A Supreme Court Justice weighs in on Section 230: Here’s what it means – CNET

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas

Clarence Thomas has served as a justice of the US Supreme Court since 1991.

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Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has fired a warning shot at social media giants Facebook and Twitter that could signal the possibility of stricter regulation and a potential radical shift in thinking around the First Amendment and the hotly debated topic of Section 230

On the first Monday in April, Thomas and the other eight Supreme Court justices handed down a ruling in a case involving former President Donald Trump blocking users from his Twitter account. The court vacated a lower court's ruling that said Trump's actions were unconstitutional. Since Trump is no longer president, the Supreme Court said, the case was moot

Still, Thomas took the opportunity to write a short concurring opinion, which explained why the government should regulate social media companies like so-called "common carriers," a designation often bestowed on utilities like telephone networks. This line of thinking would restrict social media companies from taking down content from their sites, ensuring that everyone could have equal access to the platforms. 

"If the analogy between common carriers and digital platforms is correct, then an answer may arise for dissatisfied platform users who would appreciate not being blocked: laws that restrict the platform's right to exclude," Thomas said in his opinion.

The short opinion could have big implications for the brewing scrutiny of a 25-year-old law that shields companies such as Facebook and Twitter from lawsuits over content users post on their platforms. Lawmakers from both the Democratic and Republican sides of the aisle are calling for reforms to Section 230, a provision in the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that gives legal protections to social media companies. 

Calls for reform have taken on new urgency as social media sites battle a flood of troubling content, including disinformation about the coronavirus vaccines, the outcome of the US presidential election and the deadly attack on the US Capitol. But exactly how to institute reforms is something politicians on opposite sides of the political spectrum don't agree on.

Democrats argue that Section 230 prevents social media companies from doing more to moderate their platforms, such as taking down or limiting hate speech and disinformation about COVID-19. Republicans take a different view. They want the law repealed because of their perception that the Silicon Valley powerhouses are biased against the right and work to censor conservatives, like Trump, while giving liberal politicians a pass. 

Thomas, who's long expressed originalist views about the First Amendment, echoed conservatives' concerns over censorship. His comments from the highest court in the US could amplify these complaints and help them gain traction in Congress. 

"There's a lot of appetite for legislative reform for 230," said Gautam Hans, an assistant professor at Vanderbilt University who specializes in First Amendment law and Section 230. "The opinion itself calls into question some of the current provisions ... which I think means that some legislators will use that to say look, 'We have a Supreme Court Justice who thinks we have some problems here. Why don't we go in and try to fix that?'"

What could that legislation look like?

As rhetoric heats up around reforming Section 230, lawmakers at both ends of the political spectrum have introduced a flurry of legislation over the past year. But so far none of it has gained much traction. 

Some bills call for liability protections to go away entirely, while others alter or refine the protections. There are bills that limit the scope of Section 230 by restricting types of activities protected under the law. Other bills strip away liability protections and would have companies earn those protections by showing they're politically neutral in how they moderate content. 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has also proposed a fix to the law. In testimony to Congress last month, he called for more transparency from social media companies and suggested that companies "be required to demonstrate that they have systems in place for identifying unlawful content and removing it." He also said companies shouldn't be held liable for content that evades their detection. 

The issue of social media bias has mostly been a conservative talking point that Republican senators, such as Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas, have used to berate Zuckerberg and Twitter's CEO, Jack Dorsey, at congressional hearings. Republican lawmakers have repeatedly questioned the executives on these claims in spite of scant evidence such bias exists. 

Thomas' opinion, which no other justice on the court joined, talked about the unprecedented control "of so much speech in the hands of a few private parties." And Thomas predicted the court would be forced to address how the law handles large social media platforms. He called threat to free speech a "glaring concern."

In the opinion, he addressed the lower court's ruling that Trump had violated the First Amendment by blocking people from his Twitter account. Instead of Trump violating free speech, Thomas argued that the social media platforms had threatened the First Amendment. He claims the sheer size of the platforms and the power they wield to completely shut down Trump's account is evidence of their far-reaching power.

"[I]f the aim is to ensure that speech is not smothered," Thomas wrote, "then the more glaring concern must perforce be the dominant digital platforms themselves."

He also took aim at Google, which he said "can suppress content by de-indexing or downlisting a search result or by steering users away from certain content by manually altering autocomplete results."  He said Amazon "can impose cataclysmic consequences on authors by, among other things, blocking a listing."

Thomas' warnings build on arguments he made in a ruling in October that urged the court to narrow its interpretation of Section 230. He suggested the law has been applied too broadly. 

It may be difficult for lawmakers to translate Thomas' opinion directly into legislation, Hans said. But he added that it's likely Thomas' arguments could be used to boost proposals that call for a sort of "Fairness Doctrine" for extremely large technology companies. 

How Thomas' views have shifted 

Thomas' argument for justifying government regulation, however, is inconsistent with arguments he's made in the past. He argues that these large companies should be treated as common carriers, but it was Thomas who in 2005 wrote the Supreme Court decision in Brand X to allow the Federal Communications Commission not to regulate broadband providers as common carriers. 

