Sen Klobuchar and others Urge Department of Justice to Investigate Claims that Facebook Retaliated Against Critics

From Senator Klobuchar’s website

U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) led a letter with Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Chris Coons (D-DE), and Mazie Hirono (D-HI) to the Department of Justice today urging Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to expand any investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to include whether Facebook—or any other entity affiliated with or hired by Facebook—hid information and retaliated against critics or public officials seeking to regulate the platform. Recent reports—including one from the New York Times—allege that Facebook has taken significant steps to undermine critics, including hiring partisan political consultants to retaliate and spread disinformation about people who have criticized Facebook, which, if not properly disclosed, may have campaign finance implications.

“Since the 2016 election, both the government and Facebook’s own internal investigations have revealed that the company failed to adequately protect the data and trust of its 2.2 billion users. Facebook also failed to implement basic protocols to prevent manipulation by foreign adversaries working to undermine America’s political system,” the senators wrote.

“Given the staggering amount of data that Facebook has collected on both its users – even people who have not consented to use of the platform – these allegations raise profound concerns about the company’s willingness to protect the public and our democracy,” they continued.

Russia attempted to influence the 2016 presidential election by buying and placing political ads on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google. The content and purchaser(s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology. The Honest Ads Act, which is also sponsored by Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) and the late Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and cosponsored by Senators Blumenthal, Coons and Hirono would regulate social media companies like Facebook to prevent foreign actors from influencing our elections by ensuring that political ads sold online are covered by the same rules as ads sold on TV, radio, and print.

The Honest Ads Act would enhance the integrity of our democracy by improving disclosure requirements for online political advertisements by:

  • Amending the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002’s definition of electioneering communication to include paid Internet and digital advertisements and requiring proper disclaimers on both electioneering communications and issue ads.
  • Requiring digital platforms with at least 50,000,000 monthly viewers to maintain a public file of all electioneering communications purchased by a person or group who spends more than $500.00 total on ads published on their platform. The file would contain a digital copy of the advertisement, a description of the audience the advertisement targets, the number of views generated, the dates and times of publication, the rates charged, and the contact information of the purchaser.
  • Requiring online platforms to make all reasonable efforts to ensure that foreign individuals and entities are not purchasing political advertisements in order to influence the American electorate.

The full text of the letter can be found below:

Dear Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein:

We write to urge that you expand any investigation into Facebook and Cambridge Analytica to include whether Facebook – or any other entity affiliated with or hired by Facebook – retaliated against critics or public officials seeking to regulate the platform, or hid vital information from the public.

Reports indicate that the Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are conducting an investigation into Facebook’s failure to prevent and provide notice regarding the compromise of user data and the misuse of the platform by foreign governments. As the Department and other agencies proceed with the investigation, we urge you to consider new information that has come to light regarding Facebook’s behavior and to expand the scope of your inquiry accordingly.

Since the 2016 election, both the government and Facebook’s own internal investigations have revealed that the company failed to adequately protect the data and trust of its 2.2 billion users. Facebook also failed to implement basic protocols to prevent manipulation by foreign adversaries working to undermine America’s political system.

In addition to the Department of Justice’s investigation, elected officials have investigated, held hearings, and proposed legislation to significantly increase regulations on Facebook and similar online platforms. Scrutiny by Congress and the media ultimately forced Facebook to acknowledge Russia’s manipulation of the platform. However, disturbing recent reports allege that Facebook took significant steps to undermine efforts to hold them responsible, including hiring partisan political consultants to spread disinformation about people who have criticized Facebook. If not properly disclosed, such steps may have implications for securities and campaign finance law.

Given the staggering amount of data that Facebook has collected on both its users – even people who have not consented to use of the platform – these allegations raise profound concerns about the company’s willingness to protect the public and our democracy.

We strongly urge you to expand the Department’s investigation to include actions the company and its executives took to withhold significant information regarding the abuse of Facebook and its managerial response to the matter.

Sincerely,

###

USDA Partners with CTC to Broadband to Underserved Areas in Todd County

Minnesota Rural Development announces…

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development State Director for Minnesota Brad Finstad today announced more than $2 million to improve e-Connectivity in rural communities.

“Modern infrastructure for e-connectivity is no longer a luxury; it’s an essential part of economic growth,” Finstad said. “Under the leadership of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Assistant Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett, USDA is dedicated to expanding access to e-Connectivity in rural communities and ensuring continued rural prosperity.”

Consolidated Telephone Company is receiving a $2.1 million loan to construct a fiber-to-the-home broadband system that will expand its high-speed service by 250 households, eight businesses and a community center in Todd County. As a result of this project, the community center, located within Moran Township Town Hall, will be able to provide free public access to two computer terminals and a public WiFi network. Additionally, this project will ensure previously underserved residents and businesses better access to improved economic, healthcare, and education e-Connectivity services.

