Brian Woolfolk (@brianpwoolfolk) is the Founding Executive Director of Full Color Future--a new think tank and advocacy organization committed to changing the narrative about people of color in media, tech and innovation. He has been passionate about inclusive tech, telecom and media policy for more than 20 years, since he got his start on Capitol Hill.
Brian served as Democratic Counsel on the US House Judiciary Committee and advised Committee Members on the Telecommunications Act, media ownership diversity, and free speech issues. He also advised members and staff on constitutional, civil rights, antitrust, criminal justice and investigative issues. Prior to his Committee work, Brian served as legislative counsel to Congressman Robert C. (Bobby) Scott of Virginia, currently the Ranking Member of the House Education and Workforce Committee.
Since leaving the Hill, Brian Woolfolk has worked in private practice, representing a broad array of clients with matters before Congress, federal agencies, and state and local governments. Brian also counsels clients involved in high profile Congressional Investigations.
Mr. Woolfolk has extensive technology and media policy experience. His advocacy on tech policy issues began when he ran a pro bono project that provided government relations services to minority media companies challenging anti-competitive practices in the cable marketplace. Over the years, Brian has worked on surveillance, artificial intelligence, net neutrality, mergers, set top boxes, and a host of other issues related to the fight to ensure diverse tech and media interests are protected.
Brian has a B.A. in Criminal Justice from the University of Maryland and a J.D. from the William & Mary Law School. Brian currently serves as a Member of the William and Mary Board of Visitors (Trustees).
Brothas Be, Yo Like George, Ain't That Funkin' Kinda Hard On You?: A Memoir by George Clinton (Atria Books, 2014)
Of course you've heard by now that the Republican-led FCC voted to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules which classified ISPs as "common carriers". This classification brought them directly within the scope of the Commission's so-called "Title II" authority, which is the section of the Communications Act that deals with common carriers. The net neutrality rules banned ISPs from blocking, slowing down, or prioritizing speeds for content creators who can afford to pay for higher speeds, while keeping everyone else's in the slow lane. Those rules are gone now. However, the FCC did keep the so-called "transparency rule", which continues to require ISPs to be transparent about their network management practices. Still, the definition of "transparency" is subject to broad interpretation since there is no longer any underlying rules that say what ISPs are supposed to be transparent about. The FCC and FTC have said that they intended to pursue a Memorandum of Understanding which would define how the two agencies would work together to enforce net neutrality principles. But until that's done--there are no net neutrality rules--only unenforceable principles of net neutrality.
So what are the next steps? Well, first off, the FCC is likely to get sued. The most obvious basis for any lawsuit would be the way in which the FCC considered public comments in this proceeding, or, should I say--did NOT consider public comments. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said last week that he would be suing the FCC for illegally rolling back the net neutrality rules. He points to the fact that there were millions of fake or fraudulent comments in the record. He also says that the Commission failed to hold public hearings. Schniederman says that repealing the rules "rewards the very perpetrators who scammed the system to advance their own agenda." Other states that are planning to sue include Washington, Illinois, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Delaware, Vermont, DC and Massachusetts. Advocacy organizations, like Free Press, have also expressed their intention to sue.
The other route is legislation. Verge reporter Jacob Kastrenakes reports that Senate Commerce Committee Chair John Thune called on Congress last week to pass a new net neutrality law.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has said that he would force a vote under he Congressional Review Act to preserve the net neutrality rules.
Shannon Liao has excellent coverage of how all of this could play out in The Verge.
The FCC also passed a notice of proposed rulemaking, in which it is exploring how the FCC might reduce the broadcast ownership cap. Currently, it is illegal for a single broadcast owner to reach more than 39% of the national market. This standard was set by Congress, and it was legislation that current Republican FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly worked on when he was a Legislative Assistant for former Republican New Hampshire Senator John Sununu. O'Rielly opposes raising the cap because he says the Commission doesn't have the authority to do so. However, he says that it is appropriate for the FCC to consider raising the cap, since it is unlikely that Congress will do so. John Eggerton explains in Broadcasting & Cable.
We should also note that David Shepardson of Reuters reports that the FCC has voted behind closed doors to fine Sinclair Broadcasting $13.3 million for failing to disclose that it ran paid programming on some of its stations that was sponsored by a cancer institute. Sinclair's proposed acquisition of Tribune Media is still pending.
U.S. Senator Richard Blumental wants the DOJ to revisit the Comcast/NBCU merger that closed back in 2011. The merger conditions Comcast committed to in exchange for the merger being approved are set to expire next fall. So Blumenthal is concerned that the market harms that some have already pointed to will get worse. He wrote a letter last week to U.S. Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim asking him to consider breaking up Comcast/NBCU or, at a minimum, to extend the merger conditions. Ted Johnson reports for Variety.
