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)
Net neutrality and media ownership caps: next steps
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 Blumenthal calls for Comcast-NBC merger investigation
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.
NASA discovers 8th planet orbiting distant star
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 cracks down on hate speech
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.
Former Uber lawyer alleges thatUber hacked and surveilled its competitors
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.
House releases answer to the Senate’s Sex Trafficking bill
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.
Democrats push back on Disney/21st Century Fox merger
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.
Senator Brian Schatz warns about a lack of diversity in AI
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.
YouTube takes down Ajit Pai’s ‘Harlem Shake’ video for 7 hours
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.