Give everybody the internet

“According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), 21 million Americans don’t have access to quality broadband internet, though some estimates suggest that number is much higher, even double. Millions of people simply can’t access broadband because the infrastructure isn’t in place. Then there’s the question of cost — just because a wire runs by someone’s house doesn’t mean they can use it. In 2019, Pew Research found that half of non-broadband users still say they don’t subscribe to the service because it’s too expensive, and nearly one in five households earning $30,000 or less aren’t online. A $60-a-month internet option, about the national average, is only available if you have that $60.

Now the coronavirus pandemic has put into stark relief how crucial it is to have the internet — and how costly it is to be without it. For millions of kids, it means access to an education. For many workers, it means doing their jobs. For patients, it means talking to a doctor. It’s how we access government services, look for work, find our homes, and stay connected in our day-to-day lives.”

“Broadband internet in the United States is not great. It is too slow, too expensive, and it is not everywhere, even in urban areas. Major telecommunications providers have been accused of “digital redlining” in cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, and Dallas, and discriminating against low-income and minority communities. Even where there is a decent internet connection, there’s often only one option for a provider, and customers are left to whatever the whims of that provider are.
The issue is, in part, that much of the country’s internet infrastructure has been left in the hands of the private sector, an atypical scenario relative to other services that require vast infrastructure.

The way it works is that there are fiber optic trunk lines across the US, and from there, other cables branch out. Fiber is fast and pretty much limitless in capacity, but it is also expensive to install — especially in the last mile, the final bit of connection to a business or home. Most people get broadband through coaxial cable networks for that last mile, while others go through DSL that runs on copper phone lines. The former is slow, the latter slower. The US lags behind countries such as South Korea, Japan, and Switzerland when it comes to typical download speeds.”

“For private telecom companies building out broadband, that means making decisions about where to expand based on their bottom lines. Getting the internet to small communities or communities that are unlikely or unable to purchases their services may not be worth the upfront investment. The competitive incentive isn’t there.”

“Telecommunications companies and ISPs are natural monopolies, which means that high infrastructure costs and other barriers to entry give early entrants a big advantage over potential competitors. It costs money to install cable systems, and once one company does it, another one doesn’t want to do it again, nor does the company that made all the investment want to share. Many Republicans and Democrats have taken a lax attitude toward the telecom industry, allowing companies to get big and powerful — the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowed for an enormous amount of consolidation in the industry. On top of that, at the local level, many municipalities have signed franchise agreements with ISPs to wire up their areas, further locking in monopolies with little negotiating power.

“If you leave these guys to their own devices, they will divide up markets, consolidate, and charge as much as they possibly can,””

“The government has given private companies billions of dollars to try to fund broadband projects, especially on the rural front, but not all of that money has been well spent. Funds have gone to operating costs for existing telecom providers instead of capital costs to build infrastructure outright. Sometimes, companies don’t wind up building out the networks they promise.”

“More than 20 states have laws that ban or put up roadblocks to municipal broadband projects that might allow cities to provide alternatives and compete. The telecom lobby fought hard for these provisions. In deep blue California, a bill to expand broadband access there recently died in the state assembly.”

How China’s Clamp Down on Hong Kong Could Affect the Global Internet

“Many U.S. companies only partially operate on the mainland, and some of them are basically shut out. Having offices in Hong Kong lets them have a footprint in China without being openly subject to CCP rule”

“China is exerting more direct control of Hong Kong through the Committee for Safeguarding National Security and another new body called the “Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” which is totally under the control of the mainland and not subject to Hong Kong jurisdiction at all. As the lines between the CCP and Hong Kong governance become blurrier, it becomes harder to claim you do not collaborate with or enable foreign governments that operate ethnic concentration camps.
And the NSL asks for much collaboration. Article 43 of the NSL empowers Hong Kong police with authorities to investigate suspected subversion. Specifically, law enforcement can “[require] a person who published information or the relevant service provider [i.e. technology company] to delete the information or provide assistance” including decryption. If the service provider refuses, the police can petition for a warrant to force the intended digital deeds.

