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Technology

Why Democratic Control of the FCC Won’t Bode Well for Internet Freedom

By Yaël Ossowski

Late Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden revealed his nominations to the Federal Communications Commission.

As one would expect, his two nominations — Jessica Rosenworcel and Gigi Sohn — come from Democratic circles and have upheld progressive priorities for telecom policies.

Rosenworcel has been a commissioner since 2012 and served as acting chair since Ajit Pai left at the beginning of Biden’s term. She would be the first female chair of the FCC.

Sohn has been active in left-leaning nonprofits, but also worked as a counselor to former FCC chair Tom Wheeler. She has made a career in advocacy, government, and academia championing “open, affordable, and democratic communications networks,” according to the White House release.

What both nominees represent, if confirmed by the Senate, would be a return to a Democratic-majority FCC intent on revitalizing 2015-era “net neutrality” proposals. Activists are already celebrating a return to progressive policymaking at the nation’s telecom regulator.

While Biden’s nominations are no surprise — every president generally nominates commissioners from their own party — consumer advocates should be worried about the policy goals they will seek to pass.

Net Neutrality

The most pressing would be a reform of Title II regulations through “net neutrality”, effectively labeling Internet Service Providers as public utilities, essentially as protected monopolies.

As I wrote in the Washington Examiner in 2017, the basic premise of net neutrality reforms is to regulate ISPs like water suppliers or telephone companies, subjecting them to more active enforcement, standards, and regulations set by the FCC, so that all online traffic be considered “neutral and free from prioritization”.

What’s more, a Title II classification would treat ISPs are monopolies, which even by the most strained definition, cannot be true. There are close to 3,000 ISPs in the United States, all serving different populations and regions, though some players have larger coverage than others.

Sweeping these companies into the regulatory lens of the FCC under the auspices of public utilities would mean more restrictions and regulations on content and delivery of content on the Internet — a far cry from Internet freedom.

As a general principle for an open net, net neutrality is an important one. When internet providers have been accused of unfairly blocking or throttling consumers, they have rightfully been challenged by lawsuits and enforcement actions from the Federal Trade Commission. And we should generally want a system that won’t discriminate against Internet users based on the content they host or provide (we can also thank Section 230 for liability protections for online platforms).

However, since these regulations were proposed in 2014 under the Obama administration, there has never been a clear rationale provided as to why Internet companies should be regulated under the FCC rather than the FTC, as is the status quo. And from what we can tell, that change would likely impact consumers more than anyone.

For one, a public utility classification would mean much far-reaching power of centralized Internet regulation than exists currently, putting the innovative nature of the Internet at risk.

Providers would be tasked with significant regulatory compliance that would necessitate more administrative costs and fees. This would also threaten the expansion of start-ups and independent companies in the digital space, souring the efforts at creative entrepreneurship. All would be harmful to consumers.

With every successive administration in Washington, we can only imagine that enforcement of the rules and changing of the rules would be enough to create regulatory uncertainty for thousands of online businesses and the users who depend on them.

Second, as our experience from the history of public utilities demonstrates, there would likely be intense consolidation that would empower large companies with the means to comply with regulations and stunt innovative new start-ups. It would also disincentivize increased private investment in broadband services, as we have written about at the Consumer Choice Center, and exacerbate the effects of Biden’s infrastructure proposal on public broadband if it passes this fall.

While consolidation of ISPs is a grave concern to progressive Internet activists, this would only be made worse once a giant bureaucracy such as the FCC is given regulatory authority over them. As my colleague Elizabeth Hicks noted in the Detroit Times, often it is state and local regulations that impede greater competition among ISPs, not because of lax authority at the federal level.

Online Privacy

Both Rosenworcel and Sohn have also indicated that they would support a proposal for greater Internet privacy enforced by the FCC. While that would be great on principle, we would hope that a federal plan would punish bad actors and establish clear guidelines to ensure transparency and protect innovation, as we proposed in our data and consumer privacy policy note.

However, Sohn’s previous public statements, including when she was a fellow at the Open Society Foundation, demonstrate she’d want a wholesale restriction on the sharing of data, even among willing consumers and providers. That would put many vital services at risk.

