Pentagon Releases Base-by-base Sexual Assault Report Data

The U.S. military on Friday disclosed for the first time base-by-base data on sexual assault reports, showing a higher number of reports at big military installations like Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia as well as overseas hubs like South Korea.

Sexual assault in the military, which is defined as anything from groping to rape, is believed to be significantly higher than the number of reports. The Pentagon said it estimates that, in 2016, less than a third of service members who experienced a sexual assault reported it.

Still, that was an improvement in reporting from previous years, the Pentagon said.

According to the newly released data, a collection of U.S. bases in South Korea had a combined 211 reports of sexual assault while Norfolk had 270 reports of sexual assault in the 2016 fiscal year, which began in October 2015 and ended in September 2016. That is down slightly from 291 cases at Norfolk in 2015.

The Pentagon did not elaborate on the data but noted that the reports showed where a victim reported a sexual assault, not necessarily where the sexual assault occurred.

Sexual assault reports from other big bases in 2016 included: Fort Hood in Texas with 199 reports; Naval Base in San Diego, California, with 187 reports; Camp Lejeune in North Carolina with 169 reports; Camp Pendleton in California with 157 reports, and Fort Bragg in North Carolina with 146 reports.

The Pentagon announced earlier this year a record total of 6,172 sexual assault reports in 2016, compared with 6,082 the previous year. This was a sharp increase from 2012, when 3,604 cases were reported.

The U.S. military said it believes that a biannual anonymous survey provides a more accurate estimate of the number of sexual assaults. According to the latest survey, 14,900 service members experienced some kind of sexual assault in 2016, down from 20,300 in 2014.

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State Department Battles Criticism of Tillerson’s Management

The State Department is hitting back at the growing bipartisan criticism of Rex Tillerson’s leadership and accusations he is presiding over a debilitating brain drain of the nation’s diplomatic corps.

 

In a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Republican chairman, the department said Tillerson’s reorganization plans aren’t crippling the agency as reports have claimed. Top ranks aren’t being intentionally gutted through attrition, mass retirements and buyouts, it said, and a planned 8 percent reduction of its nearly 75,000 employees had been mandated by the Office of Management and Budget and is proceeding under that order.

 

In the letter sent to Sen. Bob Corker late Thursday, the department said there are only 108 fewer foreign service officers now than in 2016. The tally is still 2,000 more than there were in 2008, it said.

 

It said a widely cited figure that 60 percent of diplomats at the highest level had left the foreign service since January is a “distortion” because only six people held the rank known as “career ambassador.” Two remain, it said. Since 1980, only from one to seven career ambassadors have ever served at the same time.

 

Nevertheless, the letter seems unlikely to stem the criticism of Tillerson. Critics also point to departures of senior and mid-level foreign service officers and a hiring freeze of entry level diplomats that has been relaxed only to take on about 100 new employees in the current budget year. That’s about a third of recent yearly intakes.

 

Democratic and Republican lawmakers also oppose Tillerson’s proposal to cut the department’s budget by nearly 30 percent, suggesting there will be rancorous exchanges on staffing levels in coming months.

 

The letter follows an intense week of criticism of Tillerson.

 

Since taking office, the former ExxonMobil CEO has been targeted by frequent attacks from Democrats, former diplomats and pundits on the left and the right. In recent days, Corker and a fellow prominent Republican, Arizona Sen. John McCain, joined the chorus.

Corker on Tuesday echoed comments of his committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Ben Cardin, who spoke of “alarming” reports that America’s diplomatic corps is being decimated by the reorganization. Corker said the concerns were “bipartisan in nature” and lamented that a briefing about the reorganization with State Department officials had been “very unsatisfactory” and incomplete.

 

A day later, McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, wrote a letter with Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen criticizing the department for management decisions “that threaten to undermine the long-term health and effectiveness of American diplomacy.”

 

The entire minority membership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee followed, writing to Tillerson to say they’re “profoundly concerned about what appears to be the intentional hollowing-out of our senior diplomatic ranks and the entire State Department with no apparent goal.”

 

The criticism followed a highly critical missive from the American Foreign Service Association, the union representing U.S. diplomats.

 

Its president, Barbara Stephenson, likened senior staff reductions to a “decapitation” that would be met with public outcry if it had occurred in the military.

 

“The rapid loss of so many senior officers has a serious, immediate and tangible effect on the capacity of the United States to shape world events,” she said.

