Tag Archives: digital divide

The War for Net Neutrality! Breaking It Down

The FCC voted along party lines to end the Obama administration’s rules on net neutrality. This war for a free and open Internet has been going on for some time. This is just the latest battle.  This decision is by no means the end of it. But what is happening and what does it mean for Black Internet users?

 

 

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that all data carried over the Internet is treated the same. That means that whether you’re streaming Netflix, shopping online, playing games or just reading the news, all the data is the same. Same speed and same price. For users of the Internet that meant that you could access any website and use as much data as you wanted. Before the change Internet service providers or ISPs like Comcast or Verizon could not deliberately speed up or slow down Internet traffic from specific websites or apps. But they did. The practice was known as throttling. The net neutrality rules, put in place by the Obama administration in 2015, were intended to keep the Internet open and fair. If you really want to understand how this works imagine sitting in traffic while those willing to pay whiz by you in the express lane. That is the basic idea behind the new rules of the Internet. 

How does that affect Black people?

People using the Internet, schools, small businesses and others are now subject to a potential new way of using the Internet and paying for it. You could be charged for high-speed streaming like Netflix. You could also be charged more for using data from some websites or apps over others. The rules used to say that ISPs could not favor one website over another for its content, the aptly named fast lane/slow lane Internet. Those rules just went out the window. Expect more throttling and slower web speeds and loading. Businesses with numerous computers and heavy data consumption could end up paying more. Start up businesses, especially minority owned, could be stifled by high data costs. According to MIT the repeal of net neutrality could be harmful to innovation. The exact opposite of what FCC chairman Ajit Pai claims.

Where this hurts black people, other minorities and the poor, is that just getting Internet could be costly. Already we are dealing with a lack of high speed Internet in poor and minority schools. As matter of fact the United States is already behind in both wireless and fixed wire Internet speeds.

Poor and minority children are already dealing with poor public education. That situation could be further eroded further by a lack of adequate access to the Internet. Classroom instruction will suffer as they fall further behind more affluent school districts. The digital divide is going to grow along with an under-educated under-class that is the source of poverty.

In some cities high speed Internet is nearly non-existent. Detroit for example is one of the worst cities in the country for high speed Internet especially for poor people. Repealing net neutrality is not going to help this situation.

Black people are avid users of mobile technology. The use of mobile devices could become more expensive. Shopping online, banking and other online activities could be slowed down or throttled. Another area of concern for black people is social and political activism.  A free and open Internet meant that no matter who you are you could get your message to the masses. These new rules could make it expensive for, or even censor, groups like #Black Lives Matter. Many believe that the Internet is key to free speech and the right of the public to know. 

Who is benefitting from this rule change?

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

Most people would agree that the telecom companies are benefitting the most from this rule change. FCC Chairman Pai, an Obama appointment and promoted to chairman by Trump, has claimed that the new rules will not affect a free and open and Internet. Pai has been a critic of the net neutrality rules and believes that the rules of the Obama administration allowed the government to “micro-manage the Internet.”

The telecom industry approves of Pai’s plan. Pai argued that earlier regulation was a drag on broadband investment and innovation. In a blog post, Comcast downplayed concerns, saying customers “will continue to enjoy all of the benefits of an open Internet today, tomorrow, and in the future. Period.” Yet at the same time it appears that Comcast is already planning to charge you for more Internet speed.

According to the Los Angeles Times  several companies have also been preparing for this moment for some time and the profits of priority handling of Internet content. These companies will not say what they consider a free and open Internet is nor will they promise to treat all data the same. Basically they are keeping quiet.

Telecommunications companies like AT&T, Charter Communications and Comcast have run full page ads in the Washington Post claiming to preserve an “open Internet.” These practices supposedly include “no blocking of legal content,” “not throttling” data speeds and “no unfair discrimination.” They never said you wouldn’t have to pay for it. 

Another winner of the repeal are the big content providers. Netflix, Google and other large content providers also have the money and the leverage of millions of subscribers to negotiate deals with ISPs. This would allow them access to the Internet fast lanes and potentially get a competitive advantage. Any deal that Netflix, Google or YouTube cuts with the ISPs could mean a price increase for the consumer. You lose.

Supporters of net neutrality believe that consumers could be charged extra to stream certain content if they don’t want to be hampered by network congestion or throttling. Others are warning that consumer choices of Internet service providers could shrink and prices of broadband service could increase due to lack of competition.