Finstad’s announcement is in coordination with Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett’s recent announcement that USDA is investing $91 million through its Telecommunications Programs to improve e-Connectivity services in 12 states: Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia. The 19 projects will benefit more than 27,000 businesses and households.

According to a 2018 report by the Federal Communications Commission, 80 percent of the 24 million American households who lack reliable, affordable, high-speed internet are in rural areas. USDA’s investments in broadband infrastructure are helping transform rural America, providing innovation and technology to increase economic competitiveness and opportunities.

In April 2017, President Donald J. Trump established the Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity to identify legislative, regulatory and policy changes that could promote agriculture and prosperity in rural communities. In January 2018, Secretary Perdue presented the Task Force’s findings to President Trump. These findings included 31 recommendations to align the federal government with state, local and tribal governments to take advantage of opportunities that exist in rural America. Increasing investments in rural infrastructure is a key recommendation of the task force.

To view the report in its entirety, please view the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB). In addition, to view the categories of the recommendations, please view the Rural Prosperity infographic (PDF, 190 KB).

USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit www.rd.usda.gov.

Four Iron Range communities selected for Blandin Foundation Broadband Communities Program

Fun news to share…

Blandin Foundation announced today that it has selected four Iron Range entities for intensive, two-year partnerships with the Foundation to advance local broadband initiatives.

East Range Joint Powers Board, Iron Range Tourism Bureau, Laurentian Chamber of Commerce and Tower Economic Development Authority all were successful in their bids to become Blandin Broadband Communities (BBC).

Made possible with funding support from the Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation (IRRR) and St. Louis County, this selection is unique in that all organizations are located in Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation’s northeastern Minnesota service area.

“We’re pleased that our agency can play a role in helping these northeastern Minnesota communities receive assistance in how to develop and use broadband,” said Commissioner Mark Phillips. “Developing high-speed broadband is critical to economic development, education, healthcare, and quality of life.”

“We are thankful for the leadership and support from Blandin Foundation and Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation, and are happy to partner in the Broadband Communities Program in St. Louis County,” said Barbara Hayden, St. Louis County Planning and Economic Development Director. “With so many rural areas in our county, there’s a great need for improved broadband options, certainly for our citizens, but also to boost economic development to attract and grow businesses.”

Communities were selected based on demonstrated commitment to work together across sectors to set and meet information technology goals and bridge digital divides.

Blandin Foundation staff and consultants will work with the four communities to provide planning, technical and financial support as diverse, local leadership teams design and drive digital technology initiatives that position their communities and every resident for greater success.

“High-speed Internet access – and the skills to use it – is fundamental to vibrant rural communities,” said Bernadine Joselyn, director of public policy and engagement at Blandin Foundation. “We’re excited to partner with Iron Range communities to imagine new possibilities that come with enhanced Internet access and use.”

This Iron Range cohort joins 36 rural Minnesota communities that have gone through the BBC program.

“Our experience tells us that, especially in broadband work, leadership matters,” said Dr. Kathy Annette, Blandin Foundation president and CEO. “To have commitment both at the local level and from IRRRB says something about the Iron Range. We look forward to standing with leaders in these four communities as they design and claim vibrant, connected futures.”

Next steps for each community include assessing the community’s current broadband access and use and, in early 2019, holding a series of public planning meetings.

Lake County gets 4 bids for their fiber network

The Lake County News Chronicle reports

The Lake County Board of Commissioners learned four entities submitted bids for Lake Connections, the county’s municipal broadband project.

The initial bidding period ended Nov. 2 with Lake Partners, Hanson Communications, Mediacom Communications Corp. and Cooperative Light and Power (CLP) in Two Harbors submitting bids, along with a $100,000 deposit, for the network. They will have the opportunity to submit a “best and final offer,” according to the terms of the sale set by the county and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS).

The County received federal ARRA funding (loan ($56M) and grant ($10)) to build the network in 2010. After ups and downs that network was mostly completed in 2015. IN 2015, the County invested another $15 million and the FCC awarded a grant of $3.5 million.

The article continues…

In June 2017, the county entered into a deferral agreement with RUS for principal and interest on the condition the county sell the network to a private company or entity. Two months later, the county executed a memorandum of understanding with RUS in which RUS agreed to accept to the sale price of Lake Connections in full satisfaction of the county’s debt for construction of the network.

The county board is reviewing the bids, according to County Administrator Matt Huddleston, and specific bid information was not provided. Since there were fewer than five bids, Pinpoint Holdings Inc. in Cambridge, Neb., will also have a chance to make a final bid for the network.

In late July, Pinpoint offered $3.5 million for the network in an initial bid that set the baseline price for the network.