The State Department feels the criticism is unfair. In its letter to Corker, the agency said there are only 20 fewer senior foreign service officers now than there were a year ago (1,048 compared with 1,068). This year’s retirements are five fewer than in 2016, it said. Buyouts to induce early retirement of more than 600 diplomats are consistent with a directive to reduce the federal workforce.

 

It said reorganization is a work in progress, appealing for patience as officials make the department “more efficient and effective within a sustainable budget.”

 

“A project such as this demands careful execution and we are committed to doing just that and notifying Congress as required,” the State Department said.

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US Senate Candidate Moore’s Wife Says ‘He Will Not Step Down’

The wife of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama said on Friday her husband would not end his campaign in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations, dismissing reports about his past behavior toward some women as political attacks.

“He will not step down,” Kayla Moore said at a news conference on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery. “He will not stop fighting for the people of Alabama.”

The former Alabama Supreme Court chief justice’s campaign has been in turmoil since the Washington Post published a story last week detailing the accounts of three women who claim Moore pursued them while they were teenagers and he was in his 30s.

More women have since spoken out with allegations of their own.

Reuters has been unable to independently confirm any of the accusations.

Before the allegations came to light, Moore was heavily favored to defeat Democrat Doug Jones in the special election next month.

Two polls this week showed Moore now trailing Jones. Fox News released a poll on Thursday putting Jones ahead with 50 percent to 42 percent for Moore.

But Moore’s embattled candidacy also got a boost on Thursday, when the Alabama Republican Party said it would continue to support him, putting it at odds with Republican leaders in Washington who want him to withdraw.

Republican Alabama Governor Kay Ivey on Friday told reporters she would vote for Moore, emphasizing the importance of keeping Republican control of the U.S. Senate.

Asked whether she believed the women accusing Moore of sexual improprieties or unwanted romantic overtures, Ivey said, “the timing is a little curious but at the same time I have no reason to disbelieve them.”

The White House has said President Donald Trump finds the allegations troubling and believes Moore should step aside if they are true.

White House legislative director Marc Short on Friday said Trump previously backed Moore’s opponent, Luther Strange, in the primary contest and that Moore’s explanations “so far have not been satisfactory.”

“At this point, we believe it is up to the people of Alabama to make a decision,” Short told CNN. “The president chose a different candidate.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, several women went public with accusations that Trump had in the past made unwanted sexual advances or inappropriate personal remarks about them.

Trump denied the accusations, accused rival Democrats and the media of a smear campaign, and went on to be elected president.

Kayla Moore noted that the Washington Post endorsed Hillary Clinton over Trump in last year’s election, accusing it of being part of a concerted effort to push back against anti-establishment conservative candidates.

“All of the very same people who were attacking President Trump are also attacking us,” she said.

The Post’s editorial board, which endorsed Clinton, works separately from the reporters and editors who work on news stories, as is common at most newspapers.

 

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UN Panel Agrees to Move Ahead With Debate on ‘Killer Robots’

A U.N. panel agreed Friday to move ahead with talks to define and possibly set limits on weapons that can kill without human involvement, as human rights groups said governments are moving too slowly to keep up with advances in artificial intelligence that could put computers in control one day.

Advocacy groups warned about the threats posed by such “killer robots” and aired a chilling video illustrating their possible uses on the sidelines of the first formal U.N. meeting of government experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems this week. More than 80 countries took part.

Ambassador Amandeep Gill of India, who chaired the gathering, said participants plan to meet again in 2018. He said ideas discussed this week included the creation of legally binding instrument, a code of conduct, or a technology review process.

The Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, an umbrella group of advocacy groups, says 22 countries support a ban of the weapons and the list is growing. Human Rights Watch, one of its members, called for an agreement to regulate them by the end of 2019 — admittedly a long shot.

The meeting falls under the U.N.’s Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons — also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention — a 37-year old agreement that has set limits on the use of arms and explosives like mines, blinding laser weapons and booby traps over the years.

The group operates by consensus, so the least ambitious goals are likely to prevail, and countries including Russia and Israel have firmly staked out opposition to any formal ban. The United States has taken a go-slow approach, rights groups say.

U.N. officials say in theory, fully autonomous, computer-controlled weapons don’t exist yet, but defining exactly what killer robots are and how much human interaction is involved was a key focus of the meeting. The United States argued that it was “premature” to establish a definition.

Dramatic depictions

The concept alone stirs the imagination and fears, as dramatized in Hollywood futuristic or science-fiction films that have depicted uncontrolled robots deciding on their own about firing weapons and killing people.

Gill played down such concerns.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I have news for you: The robots are not taking over the world. So that is good news, humans are still in charge. … We have to be careful in not emotionalizing or dramatizing this issue,” he told reporters Friday.

The United States, in comments presented, said autonomous weapons could help improve guidance of missiles and bombs against military targets, thereby “reducing the likelihood of inadvertently striking civilians.” Autonomous defensive systems could help intercept enemy projectiles, one U.S. text said.

Some top academics like Stephen Hawking, technology experts such as Tesla founder Elon Musk and human rights groups have warned about the threats posed by artificial intelligence, amid concerns that it might one day control such systems — and perhaps sooner rather than later.

“The bottom line is that governments are not moving fast enough,” said Steven Goose, executive director of arms at Human Rights Watch. He said a treaty by the end of 2019 is “the kind of timeline we think this issue demands.”

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How Much Is a Life Worth, Ask Activists Fighting Slavery?

From $7 for a Rohingya refugee to $750 for a North Korean “slave wife,” human rights activists have voiced concerns that it is becoming increasingly easy to enslave another human being as the cost plummets.

The average modern-day slave is sold for $90-100 compared to the equivalent of $40,000 some 200 years ago, said Kevin Bales, Professor of Contemporary Slavery at Britain’s University of Nottingham.

“There has been a collapse in the price of slaves over the last 50 years,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference in London, which focuses on women’s empowerment and modern slavery.

‘Beasts of burden’

Pointing to a photo of boys hauling rocks in Nepal “like beasts of burden,” he said their parents would have sold them for $5-$10. Children are so cheap that if they get injured or fall in a ravine their slave master abandons them, Bales said.

“They understand it’s less expensive to acquire a new child than to call a doctor,” he added.

Bales attributed the fall in price to the population explosion which had “glutted the world with potentially enslavable people.”

40 million people trapped

Worldwide, about 40 million people were estimated to be trapped as slaves in 2016, mostly women and girls, in forced labor, sexual exploitation and forced marriages, with global trafficking estimated to raise $150 billion in profits a year.

North Korean defector Jihyun Park told how she was trafficked to China where she was sold for 5000 yuan ($750) to an alcoholic, violent farmer.

“He said I’ve paid for you so you must work. I spent six years as his slave,” Park said.

Thousands of North Korean women are believed to have been trafficked as wives and sex workers inside China where the one-child policy has skewed the gender ratio.

Natural disasters force issue

 In Bangladesh, Asif Saleh, of development agency BRAC, said Rohingya refugee women fleeing Myanmar and arriving in Bangladesh were being sold for as little as 5 pounds ($6.60).

Aid agencies say traffickers often exploit crises to prey on vulnerable people separated from their families and communities.

Nepalese nun and kung fu teacher Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo, who helps families displaced by the country’s 2015 earthquake, told the conference that people were selling their daughters, sisters and mothers to traffickers after the disaster in order to rebuild their homes.

“Some men just see girls as a bunch of money,” she said.

In northern Kenya’s pastoralist region, lawyer Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan said child brides as young as nine were sold for eight cows or eight camels — worth about $800.

“Girls become commodities and they have no voice, no one asks what the girl wants,” said Adan, who uses football to help tackle child marriage and female genital mutilation.

But it is not just rich countries where girls are sold off.

Sarah, forced into prostitution as a child in Britain, said the gang who groomed her said she would have to have sex every day until she had paid off a “debt” of 75,000 pounds.

“They told me I belonged to them and until my debt was cleared I had to work for them,” she said.

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Experts: Puerto Rico May Struggle for More Than a Decade

Puerto Rico could face more than a decade of further economic stagnation and a steep drop in population as a result of Hurricane Maria, experts say.

The stark estimates were presented this wee to members of a federal control board overseeing finances of a U.S. territory that is already in the 11th year of a recession.

“The situation is dire to say the least, with destroyed infrastructure, lack of power and water, and an accelerated pace of migration,” economist Heidie Calero said.

She estimated that the hurricane caused $115 billion in damage, even without counting business losses.

“We believe that is very conservative,” she said.

The administration of Governor Ricardo Rossello said earlier in the week that it was seeking $94 billion in federal aid for an island where power generation remains at 40 percent and where nearly 10 percent of people are still without water almost two months after the storm. More than 20 of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities remain completely without power.

