A Step Toward Closing The Digital Divide

11 11 2010

Ars Technica contributer Matthew Lasar recently posted a piece, “Would you like some broadband with those food stamps?” The eye-catching title led me to coverage of one of the latest government attempts to close the digital divide (that being the divide between those Americans who have access to broadband Internet, and those that do not).

Described in an FCC news release (click for PDF), the planned reforms aim to help lower-income families obtain access to phone service, and eventually broadband Internet access. The Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service, the group that designed these proposals, ambitiously urges the FCC to encourage automatic enrollment in Lifeline and LinkUp when families apply for food stamps and other federal assistance programs.

Lifeline and LinkUp are components of the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (which also provides public libraries and rural hospitals with federal telecom subsidies); Lifeline allows consumers up to $10 in monthly subsidies toward phone bills, and

South Dakota's Public Utilities Commission promotes the Lifeline and LinkUp services.

LinkUp provides up to $30 toward broadband.

The news release also mentions that the FCC had additionally asked the Joint Board for “suggestions regarding the most effective approaches to addressing potential waste, fraud, and abuse in the program while also improving its efficiency and reach.”

Such recommendations from the Joint Board include:

  • “Encourage automatic enrollment, triggered when low-income families sign up for other benefits, such as food stamps.
  • Adopt minimum standards for states and carriers to use to verify a participant’s eligibility, with stricter standards allowed, in order to prevent potential waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • Seek comment on establishing a centralized national database for certification and verification of eligibility to eliminate duplicative claims and speed enrollment, and address potential waste, fraud, and abuse.
  • Seek comment on increasing eligibility for the program by allowing households earning 150% or less of the federal poverty guidelines to participate, up from the current 135%.”

Lasar’s article also mentioned the problem of unforeseen costs, should subscriptions to the Lifeline and LinkUp services increase; I would hope that the government finds a way to provide for the program, rather than be forced to trim it down as a consequence of its own success. While the FCC would have a harder time passing a subsidy-creating tax bill through the newly Republicanized Congress, perhaps we can count on an executive signoff on a subsidy directly from the federal budget.

It is hugely important that both federal and state governments work together in tackling the problem of the digital divide; the Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service are an excellent example of progressive thinking, focused on the well-being of the general population. What fuels the success of a democracy is the well-informedness of its citizens; ensuring that each American citizen has quality access to the vast network of information that is the Internet guarantees success in our country’s future.

Check out the FCC’s Lauren H. Kravetz discuss Lifeline Awareness Week:

Advertisements




Sinister Synergy

24 10 2010

Yet again TechCruch points out the errs of the world, as it is wont to do, in this piece chronicling the Wall Street Journal’s shoddy coverage of a Facebook privacy breach.

Ignoring the irony of bad reporting in the “information age,” TechCrunch’s coverage highlights the fact that MySpace, a NewsCorp entity, was deliberately left out of an article covering Facebook’s many issues with user privacy controls. Michael Arrington, the TechCrunch contributer covering the incident, points out that this is probably an effort directed by the WSJ and Myspace’s parent company, NewsCorp, in relation to MySpace’s concurrent relaunch of its social networking system.

While synergy was traditionally seen as a good thing in the eyes of the corporate media, we now (and doubtfully for the first time) bear its consequences. The Journal is known for being one of the world’s best newspapers, yet we find out that we are being denied critical information on a socially relevant issue to protect MySpace from bad press?

I call bullshit. This type of integration of agendas is what’s wrong with corporate media today; the interests of the corporate machine outweigh the obligations of its smaller, information-based subdivisions. It’s everything that’s wrong with the authoritarian theory of the media (in which society’s needs outweigh those of the individual).

Like Arrington, I can’t really close this one out with a solution, but I will admit that this is a sad state of affairs. I suppose the most we can do at this point is bitch and moan online, unless like Robert McChesney suggests, we completely revamp our media with a complete structural overhaul. Yeah, fat chance.





The iPad Goes Corporate (and Beyond?)

17 10 2010

An article published yesterday by the Wall Street Journal detailed AT&T’s announcement to market iPads directly to businesses,

 

By condensing corporate jargon usually reserved for spreadsheets and portfolios into apps, the iPad proves useful as a portable index of everyday business materials.

 

in order to meet the increasing demand for wireless tablet technologies in the corporate sphere. The iPads will be sold with a discounted wireless data plan (for models with 3G connectivity), similar to bulk corporate sales of BlackBerrys or iPhones.

