Minnesota Senate Adopts Its Own Broadband Privacy Rules

WASHINGTON — Last week's rollback of the FCC's privacy rules spurred legislative action in the Minnesota State Senate, while in the U.S. Senate, the Intelligence Committee launched hearings on Russia's interference with the 2016 presidential election. Meanwhile, the Commerce Department tapped AT&T to build and maintain the nation's first-responder network. Following are highlights from last week in D.C.

Minnesota Adopts Own Privacy Rules
The Minnesota State Senate had its own exclamation point for Congress’s move to roll back broadband privacy rules. In light of Congress’s approval of the Congressional Review Act, and the president’s expected signoff, the state Senate voted to adopt its own version of the regulations, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.

Republicans had argued that state privacy laws would remain in effect even after the Federal Communications Commission’s rules were scrapped. Minnesota’s Senate took that cue and added its own.

An amendment to an economic development bill passed the Minnesota Senate with the help of one Republican vote. A similar amendment was added to the House bill, which must now be reconciled with the Senate bill.

The Minnesota amendment would prevent any ISP with a franchise agreement in the state from collecting personal information from customers “without express written approval from the customer” or from denying service if that approval was not given.

Those were two key elements of the FCC regulations that were rolled back. (Pictured: The Minnesota State Capitol)

9/11 Overhaul
More than 15 years after 9/11, the Commerce Department last week announced that AT&T had been awarded the 25-year, $46.5 billion contract to build out and maintain FirstNet, the interoperable broadband first responder network. AT&T will invest $40 billion, and in exchange will get access to the network during nonemergencies.

The network is being built using 20 MHz of spectrum set aside from the FCC’s 700-MHz auction and the government’s $6.5 billion contribution to the cause came from the FCC’s AWS-3 wireless spectrum auction.

Smaller and rural broadband providers were looking to get in on some of that action. “NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association and its members, network operators in rural areas of the country with substantial assets and infrastructure, are eager to partner with AT&T to leverage this infrastructure and to promote success in the quest to build, operate and maintain a ubiquitous public safety network throughout the country,” said association CEO Shirley Bloomfield after the announcement. Read more here.

Fake News, for Real
Broadband was much on the minds of the Senate Intelligence Committee as it launched a series of hearings on Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election. That included both cybersecurity issues and the proliferation of fake news that has been amplified by mainstream, and nonmainstream, media chasing the latest story.

Committee ranking member Mark Warner (D-Va.) cited the media “echo” chamber as partly to blame.

“The Russians employed thousands of Internet trolls and botnets to push out disinformation and fake news at high volume, focusing this material onto your Twitter and Facebook feeds and flooding our social media with misinformation,” Warner said. “[T]his fake news and disinformation was then hyped by the American media echo chamber and our own social media networks to reach — and potentially influence — millions of Americans.” Read more here.