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Nearly 3 million Californians at risk of losing home internet service as subsidy expires

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Nearly 3 million Californians at risk of losing home internet service as subsidy expires

Four years ago, Claudia Aleman and her family had only one way to get online — through their cellphones. Without internet service on a computer, her youngest daughter couldn’t get homework assignments in on time, her parents couldn’t keep up with online doctor visits, and the English classes she wanted to sign up for were out of reach.

Then came a game-changer: The federal government started offering a subsidy that covered $30 of the family’s $80 monthly internet bill.

But while opening mail at her home in South Gate two months ago, Aleman came across a letter from the Federal Communications Commission announcing that the Affordable Connectivity Program they had come to rely on would end in May unless Congress approved more funding.

Claudia Aleman of South Gate said her family did not have a computer with internet service until the federal subsidy was created.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

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“My husband is the only one who works, and everything is so expensive right now,” Aleman said. “Sometimes we don’t have $30 to spare.”

“The program made a significant difference in our lives,” she added. “Without it, life is going to be difficult, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.”

The program, which was created after the pandemic forced many Americans to turn to the internet to connect with work and school, has 23 million enrollees nationwide — 1 in 6 U.S. households — including nearly 3 million in California.

Since 2021, it has provided a $30 monthly subsidy for low-income households and $75 for those on tribal lands. But the $14.2 billion funded through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act has run out.

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April was the last month of full program benefits, but households could receive a partial discount in May.

In a letter to Congress this month, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel warned that not funding the program would have widespread impact, especially for senior citizens, veterans, schoolchildren and residents of rural and tribal communities.

“Households across the country are now facing hard choices about what expenses they have to cut, including food and gas, to maintain their broadband access, with some households doubtful they can afford to keep their broadband service at all,” she wrote.

Internet service providers have their own programs for low-income households. People can enter their address on the FCC’s broadband map to find providers in their area. The California Public Utilities Commission also provides a list of providers with low-cost internet plans.

But finding a cheaper alternative can be difficult. Rural households sometimes have just one provider, and families who can’t afford it have little recourse.

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Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) is among 228 bipartisan co-sponsors of the Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act of 2024, which would provide an additional $7 billion to keep the program afloat for another year. Among the co-sponsors are 22 Republicans, including Rep. Young Kim (R-Anaheim Hills).

“You’ve got to have your head in the sand to not understand the value of what this is doing to enhance our economy, enhance the skills and opportunities for so many Americans,” Carbajal said. Allowing the program to expire, he said, “will undo the progress we’ve made in closing the digital divide. It would take us back to the dark ages.”

 A man holding a paper speaks on the floor of the House of Representatives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara) has sponsored legislation to fund the internet subsidy for another year.

(House Television via AP)

But the bill hasn’t been brought for a standalone floor vote in the GOP-led House amid criticism from some Republicans who say the program subsidizes households that already had internet service. They also pointed to findings from the FCC’s internal watchdog last year that providers failed to comply with the program’s rules and improperly claimed funds.

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In a statement last year, Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said the program was “subject to massive waste, fraud, and abuse of taxpayer dollars.”

In an FCC survey of 5,300 households conducted in December, more than two-thirds of respondents said they had inconsistent or no internet before joining the federal program, the majority citing affordability. About one-third of respondents said they had both mobile and home internet service.

In October, the Biden administration sent Congress a supplemental request for $6 billion to keep the program running, but it didn’t pass.

Letting the program lapse, even if it could be restarted later, would require additional spending on outreach and re-enrollment, Carbajal said. He also worries that people who benefit from it will feel a sense of whiplash and lose trust in the federal government.

California recently dedicated $70 million in federal funding toward affordable internet service, devices and training. Carbajal said he’s glad to see his state acting, but it’s not enough.

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“We can’t look at it from a parochial standpoint,” he said. “I’m not just looking out for the Central Coast and my state — I’m looking out for the entire nation.”

Still, Carbajal said he’s optimistic something will take hold before May 1. Similar circumstances have played out favorably at the last minute, he said.