What’s more, such a proposal would likely aim to further empower government enforcement on data privacy rather than embrace market innovations that already do just that.

Prices

Another significant area where a Democratic-majority FCC could seek action would be on the pricing of Internet services. Sohn has been quite vocal about fixing ISP prices and regulating the bundling of various services. This would undermine the competitive environment of ISPs and likely lead to lower quality and rationed services for users, degrading everyone’s Internet experience.

Sohn’s history at various nonprofit groups that have targeted and lobbied the FCC for more enforcement was indeed impactful, and it is not difficult to see how much of the outrage about net neutrality was due to these efforts. Unfortunately, this also coincided with serious death threats and security concerns for commissioners opposed to these plans.

If both nominees to the FCC are confirmed, it is clear that the battle for the open Internet will once again be relitigated. And if the past proposal is any indication, it will face significant opposition.

At the time of the original net neutrality rules, even the Electronic Frontier Foundation, seen as one of the most powerful Internet freedom groups, was skeptical about how far-reaching the net neutrality provisions were.

We can only imagine that now, buoyed by progressive victories on Capitol Hill and louder voices for regulating content and platforms on the Internet, these proposals will prove harmful to the interests of online users and consumers.

Yaël Ossowski is the deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

Facebook failures may be real, but the case for increased censorship is weak

Once the so-called Facebook whistleblower revealed her identity and story, it was only a matter of time before the public imagination of one of the largest social networking sites would go off the rails.

What Frances Haugen released to the Wall Street Journal in her initial leaks, which it dubbed the “Facebook Files ,” detailed how Facebook had made decisions on which accounts to censor, survey data on Instagram use among teens, and the status of the civic integrity team tasked with countering misinformation around political topics.

Many of the revelations are fascinating, and some damning, but they point to a company bombarded with external and internal demands to censor accounts and pages that spread “misinformation” and “hateful” content. Who determines what that content is, and what classifies as such, is another point.

In the days since, Haugen has become a hero to critics of the social media giant on both the Right and the Left, animating these arguments before a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection on Tuesday.

It created the perfect theater for Washington lawmakers and media outlets, elevating conjecture, hyperbole, and feverish contempt for an online platform used by billions of users.

Congressional Republicans and Democrats are united in confronting Facebook, though they are animated by different reasons. Generally, Democrats say the platform does not censor enough content and want it to do more, evoking the “interference” in President Donald Trump’s 2016 victory. Republicans, on the other hand, believe the censorship is pointed in the wrong direction, often targeting conservative content creators, and would like to see more even-handedness.

“Facebook has caused and aggravated a lot of pain and profited off the spreading of disinformation, misinformation, and sowing hate,” said committee chairman Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who days before received ridicule for asking Instagram to ban the “finsta” program. (Finstas are fake Instagram accounts created by teenagers to avoid the prying eyes of parents.)

Facebook’s mistakes, especially when it comes to content moderation, are vast. I have joined countless others in pointing out the troubling examples of censorship that are all too often politically motivated. Considering it is a Silicon Valley firm staffed with tens of thousands of employees who likely lean left, it is not surprising.

But the incentive to censor content exists because of the huffing and puffing in Congress, whistleblowers like Haugen, and media pressure to conform to a narrow version of online free speech that has no parallel elsewhere.

Whether it is through the lens of antitrust, to break apart Facebook’s various divisions such as Instagram and WhatsApp, or by reforming Section 230 to make firms liable for all speech on their platforms, it is clear that heavy-handed social media regulation will have the greatest impact on users and generally make Facebook unbearable.

As much as some might like to castigate the unicorn start-up with tens of thousands of employees and a hefty stock price, it derives its power and influence as a platform for billions of individuals looking for connections.

A number of the posts on Facebook may be atrocious or wrong, and they deserved to be called out by those who see them. But in free societies, we prefer to debate bad ideas rather than relegate them to the darkened reaches of society, where they will only fester and grow unabated.

Expecting or forcing Facebook to ramp up censorship will make the platform a de facto arm of our federal agencies rather than a free platform for connecting with friends and family.

While there are many positive reforms that could be invoked in the wake of the Facebook moment, a national privacy and data law, for example, we know it will be the users of these platforms who will ultimately suffer from misguided regulation.

If we believe in free speech and an open internet, it is our responsibility to advocate sane, smart, and effective rules on innovative technologies, not laws or edicts that only seek to punish and restrict what people can say online. We as users and citizens deserve better.

Originally published here

The fight over Facebook’s content censor button will make all users lose

By Yaël Ossowski

Once the so-called Facebook whistleblower revealed her identity and story, it was clear the narrative about the future of one of the largest social networking sites would soon go off the rails.

What Haugen revealed in her initial leaks to the Wall Street Journal, which they dubbed the “Facebook Files,” were documents and research on how Facebook had made decisions on which accounts to censor, survey data on Instagram use among teens, and the status of the civic integrity team tasked with countering misinformation around political topics.

Many of the revelations are indeed fascinating —and some damning — but they generally point to a company constantly embattled with external and internal demands to censor and shut down accounts and pages that spread “misinformation” and “hateful” content. Who determines what that content is, and what classifies as such, is another point.

Among her allegations in her first public interview on 60 Minutes, she posited that the disbanding of the civic integrity team, of which she was a part, was directly responsible for the January 6th riot at the Capitol building. 

In the days since, Haugen has become a hero to critics of the social media giant on both the right and the left, animating these arguments before a Senate subcommittee on consumer protection on Tuesday. 

It created the perfect Two Minutes Hate session in Washington and on major media, allowing unchecked conjecture, hyperbole, and feverish contempt for a platform that allows ordinary people to post online and small businesses to run ads on their products.

Unusual for DC, Republicans and Democrats are united on confronting Facebook, though they are animated by different reasons. Generally, Democrats say the platform does not censor enough content and want it to do more, evoking the “interference” that led to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016. Republicans, on the other hand, believe the censorship is pointed in the wrong direction, often targeting conservative content creators, and would like to see more even-handedness.

The picture painted by all lawmakers, however, is of a company adding to general societal discord.

“Facebook has caused and aggravated a lot of pain and profited off the spreading of disinformation, misinformation, and sowing hate,” said committee chair Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who days before received ridicule for asking Instagram to ban the “Finsta” program (Finstas are fake Instagram accounts created by teens to avoid the prying eyes of parents).

The comments of Blumenthal and others were indeed hyperbolic, considering the vast majority of Facebook product users post images, videos, and text to their friends and family and can in no way be considered objectionable, but it helps lead to their ultimate aim.

But considering the premise of these hearings and investigations on Capitol Hill is to frame and inform future legislation, it is clear that regulation will soon be directly targeted at social media content and users, not the company itself, will be the ones to suffer.

As much as one would like to castigate the Silicon Valley firm with tens of thousands of employees and a stock ticker, it derives its power and influence as a platform for billions of individuals with something to say. A select number of the posts on Facebook may be atrocious or wrong, and they deserved to be called out, but they still are the posts of individuals and groups. Users have the option to flag posts for inappropriate content.

What makes many of the allegations leveled at Facebook interesting — albeit insincere (content designed to elicit an angry response, body image issues, unverified stories, etc.) — is that many of these can also be lobbed at traditional institutions: clickbait partisan journalism, Hollywood and the modeling industry, and tabloids that operate as rumor mills. In the age of social media, however, these are dying breeds.

The fact that many media outlets are openly advocating against social networks, technologies that directly compete with them, also makes this quite conflicted as we have seen in Australia.

When regulations do come to pass, and we can only assume they will, the only significant action will be to restrict what can and cannot be posted on the platform. Whether it is the mandatory hiring of a certain number of moderators, a veto process for third parties, or mandatory ID verification, which advertisers are already subject to, it will mean limiting and censoring the platform. This will harm users and consumers.

While there are many positive reforms that could be invoked in the wake of the Facebook moment — a national privacy and data law, for example — likely it will be the users of these platforms who will ultimately suffer.

The new Internet age has led most of the world to untold levels of growth and prosperity. Being able to connect with friends and family wherever they may be is a public good that we have only begun to understand and appreciate.

