Posts Tagged ‘technology’

Telecom Plutocrats Persuade Civil Rights Groups to Lobby Against their Self-Interest

February 14, 2017 Leave a comment

Intercept writer Lee Fang posted an article yesterday describing civil rights organizations’ support for the repeal of the regulations that result in net neutrality. As indicated in earlier posts, the new FCC chair, Ajit Pai, is predictably pushing for repeal of net neutrality by rolling back the declaration that the internet as a utility. And, as Fang reports, he is getting support from unexpected sources:

In a little-noticed joint letter released last week, the NAACP, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, OCA (formerly known as the Organization for Chinese Americans), the National Urban League, and other civil rights organizations sharply criticized the “jurisdictional and classification problems that plagued the last FCC” — a reference to the legal mechanism used by the Obama administration to accomplish net neutrality.

Instead of classifying broadband as a public utility, the letter states, open internet rules should be written by statute. What does that mean? It means the Republican-led Congress should take control of the process — the precise approach that is favored by industry.

None of the civil rights groups that signed the joint letter responded to a request for comment.

Why would these groups, who represent minorities that would benefit from net neutrality, lobby to see it end? The answer is obvious: the telecom industry makes substantial contributions to them and is now seeking some written support in return. Fang details that donations each civil rights group has received and describes the role an umbrella lobbying group, the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC), played in orchestrating the letters supporting the end of net neutrality:

(T)he Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council (MMTC), a group funded by the telecom industry… has previously encouraged civil rights groups to oppose net neutrality. MMTC in previous years reported receiving about a third of its budget from industry-sponsored events; its annual summit, which was held last week, was made possible by $100,000 sponsorships from Comcast and AT&T, as well as a $75,000 sponsorships from Charter Communications and Verizon.

MMTC, which acts on the needs of telecom lobbyists, has been accused of “astroturf lobbying” by creating the appearance of grassroots support for the industry.

So the MMTC, “…which acts on the needs of telecom lobbyists” can compose a letter to be signed by the civil rights groups whose organizations receive money from the telecom industry and then actively lobby “on behalf of the civil rights groups who are signatories” on complicated legislation that not only falls outside the mission of the civil rights organizations but also works against those who are supposed to be served by the organization.

Welcome, once again, to the plutocracy.

But, as Fang notes at the end of his article, the MMTC head assures those of us who advocate for net neutrality have nothing to worry about:

Kim Keenan, the president of MMTC, the group that organized the joint letter, has showered Pai with praise. “He is really focused on closing the digital divide. As an advocate, I feel so much pride that that it is a priority for his chairmanship,” Keenan told Multichannel News, a trade outlet.

Mr. Keenan has evidently consumed large quantities of the telecom Kool-aid because nothing in the telecom legislation gives any indication of a desire to close the digital divide and nothing in the Republican platform indicates that desire. The divide will widen and income and education will follow…


Two News Stories from Parallel Universes Illustrate the Challenge of Getting a Unified Front on Connectivity

February 9, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the past few days I’ve read two articles on the e-divide that seem to have been written in parallel universes. eSchool News, which tends to be a reliable (if boosterish) site for developments in on-line learning published an article by Laura Ascione with a title that posed the question “Why are rural schools still struggling with high speed internet access?”

Had Ms. Ascione read Walter Eineckel’s Daily Kos article from last Friday, she’d have an answer in the form of its title: “New FCC Chairman Reverses Course and Prevents Nine Companies from Providing Low-Income People Internet”. Mr. Eineckel’s article describes the decision of the newly appointed Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai to abandon the Lifeline program instituted last year by the Obama administration. While the Lifeline Program was not specifically set up for rural outposts, it WAS designed to provide a healthy subsidy for those who have economic challenges… and given that schools in rural areas typically have 50% of the students qualifying for free and reduced lunch it is clear that they would have benefitted at least indirectly from this program.

As readers of this blog know, I was among those who were frustrated with former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s dithering on the decision to make internet access a utility. His delay deferred action on the rules needed to implement this program and made it possible for it to be undone quickly. Had Mr. Wheeler and President Obama made a decision on the status of internet access earlier, as Mr. Obama did with the ACA, undoing the Lifeline Program would have been as difficult as undoing the ACA. This foot-dragging on the widespread provision of internet services has widened the digital divide and limited the possibility of technology serving as a tool for equity. That will be a sad part of Mr. Obama’s legacy and an even sorrier chapter as Mr. Pai jacks up the cost for consumers no matter what their income is.

Teachers or Technology: A False Forced Choice

February 5, 2017 Leave a comment

In an age where robots are slowly but certainly taking over rules-based tasks, and where schools are relying more and more on standardized tests as the basis for measuring “success”, and where politicians and taxpayers want to pay less for public education, it is enticing to believe that technology can be used to replace teachers. After all, computers never ask for sick days, never join unions, and once they are paid for and programmed require no attention from administrators. But, as Thomas Arnett explains in his recent essay, the choice between teachers and technology is a false one. The real choice is between the status quo, where teachers spend time performing many rules-based tasks to the detriment of student contact, to a more technology based environment where teachers intercede when students run into obstacles completing a task or mastering a concept.