More recently, Thomas signed on with his conservative colleagues on the court to the Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck decision, which was written by Justice Brett Kavanaugh and holds that the public access channel MNN hadn't violated the rights of two of its employees when it shut down the airing of a program they'd produced that was critical of the channel. In the opinion, Kavanaugh ruled that MNN was a private company and wasn't subject to the same requirements to protect the First Amendment as the government. 

"What I find very strange about all this is that just two years ago, Thomas signed on to an opinion that basically said something very different than what he wrote this week," Hans said. Hans said these inconsistencies make him question whether Thomas' views are based on law or are more influenced by politics. 

"Maybe I'm just one of those cynical people who thinks this is all just about politics," he said. "But I think if the facts on the ground about social media companies were different, I don't think he would have written this opinion."

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Biden’s $100 billion broadband plan is already getting pushback – CNET

President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden says he wants every American to have access to high-speed internet through his $100 billion broadband plan. But industry heavyweights worry his initiatives will leave them out of critical federal funding. 

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President Joe Biden wants to spend $100 billion to connect every American to affordable high-speed internet. It's a lofty goal that's hard to dispute, right? Not exactly for lobbying groups representing cable and telecom companies that deliver those services. They're worried Biden's hefty spending plan will leave them out of the running for government grants and subsidies that could be used to offset the cost of building new infrastructure.

Key aspects of the broadband plan, announced last week as part of Biden's $2.3 trillion infrastructure package, include prioritizing spending for government-run or nonprofit networks. Those providers have "less pressure to turn profits" and "a commitment to serving entire communities," according to a White House fact sheet. 

The plan also prioritizes federal dollars to support companies deploying "future-proof" infrastructure, which many in the industry believe is a veiled reference to favoring companies building fiber infrastructure. And the last concern is about Biden's pledge to make broadband more affordable by bringing down prices. 

Michael Powell, head of the cable industry lobbying group NCTA, has called the Biden proposal a "serious wrong turn." In a blog post this week, he said that the industry has the same goal as the president: "ensuring 100% of Americans have access to robust broadband networks."

The pushback underscores many of the challenges facing Biden's infrastructure plan, which has also drawn criticism on Capitol Hill. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican from Kentucky, has called the plan a Trojan horse for progressive programs, while moderate Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia worries that the proposed tax increases on big businesses are too high. But even an initiative with broad support, like universal internet access, will likely require deft negotiation and compromise. Biden's push comes as more than 30 million people still lack high-speed internet, according to the White House. 

Powell, for his part, cautioned the Biden administration against pushing policies that would penalize incumbent broadband providers. He points to the billions of dollars in private investment in broadband infrastructure that has "achieved spectacular results over the last decade" -- most notably, he said, it "met the enormous challenge of the pandemic, keeping Americans working from home, learning remotely, and using telehealth to stay safe" -- as an important reason not to leave these companies out of future federal funding. 

It's a sentiment echoed by lobbyists representing the big telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon. 

"Our shared communications networks are backed by $1.8 trillion in private investment that helped the country navigate the depths of the pandemic with reliable and resilient connectivity," said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom, a trade group for the telecommunications industry.

Spalter added that Congress should continue to look for ways to "incentivize continued private investment to get the job done."

Broadband is essential

The pandemic shed a bright light on the fact that broadband is essential to daily life. During the crisis, access to high-speed internet has become integral to our lives, as millions of Americans relied on broadband to work and to take part in remote learning. 

But it's also highlighted just how many people are still without access. It's a problem that's not limited to rural areas, but exists in cities as well. Broadband policy advocates have been sounding the alarm on this issue for years. In spite of billions of federal dollars being spent encouraging broadband providers to connect rural communities in the hardest-to-reach areas of the country, the digital divide persists. Between 2009 and 2017, the federal government spent $47.3 billion to get infrastructure to these communities, according to a 2020 report from the US Government Accountability Office.

Another $20 billion over the next decade has already been lined up for rural broadband access. And Congress has also allocated $9 billion for deployment of high-speed 5G service for rural regions. Billions more has already begun flowing to underserved areas as part of the COVID relief packages. 

The $100 billion that the Biden Administration now wants as part of his infrastructure package is intended not only to get Americans in rural areas connected to broadband but also to make broadband more affordable to ensure low-income people can get access too. 

The details of the plan are still fuzzy. But one thing is very clear: What's been done in the past hasn't worked and a new approach is needed. 

"The administration is putting internet service providers on notice," said Kathryn de Wit, manager of the broadband access initiative at the Pew Charitable Trusts. She added the message to the industry as well as to public officials, who oversee these programs, is that "they need to be better stewards of public funds."

Bones of contention

One of the biggest issues that the broadband industry has with the Biden proposal is its focus on providing funding to municipalities and cities to build their own networks. For nearly two decades, the broadband industry has been critical of cities or municipally owned utilities that have sought to build their own high-speed broadband networks in markets where traditional providers haven't provided service or have refused to upgrade their infrastructure. 

The industry argues that such networks backed by taxpayer dollars and government bonds unfairly compete against private industry. In state legislatures across the country and in Congress, industry lobbyists have pushed for restrictions and outright bans on these networks. 

