by Edited by Elana Varon

Washington Watch: Broadband Debate

May 15, 20044 mins

New Life for Broadband Debate

VoIP regs prompt politicking about fast Internet connections

The Federal Communications Commission is moving forward with a plan for national regulation of voice-over-IP (VoIP) services, prompting a political debate over the government’s approach to promoting broadband Internet access generally.

Demand for VoIP could drive high-speed Internet adoption in households, according to the FCC, and financially strapped tele-communications companies are jockeying for more of this potentially lucrative market. Broadband advocates say encouraging consumers to use this technology would create demand for other online products and content, resulting in more jobs.

The issue is politically important enough that President Bush has weighed in. In a March 26 speech that was mainly about homeownership, Bush called for universal, low-cost access for broadband services supplied by numerous providers by 2007. Bush’s remarks came two weeks after Reed Hundt, an adviser to McKinsey & Co. and President Clinton’s FCC chairman, accused Bush of not moving fast enough to build a nationwide broadband infrastructure and of favoring existing big telecom companies over new competitors.

Matthew Flanigan, president of the Telecommunications Industry Association, says broadband had not previously been a priority for Bush. Flanigan says that if the president “[sets] the right tone, that’s going to get investors interested.”

Bush called for “plenty of choices” of service providers for consumers. These include alternative technologies, such as broadband over power lines, along with service over cable or telephone lines, says Mike Gallagher, acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the agency that advises the president on telecom policy. Bush also wants Congress to avoid taxing broadband access.

Hundt, at a forum about VoIP, charged the FCC with protecting the interests of the major telephone carriers at the expense of newer competitors. He has called for a policy that includes federal funding to expand broadband options for consumers and making faster connections available.

The FCC has recently backed away from regulations that require the Baby Bells to share their networks with competitors. But an FCC spokesman says the agency is helping small VoIP providers find a market for their products. Republicans on the FCC, as well as VoIP providers, also argue that a patchwork of state regulations would hamper deployment. -Grant Gross

Lack of Training Led to Security Breach

New systems administrator left access open to Democrats’ files

For 18 months beginning in October 2001, two Republican aides to the Senate Judiciary Committee repeatedly hacked into Democrats’ files stored on the panel’s server. These acts, which may lead to criminal charges, could have been prevented with better IT oversight.

According to a report issued in March by Senate Sergeant at Arms William Pickle, a poorly trained systems administrator allowed unrestricted access to the files, which contained notes on the Democrats’ political strategy. Another systems administrator noticed, but never told his colleague or the Senate’s IT department. The employee responsible for the breaches left before anyone discovered what had happened.

Senate CIO J. Greg Hanson says his authority to set security policies is limited because each Senate committee operates independently. But he says he could have offered more training and done a better job publicizing security best practices. Now he is planning to offer a certification program for all new systems administrators.

The Pickle report says that in August 2001 the Judiciary Committee, which had recently switched to Democratic control, hired a systems administrator who was fresh out of college. According to an unredacted version of the report, that fall, Jason Lundell, a Republican aide, watched the administrator access Democrats’ folders and found that he could gain access by copying what the administrator did. Over 18 months he and a more senior accomplice, Manuel Miranda, downloaded more than 4,600 files. Miranda has admitted to reading some of the documents but contends that his actions weren’t illegal. Lundell’s lawyer has said he doesn’t expect his client to be prosecuted because he cooperated with Pickle’s investigation.

The report says that the Democrats’ systems administrator had left user permissions open whenever he set up a new account. With just seven exceptions, every folder on the Judiciary Committee server created after the new administrator started was accessible.

The major lesson here isn’t new, but Hanson says it bears repeating: The biggest threats don’t always come from outside. It is easy to get distracted by viruses and other big threats, Hanson says. But little things?like allowing employees access they shouldn’t have?can hurt just as badly.

-Ben Worthen