What is actually happening is that the FCC, under the Trump administration, has declared that information is free. Access to it is not. The Internet, until now, was regulated as a utility. This brings that to an end. Now the Internet belongs to private industry and they are willing to make you pay for access because that is what they do. They couldn’t care less about your business needs, your child’s education or your need to know…period. They have the capability to keep the ignorant ignorant, the poor poor and the the competition from competing.. They can slow down information or cut it off completely if you don’t pay. Corporations have scored a victory but the war is far from over. 

Next: The Net Neutrality War is Not Over!

 

 

New FCC Chair Scrutinizing Lifeline Program

Trump appointed Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai is rolling back some of his predecessors actions. The new chairman has already begun to make changes to programs that help schools and low income families. Arguing that the the FCC’s Lifeline program is riddled by fraud, waste and abuse he has shut down a small expansion to the program. Lifeline discounts $9.25 per month off broadband or phone services for households near or beneath the poverty line. Pai claimed last year that the program loses around $476 million annually to waste. Others disagree with these numbers. But the statement highlights Pai’s concerns with the program.

Broadband service providers have to apply to the commission before offering these subsidies to customers. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler had extended the program to nine more providers. Pai  has decided to delay their approval until changes are made to the program. However there is no threat the Lifeline program is being eliminated. Currently there 900 companies participating in the Lifeline program. Most are offering subsidized phone or Internet services and some are offering both.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

According to Pai the system needs to be tweaked to prevent companies from enrolling people who are not eligible.

In addition to his rollback of the Lifeline program, the FCC has also withdrew a progress report on the expansion of E-rate. E-Rate is a program that subsidizes broadband and computer equipment for  low income school districts. Changes could be coming to this program as well. The commission has not commented on future plans to revisit the Lifeline and E-rate proceedings.

But the question remains whether Pai’s changes will legitimately fight abuse or will the FCC make it harder for legitimate low-income households and school districts to participate.

One of the major problems of the digital age is what has become known as the digital divide. This is the gap between those that can afford high speed acess to the Internet for things like education and those who cannot. This socio-economic group, made up of mostly minority households, maybe left behind in the age of information. Being left out out of the Internet revolution has some serious consequences. 

Schools and education suffer because of lack of high speed Internet access. According to a Pew Foundation study 56 percent of teachers in low income schools say that their student’s inadequate access to technology is a ‘major challenge’ for using technology as a teaching aid.  Only 18 percent said their students had adequate access at home. Urban teachers are more likely to say students have poor access to Internet at school, while rural teachers are more likely to report that students have poor access at home. This issue creates a class of students who are unabe to fully particiate in a technology based economy. 

Today’s workforce requires technology skills but the lack of these skills, practiced at school and home, creates a disadvantage in the search for jobs. The digital divide increases the difficulty of finding a job. This means it lowers not only the chance of finding a suitable job but also the ability to secure a decent income.

Most employers recieve job applications online. But this method creates inequality among job seekers by dividing them into two classes, those who are computer literate, and those who are not. These workers lack knowledge of Internet based information and communication tools. People caught on the wrong side of the digital divide with no access to the Internet lack the technology and digital skills that the modern workplace requires. All these factors create a class of people who are locked in poverty caused by low wages and inadequate education.

A good example is the city of Detroit, MI. This city is stricken by poverty among urban blacks who simply cannot afford computers and Internet access. According to the FCC Detroit has the worst rate of Internet access of any major American city. Four in 10 of its 689,000 residents lack broadband Internet access.

Detroit is not alone. Among the worst cities for Internet connectivity are Cleveand, OH, Memphis, TN, Birmingham, AL and Miami FL. These are the people that federal programs like E-rate and Lifeline is intended to help.

Now you know

 

T-Mobile to Pay for Misleading Customers

t-mobile-logoThe FCC has dropped the hammer on cell provider T-Mobile. T-Mobile USA Inc. agreed to cough up at least $48 million for making customers believe it offered a truly unlimited data plan. It was never true.

An FCC investigation that began last year  looked into whether the company properly disclosed that it was slowing down data speeds for heavy users. In the cell phone industry this is a common practice known as throttling.

As part of the agreement T-Mobile will pay a $7.5 million fine and offer $35.5 million in customer benefits that includes data upgrades and discounts on accessories. The giant cell provider will also spend another $5 million to improve mobile high-speed Internet access for as many as 80,000 low-income public school students.