But progressives, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have long pushed to loosen state restrictions on municipal broadband and to direct federal dollars to municipalities, public utilities and electric cooperatives. 

In his blog post, Powell acknowledged that local governments and electric co-ops can play a role in filling in broadband gaps. But he said the federal government should not have its thumb on the scale in their favor. 

"The White House plan places a priority on government and non-profit networks to receive public funding," he said. "We realize that rural co-ops or local governments may be the best solution in some unserved communities, but the government shouldn't irrationally favor one solution over others."

Powell also argued the same is true when it comes to the government prioritizing one type of network technology over another. While no specific details on the plan have been released, the fact sheet the White House put out last week refers to giving priority to "future proof" technologies. Many in the industry believe this is a reference to investments in fiber-to-the-home technology, which is capable of delivering near limitless network speeds on both uploads and downloads. While cable systems and some wireless systems can offer very high download speeds, it's often not possible to offer similar upload speeds, which is increasingly important in the age of high-resolution video conferencing and virtual collaboration for people working from home.  Powell says that should not be a disqualifying factor for receiving federal grants.

"The cable industry offers the fastest internet service to consumers more widely than any other, with 1 gigabit speeds available to 80% of all U.S. homes," he said. "Insisting that providers dedicate resources to [symmetrical 100Mbps/100Mbps standard] sacrifices much more ambitious targets like multi-gigabit networks where downstream and upstream speeds are right-sized to real-world uses." 

Biden also made it clear in his proposal that broadband needs to be affordable and that the government will not perpetually subsidize the cost while prices remain high. He stopped short of saying the government would regulate rates. But he implied that he wants Congress to explore ways to drive down prices.  

"When I say affordable, I mean it," Biden said during his speech introducing the plan. "Americans pay too much for internet service. We're going to drive down the price for families who have service now and make it easier for families who don't have affordable service to be able to get it now."

Powell said "the ambiguous idea of having the government regulate broadband rates" is "misguided."

Low-income citizens, Powell continued, need subsidized broadband rates that are lower than any reasonable price that would result from a drawn-out government rate regulating process. He also made it clear that should Congress head down this path, the industry would push back against these efforts in court. 

"Such a process would be a thorny, lengthy morass of complexity, that would drag on for years at regulatory agencies and through the courts, further delaying the help that is needed," he said.

Republicans have already declared that Biden's infrastructure plan has little chance of getting their support. Given the Democrats' slim control in the Senate, that means there will be much negotiation over the coming months. And no doubt, the broadband industry will be looking to soften the edges of the broadband proposal.

"We are ready to support a new broadband expansion plan that is well-crafted and will connect unserved areas and provide financial assistance to low-income and minority communities," Powell said. "Billions of dollars are a big factor in this equation, but wise policies and carefully crafted details will make the difference between a watershed moment, and a flood of waste, failure and regret."

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Democrats push $94 billion broadband bill to end digital divide – CNET

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

House and Senate Democrats are pushing new legislation introduced this week that would allocate $94 billion to make affordable broadband internet access available nationwide. The legislation is an effort to close the digital divide and bring digital equity to millions of Americans who've been left offline during the coronavirus pandemic this past year. 

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, introduced Thursday in the House and Senate, has the backing of 30 Democratic lawmakers. Rep. James E. Clyburn, House Majority Whip, who represents a district in South Carolina, and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are the key lawmakers pushing the ambitious bill, which would be the most expensive broadband package introduced in recent years. The main goals of the legislation are to bring internet service to areas of the country where it doesn't yet exist, to improve network speeds in places where connectivity is too slow, and to ensure low-income families can afford service. 

Clyburn had introduced a similar bill in June 2020 just a few months after the COVID crisis had begun, but because Republicans controlled Congress the legislation had no hope of passing. 

The digital divide is a problem that's dogged policy makers for decades. In spite of billions of dollars spent by the federal government each year to get more Americans throughout the US connected, there are still at least 19 million Americans who don't have access to broadband, according to the Federal Communications Commission. That number is likely an underestimate, the FCC admits, given that the maps the government uses to determine who has service and who doesn't are grossly inaccurate

Though policy makers for years have talked about the problem, the issue has taken on a new urgency over the past year as the pandemic and resulting lockdown provide a stark reminder that having adequate broadband is no longer a luxury. As schools and offices across the US have shut down, the internet has become as necessary to day-to-day life as electricity and running water. 

With Democrats' slight majority in the House and Senate, as well as control of the White House, they see an opportunity to move legislation with a hefty price tag that they hope will solve the problem for good. The bill is likely to be part of a larger debate Congress will soon be having over President Joe Biden's promised $2 trillion infrastructure plan, which is the next big agenda item on the president's list of priorities now that the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package has been signed into law.

Democrats say now's the time to make big changes, especially when it comes to getting broadband infrastructure set up in rural communities where it simply doesn't exist. 

"Access to broadband today will have the same dramatic impact on rural communities as the rural electrification efforts in the last century," Clyburn said. Clyburn, who in 2019 formed the Rural Broadband Task Force in the House of Representatives to address the digital divide, added that "the disparate effects of that divide have been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic and exposed the urgency of ensuring universal access to high-speed internet."