While Apple is the first company to directly market a tablet as a corporate productivity tool, other makers are not far behind: competitive tablet announcements have come in the form of RIM’s (maker of the BlackBerry) Playbook, and Samsung’s Android-run Galaxy Tab, which will also be sold by AT&T.

AT&T formed a unit this past May to develop productivity apps for office workers, designed to help with functions such as, “access sales and marketing information, or place orders from their mobile devices.”

Sure, productivity tools have been handed out to corporate cubicle-dwellers since the heyday of beepers and fax machines. The iPad though, as Steve Jobs called it, is a “magical and revolutionary device,” especially in the workplace. The elimination of paperwork formalities, the endless searches for that one post-it with an important phone number, all of it condensed into a single tool with the brainpower of a small computer and the size of a legal pad.

This functionality can be taken so much farther than your normal office environment; as a student, I believe the iPad can even better serve the needs of the collegiate industry. Universities in Oklahoma, Oregon, and Pennsylvania have already launched initiatives to empower students and teachers with iPads, a trend that will likely grow in coming semesters.

The iPad integrates just about everything a 21st century college student needs: email access, PDF readability, note taking, Internet browsing, video and photo playback, and most importantly, eBook capability. Should textbook publishers peddle their wares in

 

Volumes worth of reading are contained in the iPad's hard drive, and presented with the capability of highlighting, bookmarking, and copy/paste.

 

the iPad’s online bookstore, students will no longer be required to stuff their bags and backpacks with heavy books containing only a few pages of relevant information; instead, everything is neatly and seamlessly integrated into a clean and user-friendly self-management tool that every student can simply carry to class and back.

While the economy still struggles to pull itself from the gutter, the ideal scenario of colleges giving every student an iPad is, as of right now, a pipe dream. But with the pioneering programs from colleges like Seton Hill (PA) and George Fox (OR), communication among progressive college administrations may bring iPads to future students, while digital media like podcasts, PDFs, and PowerPoint presentations become increasingly intertwined with the collegiate learning experience.

I’ll play myself out with a video of an awkward mathemagician teaching you to use an iPad e-textbook and PDF reader:


Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704300604575554170309934104.html?mod=WSJ_Tech_RightMostPopular#ixzz12dvAS9VU





The Problem With Micronetworks

11 10 2010

As mentioned in this post on GeekWithLaptop, Facebook has introduced the concept of creating groups of online “friends.” These groups can range as something as small and intimate as college suitemates or an extended family, or something as large and diverse as the North America Man Boy Love Association (mentioned by Lora Bentley on her IT Business Edge blog as a prank pulled on Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg by TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington).

The prank highlights the idea that is so discomforting about the Facebook Group platform: that anyone can be invited and included in a group sans permission. Before this gets misconstrued, this is partially true. While a user can invite or be invited into

 

TechCruch's Michael Arrington used the privacy loophole in the NAMBLA Facebook Group to add Mark Zuckerberg as a member.

 

a group by someone else, should the invitee leave that group, the inviter is unable to automatically add that person again without expressing a manual invitation. Even so, for a user to be included into a group without expressed consent is one of Facebook’s fundamental problems regarding user privacy.

Fast Company expert blogger Brian Solis notes in his post about Facebook Groups that “privacy is now a process of boundary management. It is in our control to define how much other people know about us, what they see, and the impressions they form.” Solis is absolutely right. However, a large part of Facebook users might not be in the same mindset. As a longtime Facebook user, I know for a fact how easy it is to invade a person’s privacy simply because they erred in managing privacy settings, such as friend lists and tagged photographs.

The idea of these micronetworks only makes this lack of privacy less secure; in unwittingly being included in Groups, potentially infinite people have access to any and all information not explicitly made unavailable in Facebook’s navigational gauntlet of privacy settings. Photographs from the weekend, unflattering status updates, it’s all accessible to family, employers, coworkers, etc.

In a world where Facebook is becoming exponentially more influential and omnipresent (it’s even on your TV’s!), users have a responsibility to themselves to appropriately manage their information output and especially upload (for example, if you have a picture of yourself hugging the toilet after a night out, it’s probably best not to post it).

Or, in the extreme case scenario, you can just opt out of Facebook altogether and close your account. I’m continuing to lean in that direction, it’s just a matter of coming to terms with communicating with people by email and phone again. One day.

For those of you that love corporate propaganda: