It’s the holiday season, and the Federal Communications Commission has been in a giving mood for the largest media companies. Over the past few months, the FCC has adopted a number of items that have relaxed or eliminated rules around media ownership. On their own, these actions allow for the largest media companies to further consolidate, drowning out diverse, independent, and local voices in the marketplace. However, the FCC’s actions have also particularly benefited one broadcast company -- Sinclair -- and its effort to merge with Tribune.
Last week, Congress held four hearings to investigate the Equifax data breach, which jeopardized the highly sensitive data of 145 millions Americans. The exposed consumer information includes social security numbers, prior addresses, student loans, credit card numbers, and other pieces of private data compiled into credit reports that determine if a consumer qualifies for employment, loans, or new lines of credit. For days, members of Congress questioned former Equifax CEO Richard Smith as to how the breach could have occurred and what steps the company was taking to protect consumers. Mr. Smith resigned in September after the extent of the breach was fully disclosed. During the hearings, he offered little in terms of solutions on how to protect consumers going forward, but his answers revealed significant problems with our current data security regime that Congress must address.
In April of this year, the Federal Communications Commission began a wireline infrastructure proceeding designed to accelerate broadband deployment. The proceeding contains multiple proposals to remove barriers to broadband deployment and infrastructure, such as reforming pole attachment rates and preempting state and local laws. Buried within these proposals is a plan to eliminate “tech transitions” rules, which outline the responsibilities of phone carriers when they choose to retire copper networks or discontinue service.
Ever since Congress repealed the Federal Communication Commission’s broadband privacy rules, consumers have expressed outrage over their lack of privacy protections when accessing broadband networks. The FCC’s rules prevented broadband providers from sharing sensitive customer information without permission. Repealing these privacy rules left a significant gap in consumer protection in the internet ecosystem.
In its 2015 Open Internet Order, the Federal Communications Commission reclassified broadband internet under Title II of the Communications Act, establishing broadband providers as common carriers under the same framework as our telephone networks. By embracing its Title II authority and creating clear, bright line rules against blocking and discrimination, the FCC enacted the strongest net neutrality rules in history.
In the early months of the Trump Administration, damaging leaks have come out of the White House ranging from stories of staff infighting to descriptions of the President’s calls with heads of state. According to a recent Politico report, the leaks have caused a culture of paranoia to spread among White House staff. Staffers are taking extreme measures to protect their privacy by turning off work-issued smartphones when they get home, and using encrypted messaging apps that automatically delete messages once they’ve been read. Others are leaving their personal mobile devices at home in the event their bosses and Administration lawyers engage in phone checks and search for leaks. While White House staffers scramble to protect their private communications, Congress is moving in the opposite direction to eliminate any expectations of Americans having private communications networks.
In December of last year, the film Hidden Figures depicted the efforts of three female African American mathematicians working in NASA during the 1960s space race. The film went on to garner numerous awards but more importantly sparked a larger discussion -- many viewers had no idea how critical these women as well as other African Americans were to NASA’s success.
After a proceeding that has stretched on for more than a decade, the Federal Communications Commission’s largest ever data collection, and numerous delays, the fight over business data services (BDS) reform (previously referred to as “special access” reform) could be nearing its end. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has repeatedly promised the FCC is finally set to reform the BDS market this year by lowering the rates that monopoly phone companies can charge to businesses, institutions, and wireless carriers, and promoting new competition and market entry.