If we allow regulators to deploy content censorship buttons and restrict our ability to post and interact online, who is to say that only the “bad guys” will be caught up in the net?

If we believe in free speech and an open Internet, it is our responsibility to push for sane, smart, and effective rules, not those that only seek to punish and restrict what people can say online.

Yaël Ossowski is the deputy director of the Consumer Choice Center.

The arguments for and against universal chargers

European Commission pushing to establish USB-C as standard for all phones

The European Commission is under fire from tech giant Apple after unveiling plans to make USB-C connectors the standard charging port for all phones and small electronic devices sold across the EU. 

The bloc’s executive body “believes a standard cable for all devices will cut back on electronic waste”, reported France 24. But Apple and other critics argue that “a one-size fits all charger would slow innovation and create more pollution”, the news site continues.

The new rules could “affect the entire global smartphone market” if approved by the European Parliament and member states of the EU, which is home to more than 450 million people including “some of the world’s richest consumers”.

Read the full article here

EU wants to unify chargers again, specifically targeting Apple

Several years ago, the European Union announced that it wanted to unify mobile chargers across all manufacturers. The goal was to eliminate electronic waste because previously switching phones often means getting a new and completely different charger. But, by the time the EU got involved, almost all major manufacturers were already using micro-USB. Now, the EU is looking to update the requirement, modernizing for USB-C and removing the remaining loophole.

What is the current situation?

Currently, EU regulations require that all phones be able to charge via a universal charger (originally micro-USB, but USB-C also qualifies). At the time of the original regulations, the only major manufacturer not using the micro-USB charging port was Apple, which famously uses its proprietary Lightning connector. The universality of the micro-USB connector is attractive for swapping between phones, but Apple argued that its Lightning connector gave it capabilities not afforded by micro-USB.

This argument allowed Apple to find a middle ground with the EU regulators – making a micro-USB to Lightning adapter available to all iPhone and iPad owners. This would allow them to use the chargers they already own with their new phones, which is exactly what the EU was trying to accomplish. But, in the past few years, things have changed in the industry, leading to some changes in the regulations.

Read the full article here

The Smart Way to Think About Crypto Regulation

Within the usually boring procedure of shepherding another massive infrastructure bill through Congress last month, a fiery debate erupted over the future of cryptocurrencies and digital assets.

The Senate bill contained broad language to ensure tax and regulatory compliance on all cryptocurrency transactions, regardless of origin, as a revenue generator.

However, traditional financial transactions cannot compare to the complex algorithmic crypto world of mining, staking, rewards, and smart contracts. It is easy to see why many digital currency enthusiasts were alarmed.

In a hackneyed manner no one saw coming, the entire future of the crypto industry, including projects such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Non-Fungible Tokens, and blockchains, was thrown into peril.

Amendments to adapt the language or delete it outright were proposed. But following Senate rules, even a single voice of opposition could kill them. Or, in this case, a desire to spend $50 billion more on defense spending killed them. And that was that.

To be clear, America deserves a fair and substantive debate on the nascent crypto space. If we are to consider regulation, we need testimony from innovators, entrepreneurs, advocates, and skeptics. Instead, we witnessed a collage pasting marathon, with proposals and taxes glued together without even a thought for millions of crypto consumers.

Most shockingly, however, the rules have actually very little to do with the innovative nature of the crypto space and everything to do with how much money legislators thought they could extract from the industry and token holders. This was laid bare in the Biden administration’s fact sheet on the infrastructure bill, which claimed the $1 trillion plan would be funded by “strengthening tax enforcement when it comes to cryptocurrencies.”

Despite the inelegance of these proposals, there are smart and consumer-friendly policies we can adopt on cryptocurrencies and crypto projects.

To begin, federal agencies can concentrate on the causes of fraud and abuse. With every successful crypto token or coin, there are dozens of scam sites or exchanges that defraud users or siphon all digital assets they can before they shut down, known in the industry as a “rug pull.”

By focusing resources on dishonest brokers and projects committing fraud, the government could save millions of consumers from losing their hard-earned money, all the while differentiating between bad actors and good ones. This would help boost confidence in the system overall.

