudlow-lawrence-a, #kushner-jared, #mnuchin-steven-t, #navarro-peter, #pensions-and-retirement-plans, #pillsbury-michael-1945, #pompeo-mike, #pottinger-matthew, #state-department, #trump-donald-j, #united-states-international-relations, #xi-jinping