While this legislation is the most ambitious in terms of scope and cost to be introduced, Congress has already been allocating funds to address the digital divide since the pandemic began a year ago. A half a dozen states used federal funding from the CARES Act passed last spring to help fund broadband infrastructure projects. Mississippi was one such state, allocating $65 million of its CARES Act funding to grants for electric co-ops, which used the money to accelerate the build-out of gigabit speed broadband service on fiber optic infrastructure. 

Funds allocated by Congress in the December COVID relief bill are now being used to provide a $50 a month subsidy to low-income individuals to pay for broadband service. More money for broadband is coming from the latest COVID relief legislation signed into law earlier this week. 

Klobuchar, who serves as co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus and who introduced the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act in the Senate, said that investing in broadband infrastructure is an investment in opportunity for all Americans. 

"In 2021, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America -- regardless of their ZIP code," she said. "This legislation will help bridge the digital divide once and for all."

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Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile dominate $81 billion 5G spectrum auction – CNET

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The nation's largest wireless carriers dominated the Federal Communications Commission's latest 5G spectrum auction, pushing revenue to a record-shattering price tag of more than $81 billion. The FCC released the names and winning bids of the top five bidders for the auction on Wednesday.

Verizon, which bid under the name Cellco Partnership, spent the most on the auction bidding a whopping $45 billion for 3,511 spectrum licenses. AT&T came in second bidding $23 billion for 1,621 licenses. T-Mobile had the third highest bid of $9 billion for 142 licenses. 

The so-called C-band spectrum, which includes 500 MHz of spectrum between 3.7 and 4.2 GHz, has been used by satellite providers to deliver video programming to cable providers. The FCC began auctioning off 280 MHz of the block of spectrum in December and ended Jan. 15.  About 200 MHz of the spectrum in this band has will continue to be used for TV programming. 

Wireless experts had expected the auction of the mid-band spectrum to generate a lot of interest. Some had predicted the prized spectrum could be worth as much as $60 billion. But the final tally blew through those predictions, raising more than $81 billion for the US Treasury. 

The high price tag and final list of winners underscores the high value the nation's largest wireless providers have placed on midband spectrum to build out their 5G networks. 

5G is the next generation of wireless service, which is expected to increase network speeds and make networks more responsive. The technology could help make applications like autonomous vehicles a reality and will deliver new AR and VR experiences to smartphones

Mid-band spectrum, such as the C-band, is considered important for 5G deployments because it offers both geographic coverage and the capacity to transmit large amounts of data. This combination is especially appealing to wireless giants who have been trying to fill out their spectrum portfolios. 

"It is essential to America's economic recovery that we deliver on the promise of next generation wireless services for everyone, everywhere," FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. "This auction reflects a shift in our nation's approach to 5G toward mid-band spectrum that can support fast, reliable, and ubiquitous service that is competitive with our global peers."

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Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile dominate $81 billion 5G spectrum auction – CNET

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The nation's largest wireless carriers dominated the Federal Communications Commission's latest 5G spectrum auction, pushing revenue to a record-shattering price tag of more than $81 billion. The FCC released the names and winning bids of the top five bidders for the auction on Wednesday.

Verizon, which bid under the name Cellco Partnership, spent the most on the auction bidding a whopping $45 billion for 3,511 spectrum licenses. AT&T came in second bidding $23 billion for 1,621 licenses. T-Mobile had the third highest bid of $9 billion for 142 licenses. 

The so-called C-band spectrum, which includes 500 MHz of spectrum between 3.7 and 4.2 GHz, has been used by satellite providers to deliver video programming to cable providers. The FCC began auctioning off 280 MHz of the block of spectrum in December and ended Jan. 15.  About 200 MHz of the spectrum in this band has will continue to be used for TV programming. 

Wireless experts had expected the auction of the mid-band spectrum to generate a lot of interest. Some had predicted the prized spectrum could be worth as much as $60 billion. But the final tally blew through those predictions, raising more than $81 billion for the US Treasury. 

The high price tag and final list of winners underscores the high value the nation's largest wireless providers have placed on midband spectrum to build out their 5G networks. 

5G is the next generation of wireless service, which is expected to increase network speeds and make networks more responsive. The technology could help make applications like autonomous vehicles a reality and will deliver new AR and VR experiences to smartphones

Mid-band spectrum, such as the C-band, is considered important for 5G deployments because it offers both geographic coverage and the capacity to transmit large amounts of data. This combination is especially appealing to wireless giants who have been trying to fill out their spectrum portfolios. 

"It is essential to America's economic recovery that we deliver on the promise of next generation wireless services for everyone, everywhere," FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement. "This auction reflects a shift in our nation's approach to 5G toward mid-band spectrum that can support fast, reliable, and ubiquitous service that is competitive with our global peers."

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Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial: Here are the different scenarios – CNET


The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump will begin this week in the US Senate.

Marguerite Reardon/CNET

Former President Donald Trump's historic second impeachment trial in the Senate starts Tuesday. (Here's how to follow along with the impeachment live stream.) It's a proceeding that's unprecedented in every way imaginable. 

