Bringing Broadband to Rural America an Ongoing Quest

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission estimates that about 19 million Americans still don’t have access to broadband internet. Most of those people live in rural parts of the country. But little by little, individuals, companies and the government are changing that. VOA’s Calla Yu reports.

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Sources: EU Nations Can Restrict High-Risk Vendors Under New 5G Guidelines

EU countries can restrict or exclude high-risk 5G providers from core parts of their telecoms network infrastructure under new guidelines to be issued by the European Commission next week, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The non-binding recommendations are part of a set of measures aimed at addressing cybersecurity risks at national and bloc-wide level, in particular concerns related to world No. 1 player Huawei Technologies.
The guidelines do not identify any particular country or company, the people said.
“Stricter security measures will apply for high-risk vendors for sensitive parts of the network or the core infrastructure,” one of the people said.
EU digital economy chief Margrethe Vestager is expected to announce the recommendations on Jan. 29.Other measures include urging EU countries to audit or even issue certificates for high-risk suppliers.EU governments will also be advised to diversify their suppliers and not depend on one company and to use technical and non-technical factors to assess them.
Europe is under pressure from the United States to ban Huawei equipment on concerns that its gear could be used by China for spying. Huawei, which competes with Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson has denied the allegations.

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Huawei Founder Says Company Can Withstand Increased US Pressure

Despite the U.S.-China trade deal signed last week, the two countries appear headed for more confrontation, especially over high tech.One of China’s highest-profile tech executives, Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei, told the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos on Tuesday that he expects the U.S. to escalate its crackdown on Huawei. But he vowed that the world leader in building 5G networks is prepared to withstand further restrictions on its foreign markets and suppliers.Analysts say his remarks suggest that the Chinese may be ready to directly confront Americans in the global competition for high-tech advancements, which are seen at the core of trade frictions.Tech war is on”He [Ren] is fully aware that the tech competition between the U.S. and China will escalate. The U.S. has no plan to cut China some slack simply because they have just signed the Phase 1 deal. Both are now entering the battleground of their tech disputes,” said Lin Tsung-nan, professor of electrical engineering at National Taiwan University in Taipei.Beijing’s critics say Huawei acts as a virtual arm of the Chinese government, benefitting from favorable policies and funding that have sped its expansion around the world. They warn countries that allow Huawei to build their new wireless data networks that they are giving Beijing’s authoritarian government enormous influence over their security. Instead, U.S. officials argue, countries should trust American, European, Korean and other companies.Ren Zhengfei, founder and chief executive officer of Huawei Technologies, gestures during a session at the 50th World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 21, 2020.Provisions in the U.S.-China Phase 1 trade agreement aim to root out Chinese state policies that encourage intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. However the deal leaves open questions about enforcement. Many, including Huawei chief Ren, remain skeptical that the countries will reach an agreement on such issues.Speaking to the audience in Davos, Ren said he believes the United States will escalate its crackdown on Huawei, but that the impact will be minimal as the company has adapted to restrictions imposed since last year.Huawei and its 46 affiliates were targeted in 2019 after the U.S. government concluded that the company has long engaged in activities contrary to U.S. national security. Ren’s daughter, Huawei Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou, is fighting an extradition case in Canada stemming from allegations she committed fraud by lying about Huawei’s relationship with an affiliate doing business in Iran.Huawei’s Plan BAnalysts have mixed views about the long-term impact of the blacklisting on Huawei. Ren said he is optimistic because Huawei has invested hundreds of billions of dollars in its own core technology over the past few years, including chips and software. Last year, the company released its own operating system, called HarmonyOS, though, so far, it hasn’t been installed in any of the company’s smartphones.It has also released a flagship smartphone, the Mate 30, without licensed Google Android software. Sales in China have been in line with expectations, although its global sales target of 20 million units is yet to be met.FILE – Richard Yu, head of Huawei’s consumer business group, speaks on stage during a presentation to reveal Huawei’s latest smartphones Mate 30 and Mate 30 Pro in Munich, Germany, Sept. 19, 2019.But Professor Lin said the ultimate challenge facing Huawei lies ahead.”The real test will come after the U.S. completely cuts off [Huawei’s] access to American technology and relevant exchanges. Huawei will then have to prove if its products, manufactured based on its so-called plan B, will continue to be competitive in overseas markets,” the professor said.More tech restrictionsAfter having restricted Huawei’s access to American technology, the United States is reportedly looking to introduce a stricter rule that could block Huawei’s access to an increased number of foreign-made goods.Media reports said the United States plans, among other things, to force Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC), the world’s largest contract chipmaker, to limit its supplies of 14 nanometer chips to Huawei.  Washington is also lobbying other countries, such as Britain and Germany, to bar Huawei — which it accuses of spying for the Chinese government — from the buildup of their next-generation mobile networks known as 5G.  Whether U.S. allies will be persuaded to block Huawei from building their 5G networks remains uncertain, but Lin said the stakes in the standoff are clear.”If China succeeds in using Huawei to dominate [the global 5G network], the free world will gradually fall into China’s high-tech iron curtain. That’s why the U.S. has turned aggressive in blocking Huawei, which has strived after having had copied code from Cisco’s [router software] technology a decade ago,” Lin said.Escalating tensionsSong Hong at the Institute of World Economics and Politics under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said he’s worried the U.S. may widen its target to include more Chinese tech firms.But he said Beijing is adapting to the new reality by gradually cutting its dependence on the U.S. technology.”China has greatly strengthened its tech capabilities. I think Huawei’s [Ren] speaks on behalf of most Chinese businesses. That is, if you try to block me, I have no choice but to work to find other solutions,” he said.An executive from China’s tech sector, who spoke to VOA on the condition of anonymity, said he’s not worried that the U.S.-China tech war will escalate. But he said China should respond to U.S. concerns.”The U.S. has made a great contribution [to the world’s tech development] and now come up with some requests. I find that reasonable, right? I think China, as a responsible country, should respect and communicate well [with the U.S.] on a reasonable basis,” he said.  Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou leaves her Vancouver home with her security detail for an extradition hearing in British Columbia Supreme Court in Vancouver, British Colombia, Jan. 21, 2020.Warning from Meng’s caseWhile tech executives look at how the long-term competition between the two countries will play out, the fate of Meng — the daughter of Huawei’s founder — will impact relations in the short term. Canada has begun week-long court hearings to determine whether to extradite Meng to the United States to stand trial on fraud charges linked to the alleged violation of U.S. sanctions against Iran.Meng, who was arrested in late 2018 in Canada, denies any wrongdoing.Regardless of the outcome of the case, said Lin of National Taiwan University, the United States has succeeded in sending a warning to those who have harmed or plan to go against U.S. tech interests.  
 