In Los Angeles, the federal program has played an important role in the county’s effort to close the digital divide, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through local promotion, enrollment in Los Angeles grew to nearly 1 million households.

County officials partnered with the nonprofit EveryoneOn to get the word out. Chief Executive Norma Fernandez worries families will be confused when they see their internet bill go up and won’t understand why the program ended.

“We tried so hard and provided tons of hands-on support to get people connected and then we’re going to pull it away from them,” she said. “It’s going to cause hopelessness.”

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Claudia Aleman in the living room of her family home with photos on the wall.

Claudia Aleman’s family has benefited from subsidized internet service through the Affordable Connectivity Program that is running out of funds.

(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

For Aleman’s family, the pandemic changed everything. When schools first shut down, they relied on a Los Angeles County Unified School District program that offered free internet to eligible students.

But the service was unreliable — access would frequently drop or freeze up. So Aleman started leaving her daughter Miranda, now 11, with her sister and neighbors who had reliable internet access so that she could attend online classes and do her homework.

“I think my daughter lost an entire school year,” she said.

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Their need for internet access at home hasn’t changed since schools reopened. Most of Miranda’s assignments are still online.

Life improved almost immediately after they enrolled in the federal subsidy program in 2022 and got internet access through AT&T. Miranda started turning in assignments on time. Aleman’s older daughters, 17 and 21, could do their schoolwork at home instead of at the library or relatives’ homes.

It also made a difference for her parents. Her father, who is diabetic, takes nutrition courses online, and her mother, who is asthmatic, needs regular video checkups with her doctor. And Aleman could finally stay in regular contact with family in Mexico.

Since learning that the program would end, Aleman said she has been applying for jobs to help her husband cover bills. In May, her husband will pay the internet bill, possibly with credit cards.

Beyond that, she said, “there’s always the library.”

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Politics

New Hampshire political consultant behind AI-powered Biden robocalls hit with 24 criminal charges, $6M fine

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New Hampshire political consultant behind AI-powered Biden robocalls hit with 24 criminal charges, $6M fine

The New Hampshire political consultant behind robocalls mimicking President Biden is now facing 24 criminal charges, 13 of which are felony counts.

Steve Kramer admitted to commissioning robocalls that used artificial intelligence to generate a voice similar to President Biden encouraging recipients not to participate in the primary.

The Federal Communications Commission also announced $6 million in fines against Kramer.

“It’s important that you save your vote for the November election,” the illicit calls stated, according to New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella. The calls added, “Your vote makes a difference in November, not this Tuesday.” 

NEW HAMPSHIRE INVESTIGATING FAKE BIDEN ROBOCALL TELLING VOTERS NOT TO PARTICIPATE IN TUESDAY’S PRIMARY

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In this image taken from video, Steve Kramer speaks during an interview in Miami. (AP Photo)

“After we received multiple reports and complaints on the day these calls were made and the day after these calls were made, my office immediately opened an investigation,” Formella said.

He described how his office’s Election Law Unit worked with the Anti-Robocall Multistate Litigation Task Force, a bipartisan task force made up of 50 state attorneys general and the Federal Communications Commission Enforcement Bureau. 

Kramer previously told local outlet News 9 he produced the phone calls as a stunt to demonstrate the need to regulate AI technology.

NEW HAMPSHIRE AG TRACES ROBOCALLS WITH ‘AI-GENERATED CLONE’ OF BIDEN’S VOICE BACK TO TEXAS-BASED COMPANIES

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New Hampshire officials announce robocall probe

New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella describes the investigation into robocalls that used artificial intelligence to mimic President Biden’s voice and discourage people from voting in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary during a news conference in Concord, N.H. (Amanda Gokee/The Boston Globe via AP)

“Maybe I’m a villain today, but I think, in the end, we get a better country and better democracy because of what I’ve done, deliberately,” Kramer previously said of the investigation.