(Update: The Senate voted 57 to 43 to acquit Trump.)

Before Trump left office last month, the House of Representatives impeached him on Jan. 13, charging him with inciting an insurrection at the US Capitol the week before. During the trial, senators will sit in judgment of the former president and vote to convict or acquit him (here's how to watch the impeachment trial).

Congress is treading on new ground. No president has been impeached twice. What's more, no president has been tried by the Senate after he has left office. That question of whether a president no longer in office can be tried for impeachment is a huge issue that divides constitutional scholars over what is legally permissible.

Democrats have said a trial is necessary to ensure accountability for the attack. If Trump is convicted, the Senate could hold a second vote to disqualify him from seeking office again.

But Republicans say the trial is moot, given that Trump is out of office. And they argue the trial is unconstitutional. 

What the trial will look like is yet to be seen. House Democrats on Thursday asked Trump to testify under oath for the trial. Trump later that day declined. 

Here's a look at how things could turn out.  

What would it take to convict Trump? 

At least two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 votes, is needed to convict Trump. This is a particularly high hurdle for the prosecution to overcome given that the Senate is essentially split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats. A total of 17 Republican senators would have to break ranks with the majority of the party to vote to impeach Trump. 

While members of the Senate have traditionally not been as populist as the House, there is still quite a bit of support for Trump in the Republican party and among Senate Republicans, who fear primary challenges if they were to cross Trump and vote for conviction. 

An early sign of just how tough that hurdle could be came on Jan. 26 when two-thirds of Republican senators voted against a measure that would have halted the chamber from moving forward on impeachment. 

Brett Pearce/CNET

Just as a reference, Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah was the sole Republican to break with his party to vote to convict Trump for abuse of power in the first impeachment trial. But Romney along with four other Republican Senators voted to kill the objection to forgo this second impeachment trial. Those other senators were Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania. 

There's still a big question about how Republican minority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky may vote.

Last month, McConnell publicly blamed Trump in part for feeding "lies" to the mob that stormed the Capitol. He privately signaled he may be open to conviction. But then he sided with the measure put forth by Sen. Rand Paul, a fellow Republican from Kentucky, that said the trial is unconstitutional. 

"I'm going to listen to the arguments," McConnell has reportedly said. "That's what we ought to do. That's what I said before it started. That's still my view. The issue on which we already voted is an interesting constitutional question. I think we ought to listen to the lawyers argue the question."

What would a conviction mean?

Given that Trump is no longer president, a conviction wouldn't remove him from office. But it would be a very public rebuke of his actions following the election and leading up to the riot.

A conviction would not result in Trump losing any of his benefits as a past president. The Former Presidents Act, passed in 1958, spells out the benefits that past presidents are entitled to, and it only withholds certain privileges, such as his pension and Secret Service detail,  if a president is removed or terminated from service by impeachment and conviction. Trump's term was not terminated that way, so a conviction means he would still be entitled to these perks. 

What about other 'punishments' resulting from a conviction?

If the Senate were to convict, it could hold another vote to disqualify Trump from holding federal office in the future. This vote would only require a simple majority. This would prevent Trump from running again for president again in 2024, as he has indicated he might do. He also wouldn't be able to run for a House seat or Senate seat if he's barred from holding federal office. 

Of course, the vote to bar a president from holding office hasn't ever been tested before. No US president has ever been convicted of impeachment. And the Senate has never voted to bar a former president from holding office again. So if this scenario were to play out, there could be a lawsuit challenging this vote in court. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that if Trump were convicted and the Senate voted to bar him from federal office, his influence could still loom large in American politics. He could still offer commentary and endorsements, as well as hold rallies. In other words, a vote to stop him from running for office again wouldn't necessarily mean the end of Donald Trump and the MAGA movement. 

What happens if Trump is acquitted?

As happened in his first impeachment, Trump could be acquitted by the Senate. This vote to acquit wouldn't mean much in practical terms, since he is no longer president. But it would likely serve as another rallying cry for Trump and his base just as the previous acquittal was. 

An acquittal would also mean that the Senate would not vote to bar him from running for federal office. So Trump could, in theory, make a run for the presidency in 2024. 

Could Trump be censured?

Yes. The Senate could vote to censure, which is simply a formal statement of disapproval. The consequence of censure is nonbinding, which means there are no legal ramifications. But it's a formal mode of disciplining a public official, such as a US president. And it serves as a kind of public shaming.

There are a handful of lawmakers who have pushed for censure. Sens. Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia; Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware; and Maine's Susan Collins have floated this idea. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York hasn't shut the door on censure if Democrats can't get a conviction. 

"I think the president should be tried. I hope he will [get a] vote to be convicted," Schumer told reporters last week. "Anything past that is something we can discuss, but he deserves conviction, nothing less."

But it's still unclear if Democrats would go this route if they fail to get the votes to convict. 

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Comcast doubles speed for Internet Essentials – CNET

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Low-income subscribers to Comcast's Internet Essentials broadband service will soon see their speeds double at no additional charge. The service, which currently offers 25Mbps downloads, will automatically be upgraded to 50Mbps starting March 1, the company said Tuesday.