Travis LeBlanc, head of the FCC Enforcement Bureau said, “Consumers should not have to guess whether so-called unlimited data plans contain key restrictions, like speed constraints, data caps and other material limitations.When broadband providers are accurate, honest and upfront in their ads and disclosures, consumers aren’t surprised and they get what they’ve paid for.”

The FCC enforced settlement applies to T-Mobile’s unlimited data plans but not its Binge On service.

According to the FCC it began investigating in March 2015 after T-Mobile and pre-paid service provider MetroPCS customers complained. T-mobile customers complained about being mislead by the so-called unlimited data plan. According to the FCC the plan throttled customer data speeds after a certain data threshold is used each month.

T-Mobile “de-prioritized” heavy users data speeds during times of network congestion. Unlimited plan subscribers who consumed more than 17 gigabytes of data in a given month, typically about  3% of its users, were subject to slower speeds than advertised.

The FCC found that T-Mobile failed to properly notify its customers of the restriction from August 2014 to June 12, 2015.  T-mobile has agreed to better inform its customers of the restrictions and notify customers when their data usage approaches the monthly limit at which it could be slowed.

For T-Mobile  customers they could get 20% off the regular price for any accessories up to $20 and an automatic upgrade of 4 gigabytes of data for one month, valued at $15 that can be used over the course of a year under its “data stash” program. MetroPCS customers automatically get the 4GB of data to use over two months. The company must also notify eligible customers of the benefits by Dec. 15.

In an effort to help bridge the digital divide T-Mobile has also agreed to spend an additional $5 million providing free tablets and other mobile devices to low-income public school districts. Beginning in October 2017 eligible schools will receive reduced-cost mobile broadband services for the devices. Students and their families will get the service at no cost. The program will enroll 20,000 students annually over four years.

Low Income Families To Receive Broadband Subsidy

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeThe Federal Communications Commission has voted to provide subsidies to low income families for broadband Internet service. 

The decision expands on the 1980’s era Lifeline program that provided a monthly subsidy of $9.25 for voice-only phone service. The FCC plan costs $2.25 billion with a clause attached that states that if the Lifeline program came close to that amount the commission would have to choose whether to increase the funding. Republican members of the commission voted against the expansion believing that limit could easily be exceeded if the FCC either votes to increase it or does nothing. The FCC expects that figure to increase as people take advantage of the new broadband subsidy offer. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are considering a bill to put a cap on the program’s spending. 

Internet and broadband access has become a human right issue. The Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly declared access to the Internet a basic human right which enables individuals to “exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

In the United States there is a significant digital divide between the rich and the poor as well as racial groups.  A 2012 Pew Report “Digital Differences,” revealed that only 62 percent of people in households making less than $30,000 a year used the Internet. In contrast households with income of $50,000-74,999 was at 90 percent.

Looking at the issue from a racial perspective showed only 49 percent of African-Americans and 51 percent of Hispanics have high-speed internet at home. Compare this to  66 percent of Whites.

The digital divide has a definite impact on a family’s economic well being as well as a child’s educational development. A Pew survey of teachers of low income students tended to be less able to use educational technology effectively than their peers in more affluent schools. Of teachers in the highest income areas 70 percent said their schools provided support for incorporating technology into their teaching. Only 50 percent of teachers in low income schools said the same. Teachers in low income schools said that inadequate access to technology is a “major challenge” for using technology as a teaching aid.

Major corporations are also stepping to help bridge the digital divide. Comcast recently announced a pilot program that will bring low-cost Internet service to public housing residents in Miami-Dade County, Nashville, Philadelphia and Seattle. Comcast, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHome initiative set up the program to fight the digital divide. As many as 40,000 public housing residents will benefit from the program.

Normally, Comcast’s Internet Essentials package costs $9.95 a month. The service comes with a free Wi-Fi router and families are also offered computers for less than $150. All public housing residents in the four pilot markets are eligible to apply for the service online or by calling 1-855-847-3356.

Comcast reported that since 2011 it had invested $280 million to help fund digital literacy training initiatives and has distributed more than 47,000 subsidized computers at less than $150 each.

Another major technology company, Google, says it’s going to give away its high speed Internet service through Google Fiber to thousands of low-income Americans across the country. The program kicks off in its Kansas City market at theWest Bluff Townhomes community in Kansas City, Mo. Ultimately, as many as 1,300 households in Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City, Kan.

Google Fiber eventually plans to wire “select” public housing buildings in all of the cities where it operates, the company said.

