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Staunch net neutrality advocate Mignon Clyburn steps down from FCC

Mignon Clyburn, one of five commissioners for the Federal Communications Commission and a staunch supporter of net neutrality, announced her decision to step down from her role today after more than eight years at the agency. Clyburn, a Democrat, may be replaced by FCC official Geoffrey Starks, who Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has reportedly been eyeing to take up the second of two Democratic seats on the Republican-controlled FCC. It is typically customary for the FCC commissioners to represent the party in power, and President Donald Trump appointed Republican Ajit Pai as chairman in January of 2017.

While Clyburn’s departure was expected, the loss of a net neutrality advocate does further diminish the FCC’s willingness to regulate internet service providers.

Last year, Pai led a vote to successfully kill net neutrality by repealing the Open Internet Order that reclassified telecoms as utilities under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Clyburn briefly ran the FCC for six months in 2013 as its first female chair, ahead of the official tenure of Obama-nominated Tom Wheeler, who Clyburn helped to push the FCC three years ago to pass the strictest net neutrality rules to date.

In her time as chair, Clyburn made numerous pro-competition and pro-consumer strides in areas like the unlocking of smartphones, internet access for low-income and minority communities, and per-minute rate caps on long-distance phone calls for prison inmates. After Wheeler was replaced last year by Pai, who began orchestrating his rollback of net neutrality, Clyburn fought vigorously to retain consumer internet protections.

She often addresses protestors in public forums to fight for the sanctity of the internet and publicly denounced the decision to repeal Wheeler’s order.

“But we — meaning the FCC — are supposed to be here protecting the consumer’s experience and interests when it comes to communications and other services,” Clyburn told CNET last December. “We are supposed to be enablers of opportunities both for businesses and individuals. How do we best balance the scales when it comes to regulating consumer protections and promoting innovation and investment? We use legally sustainable rules of the road so there is a cop on the beat that can and will enforce them.”

In a statement, acting FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the remaining Democrat on the commission, voiced her support for Clyburn and the work she did to protect the internet in a statement given to Gizmodo:

Commissioner Clyburn has been a forceful advocate for change, for equal opportunity, and for closing the digital divide.

It was a privilege to support her history-making leadership as Acting Chairwoman. It has been an honor to work alongside her to put consumers first and bring connectivity to those at greatest risk of being left behind — urban, rural, and everywhere in between. I am proud to have worked together with her to support net neutrality and grateful to have been her partner in her unwavering work to remedy the grave injustice of exorbitant prison phone rates.

As she departs this agency, she should know her legacy is intact because so many who work on communications policy will continue to be guided by her outstanding example. I consider myself among them.

In short, Commissioner Clyburn is a dynamo. She represents the best of public service.

I am proud to call her both a colleague and a friend.

Pai also issued a statement today, congratulating Clyburn on her legacy but acknowledging that they did not see “eye-to-eye on policy”:

I congratulate Commissioner Clyburn on her distinguished tenure at the FCC. She has been a tremendous leader and a committed public servant throughout her time here. As the first woman to head the agency, she led skillfully through a transition and put her [own] stamp on the Commission, including through her steadfast leadership in telehealth, media diversity, and digital inclusion.

I have enjoyed working with her and, even when we have not seen eye-to-eye on policy, I have always held her candor and thoughtfulness in the highest regard.

She’s been a wonderful colleague and friend.

I wish her nothing but the best and sincerely thank her for her service.

Microsoft delays major Windows 10 update over Blue Screen of Death issues

Microsoft was planning to launch its next major Windows 10 update, codenamed Redstone 4, last week. The software giant had targeted April 10th as an internal target to release the update, but a last-minute “blocking bug” delayed the release. In an unusual change, Microsoft has now issued a new build instead of fixing the bug with a cumulative update via Windows Update.

“In certain cases, these reliability issues could have led to a higher percentage of (BSOD) on PCs for example,” says Microsoft’s Dona Sakar. “Instead of creating a Cumulative Update package to service these issues, we decided to create a new build with the fixes included.” Microsoft has not revealed the exact reason for the blocking bug, or why it was discovered at the last moment.

The new build is available to Windows Insiders in the Fast Ring, and will be made available to Slow Ring and Release Preview shortly.

Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that this build (version 17134) has now been marked as the final version of the next major update.

Microsoft has still not officially named this update, despite the company using the Spring Creators Update naming multiple times. It now appears Microsoft will choose “Windows 10 April 2018 Update” as the final name for Redstone 4. Microsoft watcher WalkingCat has discovered a video referencing this name, but the blocking bug delay could push the release of this update into May — further complicating the naming of this update.

The next major Windows 10 update will include features like Timeline, HDR support, dictation, and even more Fluent Design changes.

Microsoft is now testing its next update, codenamed Redstone 5, that will be available later this year.

Tabbed apps will feature heavily in this update, and we’re expecting to hear more about new features at Microsoft’s Build developer conference in May.

Broadband advisor picked by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai arrested on fraud charges

A broadband advisor selected by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai to run a federal advisory committee was arrested last week on claims she tricked investors into pouring money into a multi-million dollar investment fraud scheme, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The advisor, Elizabeth Pierce, is the former chief executive of Quijntillion, an Alaska-based fiber optic cable provider operating out of Anchorage. In her capacity as CEO, Pierce allegeledy raised more than £250 million from two New York-based investment companies using forged contracts with other companies guaranteeing hundreds of millions of dollars in future revenue. Pierce resigned from Quintillion in August of last year, and she stepped down from her role in Pai’s Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee (BDAC) the following month.

“As it turned out, those sales agreements were worthless because the customers had not signed them,” US attorney Geoffrey Berman said in prepared remarks, as reported by the WSJ. “Instead, as alleged, Pierce had forged counter-party signatures on contract after contract.

As a result of Pierce’s deception, the investment companies were left with a system that is worth far less than Pierce had led them to believe.” Pierce was trying to raise money to help build out a fiber optic system that would wire Alaska with high-speed internet and better help connect it to networks in other US states. Pierce was charged with wire fraud last Thursday and faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Pierce was tapped by Pai in April of last year to be the chair of the BDAC, which he formed “to accelerate the deployment of high-speed internet access, or broadband, by reducing and removing regulatory barriers to infrastructure investment.” According to broadband industry news and advocacy website Stop the Cap, Pierce may have gotten on Pai’s radar by complaining about how cumbersome it was to bring internet access to parts of the country like Alaska.

In a statement issued last week, Quintillion says it began cooperating with the Department of Justice as soon as allegations against Pierce surfaced last year. “Quintillion became aware of the situation regarding the alleged actions of Ms. Pierce last year, took swift action and self-reported to the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Quintillion has been cooperating fully with the authorities during this ongoing investigation,” reads the company’s press release on the charges.

The company goes on to say that “the ongoing investigation has not impacted Quintillion’s operations nor the quality of its services,” and that it “continues to move aggressively to extend its network and provide world-class telecommunications to Alaska and beyond.”

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