Second, any crypto regulation should make technological neutrality a core tenet, meaning that government should not declare winners or losers. Just like the vinyl record was replaced by the CD-ROM and then the MP3, governments should not choose a preferred technology and instead allow innovation and consumer choice to make that determination.

The less than a decade-old crypto industry hosts an intense competition that rapidly changes each day. Whether through algorithmic mining (Proof of Work) or block validation (Proof of Stake), users and entrepreneurs are testing and adapting best practices. If the government endorses one method or outlaws another, because of environmental or technical concerns, it risks backing the wrong horse and stifling innovation.

Third, regulators must not pigeonhole cryptocurrencies only as investments fit for taxing, but rather as technological tools that empower consumers and foster innovation. A unique crypto asset class, separate from traditional securities, would help users benefit from the decentralization and encryption that these projects offer while ensuring reasonable taxation of gains.

Last, regulators must provide legal certainty to the budding crypto sector or risk pushing all crypto activity to the black market, where no rules or regulations will be followed. The disastrous effects of the Drug War on cannabis users or victims of 1920s Prohibition underscore this point.

Clear guidelines that allow crypto companies to open bank accounts, take out insurance, and compensate workers legally will safeguard innovation, continue to create value for entrepreneurs and consumers, and will allow firms to pay taxes and follow rules. This will be vital.

Legislators should view the crypto industry as a friend rather than a foe. With more opportunities will come more investment, more jobs, and more innovation – and that means we’ll all be better off.

Originally published here

Coalition Warns Against Broadband Proposals

The Consumer Choice Center joined a coalition of consumer and tax advocacy organizations flagging concerning developments in the infrastructure bill negotiations. Price controls and rate regulation; dramatic expansion of executive brand and agency authority; and government-controlled internet should never be on the table.

You can read the letter below or click HERE for a full version:

July 23, 2021

RE: Broadband Infrastructure Spending

Dear Senators:

We write to you today over some concerning developments in the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations on broadband. We are guided by the principles of limited government and believe that the flaws in the infrastructure framework go well beyond the issues discussed here. Nonetheless, our present aim is to advocate specifically against proposals that would enact price controls, dramatically expand agency authority, and prioritize government-controlled internet. 

The infrastructure plan should not include rate regulation of broadband services. Congress should not authorize any federal or governmental body to set the price of any broadband offering. Even steps that open the door to rate regulation of broadband services will prove harmful in the long run.  

Nor should Congress continue to abdicate its oversight responsibilities to executive branch agencies like the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Giving NTIA unchecked authority to modify or waive requirements, renders all guardrails placed by Congress meaningless. There must be oversight of the programs to ensure that taxpayer dollars go toward connecting more Americans to broadband as opposed to wasteful pet projects. 

Historically, attempts by NTIA to close the digital divide through discretionary grants have failed, leading to wasteful overbuilds, corruption, and improper expenditures. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created the $4 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant program administered by NTIA. From 2009, when BTOP was instituted, to 2017, at least one-third of all the reports made by the Inspector General for the Department of Commerce were related to the BTOP program, and census data showed that the BTOP program had no positive effect on broadband adoption. And this was with only $4 billion in taxpayer dollars. We cannot afford to make the same mistake with much greater sums.

Legislation must be clear and not create ambiguities that are left to the whims of regulators. While “digital redlining” is unacceptable, the FCC should not be allowed to define the term however it sees fit and promulgate any regulations it thinks will solve problems—real or imagined. Doing so would give the agency carte blanche to regulate and micromanage broadband in any way it desires. This would be an egregious expansion of FCC authority. Moreover, definitions and regulations could change whenever party control of the agency changes, leading to a back-and-forth that creates uncertainty for consumers and businesses. 

Legitimate desire to ensure that low-income Americans have access to broadband infrastructure should not be used as a smokescreen to codify aspects of the recent Executive Order on Competition, which should not be included in any bipartisan infrastructure agreement. Republicans fought hard to support the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order. Any legislating on the functions and deployment of Internet technologies must move as a standalone bill through regular order with committee review. These questions are far too important to shoehorn into a massive bill without rigorous debate.   