Upload speeds will also go from 3Mbps to 5Mbps. The speed boost at no additional cost comes at a time when Americans across the country are still mostly relying on the internet to access school and work remotely. 

The Internet Essentials plan costs $9.95 per month and is available to qualifying low-income households. Families or individuals already receiving federal benefits through programs such as SNAP, Medicaid or WIC are eligible. This is the second time this year that Comcast has increased the speed of its low-cost service. It upgraded the service to 25Mbps from 15Mbps in March last year, just as most of the country was starting to shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic

The upgrades are part of Comcast's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, the company offered 60 days of its service free to college, elementary and high school students. It later extended the offer through June 30. The company also opened up its Wi-Fi hotspots free of charge. And in September it started the Lift Zone program to provide Wi-Fi access and educational resources to low-income areas. 

Comcast started Internet Essentials in 2011 to help impoverished children who received free or reduced-price lunches at school get access to the internet at home. The program has been modified more than a dozen times to expand the eligibility requirements to include low-income veterans and people receiving public housing benefits. In 2019, the company opened up the program to all low-income households

In addition to the low-cost monthly fee, Comcast partners with trusted community organizations to offer free digital-skills training. Customers can also purchase low-cost computers as part of the program. 

Comcast's initial response to the pandemic was part of a greater effort among more than 700 other wireless and broadband providers, including AT&T and Verizon. These providers all voluntarily signed on to the Federal Communications Commission's Keep Americans Connected pledge. As part of this pledge, broadband and wireless companies promised to not charge late fees or disconnect service of customers who can't pay their bills. 

These companies then extended their pledge to June 30. At that time, Comcast also extended its offer of free Internet Essentials to qualifying households through the end of June. Though the free service offer ended in June, Comcast said it's remained committed to helping low-income families during the pandemic stay online, with the hope of eventually eliminating the digital divide.

"We've been on a mission to address digital inequities in under-resourced communities through Internet Essentials for a decade and there's never been a greater need than now," Dave Watson, president and chief executive officer of Comcast Cable, said in a statement. "Our commitment has never been stronger, and we are dedicated to leveling the playing field and making a lasting impact for generations to come."

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What to know about Washington, DC’s fight to be the 51st state – CNET


Democrats are renewing the push to make Washington, DC, the 51st state.

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The fight to make Washington, DC, the 51st state is getting new legs, with a group of Democrats in the Senate, led by Delaware's Tom Carper, introducing statehood legislation last week. It's the first major push for statehood since the Capitol was attacked by a mob of right-wing radicals spurred on by then President Donald Trump, who sought to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden's election win.

The Senate proposal follows a move earlier this month by Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Democrat delegate who represents the District of Columbia, who reintroduced the bill with more than 200 co-sponsors in the House of Representatives.  On Wednesday, Carper unveiled the companion bill in the Senate with 38 co-sponsors, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York. Biden said during the campaign that he'd support statehood for Washington.

The latest push for the legislation comes seven months after the bill passed the House of Representatives for the first time. 

"This isn't a Republican or Democratic issue; it's an American issue, because the lack of fair representation for DC residents is clearly inconsistent with the values on which this country was founded," Carper said in a statement. 

What's at stake could be the balance of power in the US Senate. Since Washington is overwhelmingly a Democratic city, statehood would almost certainly guarantee two more Democratic Senators. And that could help Democrats regain control of the Senate. With that control, the party could be in a better position to set the agenda on a number of items, including big tech issues such as a new net neutrality law and reforms to Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. 

Statehood for Washington, DC, still faces a number of hurdles, including strong opposition from Republicans. 

Here's a look at what statehood for Washington would mean, and how it might happen.

What is Washington, DC? 

Washington, DC, isn't a state; it's a district. DC stands for District of Columbia. Its creation comes directly from the US Constitution, which provides that the district, "not exceeding 10 Miles square," would "become the Seat of the Government of the United States."

Congress established the federal district in 1790 to serve as the nation's capital, from land belonging to the states of Maryland and Virginia. The Constitution dictates that the federal district be under the jurisdiction of the US Congress. 

Who governs Washington?

The District of Columbia doesn't have a governor or a state legislature. Instead, it has a mayor and a DC Council, which functions like a city council. Muriel Bowser is mayor. 

The government of Washington can establish legal codes, which function like state laws and regulations. These laws cover everything from liquor and gun control to unemployment compensation to food and drug inspection. Washington operates its own police force and public school system. It also has its own separate court system, including an attorney general (currently Karl Racine). 

But through something called Home Rule, which allows Congress to invalidate any law passed by the DC Council, Congress still retains the power of veto over city decisions.

Does Washington have representation in Congress?

Washington sends what's called a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives. Eleanor Holmes Norton has served in this position since 1991. The position lets Norton serve on House committees and speak on the House floor. She may sponsor legislation. But she's not able to vote. 

Washington has no representation in the Senate. This means district residents, who pay some of the highest rates of federal tax, have no say in federally appointed positions, such as the president's cabinet or those serving as US ambassadors to foreign countries. It also means Washington residents have no voice in the confirmation of judges to the federal bench, or in the confirmation process for justices to the US Supreme Court. 