President Obama, the nation’s first cyber president, is also backing a plan to provide as many as 20 million more low-income families to affordable broadband services by 2020. 

Breaking It Down

Ignorance equals poverty. The two intercourse and breed. And that is where a lot of our problems begin. Access to the Internet is a human right because we cannot allow a restriction on information and education to create a bed for poverty and ignorance to lay. We need to accept that all children have a right to rise up from poverty. The FCC is making it clear that we need to help these families and in the long run help ourselves.  This nation and indeed the world came to the conclusion that telephone was a vital instrument. Now we face the same reality with the Internet.

 

 

 

Affordable Internet Access

digital-divide-word-cloud2The digital divide is real. Too many low income black families are falling behind in education and employment opportunities due to the prohibitive costs of computers and Internet access. This lack of access to technology and information has created an underclass of people who are digitally absent in our society. This is not news and is not necessary.

African-American children without Internet access in the home fall behind their classmates in educational achievement. As they get older and enter the job market they are behind the curve in computer skills. This limits the jobs that they can successfully apply. Its a trap for poverty.

According to Cheapinternet.com  29 million households in the U.S.  have school age children. Five million of those families lack high-speed Internet service. The lion’s share of that 5 million are low-income black and Hispanic households.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said, “School-aged kids without broadband access at home are not only unable to complete their homework , they enter the job market with a serious handicap,” she said. “And that loss is more than individual. It’s a loss to the collective human capital and shared economic future that we need to address.”

But there are bridges across the digital divide. There are companies focusing on providing affordable Internet access to the economically disadvantaged.

EveryoneOn.org is a nonprofit organization who’s mission is providing Internet access to all. The company has offices in Washington, D.C and Los Angeles and are working to  “leverage the democratizing power of the Internet to provide opportunity to all Americans regardless of age, race, geography, income, or education level.”

Everyoneon.org provides economically disadvantaged families with affordable computers and access to free computer classes. The company believes that all people should be equally connected. They add: “Through partnerships with leading Internet providers and device refurbishers EveryoneOn is able to offer options of home Internet service for $10 or less a month and $150 computers for low-income individuals and families.”

Basic-Internet.com has partnered with EveryoneOn to provide the badly needed Internet connection.  Consumers have two plans to choose from for mobile access.

First is the $10 a month plan providing for 1.2 GB of data at a 4G speed, then unlimited data at 3G once the 1.2GB runs out. The second plan offers a $20 a month plan for 3.2GB at the 4G speed then unlimited again at 3G. 

However affordable the plan is the customer must still buy the Wi-Fi device and that could cost as much as $75. But that is a one time purchase.

But just having an Internet connection falls short of having the skills to use the technology. EveryoneOn offers educational information on its website that will help the consumer to learn how to use email, find health information, educational resources, financial literacy and job hunting resources.

Many poor families find the price of a computer can be beyond their reach. Thankfully there are resources than can provide refurbished computer at affordable prices.

Angie’s Angel Help Network provides a listing of computer providers for low income families and people with disabilities. Organizations are listed nationally and state by state.

Long before the days of the Civil Rights movement black people have always known that education is the key to escaping poverty. Now in the information the struggle is to gain access to information. The information super-highway need not have excessive tolls.

For more information on affordable Internet access please visit Cheapinternet.com to find a listing of companies.

Now you know.

See also; Obama Unveils ConnectHome to Get Low Income Households Online.

Economic, Racial Digital Divide Creates Larger Education Gap Nationwide

 

African-Americans and Net Neutrality

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeIn a close three to two vote along party lines, the FCC announced new rules on Internet governance to support net neutrality and the open Internet, protecting freedom of innovation and access to web content.

The new rules from the FCC, changed the way ISPs operate. The Internet has been re-classified as a utility. This means that all people have a right to the Internet. The new rules reflect the FCC’s re-classification of broadband as a Title II telecommunications service under the 1934 Communications Act. 

ISPs are now subject to the privacy provisions of the Communications Act of 1934. This new rule requires your ISP to provide you with any information they collect and maintain on you, the customer, upon written request.

Net neutrality has also been extended to wireless devices such as smartphones. The decision prevents cell providers from throttling, or slowing down, the data stream to your mobile device. A common practice of many carriers when they believe you consume too much data.

