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 The content and purchaser(s) of those online advertisements are a mystery to the public because of outdated laws that have failed to keep up with evolving technology.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,

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Tax changes could make it harder for cooperatives to provide broadband

As if policy and technology weren’t enough to make it hard to understand broadband for your community – we can now throw in taxes! But the devil is in the details and understanding the policy, technology and taxes helps your community make god choices when it comes to getting better broadband.

The Institute for Local Self Reliance reports

For many rural Americans, the local electric or telephone cooperative is their best hope for finally obtaining modern-day connectivity. With the support of government funding, rural cooperatives have brought electricity, telephone service, and more recently broadband access to some of the most rugged and sparsely populated places in the country.

However, recent tax code changes might prevent co-ops from connecting more rural communities. Cooperatives could potentially lose their tax exempt status if they accept government grants for broadband expansion and disaster recovery — an unintended yet foreseeable consequence of the Republican “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” passed late last year. In a press release, Senator Tina Smith called attention to the oversight, noting, “This uncertainty has caused cooperatives significant concern and frozen some of their grant applications.”

They outline the specifics of the tax code and policy and mention what Senator Smith is going to propose to improve the situation…

To ensure that convoluted tax policy isn’t standing in the way of better connectivity for millions of rural residents, Senator Smith plans to introduce legislation that would ensure government grants are not counted as income for the purpose of a telephone or electric cooperative’s tax-exempt status. In the meantime, she requested that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig take action to address the co-ops’ concerns.

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.

Letter to editor support Grabowska in 23B

The Mankato Free Press ran a letter to the editor in support of Jim Grabowska, who is running for State Representative in 23B…

In 2018, broadband internet isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity for anyone who wants to compete in the market, stay connected to their social groups or get a quality education. The market forces are insufficient to fill in the gaps in our rural broadband network and for decades now rural Minnesotans have been left behind. If we want to keep our rural communities strong and flourishing, it’s crucial that we make comprehensive broadband a priority at the Legislature.

That’s why I’m voting for Jim Grabowska for the Minnesota House on Tuesday. Grabowska is lifelong educator who understands that the modern world moves at the speed of information. I know he will be an advocate to close the rural broadband gaps and to keep our towns, markets and families strong.

Candidate Tina Smith noted for work in broadband

DL-Online reports…

She [Tina Smith] has also been a strong supporter of bringing broadband to rural areas. As Minnesota’s lieutenant governor, she led the state’s well-regarded efforts to deploy broadband in rural communities, and the issue remains near and dear to her heart as senator.

The bipartisan Senate Farm Bill includes Smith’s Community Connect Grant Program to bring broadband to communities that need it.

There are 250,000 Minnesota households without adequate broadband. “It could mean millions of dollars for Minnesota, which would be a big help,” she said. “It’s a huge economic development issue.”

Since Minnesota’s broadband grant program works a lot better than the federal program, Smith said she has been talking to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on how to implement the Minnesota system at the federal level. “He’s been very interested,” she said.

The Senate Farm Bill in general “is another example of bipartisan work that would really benefit Minnesota agriculture,” she said.