All posts in “FCC”

A single House Republican sides with Democrats on net neutrality

There’s a Democratic bill in the House of Representatives that seeks to void the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality, restoring the Obama-era rules that once ensured a free and open internet. 

But even with the support of nearly every Democrat in the House, the petition still falls far short of the 218 signatures it needs to force a vote in the lower chamber on overturning the net neutrality repeal. 

However, on Tuesday, the vast majority of Americans who support the Obama-era policy were given a new reason to hope: Rep. Mike Coffman became the first House Republican to stand with Democrats on net neutrality, signing his name to their petition to force a vote.

Coffman’s surprising defection marks one part of a two-pronged attack: That same day, the Republican from Colorado also introduced the “21st Century Internet Act,” a bill that would “permanently codify” the core tenets of net neutrality and better safeguard the open internet against the partisan machinations of the FCC. It’s a legislative action that Coffman first hinted he would take in the immediate aftermath of the net neutrality repeal.

And though Coffman told Politico that he prefers his bill to the Democrats’ bill to void the FCC ruling, he conceded that his rival party’s efforts were “better than nothing.”  

His signature might just be the shot-in-the-arm that Democrats needed. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), the author of the Democrats’ petition, suggested Coffman might be the first of many Republicans
to break rank on restoring net neutrality.

“We currently have 177 signers on our discharge petition and we continue to have productive conversations with members on both sides of the aisle about signing on,” Doyle said in an emailed statement to Mashable. “This isn’t a partisan issue anywhere except in Washington DC.”

Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), whose chamber of Congress successfully voted to void the FCC repeal in May, called on the highest ranking Republican in the House to bring the Democratic resolution to a vote.

“I hope more Republicans will join this effort and stand on the side of American families who rely on and overwhelmingly support a free and open internet,” Markey said in an emailed statement to Mashable. “I reiterate my call on Speaker Ryan to immediately schedule a vote on the CRA resolution so we can put net neutrality rules back on the books as soon as possible.”

Neither Democrat immediately commented on whether he would vote for Coffman’s bill. Mashable will update this post if they do.

It bears repeating that both the Democratic resolution and Coffman’s bill face arduous futures. Even if they can garner the support they need to pass both chambers of Congress, they’ll still need the president’s signature to become law. And Trump has never minced words when it comes to his animus towards Obama-era regulations — including net neutrality rules.

Nevertheless, it’s at least heartening to see both parties starting to work together towards restoring a free and open internet. 

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FCC updates Emergency Alert System to prevent false alarms

Earlier this year, the people of Hawaii received an emergency alert on their phone. This alert read:

Emergency Alert

BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL

As you can probably now tell, a missile did not hit Hawaii in January 2018. This message, which explicitly said was “not a drill,” indeed turned out to be just that: a drill. The test message was mistakenly sent out as an actual emergency alert. However, at the time, it took nearly 40 minutes for officials to issue a correction about the alert, sending pretty much everyone on the island in a confused state of panic.

In response to the false alarm in Hawaii, which occurred when a state emergency employee hit the wrong option on a drop-down menu, the FCC is taking steps to make the Emergency Alert System more reliable.

Local and state officials will now be able to carry out “live code” tests of the Emergency Alert System. This would allow tests to be conducted with all the alert protocols and sounds of an actual alert, but fully planned, labeled as a test, and with prior notifications of the test for the general public.

The FCC also unveiled that public service announcements about the Emergency Alert System will now present itself as an actual emergency alert. With these new procedures, it looks like the Commission is making moves to normalize these alerts so tests can be carried out without the worry of an error leading to a widespread panic.

In their announcement, the FCC also outlines the processes that need to be taken and requires the Commission to be contacted, in the event that another false emergency alert is sent out.

These changes to the Emergency Alert System look like they could be helpful in preventing the next false “there is a missile about to hit your state” alarm. However, these FCC updates don’t really seem to prevent what actually caused the Hawaii panic in the first place: human error thanks to bad user interface.

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FCC may soon charge you $225 to investigate your complaint

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai drinks out of his infamous giant coffee mug. Perhaps the proposed $225 fee to have the FCC read your complaints are going to buying Pai a new very large mug.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai drinks out of his infamous giant coffee mug. Perhaps the proposed $225 fee to have the FCC read your complaints are going to buying Pai a new very large mug.

Image: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

Late last December, nearly 24 million comments poured into the FCC after the agency revealed its plans, spearheaded by its chairman Ajit Pai, to roll back net neutrality. 

The FCC’s rules, as they stand, require all comments from the public to be forwarded to the commissioners, and for the commissioners to take these comments into consideration when casting a vote on a new measure.

Well, it seems like the current FCC doesn’t want to bother having to read through all your comments anymore. At least, not without getting paid for it.

Coming up on the FCC’s docket for a vote on Thursday is a proposed measure titled “Streamlining the Rules Governing Formal Complaint Proceedings.” What does this streamlining include? Forwarding your complaints directly to the telecom company for them to deal with rather than the FCC.

And what if you really want the FCC to get involved? They’ll charge you.