So far, Congress has approved nearly $5 billion in aid for Puerto Rico.

Twin shocks

Economist Juan Lara told board members that the local economy could contract anywhere between 8 percent and 15 percent in fiscal 2018, depending on the restoration of power, with overall revenues falling by 30 percent.

“We are undergoing both a demand and supply shock,” he said, saying that 5,000 businesses could close permanently, representing 10 percent of membership of the island’s National Retail Federation.

Businesses that have reopened have been forced to reduce their hours or depend on costly generators.

“We need electric power to be back and to be reliable,” Lara said. “We need roads to be cleared. We need supermarkets to be able to replenish their inventories. … We need to restore basic operating infrastructure.”

Lack of power remains the biggest obstacle, with the island’s electric company struggling to maintain the 50 percent power generation it had reached Wednesday just as a major blackout occurred for the second time in a week.

Rossello has said the company will reach 80 percent generation by end of November and 95 percent by mid-December, goals that many have called ambitious. In contrast, the U.S. Corps of Engineers has said it expects 75 percent generation by end of January.

More migration

Before Hurricane Maria hit, Puerto Rico was trying to restructure a portion of its $73 billion public debt load amid a deep economic crisis that has prompted an exodus of nearly half a million people in the past decade. That migration will only accelerate because of post-hurricane conditions, with an estimated population of 2.8 million people by 2030, compared with the current 3.4 million, said economist Jose Villamil.

“What Maria has done in some ways is to exacerbate that situation, made it more intense,” he said.

The drop in population, coupled with a majority of young, talented people leaving, will hit Puerto Rico’s economy even harder, experts said.

Two more meetings remain as the board continues to gather information to revise a fiscal plan to adjust for the hurricane’s impact. It is unclear how much money, if any, will be set aside in the plan to pay off the island’s debt load.

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Probe Finds Ongoing Radioactive Leaks at Illinois Nuclear Plants

Radioactive waste continues to pour from Exelon’s Illinois nuclear power plants more than a decade after the discovery of chronic leaks led to national outrage, a $1.2 million government settlement and a company vow to guard against future accidents, an investigation by a government watchdog group found.

Since 2007, there have been at least 35 reported leaks, spills or other accidental releases in Illinois of water contaminated with radioactive tritium, a byproduct of nuclear power production and a carcinogen at high levels, a Better Government Association review of federal and state records shows.

No fines were issued for the accidents, all of which were self-reported by the company.

The most recent leak of 35,000 gallons (132,000 liters) occurred over two weeks in May and June at Exelon’s Braidwood plant, southwest of Chicago. The same facility was the focus of a community panic in the mid-2000s after a series of accidents stirred debate over the safety of aging nuclear plants.

A 2014 incident at Exelon’s Dresden facility in Grundy County involved the release of about 500,000 gallons (1,900,000 liters) of highly radioactive water. Contamination was later found in the plant’s sewer lines and miles away in the Morris, Illinois, sewage treatment plant.

Another leak was discovered in 2007 at the Quad Cities plant in Cordova. It took eight months to plug and led to groundwater radiation readings up to 375 times of that allowed under federal safe drinking water standards.

Exelon had threatened to close the Quad Cities plant, but relented last year after Gov. Bruce Rauner signed bailout legislation authorizing big rate hikes.

Representatives of Exelon and its government overseers — the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency — say the leaks posed no public danger and did not contaminate drinking water. Exelon said to prevent leaks it has spent $100 million over the last decade on upgrades at all of its U.S. plants.

Michael Pacilio, chief operating officer of the power generating arm of Exelon, said no one in or around the plants was harmed by radioactivity from the leaks, which he described as minor compared with everyday exposures.

“We live in a radioactive world,” Pacilio said.

Critics say that’s little cause for relief.

“Best that we can tell, that’s more luck than skill,” said David Lochbaum, an analyst with the nonprofit Union of Concerned Scientists. “Leaks aren’t supposed to happen. Workers and the public could be harmed. There is a hazard there.”

Among the 61 nuclear power plants operating in the U.S., more than half have reactors that are at or near the end of their originally expected lifespans — including the Dresden and Quad Cities plants.

Industry watchdogs and government whistleblowers contend oversight is compromised by a cozy relationship between companies and the NRC.

