More Digital Inclusion For Diverse Communities?

The “Access Broadband Act” aims to expand broadband internet accessibility by establishing the “Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth”.

The office would  “connect with communities that need access to high-speed internet and improved digital inclusion efforts through various forms of outreach,” as well as share training, strategies and other guidance to propagate the adaptation of and access to broadband internet. It would function as part of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, whose duties include “advising the President on telecommunications and information policy issues,” “administering grant programs that further the deployment and use of broadband and other technologies in America,” and “developing policy on issues related to the Internet economy, including online privacy, copyright protection, cybersecurity, and the global free flow of information online.”

Another function of the office would be to more easily streamline the financial assistance application process for entities and organizations proposing projects that would promote and make broadband internet more accessible to a variety of communities. This would be accomplished by establishing a universal application for all entities to use. The Bill also states that a website would be established for applicants to “learn about and apply for support through any Federal broadband support program.”

Fully titled the “Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand Act,” one could question if it would cater more to businesses or work toward providing equal access among all demographics to the internet.

The NITA provides millions of dollars in grants to a wide variety of projects across the country, ranging from state and data development to infrastructure and sustainable adaptation. Many projects allegedly benefiting Texas communities have received funding from the NITA designed to make internet accessible to otherwise shorthanded communities.

The Mission Economic Development Agency was awarded $3,724,128 for the Latino Microprise Tech Net, which opened several computer centers around the country, two of which were located in Texas. According to the NITA website, the centers offered resources for developing and teaching digital literacy, financial education, online banking, resume creation, and job searches.

Technology For All, Inc. was awarded $9,588,279 for its Texas Connects Coalition project. The project currently supports 94 computer centers across Texas. These centers assist low-income communities with the opportunity for basic computer training, social networking, and applying for jobs.

Given the NITA’s record of providing financial support to projects that aim to increase digital inclusion among diverse communities, this bill may be a true benefit to the financially disadvantaged.

The Bill has been received by the Senate and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Private Sector Exchange and Election Interference Reports

The Matthew Young Pollard Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Years 2018 and 2019 may be the first step in establishing a “voluntary exchange program” between the intelligence community and tech entities in the private sector.

Section 1506 of House Resolution 6237, titled “Report on cyber exchange program,” proposes that the Director of National Intelligence discuss the establishment of an exchange program that would “detail” an intelligence community employee with cybersecurity experience to volunteer at technology companies. The report also details the benefits and challenges that would follow the establishment of this exchange.

Implications and suggestions of this section could coincide with and supplement propositions in H.R 5094, which discusses strengthening national defense against terrorist threats by sharing related information with and training the private sector to respond to suspicions of terrorist activity.

Section 1502 of the Intelligence Authorization Act proposed that the director of National Security provide an “assessment of significant Russian influence campaigns directed at foreign elections and referenda.” The assessment would address the following,

(1) a summary of such significant Russian influence campaigns, including, at a minimum, the specific means by which such campaigns were conducted, are being conducted, or likely will be conducted, as appropriate, and the specific goal of each such campaign;

(2) a summary of any defenses against or responses to such Russian influence campaigns by the foreign state holding the elections or referenda;

(3) a summary of any relevant activities by elements of the intelligence community undertaken for the purpose of assisting the government of such foreign state in defending against or responding to such Russian influence campaigns; and

(4) an assessment of the effectiveness of such defenses and responses described in paragraphs (2) and (3)

The House Resolution passed in the House of Representatives on July 12, 2018 and is awaiting review by the Senate.

Local Presentation on Net Neutrality

EFF-Austin President, Kevin Welch, will be discussing the importance of Net Neutrality on June, 28th, 2018.

Though a hot topic, it may help to freshen up on the who, what, when, where and why of the subject.

Who/When/Where

The idea of Net Neutrality was developed by American lawyer Tim Wu, in his 2003 paper, Net Neutrality. Since then, the FCC as adopted its principles and used them as guidance for regulating Internet Service Providers.

In 2017, FCC chairman Ajit Pai argued that Title II, another piece of legislation in the evolutionary line of Net Neutrality,  had hampered infrastructure investment. “Among our nation’s 12 largest Internet service providers, domestic broadband capital expenditures decreased by 5.6% percent, or $3.6 billion, between 2014 and 2016, the first two years of the Title II era,” he stated. “This decline is extremely unusual. It is the first time that such investment has declined outside of a recession in the Internet era.”

Pai and his cohorts proceeded to begin repealing Net Neutrality Laws that same year, thus bringing us to the ongoing battle to keep it alive.

Why

Essentially, the goal of Net Neutrality is to ensure that the internet remains a fertile grounds for innovation and growth.

Wu explains that in the habit of ignoring long-term growth ISPs have “shown a tendency” to ban new and emerging applications/network attachments, out of “suspicion or an interest in price discrimination.”

He stresses that ISP operators and prospect holders have a cognitive bias that makes it unlikely for them to come to the ‘right decisions,’ in terms of the development for the optimal path of innovation, that could minimize the excesses of innovative competition.

What

Net Neutrality is an attempt at striking a balance, as Wu states in the original paper: “To forbid broadband operators, absent of a showing of harm, from restricting what users do with their internet connection, while giving the operator general freedom to manage bandwidth consumption and other matters of local concern.”

Plain and simple, this translates to making sure that users and customers are able to continue using their service without ‘discrimination’ against their apps, programs etc, while ISPs are able to still police only their own local network.

Wu explains that ISPs have every right to police their local networks, but most importantly, that there shouldn’t be ‘restrictions’ across the ‘inter-network’.

Because of Net Neutrality regulations, we are able to freely and efficiently use the internet as the public utility that its become. Join us for our presentation, for these ideas help uphold the structure of the internet and its ability to nurture growth and development. Information on the event can be found here.