Does Washington vote for US president? 

Yes. Since 1961, when the 23rd Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted, Washington has had three electoral votes for president and vice president. 

What are the arguments in favor of statehood for Washington?  

The biggest issue is that for the more than 700,000 residents of the district, there's taxation without representation. Washington residents pay more in total federal income tax than residents of 22 other states, but they have no say in how those tax dollars are spent. 

Additionally, unlike states, Washington has no autonomy from the federal government. Congress has the ability to nullify laws and regulations. And it can even modify and review Washington's budget. The federal government also has control over Washington's court system. 

How would the legislation create a Washington, DC, state? 

The companion bills carve out a 2-mile radius to be called the National Capital Service Area, which includes federal buildings, such as the White House, Capitol, Supreme Court and the National Mall. This becomes the seat of the federal government as defined in the Constitution. 

The rest of Washington, made up of the parts of the city where people actually live, would then become the 51st state, called "Douglass Commonwealth." This would allow the new state to keep its DC abbreviation and also pay homage to Frederick Douglass, the social reformer and abolitionist. Based on its population, the new state would get one representative in the House, and two Senators. 

The mayor of Washington would get the new title of governor. And the District Council would function as a state legislative body. Washington would be granted the same rights as any other state. This means the governor would have the ability to activate the National Guard in an emergency. 

Is there a precedent for 'shrinking' the federal district?

Yes. Alexandria County, which sits across the Potomac River from the district, was originally part of Washington. But in 1846, Alexandria residents looking to protect a major slave-trade market petitioned Congress to "retrocede" from the district and return to the Commonwealth of Virginia. 

Has Congress ever voted on statehood for Washington, DC?

Yes. Legislation for Washington statehood has been introduced for decades. In 1993, a bill finally made it out of committee in the House of Representatives. It went to the House floor for a vote. But it was defeated in a 277-153 count. 

Legislation was introduced in 2020 and passed the Democrat-dominated House by a vote of 232-180. It was the first time that a chamber of Congress had passed such legislation. 

But the bill stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate, where then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to bring it for a vote. The Senate has never voted on a Washington statehood bill. 

Where do things stand now?

Holmes reintroduced the Washington statehood bill earlier this month, and Sen. Tom Carper, a Democrat from Delaware, introduced it in the Senate. 

One big thing that's changed between 1993 and now is that most Democrats, including Biden, are in favor of Washington, DC, becoming the 51st state. This means that the legislation is likely to pass the House again this year. 

But it will face an uphill battle in the Senate, where Republicans still control 50 votes. Even though Democrats can get to a simple majority with Vice President Kamala Harris, who supports statehood for Washington, offering a tie-breaking vote, this bill would need a 60-vote majority to overcome an expected Republican filibuster.  

What are the politics of Washington, DC, statehood?

Democrats' support for statehood has grown over the years. But Republicans, including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are strongly opposed. 

The Democrats' support of statehood and the Republicans' opposition isn't surprising given the political realities. Washington, a primarily minority city, votes overwhelmingly Democrat. This means that the additional seat in the House and the two seats in the Senate would likely go to Democrats, tipping the balance of power in the Senate. 

What are the arguments against statehood for Washington, DC?

Some strict constitutional scholars argue that Washington statehood goes against the intent of the founding fathers, who wouldn't have advocated for a small federal district surrounded by a tiny state. There are also questions about how to deal with the 23rd Amendment, which gives Washington its three electoral college votes.

Republicans say the only path toward statehood should come through a constitutional amendment, which would require ratification from the states. 

What about making Washington part of Maryland or Virginia?

Some people argue that Washington, DC, is too small to be a state. That's in spite of the fact that it's more populous than states such as Wyoming and Vermont, and just barely has fewer residents than Alaska. 

Some Republicans have pushed for Washington to become a part of Virginia or Maryland. But those proposals haven't gone anywhere. 

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President Biden names Jessica Rosenworcel as interim FCC chair – CNET


FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel will head up the agency until a permanent head is named.

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President Joe Biden named Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel as interim chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday. Rosenworcel, who has served as a commissioner for eight years, will lead the agency until a permanent chair is confirmed by the Senate.

Rosenworcel is the second woman in the agency's history to take the role of acting chair. 

President Barack Obama first nominated Rosenworcel to the FCC in 2011. She has served as a commissioner since May 2012 when she was confirmed by the Senate. She's currently the most senior commissioner on the FCC. 

Rosenworcel has been a strong proponent of net neutrality and improving the FCC's broadband coverage maps. She's also pushed the agency to do more to close the so-called homework gap, an issue that has gained more prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic when most school age children in the country are accessing school remotely via the internet. The homework gap is a term used to describe students who lack adequate broadband service to access school and homework. It's a persistent problem,  especially among rural and low-income students, who are unable to get access to or afford broadband service.

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"I am honored to be designated as the acting chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission by President Biden," Rosenworcel said in a statement Thursday. "I thank the president for the opportunity to lead an agency with such a vital mission and talented staff. It is a privilege to serve the American people and work on their behalf to expand the reach of communications opportunity in the digital age."