After describing how technology has changed the kind of work professionals do in other fields, Arnett offers this set of ideas for how technology might help education:

When it comes to education, computers’ speed and computational accuracy give them a comparative advantage for tasks such as assessing students’ knowledge of basic facts and skills, tracking students’ learning progress, presenting academic content, and adapting instruction to students’ individual learning needs. Meanwhile, good teachers are irreplaceable assets for coaching and mentoring students, addressing the social and emotional factors affecting students’ learning, and providing students with expert feedback on complicated human skills such as critical thinking, creative problem solving, communication, and project management.

Mr. Arnett is cognizant of the fact that teachers are concerned about the notion that they might be replaced by computers, especially when they read about what is happening in other occupations and when they hear politicians overpromise on the potential of technology to save money. Mr. Arnett is far more sanguine about the future of teaching because he understands the limitations of technology:

Yet, job displacement fears are unlikely to pan out in the teaching profession, given the very different skills needed to be a teacher. Innovations that automate and commoditize professional expertise only threaten the job security of professionals when their jobs consist entirely of complex yet rules-based tasks, such as preparing common tax returns or legal documents. For professionals whose jobs are full of higher-order tasks that cannot be reduced to rules-based instructions, innovations that simplify and automate professional expertise serve to enhance—rather than substitute for—experts’ abilities.

Mr. Arnett notes that his forecasts are predicated on one key factor: what we— the public— expect from our schools… and he insinuates that if we continue to expect only high test scores we will short change students and short change the potential of technology:

Given the many ways in which technology can enhance and amplify great teaching, I think the future of the profession looks incredibly bright. But that future depends on what we expect of our education system. If we task schools merely with helping students memorize basic facts and skills to pass bubble tests, then teaching will likely become entirely automated.

But if our goal is to help students develop deeper learning and 21st-century skills that they will need to thrive in modern society, then technology cannot eliminate the need for teachers. In fact, technology will be critical for enabling teachers to rise to the enormous responsibilities we place on their shoulders. As the paper points out, combining teachers and technology affords education leaders new options for addressing teacher shortages, providing students with differentiated instruction, and giving teachers capacity to focus on deeper learning and noncognitive skills.

Until a few months ago our education policy was dictated by the standardized test regimen put in place by NCLB and reinforced and exacerbated by RTTT. We have an opportunity now to change the thrust of education, to expect students to develop deeper learning and 21st-century skills that they will need to thrive in modern society. With that goal in mind, we need BOTH technology AND teachers… and we need a system that allows children to advance at their own pace pursuing items of particular interest to them once they have mastered the basic reading and computational skills that are foundational. As Mr. Arnett notes at the conclusion of his essay:

Investing in teachers and technology should not be seen as “either/or” propositions. With recent advances in the science of teaching and in artificial intelligence, educators have unprecedented opportunities to redesign traditional instructional models and rethink traditional teaching roles in ways that amplify the impact of teachers. In short, let technology do what it does best so that teachers can focus on the teaching activities for which their human expertise is most needed.

Virginia School Board Wrestles With School Bus Safety Profiteering

January 24, 2017 Leave a comment

An article by Daily Press reporter Jane Hammond describes a way the Newport News schools could greatly improve the safety of school children boarding and disembarking from school buses and increase their revenues at the same time. How? Through a “profit sharing” scheme devised by an imaginative entrepreneur:

If contracted, a vendor would install the cameras on 30 percent or 100 percent of the division’s bus fleet, depending on which vendor was used, Coates said. Once they were in operation, the camera would capture an image of the offending driver’s license plate with the stop-arm employed, which would be transmitted to the vendor.

The image would be reviewed to determine if it was in violation of the law, and if so, it would be sent to Newport News police to approve the infraction. The vendor would then mail a citation to the offender, who would then either pay the fine or contest it in court.

Under most payment models, Coates said, the vendor would retain 60 percent of the profit from the fines, with NNPS collecting the other 40 percent.

And here’s some data presented in the article that indicates that this is a bona fide safety issue:

During a three-month pilot conducted last year using six buses, 703 violations were captured at 93 different stops, Shay Coates, director of transportation, told the School Board last week. This was the third pilot of stop-arm cameras the division has done, he said.

Every time a driver violates the laws requiring them to stop when children are boarding or exiting a bus it puts the lives of this children in jeopardy. And this new camera technology makes it possible to credibly identify drivers who violate the law in the same way cameras posted at intersections can identify cars who run red lights or cameras can capture the license plates of cars who illegally drive through EZ Pass gates. Furthermore, the public doesn’t want to pay more money for law enforcement nor do they want to pay more money for schools. So… if a creative entrepreneur can find a way to make a profit and increase the revenue of a public school, why not do it?

Several School Board members expressed their interest in investing in the cameras, and some suggested promoting the stop-arm law through public safety announcements and drivers’ education courses. North District member Douglas Brown was the sole dissenting voice.