The three key provisions of the Open Internet Order covers both fixed and mobile internet access;

  • No blocking. ISPs cannot block access to legal content, apps, services or non-harmful devices;
  • No throttling. ISPs are forbidden from impairing or otherwise degrading legal Internet traffic on the basis of such criteria as content, apps, services or non-harmful devices.
  • No paid priority. ISPs are not allowed to charge for favored access of legal Internet traffic over other kinds in exchange for money. They are banned from giving their own content and services, and that of their affiliates, priority.

Internet service providers (ISPs), the companies that own the wires and antennas that transmit data, were seeking the right to charge Internet websites, content providers, and users based on how much data they put out or consume through those wires and antennas.

Advocates of net neutrality feared the creation of a two-tier internet where data flows are controlled and regulated based on one’s ability to pay.

Jessica Rosenworcel

Jessica Rosenworcel

Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democratic member of the commission said, “We cannot have a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind. We cannot have gatekeepers who tell us what we can and cannot do and where we can and cannot go online. And we do not need blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization schemes that undermine the Internet as we know it.”

ISPs have a different view of the situation and the decision. These companies feel they have the right to profit from their investment they made in expanding the network and improving the speed of data transmission. They believe it is unfair for companies like Netflix, that consume huge amounts of network capacity, to use that capacity without paying more for it. They have a point. They also believe that the rules of the 1934 Communications Act are outdated and should not, and cannot, apply to today’s technology. These regulations, they believe, could cripple innovation by discouraging investment in networks. Some believe the rules could permit the government to impose new Internet taxes and tariffs increasing consumer bills and even give the government the power to force ISPs to share their networks with competitors. Sen. Ted Cruz has gone so far as to say the new rules are “Obamacare for the Internet.”

Republicans have accused the White House of skewing the independence of the FCC and called for an investigation into Obama’s role in shaping the rules. They conceded however they could not pass a veto proof net neutrality bill without support from Democrats. Major ISPs, cable and telecom companies have promised a court battle to reverse the ruling.

The FCC also voted to preempt state laws that prevented at least two cities from expanding their city owned broadband networks to neighboring communities especially rural areas.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

These communities have sought to over turn restrictive state laws prohibiting them from delivering high speed connectivity to rural neighbors. “There are a few irrefutable truths about broadband,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler ahead of the vote. “One is you can’t say you’re for broadband, and then turn around and endorse limits.”

Breaking It Down.

Many African-Americans may ask what is net neutrality and what does it mean to me? It means that black people will not be caught on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Black people and the economically disadvantage should not be left behind in the age of information. The ability to access knowledge, much like the public library, must be equal for all people.

In order for our schools to provide a quality education we need to have high speed Internet access. We cannot have politicians telling us they don’t have the money in the budget to pay for the needed connectivity.  The same way they tell us there is no money for music, athletics and other vitals of a good education. Connected schools for the rich alone? Don’t let that happen.

This decision is all about the digital divide. The gap between the have and the have nots. If we, as a nation, condone the restriction of access to the Internet based on who can pay then we take an terrifying step toward a dystopian society where education is for the rich alone. Don’t let that happen.

We have to realize that education is changing. Right now we are taking classes online and getting degrees. But soon the text book will be obsolete. It takes too much time and too many resources to update paper books. Books will be delivered over the Internet to a reader or tablet. Up to date and relevant content for the rich alone? Don’t let that happen.

We will have a society where education moves to the electronic classroom from pre-school to college and beyond. Classes tailored to the need and desires of the student. Lessons will be interactive and learning will be self-paced. Vastly improved quality of education for the rich alone? Don’t let that happen.

ISPs, in an effort to drive up profit margins, will eventually decide to categorize and price Internet access. That is the cablelization effect. We should not be forced to pick and choose what websites and services we can afford. Don’t let that happen.

Without net neutrality many people would find themselves limited to packages of Internet websites they can visit a month. Poor people will have to choose between researching information about their health or information about their government. They can’t afford both. Don’t let that happen.

This scenario will create an underclass of people who see the Internet and information as a luxury. As black people we understand very well how the denial of knowledge can impact people and equality. Denial of knowledge has been used throughout history to deny people equal rights.  Don’t let that happen.

The Internet must be considered a utility. Similar to essentials like water, electricity and the telephone, it is a matter of fairness and human dignity.

I understand perfectly what the ISPs are saying when it comes to their investment in the networks. But like the telephone companies learned long ago, once you become essential to the human condition you lose the right to decide who you can do business with and how much you can charge. Consider it an honor.

But restricting access to knowledge and information is the equivalent of charging admission to the public library. We can’t let that happen.