In other words, to operate in Hong Kong, a technology company, foreign or domestic, must accept being deputized as a CCP informant. Failure to comply means possible fines of up to $100,000 HKD (around $13,000 USD) and six months in prison.

There are also provisions for surveillance.”

The Trump administration’s flawed plan to destroy the internet as we know it

“Section 230, the law that is often credited as the reason why the internet as we know it exists, could be facing its greatest threat yet. A seemingly coordinated attack on the law is unfolding this week from the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress. It follows complaints that platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube unfairly censor conservative speech. Though some are framing the efforts as a way to promote free speech, others say the result will be exactly the opposite.

Following President Trump’s executive order aimed at social media companies he thinks are censoring right-wing voices, the most direct actions taken against Section 230 arrived this week in the form of a new bill from Sen. Josh Hawley and a set of recommendations from Attorney General Bill Barr.

Hawley, a 40-year-old Republican from Missouri who has made no secret of his intentions regarding Section 230, is proposing a bill that would require large platforms to enforce their rules equally to stop a perceived targeting of conservatives and conservative commentary. Hawley is also rumored to be preparing another Section 230-related bill to add to his growing collection.

Meanwhile, Barr’s Department of Justice said it is calling for new legislation that, in certain cases, would remove the civil liability protections offered by Section 230. If platforms like Facebook, Google, and Twitter somehow encouraged content that violates federal law, these platforms would be treated as “bad samaritans” and would lose the immunity offered by Section 230. Like Hawley’s bill, the DOJ’s proposed rules would also force platforms to clearly define and equally enforce content rules.

Civil rights advocates say they’re concerned that some of these proposed measures may end up becoming law, leading to all sorts of unintended consequences and stifling speech — which will ultimately punish internet users far more than the websites.”

“Section 230 is part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996. It says internet platforms that host third-party content are not civilly liable for that content. There are a few exceptions, such as intellectual property or content related to sex trafficking, but otherwise the law allows platforms to be as hands-off as they want to be with user-generated content.

“If a Twitter user were to tweet something defamatory, the user could be sued for libel, but Twitter itself could not.”

“If these sites could be held responsible for the actions of their users, they would either have to strictly moderate everything those users produce — which is impossible at scale — or not host any third-party content at all. Either way, the demise of Section 230 could be the end of sites like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, Yelp, forums, message boards, and basically any platform that’s based on user-generated content.”

“The consequences of changing Section 230 will inevitably change the internet and what we’re allowed to do on it. Ruane, from the ACLU, points to the impact of FOSTA-SESTA, which she says “has been a complete and total disaster,” and its unintended consequences as a guide for what we can expect. Faced with the new law, online platforms didn’t seek to target specific content that might relate to or facilitate sex trafficking; they simply took down everything sex or sex work-related to ensure they wouldn’t get in trouble.

“It was only supposed to apply to advertisements for sex trafficking. That is absolutely not what happened,” Ruane said. “All platforms adopted much broader content moderation policies that applied to a lot of LGBTQ-related speech, sex education-related speech, and … sites where [sex workers] built communities where they shared information to maintain safety.””

“laws that force platforms to be “politically neutral” may not encourage more speech, as conservatives who favor those laws claim, but rather suppress it. Facebook has taken a similar stance, saying on Wednesday that changing Section 230’s liability protections would “mean less speech of all kinds appearing online.”

Section 230 won’t change tomorrow, if it changes at all. But a series of seemingly coordinated attacks from two of the three branches of government certainly shows some momentum toward the possibility of change.”

Inside the COVID-Denialist Internet Bubble

“At the moderate end, among the media-skeptic pro-Trump crowd, the virus is real and it’s scary, but so are liberal overreach, open borders, government spending, breathless public-health fearmongering and criticism of Trump. At the extreme end, let’s call it Full QAnon, the outbreak is engineered by Chinese scientists, Big Pharma or criminal celebrities, and may or may not be real.”