“I have a lot of grave concerns in terms of the implementation and in terms of having an unelected private corporation collecting fees and fines from citizens,” Brown said. “The trouble is if the private corporation says you didn’t pay, what recourse do you have as a citizen?

“We’re in the business of education, and I don’t like to see us get in the business of law enforcement. … Alienating the public and creating that kind of animosity is not a way to solve the problem, and it creates other long-range problems that I think could come up.”

This is one of several issues where there is no easy answer… and when no easy answer exists the tendency is to gravitate toward the answer that will cost taxpayers the least amount of money. That’s why we are willing to trade 24/7 surveillance by cameras on the streets for police on the beat and cameras on buses and in school corridors for more personnel. And that’s why Newport News drivers will soon be receiving bills for traffic violations from a vendor hired by the public schools.

That Sucking Sound is Money Being Siphoned to Telecoms…

January 23, 2017 1 comment

I am saddened but not surprised to read last week’s Daily Kos article by Dartagnan describing Donald Trump’s nominee to the FCC and his likely decision to suspend all of the open internet rules made during the Obama administration. In the article, Dartagnan does a good job of summarizing the first order impact of the likely decision to allow the establishment of higher cost “fast lanes”, which is a fattening of the bottom line of Telecoms and maybe some websites:

First off, the web could get more expensive. The impact on the average Internet user will likely not be felt right away. But over time, websites would probably pass on to consumers the costs of paying for high-speed access, according to Harold Feld, a senior vice president at the consumer group Public Knowledge.

In addition, it could become difficult to view certain websites owned by companies that can’t afford to pay for access to an Internet fast lane, Feld said.

On top of Internet users potentially paying more, they would also be more confused, Feld said. Under the proposed rules, people would need to make sense of a fragmented Internet landscape where the time it takes to load an online video would depend on whether that website paid extra to their Internet provider. Consumers may start choosing their Internet providers based on which websites they like to visit.

But the second order impact is even worse: the establishment of two lanes necessarily means low income families will be in the slow lane and will not have access to the same websites as wealthy families. This will widen the digital divide even more, make it even more difficult for schools to use technology to help crete more equity in learning opportunities, and thus make social mobility even more difficult. I can only hope that those who voted for Mr. Trump are able to see the connection between their votes for him and the jump in the cost of the data plans on their cell phones and cable connections.

Welcome to the Plutocracy: the 8 Richest People Have More Wealth than the Bottom Half

January 17, 2017 1 comment

The headline and pictures in the NYTimes article tell you a lot about the world economic condition. Here’s the headline:

World’s 8 Richest Have as Much Wealth as Bottom Half, Oxfam Says

And if you click on the link above you’ll see the picture of eight white men, and here’s a summary of how they gained their wealth:

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, led the list with a net worth of $75 billion. He is scheduled to speak at the forum in Davos this year.

Amancio Ortega Gaona, the Spanish founder of the fashion company Inditex, best known for its oldest and biggest brand, Zara, has a net worth of $67 billion.

Warren E. Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, $60.8 billion.

Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecommunications magnate, $50 billion.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, $45.2 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s creator, $44.6 billion.

Lawrence J. Ellison, the founder of Oracle, $43.6 billion.

Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and founder of the media and financial-data giant Bloomberg L.L.P., $40 billion.

Technology, finance, and communications dominate the list… and looking at their net worth I have only one question: how much is enough?

We CAN have Both Our Humanity and Technological Advancement

January 16, 2017 3 comments

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by Claire Cain Miller titled “A Darker Theme in Obama’s Farewell: Automation Can Divide Us”. In the essay, Ms. Miller outlines the ways technology is being used to automate jobs in a fashion that displaces low-skilled workers. What the essay fails to emphasize is that this displacement is done to enrich shareholders without regard for the “collateral damage” being done in the name of creative destruction of the marketplace. After reading the essay, I left this comment:

One set of tasks cannot be automated: those requiring a caring, compassionate, and empathetic service provider. These kinds of service providers are valued by retailers— the ideal waitstaff at the restaurant or fast food emporium, the ideal Walmart “associate”, and the ideal help desk worker at the other end of the line when you call to make inquiries about your credit card are all expected to show they care and expected to provide you with the best “customer service” possible, albeit for minimum wage.

In an ideal world— where profit and efficiency are not valued over humanity— health care providers would also be caring, compassion and empathetic. But in our effort to provide efficient and cost-effective health care our insurance companies force health care providers to see as many patients as possible without regard for the way service is provided.

In an ideal world we would find a way to fully fund the jobs that explicitly require caring, compassion and empathy: teachers, social workers, and those who aid the helpless. But, alas, those are all “government jobs” and we wouldn’t want to raise our taxes to fund “government jobs”.

In an ideal world we could realize the benefits of technology without losing our humanity. We could achieve this if we used technology to reduce the workloads of everyone instead of using it to increase the profits of the .01%.

In an ideal world, everyone would work four days, schools would be fully staffed, social service agencies would have larger staffs, and— yes— wealth would be more evenly distributed. We COULD make this happen by design… or we could continue along our current path and achieve the dystopia envisioned by many science fiction writers and, arguably, George Orwell. While we have a choice we should make it.