Rosenworcel's appointment to the top job prompted praise from both the industry and public interest groups. Broadband and wireless provider Verizon said it was a "smart choice" for Biden to choose Rosenworcel to head up the agency until a permanent head is named.

"Through her many years of public service at the FCC and on Capitol Hill, Commissioner Rosenworcel has developed a deep understanding of the importance of modern communications networks to consumers and to our nation," Kathy Grillo, Verizon's senior vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a statement. "Her passion and efforts to address the digital divide and close the homework gap are truly issues that will make a difference to millions of Americans."

The consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge echoed those sentiments. 

"Over the last four years, Commissioner Rosenworcel has advocated for strong consumer rights and protections on the full range of issues before the Commission, be it broadband affordability, higher speed broadband connectivity at home, or access to innovative technologies," said Greg Guice, director of government affairs for Public knowledge. "Public Knowledge looks forward to working with Acting Chairwoman Rosenworcel to fully engage the public in a consumer-focused agenda to promote the economic, health, and educational benefits of a broadband connected economy."

A divided FCC remains

Given the current make-up of the FCC, Rosenworcel won't likely be able to act on any big policy issues just yet. The FCC is currently split with two Democrats and two Republicans. This means that big issues, like the reinstatement of Obama-era net neutrality rules, won't likely be tackled until a permanent chair is named. Once the senate is able to confirm another Democrat to the FCC, Democrats will have the majority they need to push a more aggressive policy agenda. 

Net neutrality aside, there's still plenty of issues for Rosenworcel to tackle. She is taking control of the agency at a time when the FCC is tasked with implementing a pandemic stimulus program authorized by Congress to help offer broadband rebates and subsidies to people struggling to pay for internet service. She is also likely to push for the FCC to release money allocated under the E-rate program to help subsidize the cost of Wi-Fi hotspots and other technology to students in need. The previous chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, had resisted allocating these resources arguing the E-rate program could only allocate funds for classroom technology.

It's unclear when Biden will name a permanent chair to the FCC or who that chair will be. It's still possible he could name Rosenworcel to the job on a permanent basis, or he could nominate someone else. 

Some advocacy groups have pushed for Biden to nominate the other Democratic commissioner Geoffrey Starks as the next FCC chair. 

The racial justice organization Color of Change put out a statement last week in support of Starks.

"Starks has demonstrated and recently reaffirmed his commitment to digital equity through Net Neutrality and Title II, broadband expansion via the Lifeline program, and expanding the FCC's E-rate program to ensure children have the access they need for online learning," Rashad Robinson, Color of Change president, said in a statement. "The pandemic has underscored the reality that internet access is a clear equity issue — failing to meet this fact with policy will leave Black people behind."

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Biden to activate FEMA and National Guard to vaccinate Americans – CNET


 President-elect Joe Biden announces his plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines to Americans.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

President-elect Joe Biden said Friday that he'll activate the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard to help get COVID-19 vaccines to millions Americans. 

While outlining his administration's plan at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, Biden said his top priority when he takes office next week is to vaccinate Americans against the virus, as the pandemic continues to rage throughout the country. Previously, he pledged his administration would administer 100 million COVID-19 vaccine doses in his first 100 days in office. With current vaccines requiring two shots, that would cover 50 million Americans.  

"You have my word, we will manage the hell out of this operation," Biden said during the press briefing Friday. 

The President-elect said 100 federally funded vaccine clinics will be launched within the first month of his term, which begins Wednesday. The plan also calls for mobile clinics to be deployed in urban and rural areas that are hard to reach. Pharmacies across the country will also be used to distribute the vaccine as the number of Americans eligible to get it expands, Biden said. This will let people get vaccinated just miles from their homes and will allow them to schedule those appointments at their convenience. 

Biden also said he'll invoke the Defense Production Act to "maximize the manufacture of vaccines and vaccine supplies for the country." The Biden team had previously hinted at using this wartime production law, which lets presidents compel companies to prioritize manufacturing for national security purposes. 

Activating the Defense Production Act will increase the supply of the necessary equipment used to manufacture and deliver the vaccine, Biden said. Companies will be directed to make everything from more personal protective gear to vials to hold the vaccines to syringes used in injecting the vaccines. Biden said during his speech that his administration has already worked with manufacturers and has them lined up to start production. 

The Biden administration has criticized the outgoing Trump administration for its current vaccination efforts, which have been slow to roll out the vaccines since they were approved last month by the Food and Drug Administration. Biden said his plan is meant to jump-start those efforts. But he said it'll require significant funding from Congress.

On Thursday, Biden detailed a $1.9 trillion emergency legislative package that included funding for vaccinations as well as direct economic relief to Americans struggling amid the pandemic. Roughly $400 billion will be used specifically for the vaccine efforts. 

More than 390,600 people have died in the US from the virus as of Friday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University. Biden has received both doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. Both doses were given to Biden live on camera in an effort to reassure the American public of the vaccine's safety. He received the second dose earlier this week.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has received the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. She also appeared before cameras for her first dose. 

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