Any funding for broadband buildout must target locations without any broadband connection first, and this should be determined by the Congressionally mandated FCC broadband maps. Congress has oversight over the FCC and the FCC has already conducted several reverse auctions. Reverse auctions get the most out of each taxpayer dollar towards closing the digital divide. Areas where there is already a commitment from a carrier to build out a network, should not be considered for grants, and the NTIA should not be able to override the FCC’s map to redefine “unserved” and subsidize duplicative builds.  

Government-controlled Internet should not be prioritized in any grant program. With few exceptions, government-owned networks (GONs) have been abject failures. For example, KentuckyWired is a 3,000-mile GON that was sold to taxpayers as a $350 million project that would be complete by spring of 2016. Those projections could not have been more wrong.   More than five years past the supposed completion date, fiber construction for KentuckyWired is still “in progress” in some parts of the state and a report from the state auditor has concluded that taxpayers will end up wasting a whopping $1.5 billion on this redundant “government owned network” over its 30-year life. NTIA should certainly not encourage these failures to be replicated.

We appreciate your work to help close the digital divide and agree that access to reliable internet is a priority, however we should not use this need to serve as a cover for unnecessary government expansion. Please feel free to reach out to any of the undersigned organizations or individuals should you have questions or comments. 

Regards,

Grover G. Norquist
President
Americans for Tax Reform

Jennifer Huddleston*
Director of Technology & Innovation Policy
American Action Forum

Phil Kerpen
President
American Commitment

Krisztina Pusok, Ph. D.
Director
American Consumer Institute
Center for Citizen Research

Brent Wm. Gardner
Chief Government Affairs Officer
Americans for Prosperity

Jeffrey Mazzella
President
Center for Individual Freedom

Andrew F. Quinlan
President
Center for Freedom and Prosperity

Jessica Melugin
Director Center for Technology and Innovation
Competitive Enterprise Institute

Matthew Kandrach
President
Consumer Action for a Strong Economy

Yaël Ossowski
Deputy Director
Consumer Choice Center

Roslyn Layton, PhD
Founder
China Tech Threat

Ashley Baker
Director of Public Policy
The Committee for Justice

Tom Schatz
President
Council for Citizens Against Government Waste

Katie McAuliffe
Executive Director
Digital Liberty

Annette Thompson Meeks
CEO
Freedom Foundation of Minnesota

Adam Brandon
President
FreedomWorks

George Landrith
President
Frontiers of Freedom

Garrett Bess
Vice President
Heritage Action for America

Carrie Lukas
President
Independent Women’s Forum

Heather Higgins
CEO
Independent Women’s Voice

Tom Giovanetti
President
Institute for Policy Innovation

Ted Bolema
Executive Director
Institute for the Study of Economic Growth

Seton Motley
President
Less Government

Zach Graves
Head of Policy
Lincoln Network

Matthew Gagnon
Chief Executive Officer
Maine Policy Institute

Matthew Nicaud
Tech Policy Specialist
Mississippi Center for Public Policy

Brandon Arnold
Executive Vice President
National Taxpayers Union

Tom Hebert
Executive Director
Open Competition Center

Ellen Weaver
President & CEO
Palmetto Promise Institute

Eric Peterson
Director
Pelican Center for Technology and Innovation

Lorenzo Montanari
Executive Director
Property Rights Alliance

Jeffrey Westling
Resident Fellow, Technology & Innovation Policy
R Street Institute

James L. Martin
Founder/Chairman
60 Plus Association

Saulius “Saul” Anuzis
President
60 Plus Association

David Williams
President
Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Dann Mead Smith
President
Washington Policy enter

Mark Harmsworth
Small Business Director
Washington Policy Center

5G lobbying through fake news

Keeping everyone safe is good… but preventing progress based on false information is bad for everyone.

Every technology generates some degree of scepticism. Whether it’s the discovery of electricity, the invention of the train, or the arrival of microwaves in our kitchen equipment, critical voices are asking important questions about safety. The 5G network is no exception. However, at some point, we have to accept the scientific results. Type “5G” and “health” into search engines. You will find several articles that cannot give you exact answers about the health implications of the network, but they do suggest several fatalistic scenarios.

