February 11 2022

This Week in Washington

StateScoop FCC launches ‘digital discrimination’ task force for broadband
Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel on Tuesday announced the creation of a new task force dedicated to promoting equal broadband access and ending “digital discrimination” nationwide. She said the task force will be composed of several FCC bureaus and led by D’wana Terry, a special adviser to Rosenworcel and the acting director of the FCC’s Office of Workplace Diversity, as well as officials in the Office of the Managing Director and Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau.

Nextgov Senators Relaunch Cybersecurity Bills Following log4j Concerns
Leaders of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee introduced the Strengthening American Cybersecurity Act bundling provisions they view as crucial in the wake of vulnerabilities like one found in open-source software library log4j, but couldn’t get over the finish line in previous attempts. “This landmark, bipartisan legislative package will provide our lead cybersecurity agency, [the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency], with the information and tools needed to warn of potential cybersecurity threats to critical infrastructure, prepare for widespread impacts, coordinate the government’s efforts, and help victims respond to and recover from online breaches,” Committee Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., said in a press release Tuesday.

New York Times I.R.S. to End Use of Facial Recognition for Identity Verification
The Internal Revenue Service plans to stop using facial recognition software to identify taxpayers seeking access to their accounts on the agency’s website amid concerns over privacy and data security. The I.R.S. was already coping with a daunting tax season, faced with backlogs of old tax returns, staffing shortages and the additional complexity of paying stimulus and child tax credits. Now the agency must also change how it verifies the identity of taxpayers.

Fierce Telecom Senators aim to refine rules for $2B ReConnect program to better target rural areas
Four U.S. Senators sought to amend the recently passed infrastructure bill to ensure funding from the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) ReConnect program aids only the most rural areas of the country. The proposal would also compel federal agencies to more closely cooperate to see to it that support doesn’t fund overbuilds in areas which already have broadband access.

Washington Post A federal privacy watchdog is poised to come back from the dead
A little-known agency tasked with ensuring the federal government’s counterterrorism efforts don’t trample on privacy and civil liberties has long been hobbled by vacancies that rendered it at times ineffective. Now, it’s poised for a revival.  On Monday, the Senate confirmed by voice vote the nominations of two new members for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), which was created by Congress in 2004 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Axios Senators once more take up tech liability changes
Limiting tech’s liability shield in the name of fighting online child sexual exploitation is once again on Congress’ agenda. Driving the news: The EARN IT Act, which removes tech platforms’ immunity for violations of laws related to online child sexual abuse material, will be voted on by the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday. A version of the bill previously passed out of committee in 2020 but never received a full Senate vote. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) reintroduced the bill earlier this month.

Bloomberg Twitter Tells U.S. Senator It’s Cutting Ties to Swiss Tech Firm
Twitter Inc. told a U.S. senator it is cutting ties with a European technology company that helped it send sensitive passcodes to its users via text message. The social media firm said in a disclosure to U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, that it is “transitioning” its service away from working with Mitto AG, according to a Wyden aide.

FedScoop NOAA ‘inadequately’ managed account privileges on 3 active directories
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration opened itself to cyberattacks by “inadequately” managing three active directories and failing to secure “prime targets” like user credentials, according to an audit published Thursday. The Department of Commerce Office of Inspector General found the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service; National Weather Service; and National Marine Fisheries Service all had accounts with “excessive” privileges that were improperly managed, as well as “vulnerable” end-of-life systems running.

Article Summary

CNN Microsoft tries to win over regulators for its massive Activision Blizzard deal
Microsoft is trying to persuade regulators to approve its $68.7 billion acquisition of Activision Blizzard with a series of new app store commitments that it says will put the company “on the right side of history” as policymakers worldwide debate new laws to force competition open in digital marketplaces. The 11-point pledge, announced Wednesday, includes promises by Microsoft to allow third-party app stores on its platforms and to not give preferential treatment to its own published games on the digital marketplaces the company runs.

Reuters Google breached antitrust law, Russia’s FAS says
Russia’s Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) on Thursday said Alphabet’s Google had breached antitrust law related to suspending and blocking accounts on YouTube. Google is waiting for the FAS’ full decision in order to review it, the TASS news agency reported. Google did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Axios U.S. majority supports tech regulation to preserve democracy
Three-quarters of Americans say that U.S. democracy could be at risk without stronger regulation of false information online, according to a poll by bipartisan advocacy group the Future of Tech commission, results of which were shared first with Axios. The same survey found broad bipartisan support for stronger privacy regulation and increased spending on cybersecurity. Congress is considering a range of new restrictions on tech, including bills related to privacy, competition and possible limits to Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which protects online platforms from being sued for user-contributed content.

Courthouse News Service California lawmakers want $50 million to prop up local news
Looking to cure “news deserts” through a $50 million infusion, a group of California lawmakers want to boost struggling local newspapers with a new taxpayer-funded grant program. Devastated by declining advertising revenues and media conglomeration, local newsrooms have struggled to keep afloat in recent decades. While the survivors have subsisted largely by limiting print versions or cutting staff, vast numbers of newspapers have folded completely. According to a project by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, over 1,800 newspapers have shut down since 2004, with California losing the most dailies of any state. The losses have created so-called news deserts mostly in smaller, rural towns.

NBC News SpaceX says up to 40 Starlink satellites lost to geomagnetic storm
Up to 40 Starlink satellites, launched earlier this month as part of Elon Musk’s efforts to build a high-speed internet network, were lost after a recent geomagnetic storm in space, company officials confirmed Tuesday. The storm, triggered by eruptions from the sun, destroyed most of the 49 Starlink satellites launched into orbit Thursday, according to SpaceX, the private aerospace company Musk founded. The now-defunct satellites are expected to fall back to Earth in the coming days and burn up in the atmosphere.

Tech Podcast of the Week

Marketplace Tech

  • Podcast on State Broadband Projects
    The $1.2 trillion infrastructure law President Joe Biden signed in November included $65 billion to get high-speed internet to more people. Much of that funding is expected to be channeled into rural and low-income communities. Now, exactly how all those billions will be distributed is still being worked out. But in the meantime, many states aren’t waiting. They are boosting broadband access using another pot of cash, tapping into pandemic relief funds from the American Rescue Plan Act — a law that included about $360 billion for broadband investments and support. Marketplace’s Kimberly Adams speaks with Anna Read, senior officer with the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Broadband Access Initiative, about this tactic. (States push forward with broadband projects – February 10, 2022)