Two bidders, Mediacom and CLP, have conflicted with the network in the past.

The deadline for bids is Nov 29; the County is scheduled to make a decision on Dec 11.

Medical Licensure Compacts makes Telehealth easier in Minnesota

MHealth Intelligence reports on policies that will smooth the path to more telehealth usage…

More than 3,000 US physicians have received permission to practice in multiple states through the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact, giving them the opportunity to expand their practice through telehealth and telemedicine.

According to the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact Commission, a branch of the Federation of State Medical Boards, 3,426 medical licenses have been by medical boards in member states since the launch of the Compact in April 2017. The IMLCC, meanwhile, has processed 1,867 applications and 497 licenses have been renewed through the compact.

Minnesota part of the compact…

Launched as a means of expediting the licensure process for physicians looking to practice in more than one state, the compact has been approved in the District of Colombia, Guam and 24 states: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Iron Range Rep Ecklund positive about future state broadband funding

The Mesabi Daily News reports on the impact of the elections on the Iron Range…

Three of the Iron Range districts in the Minnesota House will be in the majority come January after Democrats flipped 18 seats in the chamber for a seven-seat advantage.

The Senate remains Republican controlled by one vote, setting up the only split Legislature in the nation, alongside DFL Gov. Tim Walz.

Tuesday’s midterm election produced DFL winners in Dave Lislegard (House 6B), Julie Sandstede (House 6A) and Rob Ecklund (House 3A). Republican Sandy Layman won re-election in House 5B.

And some optimism on broadband funding in the legislature…

Ecklund said he believes the House changing will positively impact the 3A district.

“I think we’ll see some serious money going into rural broadband,” Ecklund told the Ely Echo. “It will be good for all of northeastern Minnesota and all of rural Minnesota. I look at broadband as a utility.”

Tracking Legislature that Expands Broadband

Pew recently posted an article on federal and state legislation aimed at expanding broadband. Here’s the federal legislation…

Since January 2017, the beginning of the 115th Congress, lawmakers have addressed broadband in many bills. Here’s a breakdown of several notable measures by theme:

Funding and authorizing broadband expansion: The fiscal year 2018 spending bill that President Donald Trump signed in March included $600 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) “e-Connectivity Pilot Program,” which will support broadband projects in rural areas. The spending law also gives the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) $7.5 million to work with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enhance the national broadband map, which depicts broadband availability and speed across the country.

Legislation proposed for this fiscal year would provide more funds for  USDA’s e-Connectivity Pilot Program: $550 million in the House-passed version of the Department of Agriculture appropriations bill and $425 million in the Senate-passed version. Pending legislation would also maintain funding for NTIA’s map modernization effort.

The 2018 farm bill—legislation authorizing federal agriculture and rural development programs—has not yet been signed into law, but the House- and Senate-passed versions would authorize new USDA grants for rural broadband deployment projects. The Senate version also includes up to $50 million for the existing Community Connect grant program.

Bolstering research: The fiscal 2018 spending law also includes measures to bolster federal government research on broadband connectivity. It requires the FCC to issue a report to Congress on the status of broadband availability to military veterans who are low-income or live in rural areas. It also requires the FCC to establish a methodology for consistently collecting wireless coverage data about speed and reliability. And the fiscal year 2019 John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act, which the president signed in August, requires the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study evaluating the impact of broadband speed and price on small businesses. Another measure, which has not become law, would require the Bureau of Economic Analysis to assess, analyze, and submit a biennial report to Congress regarding the effects of broadband deployment and adoption on the U.S. economy.

Streamlining federal broadband policymaking efforts: Congress is considering measures that would improve the efficiency and execution of federal efforts to expand broadband connectivity. The proposed Senate and House farm bills establish a task force within the FCC for meeting the connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture in the U.S.  The House bill also establishes minimal acceptable service standards for rural projects seeking funding from the USDA. Other bills streamline the permitting process for broadband deployment projects; establish an Office of Rural Broadband within the FCC to bolster its coordination with other federal agencies; and create an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within NTIA to develop training and guidance to promote broadband development in underserved communities.

In addition to these themes, Congress is also considering measures to expand access in tribal areas and bring or restore broadband to disaster-stricken areas.

They track state legislation by looking at which states provide public funding for broadband, regulatory reform (tax breaks, dig once, et al) and research. From the Minnesota perspective we legiaslation place, such as the statutory speed goals, and we have research in the form of mapping. We have the Office of Broadband Development, which is well regarded. We have the Broadband Task Force, but it sunsets after this year. And in the past we have had state grant funding for broadband, but last year the funding didn’t pass. It will be interesting to see what the new Governor and Legislators due with the current Task Force’s recommendations, which includes an extension for the Task Force and continued funding.