The type of radiation involved in wireless communications is in the radio wave range, and these waves carry much less energy than ionising radiation, such as X-rays and cosmic rays, which can break chemical bonds in DNA and lead to cancer. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the number of waves that can be emitted. The only known biological effect of radio frequencies is heating: your body temperature can rise under these conditions.

However, the existing limits are such that they avoid the risk of overheating. If the limits set by the current regulations are respected, there are no biological consequences. It should also be added that 5G frequencies are different from what is assumed in the media. Opponents of 5G technology claim that the technology’s high frequencies will make new phones and cell towers extraordinarily dangerous.

The truth is exactly the opposite, as scientists explain. The higher the radio frequency, the less it penetrates the human skin, reducing exposure to the body’s internal organs, including the brain.

So what is the point of the myths against 5G?

On the one hand, we have the general and regular scepticism of anti-progress environmentalists and anti-corporate conspiracists. Such opposition can never be refuted with scientific evidence. On the other hand, we are witnessing scepticism from the general population, organised through different mediums, including the Russia Today (RT) website. In the US, the New York Times explains that RT America is flooding social networks with anti-5G messages. The idea is to stop the US from making progress to the benefit of Russia.

Much more simply, misinformation is often to the benefit of certain competing companies. We saw this in the discussion on car connectivity – 5G versus wi-fi: manufacturers were lobbying Brussels to convince the EU to support one or the other. In July 2019, the German government published its position on these future technologies. It is preparing to support the use of wi-fi technology to link connected cars, arguing that 5G technology is not yet mature enough to deliver results. The document published by the German government states that “the industry should focus on technology that uses short-range, wi-fi-based signals”.

In response, some car manufacturers have come out in favour of the German government’s position, while others have argued that Berlin should support 5G technology instead.

The lobbying battle is being waged through traditional communication channels. At this level, a basis of verifiable facts must first be established in order to discuss on an equal basis of knowledge.

In the case of 5G, this debate will be crucial for Europe’s technological future.

Originally published here.

The Consumer Choice Center stands opposed to antitrust actions on innovative tech firms

Today, the Consumer Choice Center sent a letter to the members of the House Judiciary Committee to explain our opposition to a series of bills soon to be introduced on the House floors related to antitrust actions.

The full letter is below, and available in PDF form to share.

Dear Member of the House Judiciary Committee,

As a consumer group, we write to you to raise your attention about a series of bills that will soon be introduced on the floor of the House and make their way to the House Judiciary Committee.

These bills, soon to be introduced by Democrats and co-sponsored by some Republicans, relate to antitrust actions to be taken against tech firms based in the United States.

These include the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, End Platform Monopolies Act, Platform Anti-Monopoly Act, Platform Competition and Opportunity Act, and Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching Act.

In our view, these bills are not about concern for the consumer, the consumer welfare standard as traditionally understood in antitrust law, or even because companies like Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, and Microsoft are “too big.” 

Rather, these actions are a zealous takedown of American innovators that will harm consumers and punish innovation. This is a dangerous precedent.

Many of the tech companies in the crosshairs offer free or inexpensive services to consumers in a competitive marketplace that boasts hundreds of social apps for messaging, photo sharing, social networking, and online marketplaces that offer quick delivery, stellar service, and unbeatable prices.

As consumers of these services, we understand that there are often decisions made by these companies that raise concerns. For political conservatives, the issue hinges on whether there is bias in the moderation of accounts, comments, and products. For liberals, it is about whether these companies are too powerful or too big to be reined in by government, and questions about how they pay their taxes or whether various tech companies played a part in getting Donald Trump elected in 2016.

These are all valid concerns, and we have been active in calling them out where necessary.

However, using the power of the federal government to break up innovative American companies subject to domestic law, especially in the face of mounting competition from countries that are not liberal democracies, such as China, is wrong and will lead to even more unintended consequences.

The American people benefit from a competitive and free market for all goods, services, and networks we use online. Weaponizing our federal agencies to break up companies, especially when there is no demonstrated case of consumer harm, will chill innovation and stall our competitive edge as a country.

If there are breaches of data or if consumer privacy is compromised, the Federal Trade Commission should absolutely issue fines and other penalties. We agree with this. If there are egregious violations of law, they should be dealt with immediately and appropriately.

