Over the last several years, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been taking a more active role both in anticipating the need for ever greater communications network security measures necessary to counter threats as well as potentially forging a new role in protecting the integrity of data that flows through the Internet. The latest evidence of this security consciousness is a recent Notice of Inquiry (“Notice”) adopted by the FCC seeking information to better understand the scope of Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) routing system security vulnerabilities, and the means to address them.
During his presidential campaign, President Biden committed “to build back better in rural America” by “expand[ing] broadband, or wireless broadband via 5G, to every American.” Last month, President Biden renewed his focus on “universal broadband” through the announcement of a bipartisan agreement for a large infrastructure bill that highlights broadband connectivity. Between setting the goal and realizing congressional appropriations to implement his “Build Back Better” initiative, federal (and in some situations, state) regulators have also confronted several important broadband infrastructure issues this year as they balance an understandable desire for competition and choice among broadband networks and service offerings against the practical challenges and economic realities of broadband deployment. What progress has the Biden Administration made so far?
Broadband is more important now than ever. According to a 2021 report by Parks Associates, 41% of US broadband households have been working or attending schools remotely, with the COVID-19 pandemic having driven approximately 7.2% of those households to upgrade their broadband network last year. Terabytes of data are communicated and shared every second through broadband Internet platforms – the most ubiquitous means of communication and connection.
On October 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit released a long awaited decision in Mozilla Corporation v. FCC that largely upheld most aspects of the Federal Communications Commission’s 2018 “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” While FCC Chairman Pai quickly claimed victory, the nearly 200 page decision was in several areas quite critical of the FCC’s process, as well as the agency’s reasoning or the lack of discussion or support in the record for several of the Order’s determinations. Although these defects were not sufficient for the Court to reverse the Order on review, the Court nevertheless agreed with petitioners on several issues, discussed below, and remanded them to the agency for additional consideration.
The GAO recently concluded a comprehensive analysis of the U.S. federal regulatory landscape with respect to internet privacy, specifically focusing on FTC and FCC enforcement actions and authorities. GAO interviewed representatives from industry, consumer advocacy groups, academia, FTC and FCC staff, former FTC and FCC commissioners, and officials from other agencies. (See page 40 of the GAO report for a complete list of those interviewed.) GAO recommends that Congress consider developing comprehensive legislation on internet privacy that would enhance existing consumer protections and provide flexibility to address a rapidly evolving privacy environment.
After several requests for comment, the FCC has approved its earlier proposal to create a centralized, comprehensive reassigned telephone numbers database, a resource which many have felt has been lacking. Ideally, the proposed database will be an effective tool to assist businesses in identifying numbers that have been recycled, thus helping to cut down on unwanted or mistaken phone calls received by consumers. This blog outlines the framework of the FCC’s new database, including access, administration, types of information collected, usage, and potential costs and benefits.
One of the most persistent complaints by consumers to the FCC is about receiving uninvited “robocalls.” Generally speaking, these may be phone calls or texts to wireless phones or home phones that may be telemarketing or informational calls from health providers, financial services providers, schools or retailers. The FCC is the federal agency responsible for implementation of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which contains opt in consent requirements for telemarketing and some types of informational calls which are heightened if the call is made to a wireless phone. Even when consumers have provided the requisite consent to receive “robocalls” calls from businesses it is not uncommon for consumers to terminate phone service, moving to a new service provider and getting a new phone number.
On November 7, the FCC—in a relatively terse Public Notice—announced that it would hold a Forum at its headquarters on November 30 designed to focus on artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning by having experts in AI and machine learning discuss the future of these technologies and their implications for the communications marketplace.