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UN Calls for Probe Into Possible Hacking of Bezos’ Phone

The phone of Amazon billionaire and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos was hacked after receiving a file sent from an account used by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, United Nations experts alleged Wednesday.The experts called for an “immediate investigation” by the United States and others into information they received that suggests that Bezos’ phone was hacked after receiving an MP4 video file sent from the Saudi prince’s WhatsApp account.Bezos went public about the incident after allegedly being shaken down by the National Enquirer tabloid, which he said threatened to expose a “below-the-belt” selfie he’d taken and other private messages he’d exchanged with a woman he was dating while still married at the time.A forensic report that was commissioned by Bezos and shared with the U.N. experts assessed with “medium to high confidence” that his phone was infiltrated on May 1, 2018, via the MP4 video file.Saudi critic and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October that same year. The Post was highly critical of the Saudi government after his killing.“The information we have received suggests the possible involvement of the Crown Prince in surveillance of Mr. Bezos, in an effort to influence, if not silence, The Washington Post’s reporting on Saudi Arabia,” the independent U.N. experts said.“At a time when Saudi Arabia was supposedly investigating the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, and prosecuting those it deemed responsible, it was clandestinely waging a massive online campaign against Mr. Bezos and Amazon targeting him principally as the owner of The Washington Post,” the U.N. experts said.The U.N. experts reviewed the 2019 digital forensic analysis of Bezos’ iPhone, which they said was made available to them as U.N. special rapporteurs, which are independent experts appointed by the world body.The experts said that records showed that within hours of receipt of the video from the crown prince’s account, there was “an anomalous and extreme change in phone behavior” with enormous amounts of data from the phone being transmitted over the following months.The Financial Times has seen the forensic report that was done by FTI Consulting, the private firm hired by Bezos. The newspaper said the forensic report “does not claim to have conclusive evidence,” and “could not ascertain what alleged spyware was used.”