The New Hampshire robocalls sparked immediate action in outlawing deep fakes impersonating political candidates. The FCC ruled the practice illegal in February. 

 

FCC commissioner

Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Alex Wong/Pool via AP, File)

With the unanimous adoption of a ruling that recognizes calls made with AI-generated voices as “artificial” under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), a 1991 law restricting junk calls that use artificial and prerecorded voice messages, the FCC said it was giving state attorneys general new tools to go after those responsible for voice-cloning scams. 

WHAT IS ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI)?

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“Bad actors are using AI-generated voices in unsolicited robocalls to extort vulnerable family members, imitate celebrities and misinform voters. We’re putting the fraudsters behind these robocalls on notice,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.

“State Attorneys General will now have new tools to crack down on these scams and ensure the public is protected from fraud and misinformation.”

Fox News’ Danielle Wallace and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Supreme Court OKs shift of Black voters to shore up GOP congressional district

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Supreme Court OKs shift of Black voters to shore up GOP congressional district

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a state’s mapmakers may shift tens of thousands of Black voters to a different district if they were seeking to shore up a partisan advantage for a Republican candidate.

In a 6-3 decision, the justices upheld a redistricting map drawn by South Carolina’s Republican Legislature and overturned a lower court ruling that called it a “stark racial gerrymander.”

At issue was whether the state legislators drew the districts for political or racial reasons.

All six Republican appointees were in the majority and said the legislators were motivated by partisan concerns, while the three Democratic appointees dissented and said voters were shifted based on their race.

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In the past, the court had said that partisan gerrymandering is legal and as old as the nation, but racial gerrymandering is discriminatory and unconstitutional.

The justices reasoned that the Constitution permits elected officials to make decisions based on political considerations, but the 14th Amendment forbids the government from making decisions based on race.

Not surprisingly, however, those two principles come into conflict in the drawing of election districts. At issue in the South Carolina case was a congressional district in the Charleston area held by Republican Rep. Nancy Mace.

That district had regularly elected Republicans, but a Democrat won it in 2018 in what was described as a major upset. Mace ran in 2020 and won a narrow victory.

When the South Carolina Legislature redrew its seven districts in response to the 2020 Census, the mapmakers sought to shore up her district as a Republican stronghold. They shifted more than 30,000 Black voters from Mace’s district in Charleston into a Black-majority district held by Rep. James E. Clyburn, the state’s lone Democrat.

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Lawyers for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU sued and argued the state’s redistricting plan was unconstitutional. They won a ruling from a three-judge court which said “race was the predominant motivating factor” in the drawing of Mace’s district.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr, speaking for the court, said the evidence showed that partisan motives were driving force.

“To untangle race from other permissible considerations, we require the plaintiff to show that race was the predominant factor motivating the legislature’s decision to place a significant number of voters within or without a particular district,” Alito said. He added that the plaintiffs did not show race was the dominant factor in drawing the districts.

Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson dissented.

“What a message to send to state legislators and mapmakers about racial gerrymandering,” Kagan said in dissent. “Go right ahead, this court says to states today. …In the electoral sphere especially, where ugly patterns of pervasive racial discrimination have so long governed, we should demand better— of ourselves, of our political representatives, and most of all of this court.”

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Unlike other redistricting cases from Alabama and Louisiana, the immediate impact of the South Carolina case looks to be limited.

Civil rights lawsuits in Alabama and Louisiana led to the creation of a second Black-majority district where a Democrat could be elected. The South Carolina litigation did not involve a possible second Black-majority district.

In March, the three judges who had struck down Mace’s district issued an order that allows this year’s election to proceed using the state’s preferred map.

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AOC demands Senate Democrats investigate reports of Jan. 6 flags flown at Supreme Court Justice Alito's home

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AOC demands Senate Democrats investigate reports of Jan. 6 flags flown at Supreme Court Justice Alito's home

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., demanded the Democrat-controlled Senate investigate reports that a flag associated with the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol was flown at Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s home. 