Government regulators concede they must balance the safety needs of aging plants, which require more maintenance, versus ordering cost-prohibitive upgrades at facilities that inherently are just a slip-up away from catastrophe.

No player in the nuclear industry is bigger than Exelon, the Chicago-based energy company that last year reported $31 billion in revenue and operates 14 nuclear plants in Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Five of the six Illinois plants reported leaks over the last decade, records show. Clinton, in DeWitt County, had no leaks and Byron, in Ogle County, reported only one that contained low levels of radioactivity.

The accidents included in the BGA analysis are separate from government-approved releases into large bodies of water. The state allows Exelon to discharge controlled amounts of tritium into rivers and lakes, where radioactive material gets diluted.

Other releases of tritium, however, can be illegal and subject to fines and government lawsuits — though no accidents from the past decade resulted in either. Government officials say small amounts of tritium — a radioactive form of hydrogen and a potential marker for more dangerous nuclear contaminants — are not harmful to humans but exposure to higher levels may increase the risk of cancer.

At least seven of the 35 documented accidents since 2007 involved contamination of groundwater. Other contamination was found in sewers and other water systems where it isn’t supposed to be.

The recent leaks echo the controversy in 2006 when it was revealed that leaks at Braidwood over many years spilled 6 million gallons (23 million liters) of radioactive water, some of which found its way onto private properties and at least one private drinking well.

At the time, Exelon and state regulators assured the public radioactivity levels in the private well were far below limits deemed a danger. Neighbors of the Braidwood plant were skeptical then and remain so.

“The NRC gets all its numbers from the nuclear plant. How can NRC trust the numbers?” asked Monica Mack, who lives in Braceville near the Braidwood plant.

The BGA investigation also found:

  • Of the 35 documented incidents, 27 occurred at Dresden. Following the big 2014 leak, which emanated from an aboveground storage tank, Exelon asked a state inspector whether the public would have access to the incident report under open records laws, a state report showed.

  • An NRC report on the 2007 Quad Cities leak noted radiation levels went “well beyond that seen anywhere else in the industry” and that plant staff estimated the leak had been active for years before it was discovered.

  • In 2010, Exelon’s Marseilles generating plant in LaSalle County reported a spill from a storage tank, initially estimated at more than 150 gallons (570 liters) but later classified as “unknown.” Groundwater tritium tests later showed levels 59 times the EPA’s drinking water limit. Exelon said no tritium left the plant’s boundaries, but records show plant workers continued to monitor a body of highly contaminated groundwater sitting on plant property at least five years after the accident.

  • In 2009, Dresden reported another hole in a storage tank led to a leak of as much as 272,000 gallons (1 million liters) of radioactive water. Onsite groundwater testing showed levels of tritium 160 times higher than allowed under federal standards for drinking water.

 

This story was provided to The Associated Press by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Better Government Association of Chicago: www.bettergov.org

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US Senator in Trouble After Being Accused of Sexual Harassment in 2006

A U.S. senator from Minnesota is the latest in a string of well-known personalities from entertainment and politics to be accused of sexual harassment. Democrat Al Franken is under fire after a radio newscaster said he kissed and groped her without consent during a tour to entertain U.S. troops in the Middle East in 2006. Meanwhile, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate from Alabama is battling charges of sexual abuse of underage girls. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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Tesla Adds Big Trucks to Its Electrifying Ambitions

After more than a decade of making cars and SUVs — and, more recently, solar panels — Tesla Inc. wants to electrify a new type of vehicle: big trucks.

The company unveiled its new electric semitractor-trailer Thursday night near its design center in Hawthorne, California.

CEO Elon Musk said the semi is capable of traveling 500 miles on an electric charge and will cost less than a diesel semi considering fuel savings, lower maintenance and other factors. Musk said customers can put down a $5,000 deposit for the semi now and production will begin in 2019.

“We’re confident that this is a product that’s better in every way from a feature standpoint,” Musk told a crowd of Tesla fans gathered for the unveiling.

​One-fourth of transit emissions

The move fits with Musk’s stated goal for the company of accelerating the shift to sustainable transportation. Trucks account for nearly a quarter of transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to government statistics.

Musk said Tesla plans a worldwide network of solar-powered “megachargers” that could get the trucks back up to 400 miles of range after 30 minutes.

