with Tonya Riley

As the coronavirus crisis pushes even more of American life online, one Senate Democrat wants to be sure the government and private sector are doing all they can to ensure everyone who needs it has Internet access. 

Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), is introducing a bill that would require the Federal Communications Commission to update an Obama-era plan to dramatically expand Internet access. 

Markey says there is a dire need to assess the state of technology today – a decade after the National Broadband Plan was published in the wake of the global financial crisis – and whether the country is prepared to meet the new demands of a coronavirus economy. This is critical, he says, as the pandemic exacerbates the long-standing digital divide – between those who have reliable Internet at home to live and work as businesses remain closed, and those who do not. 

“Ten years have passed, and the gaps in Internet access unfortunately remain,” Markey said in an interview. “Most prominently, the coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented reliance on broadband service, and it has illustrated how important robust and affordable Internet access has to be for our country.” 

Pressure is mounting on lawmakers to help support millions of Americans without reliable home Internet access. 

As a starting point, Markey says it’s time for new analysis on access to Internet services and their affordability. 

Markey is especially focused on finding ways to support rural communities and low-income households, who are less likely to have broadband access. Markey plans to introduce a bill that would allocate an additional $4 billion for the E-rate program, which makes Internet access more affordable for schools and libraries, as the so-called “homework gap” is leading to inequities in education as schools around the country move classes online. 

And House Democrats last week released a plan to invest more than $80 billion in expanding broadband access as more services and even health care moves online during the crisis. The five-year plan would focus on communities with high levels of poverty. 

“We’re talking about distance learning, we’re talking about telemedicine, we’re talking about people buying things in a way they hadn’t before,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “And yet, it’s not available to everyone. So this is about fairness and equity in every way—access to care, access to credit, access to whatever opportunities come along in terms of testing, therapies, or vaccine.”

Markey said he supports the push for greater funding for broadband access. “The larger the number the better," he said. "$80 billion dollars is something that would put people to work and put people in touch with the world they're going to be living in the coronavirus era, and even beyond that.”

But even if lawmakers can reach a consensus on the figures, they will face challenges in determining where to deploy it, due to outdated coverage maps, as National Journal's Brendan Bordelon writes. 

It's unclear if Republicans will support the Democrats' broadband push.

Partisan divisions have complicated previous efforts to expand Internet access. Markey is optimistic that Republicans will support his push for a revival to the National Broadband Plan and expansion of the E-Rate programs.

“We're talking to Republicans, and we're hopeful that we'll be able to get bipartisan support,” he said. “It's becoming more clear where this digital divide still exists in our society, and a lot of it is inside Republican, rural districts.”

The National Broadband Plan's original architect says an update to the blueprint is overdue. 

Blair Levin, the former executive director of the original National Broadband Plan, said the most important sentence in the initial plan was: “This plan is in beta and always will be.” Markey says he's been working with Levin on this bill. 

Unlike 10 years ago, Levin says there is a deep political consensus about the importance of universal broadband and a greater willingness to spend what is needed to achieve that goal, especially in light of covid-19. 

“There is a greater understanding that we need to improve the way we utilize broadband to deliver critical services so that those expenditures will reap even greater returns for generations to come,” Levin told me. 

However, Markey's push to update the plan will take time. Even if the bill does become law, the FCC will have until July 2021 to complete the report.  

Our top tabs

Uber announced layoffs of 3,700 employees ahead of an earnings call with investors today.

The company confirmed the cuts in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing yesterday, Rachel Lerman reports

Lyft and Airbnb have also cut workers as the gig economy struggles during the pandemic.  

Trips on Lyft were down 75 percent in April, chief executive Logan Green told investors as the company reported quarterly earnings yesterday. The company reported a $398 million loss this past quarter, though its revenue grew 23 percent compared to the same quarter last year. 

The ride-hailing companies, which have seen their businesses dramatically decline as consumers stay at home during the coronavirus, face “Herculean-like challenges looking ahead,” analysts at Wedbush Securities said in a note yesterday.

Both companies are also facing legal action in California for allegedly misclassifying workers, which could lead to lengthy and expensive court battles.

Democrats introduced a $5 billion proposal to fight child sexual exploitation online. 

The Invest in Child Safety Act, introduced by Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would launch a White House office dedicated to child protection. The bill also:

  • Quadruples the number of prosecutors and agents in the Justice Department's Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section
  • Doubles funding for the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force Program, which supports state and local law enforcement
  • Requires tech companies to hold evidence of child sexual abuse for an additional 90 days to allow law enforcement to prosecute older cases

The bill is a response to Republican child safety legislation that would strip tech companies of protections from liability for user content if child pornography is shared on their networks. 

Security experts and Wyden allege that the EARN IT Act, which Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) introduced in March, is a sneak attack on encrypted technologies.

If you weaken strong encryption, all that filth would just move to dark web platforms and you’d make it easier for really bad guys to harm children,” Wyden told Joseph Marks in today's Cybersecurity 202. 

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, a government-established nonprofit organization, has endorsed both pieces of legislation.

Critics already have questions for Facebook's oversight board.

A former Nobel Peace Prize laureate, a former prime minister of Denmark and a former federal judge are among the 20 inaugural members of Facebook's Oversight Board, the company announced yesterday. The group, which also includes 10 academics and six journalists, is expected to make critical decisions about what can be posted on the social network. 