With the help of Google's artificial intelligence neural network, NASA has identified an 8th planet orbiting a distant star called Kepler 90, which is about 2,500 light years away from us. The planet, which is called Kepler 90i, has a 14-day orbit and is rocky and hot, with a surface temperature of 800 degrees Farenheit. It is within the first solar system humans have discovered with as many planets as our own. Maya Wei-Haas has the story in Smithsonian.
Twitter began enforcing a new policy to crack down on white nationalist hate speech on Monday, suspending accounts linked to white nationalists. The new policy prohibits users from advocating violence against civilians. Harper Neidig reports in the Hill.
As you know, Uber, and Google parent company Alphabet's self driving car unit Waymo, have been embroiled in litigation. Waymo charges that a former employee took secrets back to Uber to help Uber develop its competing self-driving car. Well, a new letter came to light last week, and it says that Uber hacked and surveilled its competitors to gain competitive insights in a way that went far beyond industry norms. For example, the 37-page letter--dubbed Jacob's letter-- written by a former attorney to Uber's head of global intelligence, says that Uber collected the license, name and contact information of 35,000 drivers and used that information to entice them to work for Uber instead. The letter also states that Uber engaged in other less-than-savory practices as it spied on competitors. The letter was made public just days ahead of the trial that's set to commence in days. Jake Nicas reports in the Wall Street Journal.
The House of Representatives released its answer to the Senate's Stop Enabling Sex Trafficking Act last week. The House version, which is entitled the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act, or FOSTA, would make it so that companies can no longer claim immunity from *state* laws for third-party content that promotes sex trafficking. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act only prevents such immunity from federal law. The House bill also prohibits ads that solicit prostitution. Jack Corrigan reports in Next.gov.
Democratic lawmakers are calling for hearings on Disney's $52 billion bid for 21st Century Fox. Senator Amy Klobuchar is concerned about the merger's potential competitive harms. Representatives David Cicilline and Emanuel Cleaver want hearings as well. Tony Romm reports for Recode.
Hawaii Senator Brian Schatz--the top ranking internet subcommittee Democrat--scolded the tech sector for its lack of diversity at an artificial intelligence hearing last week. Schatz was particularly concerned about the lack of diversity among artificial intelligence development teams. He said that these teams are predominantly white and male and pointed to the potential for bias in setting up AI algorithms. Ali Breland reports in The Hill.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's video of himself doing the Harlem Shake to ease minds about repealing net neutrality didn't go over so well with DJ Baauer, who created the track. Bauer filed a copyright claim and YouTube took the video down for 7 hours.
In any case the video's back up but the ratio of dislikes to likes is some 24 to 1. with just 9,000 likes and 217, 000 dislikes. Sarah Jeong reports in the Verge.
Carmen Scurato (@carmenscurato) is Vice President, Policy and General Counsel at the National Hispanic Media Coalition, where she leads NHMC's policy and government affairs office in Washington, D.C. She is responsible for developing policy and legal strategies that encourage open and affordable communications, innovation, competition, and diversity. Carmen represents NHMC in meetings with decision makers in Congress and at federal regulatory agencies. She has spoken extensively on the ways that communications policy impacts people of color and regularly appears in outlets such as Fast Company, Fortune, The Root and the Guardian to highlight NHMC’s policy and advocacy efforts.
Carmen coordinates organizational responses to regulatory proposals that threaten to widen the digital divide and has co-authored several notable filings for Voices for Internet Freedom highlighting the importance of Net Neutrality and the Lifeline program for communities of color. In 2017, Carmen was the architect of Freedom of Information Act requests that compelled the FCC to release more than 50,000 consumer complaints, previously undisclosed, that drew renewed attention to the importance of preserving the 2015 Open Internet Order. Carmen also supervises NHMC’s legal fellowship program, which provides an opportunity for select students throughout the country to experience media, technology, and telecommunications law and advocacy.
Before joining NHMC, Carmen worked at the Department of Justice and assisted in Medicare fraud investigations, including a False Claims Act case that resulted in the recovery of hundreds of millions of dollars. She also worked at the DOJ Office of Legislative Affairs on large document requests received from congressional oversight committees.
Carmen, a native of Puerto Rico, earned her J.D. from Villanova University School of Law and her B.A. cum laude from New York University.
Carmen also serves on the public policy advisory council to the American Library Association and is a member of the FCC Consumer Advisory Committee. She also sits on the Advisory Board for Full Color Future and was named as one of 2017’s Full Color 50. Carmen is a member of the Pennsylvania Bar, Hispanic National Bar Association, and the Federal Communications Bar Association.
Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil
The FCC is poised to repeal its net neutrality rules this Thursday despite tens of thousands of fake or fraudulent comments in the record. Both Democratic FCC Commissioners, several members of Congress, and protesters have called on the FCC to delay repealing the rules. However, Chairman Ajit Pai and his Republican colleagues are planning to overturn the rules anyway.
The FCC on Monday announced a so-called framework under which it and the FTC would ostensibly work in partnership to weed out bad actors on the internet. However, this is more likely to be political maneuvering by the two agencies' Republican leadership, since FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeney wrote a widely-read op-ed in Quartz last week stating that the FTC does not have the expertise to regulate internet service providers.
Additionally, Brian Fung noted in the Washington Post that a case that's currently pending in the 9th Circuit could restrict those who wish to file grievances against their internet service providers even further. In FTC v. AT&T Mobility, the court will decide, within days, whether a parent corporate entity can escape being classified as a common carrier even if one or more of its smaller subsidiaries is classified as such. This is important because the FTC does not have jurisdiction over common carriers--only the FCC does. So if the court defines AT&T as a common carrier, the notion that the FTC would have any kind of authority to enforce net neutrality principles against ISPs, is a joke, basically--since AT&T would be able to claim an exemption from FTC enforcement based on the fact that its subsidiary is classified as a common carrier. And, as Brian explains, overturning the net neutrality rules would effectively remove AT&T from the FCC's common carrier definition. Taken together, a decision in the 9th circuit that's favorable to AT&T, combined with the FCC overturning the net neutrality rules, would make it a great week for AT&T, as it would mean that the company isn't subject to regulation by either agency.
House Democrats, including Elijah Cummings, are calling on the Government Accountability Office to investigate the fake comments.
In an amicus brief filed in the DC Circuit in support of Common Cause's lawsuit against the Trump Administration, Former National Security officials are worried that the Trump administration's proposed database that's designed to prevent so-called voter fraud would be susceptible to large-scale hacking. The former officials, including former National Intelligence Director James Clapper say exposing the personal information of millions of Americans online would invite hacking by both nation-states and criminals.
Remember when Cloudflare decided to stop hosting the neo-Nazi website 'Daily Stormer' for mocking the woman who was mowed down during Charlottesville riots in August? Now, Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince says that was a mistake because he's almost a "free speech absolutist" and that he let his emotions get the better of him. He says he's going to try not to be so impulsive next time. And, in the future, if the Southern Poverty Law Center reaches out to him to complain about hateful content Cloudflare is hosting, he's just going to delegate it to the Electronic Frontier Foundation--a privacy-focused non-profit that's based on the West Coast--and let those two duke it out. He's too busy to help curtail hate speech, basically. Meanwhile, Google announced that it will be hiring 10,000 people to help stamp out extremist content on YouTube.
The Securities and Exchange Commission's new division that's focused on cryptocurrencies filed its first charges last week. They're against a company called PlexCorps, which was about to hold an initial coin offering (ICO) for which it claimed investors would receive 13 times their investment. The SEC alleged fraud and froze the company's assets. Meanwhile, the price of a single Bitcoin has jumped to over $17,000, from around $1,000 in January. Bitcoin futures also launched on the New York and London exchanges on Monday. Many experts are predicting that Bitcoin will eventually crash.
Facebook released a new app last week called Messenger Kids which lets kids under 12 "connect with people they love but also has the level of control parents want." Almost immediately, Democratic Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumentahl raised concerns, saying that the app raises privacy and security concerns. So they're asking Facebook for more clarity on how the app works.
The NSA's warrantless surveillance program will expire on January 1st if Congress doesn't pass an extension. However, the White House says that it has the authority to keep the program going because the FISA court met on April 26th and made changes that would remain in place for a year. Charlie Savage reports in the New York Times.
Google has blocked YouTube on Amazon's streaming devices. Google says Amazon refuses to offer Amazon Prime through Google gadgets and has recently halted the sale of Google's Nest.
The trial between the Department of Justice against the AT&T/Time Warner merger is set to begin on March 19th. This is unlikely to meet that April 22 deadline for the deal to close, on which AT&T would have to pay Time Warner $500 million.
Victor Pickard (@vwpickard) is an Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication. His research focuses on the history and political economy of media institutions, media activism, and the politics and normative foundations of media policy. Before coming to Annenberg, he taught at New York University in the media, culture, and communication department. Previously he worked on media policy in Washington, DC as a Senior Research Fellow at the media reform organization Free Press and the public policy think tank the New America Foundation. He also taught media policy at the University of Virginia and served as a Media Policy Fellow for Congresswoman Diane Watson.