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When Algorithms Make Art: Immersive Art Installation Exhibits Machine-Learning

An immersive art installation in New York City has visitors captivated. The team behind the popular attraction? It’s part human and part machine-learning algorithms. VOA’s Tina Trinh looks at what happens when artificial intelligence becomes part of the creative process

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Malawi is Home to Africa’s First Drone Academy

Malawi this month opened the first African Drone and Data Academy, with support from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF.  The academy aims to improve drone technology skills across Africa, beginning with Malawi and neighboring countries.Karen Asaba developed an interest in drones at Uganda Flying Labs, a Kampala-based drone mapping and data hub. As a student at Malawi’s just opened African Drone and Data Academy, she gets to learn how to build one.”Right now, we are learning how to assemble a drone from the start, considering its weight, considering the central gravity, considering the GPS and all the electronics that are involved in making the drone,” she said.Asaba is one of 26 students from across Africa in the first three-month course at the academy, learning to construct and pilot drones.Instructors are seen teaching students at the African Drone and Data Academy in Malawi. (Lameck Masina/VOA)The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is backing the program, which this year is expected to train 150 students.UNICEF says the academy, and the launch of Africa’s first drone corridor in Malawi in 2016, will promote drones for development and humanitarian use.Rudolf Schwenk, the country representative for UNICEF in Malawi, says the drones will have broad practical applications.”For example, transporting medical supplies to remove areas or transporting samples very fast, where it will take a lot of time to transport them.  We have also worked on emergency preparedness and response because with data and drone imagery, you can see where flooding will happen,” Schwenk said.Thumbiko Nkwawa Zingwe, a student at the newly-launched African Drone and Data Academy, says the course he has taken there has insipred him to start a space agency in Malawi. (Lameck Masina/VOA)The drone course was developed with Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, better known as Virginia Tech.Kevin Kochersberger, an associate professor at Virginia Tech, explained the course’s components.”We go through three modules in this program. They have gone [through] drone logistics, drone technologies so they become very functional in drone[s] – not only being pilots, but they operate and maintain the drones as well,” Kochersberger said.The drone academy has inspired some students like Thumbiko Nkwawa Zingwe to reach for the stars.I have a vision that I can start a first Malawian space agency, which can be utilizing geo-information data for different applications. For example, here in Malawi we are so susceptible to floods as a geo-hazardous anomaly,” Zingwe said.The African Drone and Data Academy’s first graduates are expected in March.The academy plans to partner with Malawi University of Science and Technology for a free master’s degree program in drone technology by 2022.   

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Britain’s Johnson Poised to Give Huawei Role in 5G Development

