Broadband Cable Association of Pennsylvania


October 11, 2012

The Supreme Court won't be hearing a class action against several telecommunications carriers that helped the National Security Agency monitor calls and emails, ending the action against the companies. The court declined to hear Hepting v AT&T Tuesday, without explanation. The decision upholds the 2008 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments, which permit immunity for telecommunications companies. The case consolidated more than 30 suits against telecoms and alleged they violated the privacy rights of their customers by participating in a program started under the Bush administration to monitor communications coming into and out of the country.

The issue that would have been before the court concerned a 2008 law that granted retroactive immunity to companies that aided U.S. intelligence agencies. The justices refused to review a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision from December, which said that the immunity granted "passes constitutional muster." Lawyers for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union hoped the Supreme Court would consider the argument that the retroactive immunity was "an unprecedented violation of the separation of powers" since it let the executive branch avoid accountability in court.

Cindy Cohn, legal director of EFF, expressed disappointment with the outcome, telling Wired that it "lets the telecommunication companies off the hook for betraying their customers' trust." Later this month, the Supreme Court is set to hear another case on whether NSA officials can be held responsible for authorizing mass wiretapping. Also, litigation on the wiretapping program continues in the lower courts, with a hearing set in federal court in San Francisco next month on the EFF's case against the government, Wired noted. Wall Street Journal

Moderating a discussion on the future of broadband, Mashable editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff tossed a provocative question to the audience: "By quick show of hands, how many out there think that broadband is a luxury?" Next question: "How many out there think it is a human right?" That option easily carried the audience vote. Ulanoff's fellow panelists at the United Nations' recent "Social Good Summit" took a similar view. Held annually to coincide with the UN's General Assembly, the gathering brings together business executives, activists, academics and entrepreneurs to explore how technology can help "make the world a better place."

Broadband access is too important to society to be relegated to a small, privileged portion of the world population, Hans Vestberg, president and CEO of Ericsson, said during the discussion. Dr. Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, echoed Vestberg's remarks. "We need to make sure all the world's inhabitants are connected to the goodies of the online world, which means better health care, better education, more sustainable economic and social development," Toure said.

Vestberg highlighted the link between broadband services and economic growth. "Endless studies have been done across the globe," he said, "For every 10% of broadband penetration, you get 1% of sustainable GDP." The world recently hit a major milestone: 1 billion people now have mobile broadband subscriptions, defined as speeds of 3G or higher. Within the next 5 years, that number is forecast to soar to 5 billion.

Vestberg and Toure both serve on the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, which late last month published "The State of Broadband 2012." In the report, the commission analyzes the current distribution of broadband worldwide and maps out goals for increasing access, mainly through smartphones. The so-called "digital gap" is shrinking. In 2002, an estimated 8% of world's population was online, but by 2012 that number had risen past 33%. Most of the growth is happening in the developing world.

Those trends have profound global implications. For example: The number of Internet users accessing the Internet in Chinese will outnumber English language users by 2015, experts predict. The total number of smartphones in the world is expected to top 3 billion by 2017, and by 2020, connected devices may outnumber connected people by a ratio of 6:1. Those without connections will be cut off from one of the planet's fastest growing "economies." The size of the Internet economy in the G20 countries reached $2.3 trillion in 2010 -- equivalent to around 4.1% of their GDP -- and could double by 2016, according to estimates from the Boston Consulting Group.

Linking up the two-thirds of the world's population that remains offline requires a mix of initiatives. Right now 199 countries, including the United States, have a national broadband plan, and 12 more are in planning stages. The UN commission's report maps out a series of best-practices advice and case studies for expanding access. Getting the private sector involved is key -- they're often the ones actually footing the bill for infrastructure development. Ericsson's Vestberg said he sees more governments exploring private-sector investment options and setting formal targets for their digital goals. "It's no longer a luxury," Toure said. "We see this is a fundamental tool that is expected by everyone." CNN

Conflicting press releases from Democrats and Republicans (a real rarity there, eh?) suggest that Mitt Romney's campaign is either folding in Pennsylvania or getting ready to double-down. Tuesday morning, the state GOP issued a statement, "Romney Seizes Momentum in PA," that cites new polling numbers showing President Obama with a slim 3-point lead and points to a National Journal piece asking if Pennsylvania is "the newest battleground state." Within an hour of that statement, Pennsylvania Democrats issued a statement, "Romney closing shop in PA," that cites reports that some of the Republican contender's forces are being moved from Pennsylvania to Ohio.

Meanwhile, veteran political journalist Jim O'Toole of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that two new polls show Romney close to Obama here but notes that neither campaign is currently airing ads in Pennsylvania (what you're seeing are national ads) while Ohio markets such as Cleveland, Toledo, Columbus and Cincinnati were among the campaigns' top 15 ad-buy areas for the month of September.

The Website still has Pennsylvania "leaning Obama" while Ohio is listed as a toss-up state. But if the post-debate polling swings here, in other states and nationally teach us anything it is that the race is more volatile that many believed, which suggests there's still time for movement on both sides. Pennsylvania, structurally, remains a tough get for Romney; and the state's history of going blue in every presidential election since 1988 might well be repeated. But the tightening of the contest here following Mitt's mauling of Obama in the first debate is clear evidence of how fast a fall can happen anywhere -- whether one candidate is really in any state or not.