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.
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…
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.
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.