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears set to give the go-ahead for Chinese telecom giant Huawei to play a role in the development of Britain’s 5G wireless network — a move that risks jeopardizing intelligence-sharing between Britain and America, according U.S. officials.  Despite last-ditch lobbying by the U.S. to block Huawei, British officials say it is a “foregone conclusion” Johnson will allow Huawei participation.That would confirm a “provisional” decision made by his predecessor, Theresa May. Last year, she said Huawei should be allowed to build some so-called “non-core” parts of Britain’s future 5G data network, discounting U.S. alarm.Johnson’s final decision could come as early as this week, officials say.For a year, the Trump administration has urged Britain to ban Huawei from participating in the development of Britain’s fifth-generation wireless network. U.S. officials say there’s a significant risk that the company, which has close ties to Chinese intelligence services, will act as a Trojan horse for Beijing’s espionage agencies, allowing them to sweep up data and gather intelligence.FILE – Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Oct. 16, 2019.Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have urged all Western allies to shun Huawei on security grounds. They have specifically warned Downing Street that Britain’s participation in the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing arrangement — the U.S.-led Anglophone intelligence pact linking Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Britain — would be imperiled.Australia and New Zealand have banned Huawei from developing their 5G networks. As yet, Canada has not.Senior U.S. security officials flew to London last week and warned Johnson and his ministers that allowing Huawei to supply even some non-core equipment of the future 5G network would be “nothing short of madness.”Cost factorBut Johnson has faced strong counter lobbying from China — and also from British telecom providers and mobile phone companies. They have already been installing Huawei technology to start setting up the new network in more than 70 cities in Britain. They warn that delaying the rollout of 5G would cost the British economy billions of pounds. Ripping out masts and other equipment already in place would cost British providers hundreds of millions of pounds and could delay by up to five years the 5G network.Last week, Johnson expressed frustration with the U.S. over the issue, saying in a BBC radio interview that he didn’t want “to prejudice our national security or our ability to co-operate with Five Eyes intelligence partners,” but that he wanted Britain to have “access to the best possible technology. We want to put in gigabit broadband for everybody.”Johnson added, “If people oppose one brand or another, then they have to tell us what’s the alternative.”Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson gestures as he speaks at the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London, Britain, Jan. 20, 2020.U.S. officials reportedly told Johnson that Britain shouldn’t prioritize costs over security.Johnson has some U.S. supporters.”It is a difficult decision for a number of countries, the U.K. being one of them,” said Robert Manning, an analyst at the Atlantic Council.Huawei alternativesManning sympathizes with Johnson’s complaint that the U.S. isn’t offering any alternatives to Huawei.”On one level, this is all a fallout from America First policy. We should have sat down with our allies a long time ago to sort out what you have to worry about and what you might have some leeway on. There is a certain demonization going on, ” he told VOA.British technology experts say it is easier for the U.S. to avoid using Huawei equipment, as it is building a less sophisticated 5G network and doesn’t require the advanced antenna-sharing technology Huawei has developed. They say Huawei will provide not just faster mobile data connection but easier connectivity between internet-based devices, from laptops and smart refrigerators to self-driving cars.U.S. giants Cisco and Qualcomm are the go-to 5G equipment suppliers in America. But like Europe’s Ericsson and Nokia, they can’t currently provide the same advanced equipment as Huawei or at the same low price.Security risksBritish intelligence agencies are split on whether Huawei poses a security risk.  Andrew Parker, head of MI5, believes U.S. alarm is overblown. He has said publicly that the security risks can be managed if Huawei has access to the less sensitive parts of the new network, and is monitored closely and its equipment screened.He has also discounted U.S. threats to review intelligence-sharing, saying there is “no reason to think” Washington would follow through with its threat, as the U.S.-U.K. partnership is “very close and very trusted.”But U.S. officials have told VOA that Parker is wrong to think that U.S. intelligence agencies would overlook the spying fears. They also warn that a possible Johnson fudge, whereby Huawei’s equipment would be allowed in less sensitive parts of the network, wouldn’t assuage their concerns.Top officials at Britain’s GCHQ, the eavesdropping spy agency and the country’s largest intelligence, aren’t as sanguine as Parker, and remain worried about the risks of handing Huawei unprecedented access to British citizens’ sensitive data.FILE – An analyst points to a screen at Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s electronic intelligence service, in London, March, 14, 2014.They agree with U.S. intelligence assessments that restricting Huawei to the “edges” of the new network would make little difference to the security risk. They told Britain’s Sunday Times that giving Huawei such access would be akin to “letting a fox loose in a chicken coop.”Former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who when in office ruled out using Huawei for 5G development, said the nature of 5G technology made it impossible to separate the core from non-core elements of the future network. He said Huawei could be forced by Chinese law to hand over information to Beijing’s espionage agencies.”Do you want to give China the capability to materially interfere with what will become one of the most fundamental technological platforms in the modern economy?” he said in a radio interview last week.The Chinese government says Huawei is a private company and poses no security risk to the West. Huawei has dismissed U.S. allegations that it could undermine Britain’s national security as “baseless speculation.”Beijing has also made thinly veiled threats, suggesting a decision to ban Huawei could result in Britain being punished when it comes to trade and investment.Britain hopes to pull off post-Brexit trade deals with both Washington and Beijing to help compensate for reduced trade with Europe.
 

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Sources: Merkel Seeks to Delay Huawei Position Until After March EU Summit

Chancellor Angela Merkel has asked her conservative lawmakers to wait until after a March EU summit before taking a position on whether China’s Huawei can take part in the rollout of Germany’s 5G network, sources involved in their talks said.Merkel believes European Union coordination on the issue is important and she has been unable to bridge differences within her CDU/CSU bloc, the sources said.Merkel’s conservatives are divided on whether to support a proposal by their Social Democrat (SPD) junior coalition partners that, if approved, would effectively shut out the Chinese technology giant from the network.
  

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