Tesla, Musk stretched

But the semi also piles on the chaos at Palo Alto, California-based company. Tesla is way behind on production of the Model 3, a new lower-cost sedan. It’s also ramping up production of solar panels after buying Solar City Corp. last year. Musk has said Tesla is also working on a pickup and a lower-cost SUV and negotiating a new factory in China. Meanwhile, the company posted a record quarterly loss of $619 million in its most recent quarter.

Musk, too, is being pulled in many different directions. He leads rocket maker SpaceX and is dabbling in other projects, including high-speed transit, artificial intelligence research and a new company that’s digging tunnels beneath Los Angeles to alleviate traffic congestion.

“He’s got so much on his plate right now. This could present another distraction from really just making sure that the Model 3 is moved along effectively,” said Bruce Clark, a senior vice president and automotive analyst at Moody’s.

Uncertain market

Tesla is venturing into an uncertain market. Demand for electric trucks is expected to grow over the next decade as the U.S., Europe and China all tighten their emissions regulations. Electric truck sales totaled 4,100 in 2016, but are expected to grow to more than 70,000 in 2026, says Navigant Research.

But most of that growth is expected to be for smaller, medium-duty haulers like garbage trucks or delivery vans. Those trucks can have a more limited range of 100 miles or less, which requires fewer expensive batteries. They can also be charged overnight.

Long-haul semi trucks, on the other hand, would be expected to go greater distances, and that would be challenging. Right now, there’s little charging infrastructure on global highways. Without Tesla’s promised fast-charging, even a midsized truck would likely require a two-hour stop, cutting into companies’ efficiency and profits, says Brian Irwin, managing director of the North American industrial group for the consulting firm Accenture.

Irwin says truck companies will have to watch the market carefully, because tougher regulations on diesels or an improvement in charging infrastructure could make electric trucks more viable very quickly. Falling battery costs also will help make electric trucks more appealing compared to diesels.

But even lower costs won’t make trucking a sure bet for Tesla. It faces stiff competition from long-trusted brands like Daimler AG, which unveiled its own semi prototype last month. 

Fleet operators want reliable trucks, and Tesla will have to prove it can make them, said Michelle Krebs, executive analyst with the car shopping site Autotrader.

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FCC Upgrade: Better Picture, Less Privacy — And You’ll Need a New TV

U.S. regulators on Thursday approved the use of new technology that will improve picture quality on mobile phones, tablets and television, but also raises significant privacy concerns by giving advertisers dramatically more data about viewing habits.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to allow broadcasters to voluntarily use the new technology, dubbed ATSC 3.0, which would allow for more precise geolocating of television signals, ultra-high definition picture quality and more interactive programming, like new educational content for children and multiple angles of live sporting events.

The system uses precision broadcasting and targets emergency or weather alerts on a street-by-street basis. The system could allow broadcasters to wake up a receiver to broadcast emergency alerts. The alerts could include maps, storm tracks and evacuation routes.

The new standard would also let broadcasters activate a TV set that is turned off to send emergency alerts.

Advertisers excited

Current televisions cannot carry the new signal, and the FCC on Thursday said it was only requiring broadcasting both signals for five years after deploying the next-generation technology.

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. last month called the new standard “the Holy Grail” for the advertiser because it tells them who is watching and where.

But Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan said the new technology “contemplates targeted advertisements that would be ‘relevant to you and what you actually might want to see.’ This raises questions about how advertisers and broadcasters will gather the demographic information from consumers which are necessary to do targeted advertisements.”

New TV, higher costs

Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the new technology would force consumers to buy new televisions.

“The FCC calls this approach market driven. That’s right — because we will all be forced into the market for new television sets or devices.”

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai defended the proposal, calling concerns about buying new devices “hypothetical.” He added five years is “a long time. We’ll have to see how the standard develops.”

One issue is whether broadcasters will be able to pass on the costs of advanced broadcast signals through higher retransmissions fees and demand providers carry the signals.

The National Association of Broadcasters, which represents Tegna Inc, Comcast Corp., CBS Corp., Walt Disney Co., Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. and others, petitioned the FCC in April 2016 to approve the new standard.

“This is game-changing technology for broadcasting and our viewers,” the group said Thursday.

Many companies have raised concerns about costs, including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc. Cable, satellite and other pay TV providers “would incur significant costs to receive, transmit, and deliver ATSC 3.0 signals to subscribers, including for network and subscriber equipment,” Verizon said.

Many nations are considering the new standard. South Korea adopted the ATSC 3.0 standard in 2016.

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