Let us be clear: The internet is the ultimate playground for consumer choice. Government attempts to intervene and regulate based on political considerations will only restrict consumer choice and deprive us of what we’ve thus far enjoyed.

The overwhelming majority of users are happy with online marketplaces and with their profiles on social platforms. They’re able to connect with friends and family around the world, and share images and posts that spark conversations. Millions of small businesses, artists, and even news websites are dependent on these platforms to make their living. This is an especially important point.

Using the force of government to break apart businesses because of particular stances or actions they’ve taken, all legal under current law, is highly vindictive and will restrict the ability for ordinary people like myself or millions of other consumers to enjoy the platforms for which we voluntarily signed up. 

We should hold these platforms accountable when they make mistakes, but not invite the federal government to determine which sites or platforms we can click on. The government’s role is not to pick winners and losers. It’s to ensure our rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, as the Declaration of Independence states. 

As such, when these bills come before you as legislators, we urge you, as a consumer advocacy group speaking for millions of people just like you around the country, to reject them. 

Sincerely Yours,

Yaël Ossowski

Deputy Director, Consumer Choice Center

yael@consumerchoicecenter.org

Biden’s broadband plan may hurt providers, consumers

It is no secret that access to reliable, high-speed internet is more important now than ever before, especially given how we spent this past year. We now rely heavily on virtual connections for school, work and perhaps a few never-ending Netflix marathons in an attempt to stay sane throughout lockdowns.

With a more online life, it’s not surprising that broadband usage increased 40% over the last year. Many suspect this level of demand for broadband will continue, but there are millions of individuals across the country who do not yet have access, including 368,000 rural Michigan households.

It’s estimated that there is over $2.5 billion in potential economic benefit that is lost among Michigan residents disconnected from the internet, making it clear that we need to find a solution to end this digital divide.

President Joe Biden recently proposed $100 billion to expand broadband through the American Jobs Plan. While this may seem like a worthy infrastructural investment to some, the fine print of the plan proposes lackluster solutions that create a stormy future for Michigan consumers.

A glaring issue is the prioritization of government-run broadband networks with “less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.” It’s well documented that these networks are ineffective 𑁋 a Phoenix Center study found that prices in markets with a municipal provider are higher than those in markets without one.

Michigan allows municipal broadband networks only in unserved or underserved areas and if their benefits outweigh the costs. However, local governments have been giving municipal networks advantages over private providers by providing subsidies and privileged regulatory treatment to showcase the illusion of compliance.

This happened recently in Marshall, and the results were dreadful. According to a report released by the Taxpayers Protection Alliance highlighting failed government-run broadband networks, Marshall’s fiber broadband network, called FiberNet, cost $3.1 million and serves only a fraction of its population. It’s worth noting that private broadband services are also available in Marshall.

Another key issue with Biden’s plan is that it exclusively prioritizes building out fiber broadband. While fiber may be a great option for some, it’s not always practical for rural communities due to the high costs and installation process required. Rural households can be located miles apart, and with fiber installation costing as high as $27,000/per mile, the estimated demand from rural communities often does not offset the costs of building fiber networks in those areas.

Innovative solutions like Elon Musk’s Starlink project, which aims to provide low-cost satellite broadband internet access across the globe, should be encouraged. By the end of this year, there will be over 1,000 satellites providing internet to more than 10,000 customers worldwide through Starlink. This is an exciting development because satellite networks are often cheaper, more efficient and can provide faster speeds to rural households than fiber.

The final major issue with Biden’s plan is that it vows to get America to 100% broadband coverage, but this doesn’t take into account all consumer preferences. According to Pew Research, 15% of Americans rely on smartphones and don’t have broadband services. Although it’s not certain as to why, one potential reason is the frequency of free Wi-Fi available in many public spaces which may result in some households opting out of paying for broadband.

To help Michigan live up to its full economic potential, it’s crucial that we get the 368,000 rural households access to high speed internet quickly. The state should embrace private internet service providers, practice technology neutrality by not favoring one broadband type over another and encourage more innovations that benefit consumers.

Originally published here.

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