We are all committed to freedom of expression within the framework of international norms of human rights, the board's four co-chairs Catalina Botero-Marino, Jamal Greene, Michael W. McConnell and Helle Thorning-Schmidt wrote in a New York Times opinion editorial. We will make decisions based on those principles and on the effects on Facebook users and society, without regard to the economic, political or reputational interests of the company.

The board has been pitched as the company's version of the Supreme Court and will hear only a selection of cases about Facebook's content moderation for review. The board will spend the next several months selecting its first cases with plans to commence in the fall. 

Rant and rave

The long-awaited announcement of the Facebook Oversight Board members sparked additional concerns about how the body will operate. Several experts noted the members lacked experience working in content moderation.

Alex Stamos, director of the Stanford Internet Observatory and former chief security officer at Facebook:

Alexander Macgillivray, former deputy U.S. chief technology officer:

Facebook wouldn't disclose how much members are paid, Bloomberg News's Sarah Frier notes:

Stanford Law professor Daphne Keller cautioned against other platforms adopting the model prematurely:

Coronavirus response

Former Google chief executive Eric Schmidt will chair a New York commission on technology in the post-pandemic economy.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said he invited Schmidt to explore how telehealth, remote learning and broadband can help reorient the state's economy around technology.

Cuomo also tapped Microsoft founder Bill Gates to reimagine the state's education system to center technology on Tuesday.

More coronavirus response news:

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is working with companies including 3M, Amazon and Pfizer to curtail the flow of counterfeit masks, coronavirus tests and other equipment entering the U.S.
The Wall Street Journal

Trump tracker

A top Trump donor will head the U.S. Postal Service, giving the president more leverage to raise prices for Amazon.

Louis DeJoy, a North Carolina business executive in charge of fundraising for the Republican National Convention, was confirmed by the Postal Service's board of governors last night, Josh Dawsey, Lisa Rein and Jacob Bogage report

Trump has previously urged the Postal Service to raise fees for customers including Amazon, alleging that the retail giant takes advantage of the agency. The Postal Service, which has suffered significant financial losses in recent years, defends its business with the company. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

The coalition, which includes Amazon, plans to pour $2 million into ads opposing President Trump’s call for higher package delivery rates and pressing for Congress to help the service.
New York Times

Agency scanner

The FCC slammed Sinclair Broadcast Group with a record $48 million fine.

It's the Federal Communications Commission's largest fine against a broadcaster, Rachel Lerman reports. The conservative broadcaster was under investigation for misrepresenting information during its proposed merger with Tribune Media.

More agency news:

  • Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) led a letter asking Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons to take stronger action against scammers targeting small businesses during the coronavirus.

Inside the industry

Sharing-economy companies are lobbying Congress to guarantee that independent contractors can access small-business loans in the next coronavirus relief package. 

“It is clear these funds are not yet reaching many of the entrepreneurs who rely on our platforms to run their businesses,” Airbnb, Etsy, eventbrite, Thumbtack and Upwork wrote in a letter to House leadership. The groups also asked for additional support, including extending the deferment of federal  tax payments to January.

More industry news:

Short-term rental hosts are launching their own direct-booking websites in an effort to diversify their business after years of mounting frustrations with companies such as Airbnb.
CNBC

Workforce report

Rent the Runway employees say they're forced to choose between working in unsafe conditions or going without a paycheck.

“Behind the scenes, members of the largely immigrant workforce tasked with fulfilling rental orders feel like they’ve been forced to choose between their paychecks and their health,” reports HuffPost's Jesseyln Cook, who spoke to 22 current and former employees. The company continues to operate in both states under exemptions for fulfillment center operations. 

Employees at the company's New Jersey and Texas warehouses say the company didn't introduce social distancing until late March and didn't give out face masks until mid-April. The company also did not communicate with workers about any infections in the warehouses, workers say.

“We’ve always been expendable,” one worker said. “I guess it took a pandemic to bring that to light.”

Rent the Runway would not disclose if any employees had tested positive for the coronavirus. The company follows government regulations, the company told HuffPost.

Retail employees also reported unsafe working conditions predating the coronavirus outbreak. After employees raised concerns, Rent the Runway shut down retail operations  — only to lay off the entire retail staff less than two weeks later. The company also terminated a number of customer service workers. 

Mentions

Zoom tapped a former Trump national security adviser for a board role amid security concerns.

The videoconference platform Zoom hired H.R. McMaster, a former national security adviser to President Trump, to serve on its board, it announced yesterday. The retired Army lieutenant general is a senior fellow and lecturer at Stanford University.

It also hired Jonathan “Josh” Kallmer as head of global public policy and government relations. Kallmer was executive vice president for policy at the Information Technology Industry Council.

Facebook finally tapped a CEO for cryptocurrency project Libra.

Stuart Levey, chief legal officer at British bank HSBC holdings, will take helm of the association this summer, the Wall Street Journal reports. Levey is a former U.S. Treasury undersecretary.

Trending

With gyms closed and nowhere to go, more people are shelling out $2,245 for the workout bike.
The New York Times
Shuttered museums are rushing to create meaningful interactions online, but artists have been doing this since the 1990s.
The New York Times

Daybook

  • The Knight Foundation will host a webinar on coronavirus misinformation, featuring Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble, at 1 p.m.
  • The Senate Commerce Committee will host a hearing on the state of broadband amid the covid-19 pandemic on Wednesday at 10 a.m.
  • The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation will host a webinar “Mind the Gap: A Design for a New Energy Technology Commercialization Foundation” on Wednesday at noon.
  • The Open Technology Institute will host an event on the role of technology in pandemic response efforts on May 14 at 11:30 a.m.

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