Pickard’s work has been published in numerous anthologies and scholarly journals, including Critical Studies in Media Communication, Journal of Communication; Media, Culture & Society; Global Media and Communication; International Journal of Communication; Communication, Culture & Critique; New Media and Society; Journal of Communication Inquiry; Newspaper Research Journal; Journal of Internet Law; International Journal of Communication Law and Policy; CommLaw Conspectus: Journal of Communications Law and Policy; Political Communication; Journal of Information Policy; Digital Journalism; Journalism Studies; Communication & Critical/Cultural Studies; and Communication Theory. He is a frequent commentator on public and community radio and he often speaks to the press about med ia-related issues. His op-eds have appeared in venues like the Guardian, the Seattle Times, the Huffington Post, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Atlantic.
In 2009, Pickard was the lead author of the first comprehensive report on the American journalism crisis, "Saving the News: Toward a National Journalism Strategy" (published by Free Press as part of the book Changing Media: Public Interest Policies for the Digital Age). He is the co-editor of the books Will the Last Reporter Please Turn out the Lights (with Robert McChesney, published by The New Press) and The Future of Internet Policy (with Peter Decherney, published by Routledge), and he is the author of the book America's Battle for Media Democracy: The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform (published by Cambridge University Press).
The FCC's efforts to overturn the net neutrality rules have descended into total and complete chaos. First of all, it's hard to find anyone other than telecom companies, and the beltway insiders that represent them, that support Ajit Pai's plan to overturn the rules at the December 14th meeting. A new Morning Consult poll finds that some 52% of Americans support net neutrality , with 29% who say they don't know. Just eighteen percent outright oppose. Further, the opposition to Ajit Pai's efforts appears to be bipartisan, with 53% of Republicans and Democrats coming in at just 2 points higher--55% who support the existing net neutrality rules.
And then there's the Pew Research study showing that just 6% of comments submitted in the net neutrality docket are genuine, with others being fake and duplicates. Yet the FCC doesn't appear to be accounting for the onslaught of fake comments submitted in this proceeding.
And a man was arrested and charged for threatening to kill Congressman John Katko if he failed to support net neutrality. Twenty-eight year old Patrick D. Angelo left a voicemail for Katko saying "Listen Mr. Katko, if you support net neutrality, I will support you. But if you don’t support net neutrality, I will find you and your family and I will kill…you…all. Do you understand?" This is according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
So the net neutrality debate has assumed a very unhealthy tone. Perhaps the FCC should wait on overturning the rules. That would certainly seem to be the most democratic way to go. Incidentally, some 200 businesses, including Airbnb, Tumblr, Pinterest and others sent a letter to Ajit Pai on Cyber Monday urging him to hold on overturning the rules.
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in Carpenter v. U.S. --that's the cellphone location data tracking case. The defendant was suspected of serving as a lookout during several armed robberies in Detroit. Authorities used Carpenter's cell phone location data to determine his proximity to the robberies. They found that Carpenter was indeed nearby to where the crimes took place. He was convicted and is now serving a 116-year sentence. But the justices seemed to lean in support of Carpenter's argument that his 4th Amendment rights were violated--despite the third party doctrine which holds that individuals give up their right to privacy in information disclosed to third parties. Robert Barnes covers this in the Washington Post.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is suing the U.S. government -- specifically the Department of Commerce and the Department of Homeland Security--for its work on developing a tattoo recognition technology. EFF sees the effort as an intrusion into civil liberties. Harper Neidig reports in The Hill.
A new Government Accountability Officer report found that people of color are disproportionately underrepresented within tech firms. Congressman Bobby Scott--Ranking Member of the House Education and Workforce Committee--ordered the study. The report found that some 10% of Hispanic and 7% of Black workers had Bachelors or Masters-level technology degrees, yet they represent only 5% or less of tech companies.
Softbank has initiated a formal, $48 billion takeover bid for Uber--the embattled ride-sharing company. Softbank offered to purchase Uber shares despite 3rd Quarter losses of $1.5 billion, which was up from $1.1 billion Uber lost in the second quarter. Eric Newcomer reports for Bloomberg.
Finally, the digital currency Bitcoin had banner week last week. It jumped to over $11,000, from just $1,000 in the spring. Is it a bubble? Should it be regulated? Should the Fed create its own cryptocurrency? And, most importantly, what the hell is it??? Those are the questions being asked this week as Nasdaq prepares to trade Bitcoin. Michael Derby reports in the Wall Street Journal.