The Verge reports that two high-ranking Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, Senator Mike Doyle and Senator Frank Pallone, have sent a letter to FCC chairman Ajit Pai voicing how they are “deeply concerned” about the proposed rule change.

Under current FCC rules, the commission reviews and acts on consumer complaints. Under the new rules, these type of free-to-file informal customer complaints would be forwarded to the telecommunication companies. If consumers are not satisfied with the outcome in dealing directly with the telecom company in question, the customer can come back to the FCC with a formal complaint, an existing commission legal process – one which the FCC will review – that costs $225 to file.

If the new FCC rules are passed, consumers are left with the option of letting the very service provider they’re complaining about decide the outcome of their complaint, or ponying up the cash to start the legal process with the FCC. And, as Senator Doyle and Senator Pallone said in their letter, this rule change would come “at a time when consumers are highly dissatisfied with their communications companies.”

The FCC has commented on the Democrats’ letter, disputing the details describing the rule changes in the measure. In an email to CNET, a FCC spokesman writes:

“The item would not change the Commission’s handling of informal complaints. The Democrats’ letter is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the draft order.”

As the Washington Post points out in talking with senior Democratic committee aides, while the $225 fee for the formal complaint process isn’t new, the updated wording of the FCC rules in this measure does free the FCC of its current informal complaint responsibilities.

Mashable has reached out to the FCC and will update when we receive a response.

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The call to break up Facebook’s ‘monopoly’ is getting louder

CWA was concerned about Facebook's growing power, and the labor union is not the only one with such a concern.
CWA was concerned about Facebook’s growing power, and the labor union is not the only one with such a concern.

Image: Getty Images/Passage

Facebook may have grown to a point where it’s too big for its own good. Or anybody’s, for that matter.

The largest U.S. media and communications labor union, Communications Workers of America, is adding fuel to that point of view. It’s just joined the Freedom from Facebook Coalition, which is petitioning the Federal Trade Commission to break up the growing “monopoly” power of Facebook.

Blazoned atop the coalition’s website reads: “Facebook has too much power over our lives and democracy. It’s time for us to take that power back.” The coalition, which includes social activist groups like Demand Progress and MoveOn Civic Action, wants the FTC to separate WhatsApp and Instagram as separate companies, away from Facebook’s control.

CWA Communications Director Beth Allen told Mashable that the group was concerned about the social media giant’s growing power. And the labor union is not the only one with such a concern.

Facebook is already under the microscope of a federal investigation from the FTC for its Cambridge Analytica data scandal, and there are dozens of privacy lawsuits against the social media giant right now. Before things get any better for Facebook, they’ll probably get worse, at least from a legal perspective.

The CWA also has a lawsuit against Facebook, alleging that the way the company targets job advertisements leads to age discrimination. Allen told Mashable that joining this coalition could offer the group a larger platform for the union’s legal battle against Facebook.

“We have been looking closely at Facebook, and the coalition that was forming was interesting to us because we wanted to be able to shed more light on this age-discrimination issue,” Allen said. “We just want to make sure regulators are doing what they can to limit Facebook’s power and ensure that Facebook is not engaging in any discriminatory behavior.”

We’ll see whether the FTC will actually splinter the monolith, but it’s far from the first time Facebook has been accused of being a monopoly. When questioned about the issue before Congress in April, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook “certainly doesn’t feel like [a monopoly] to me.”

The list of others who feel differently is growing, and it may eventually enlarge to the point where Zuckerberg can’t just casually dismiss them.

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One Florida man was behind 96 million of the worst kind of robocalls, FCC says

Those terrible robocalls might finally stop.
Those terrible robocalls might finally stop.

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Have you ever gotten a phone call from a number that looked very similar to your own, only to pick up and realize it’s a robocall trying to sell you something?

If you have, you’re not alone. This week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) slapped its largest fines ever on a Florida man it says is responsible for more than 96 million of those dreaded robocalls.

Adrian Abramovich, the Miami man behind the scheme, was ordered to pay a $120 million fine this week as punishment for scamming millions of people with more than 96 million robocalls over a three-month period in 2016. 

While robocalls themselves aren’t illegal, it is illegal to “spoof” caller ID information, which is exactly what the FCC says Abramovich did. He spoofed area codes as well as the first three digits of phone numbers in order to disguise the calls as legitimate calls from local numbers. 

Unsuspecting people would pick up what they thought was a legitimate call only to be greeted with a pre-recorded messages trying to sell timeshares or other vacation packages.

Oddly enough, it was TripAdvisor that tipped off the FCC about Abramovich. The travel company had launched its own investigation into the calls after hearing complaints that its name was being used to sell the vacation packages. Their investigation traced the calls back to the company managed by Abramovich.

But what’s most shocking is the sheer scale of the operation. His firm was linked to at least 96,758,223 calls in a single three-month period in 2016. It was, according to the FCC, “one of the largest spoofed robocall campaigns that the Commission has ever investigated.”

The historic $120 million fine is the largest to ever brought by the FCC, according to a statement from FCC commissioner Ajit Pai. 

“Our decision sends a loud and clear message: this FCC is an active cop on the beat and will throw the book at anyone who violates our spoofing and robocall rules and harms consumers.”

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