In an interview on MSNBC’s “All in with Chris Hayes” on Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez described the reports as “an extraordinary breach of not just the trust and the stature of the Supreme Court, but we are seeing a fundamental challenge to our democracy.” She said that Congress did not have to wait to take action against Alito until Democrats had a majority in the House. 

“Samuel Alito has identified himself with the same people who raided the Capitol on Jan. 6, and is now going to be presiding over court cases that have deep implications over the participants of that rally,” the progressive “Squad” member said. “And while this is the threat to our democracy, Democrats have a responsibility for defending our democracy. And in the Senate, we have gavels.”

“There should be subpoenas going out. There should be active investigations that are happening,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “And I believe that when House Democrats take the majority, we are preparing and ensuring to support the broader effort to stand up our democracy. But I also believe that when Democrats have power, we have to use it. We cannot be in perpetual campaign mode. We need to be in governance mode, we need to be in accountability mode with every lever that we have. Because we cannot take a Senate majority for granted, a House majority for granted or a White House for granted.” 

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that a second flag of a type carried by rioters during the riot at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, was displayed outside a house owned by Alito. 

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ALITO SAYS WIFE DISPLAYED UPSIDE-DOWN FLAG AFTER ARGUMENT WITH INSULTING NEIGHBOR

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called for Senate Democrats to investigate flags flown outside a home owned by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.  (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

An “Appeal to Heaven” flag was flown outside Alito’s beach vacation home last summer. An inverted American flag — another symbol carried by rioters — was seen at Alito’s home outside Washington less than two weeks after the riot at the Capitol. 

News of the upside-down American flag sparked an uproar last week, including calls from high-ranking Democrats for Alito to recuse himself from cases related to former President Trump.

Alito and the court have not commented on the “Appeal to Heaven” flag. Alito previously said the inverted American flag was flown by his wife amid a dispute with neighbors, and he had no part in it.

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The white flag with a green pine tree was seen flying at the Alito beach home in New Jersey, according to three photographs obtained by the Times. The images were taken on different dates in July and September 2023, though it was not clear how long it was flying overall or how much time Alito spent there.

Alito and his wife at Billy Graham funeral

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito Jr., left, and his wife Martha-Ann Alito, pay their respects at the casket of Reverend Billy Graham at the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, Feb. 28, 2018.  (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

The flag dates back to the Revolutionary War, but in more recent years it has become associated with conservatives, Christian nationalism and support for Trump, according to the Times.

It was carried by some rioters fueled by Trump’s “Stop the Steal” movement. 

OBAMA CHEERS BIDEN JUDICIAL MILESTONE AS FORMER ADVISER WARNS OF TRUMP ‘MAGA COURT MAJORITY’ ON SUPREME COURT

Republicans in Congress and state officials have also displayed the flag. House Speaker Mike Johnson, hung it at his office last fall shortly after winning the gavel. A spokesman said the speaker appreciates its rich history and was given the flag by a pastor who served as a guest chaplain for the House, according to the Associated Press. 

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An Appeal to Heaven flag among Trump supporters

Crowds arrive for the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. An “Appeal to Heaven” flag is seen being flown by a supporter. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Alito is taking part in two pending Supreme Court cases associated with Jan. 6: whether Trump has immunity from prosecution for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results and whether a certain obstruction charge can be used against rioters. He also participated in the court’s unanimous ruling that states cannot bar Trump from the ballot using the “insurrection clause” that was added to the Constitution after the Civil War.

There has been no indication that Alito would step aside from the cases. 

Another conservative on the Supreme Court, Justice Clarence Thomas, also has ignored calls to recuse himself from cases related to the 2020 election because of his wife Virginia Thomas’ support for efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

Judicial ethics codes focus on the need for judges to be independent, avoiding political statements or opinions on matters they could be called on to decide. The Supreme Court had long gone without its own code of ethics, but it adopted one in November 2023 in the face of sustained criticism over undisclosed trips and gifts from wealthy benefactors to some justices. The code, however, lacks a means of enforcement.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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