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.

Internet service providers and other essential entities to the nation’s cyber-infrastructure may be required to take a more active role in terrorism prevention. A new bill aims to assimilate the private sector into the monitoring and reporting of “suspicious terrorist activity.”

 H.R 5094, also known as the ‘Enhancing Suspicious Activity Reporting Act,’ passed in the house on June 25th, 2018. The two primary purposes of the bill are to develop a strategy “to improve the operations and activities of the Department of Homeland Security related to training, outreach, and information sharing for suspicious activity reporting to prevent acts of terrorism,” and to establish a working group to “provide advice to the Secretary [of Homeland Security] regarding improvements to the operations and activities related to suspicious activity reporting to prevent acts of terrorism.”   

This includes training and outreach to entities in the private sector, and requiring the private sector to share information on suspicious targets. In theory, these provisions from law enforcement would help the private sector to quickly identify and report possible acts of terrorism.

New York representative and bill sponsor, Peter King, sits on the House Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, which also proposed the ‘Terrorism Prevention and Critical Infrastructure Protection Act of 2017’ in February. This bill also suggested that the Department of Homeland Security strengthen and protect ‘critical infrastructure’ by sharing information/training with the private sector and establishing a research task force to provide the Secretary of Homeland Security with “the cyber preparedness of suppliers, contractors, or service providers of critical infrastructure.” As several of the same committee members are backing this bill, it may be safe to assume that H.R 5094 is, simply speaking, a rework of the earlier bill, with similar intentions.

Employing the concept of terrorism prevention as a means for government collusion in the private sector has become a platitude among officials since 9-11, through the Snowden revelations and up to now. But could this be a hazardous preface for more warrantless monitoring of citizens? And furthermore, what will be the criteria for determining whether or not someone can be suspected of “terrorist activity?”

The committee report on H.R 5094 references another report titled “Preventing Another Boston Marathon Bombing: Reviewing the Lessons Learned from the 2013 Terror Attack,” in discussing the background and need for this legislation. The report specifies that educating the public and empowering them to speak out when they notice potential signs of terrorism is a long term solution for preventing events such as the Boston Bombing. It suggests that had there been stronger communication between people that could have identified Tamerlan Tsarnaev and authorities, law enforcement may have been able to apprehend Tsarnaev before he was able to take the life of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier,

“As this Committee has often highlighted, the public can be a powerful ally in identifying potential terrorist activity. Law enforcement’s ability to build a strong partnership with the
public, based on trust and transparency is crucial to obtaining information that will prevent violent attacks like Boston in the future. In order for the community to assist in preventing
terrorist attacks, it is incumbent upon the federal government to provide the public with mechanisms to facilitate communication with law enforcement and to educate them on the threat posed by homegrown violent extremists.”

But would this information be given to or taken by law enforcement? Much like HR 5094, the report on the Boston Bombing references reaching out to the private sector for the collection of useful information in preemptively striking against acts of terrorism,

“According to the Department, it has evolved its CVE [Countering Violent Extremism] strategy over recent months to become a more comprehensive prevention model that allows it to work with communities and recognize at-risk individuals before violent extremism takes root. A pilot program has been developed that encourages local partners to develop mechanisms for engaging various resources including the private sector and social service providers.”   

Participants in the pilot program, titled the Federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, include the Austin Police Department, The Texas Department of Public Safety and the University of Texas at Austin Police Department, among New York and Boston law enforcement agencies.

In April of 2017, APD, with the JTTF pilot program, apprehended Steven Boehle, after they were informed of a mass shooting plot by a “confidential human source.” Authorities discovered the presence of 13 firearms, over 1,100 rounds of ammunition and a letter that was used to determine Boehle’s plan. Though Judge Mark Lane initially released Boehle on bond, due to what he claimed to be prosecutors’ failure to prove Boehle a threat to the community and claiming that his letter was “marijuana-induced gibberish,” he was later returned to police custody.