The Obstacles to Closing the Digital Divide are Ideological and Naive

Students from a nearby elementary school start to filter into the 81st Avenue Branch Library after school lets out in Oakland, Calif. on Thursday, May 5, 2016. The Oakland Public Library has eliminated fines on all children's materials and will soon urge city officials to ban fines for all patrons.(Laura A. Oda/Bay Area News Group)

New Orleans   You may be hearing this on the radio, but the chances are also good that you are reading – and maybe even hearing — this on your computer because you have broadband internet access. Yet, as most of us realize, at least 10% of the American people or more than 35 million folks, do not have broadband access, and you need to add another almost 8 million lower-income people who only have access through mobile phones, which is something, but still leaves a Grand Canyon gap to be closed when it comes to bridging the divide, and it’s ridiculous to claim otherwise. In 45 states, 20% of the public assistance programs for low income families require fixed broadband access in order to successfully apply.

Faithful readers and listeners know that this is a huge issue for me and for ACORN everywhere, but I’m beating on this drum again because of an interview in the New York Times with perhaps the best of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) members, Mignon Clyburn. Clyburn knows how to get things done and has the connections to make things happen in broad terms in Washington, since she is also the daughter of the 3rd ranking Congressman James Clyburn from South Carolina where she was also a former member of the Public Service Commission there. Clyburn’s remarks there were both the best and worst of what we might hope for if we want to create “internet for all.”

At one level, Commissioner Clyburn is a staunch advocate of bringing full broadband to lower income families, and has been aggressive in trying to make it happen, but where she reaches her limits are ideological in that she can’t break out of a neoliberalist commitment to hopes and prayers that benevolent corporations will somehow miraculously solve the problem. Or, perhaps worse, she washes her hands of a government role, arguing that “the community will demand the service.”

Despite her advocacy in general she is still counting on jawboning companies involved in mergers by applying a little stick if they want their big carrot. Most recently in Charter’s merger with Times Warner cable the FCC required the company to create a reduced price service for lower income families and to extend its coverage to another two million homes. These $10 per month programs might be something we could believe in, except that one company after another starting with Comcast where their merger with Universal required such a program, and followed by other companies supposedly “volunteering” to implement such programs, have failed to deliver or meet their goals and the FCC does virtually nothing to enforce its orders or monitor the volunteer efforts, making them pretty much little more than worthless press releases and icing with no cake underneath.

On Google Fiber and its community expansions where they require a certain portion of a community to enroll – and pay – in order to get high speed service, Commission Clyburn leaves it to the community to demand it, even while understanding that the community isn’t demanding it, because they can’t afford it. She’s talking a walk through a side door here. Perhaps she’s hoping that the community will demand that the city or someone else subsidize it, because the FCC record with telecoms they regulate delivering on these demands is abysmal.

When asked why she has such “trust in carriers to do the right thing,” she naively replies that, “I don’t think there is any business that wants to be perceived as not being a good partner with society.” Wow! The list starts with Comcast but almost all of the telecoms would be poster models for not giving a flying hoot about being a “good partner with society” or even their paying customers, much less lower income families.

When asked why it took a call from her to get a high school in Mississippi better broadband service, which as the reporter points out, “shows people don’t have the power to get better broadband on their own,” her reply is stone cold depressing. She says, “Is it a perfect system? Heck no…but it will get done…and that is the beauty of having local, state, and federal regulators. Yes, it may take some years to get broadband rolled out to all cities, but it’s going to get done.”

For Commissioner Clyburn, perhaps the best the FCC has to offer, somehow it is still all good if relief and justice is in the great “by and by.” Meanwhile the damage to millions of lower income families is incalculable. How does she sleep with that under her pillow?


Is President Obama Finally Joining the Battle Against Telecoms?

15109096143_dba3fd3020_z-620x360Little Rock       I’m crossing my fingers that now that President Obama doesn’t have to raise money for another campaign, he’s finally getting the fact that his buddies at Comcast and the rest of the telecoms have been playing him and almost every other governmental body and politician in the country for patsies while they shakedown the American people on a monthly basis while giving us slow internet and shlock.  We may have lost some battles with these boys, but suddenly we seem to have an ally and a chance at winning the war.

First, the President declared fully he was against a fast and slow lane on the internet.  And then, hallelujah, he finally weighed in on pushing the FCC to regulate the internet as a public utility giving us hope of real protection over time.  He even seems to have whispered to Tom Wheeler, the FCC head, behind the woodshed, and Wheeler seems to have converted to the Obama position.  There’s no word on blocking the Comcast and Times-Warner merger, but now there’s real hope.

There was more evidence in Cedar Rapids recently where the President not only trumpeted the local municipal utility there for creating a superfast fiber optic system for internet but said he was willing to do whatever it took, even though it is late in the game, to preempt the ability of big cable telecoms to stop other cities and states from building higher speed lines and breaking their monopolies.   As quoted in the Des Moines Register, he seemed like one of us:


“In too many place across America, some big companies are doing everything they can to keep out competitors,” he said. “In some states, it is virtually impossible to create a community network like the one that you’ve got here in Cedar Falls. So … I’m saying we’re going to change that.”


Some “big companies.”  You hear that Comcast, AT&T, Cox, and the like?  He’s naming and shaming you!

Susan Crawford from Harvard whose book, Captive Audience, a couple of years ago was the definitive indictment of the cable company monopolies and their almost criminal stranglehold on the internet that was holding us down with low speeds and exorbitant pricing blocking more than a quarter of our population, in the wake of these latest statements started calling Obama, the “FDR of the internet.”  Whoa, baby, hold on!

She’s clear what has to happen though is many more of these fiber optic systems:


The FCC has suggested that 25Mbps is a good potential threshold for high speed Internet access in America, but 90 percent of 25Mbps subscriptions in the US go to local cable monopolies that can charge whatever they want. DSL just can’t compete for these higher speeds: Where local cable monopolies face competition only from copper, they get 98-99 percent of subscriptions for 25Mbps. This landscape is radically transformed by the presence of a fiber competitor. Where fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) exists, cable gets just 56 percent of subscriptions for 25 Mbps. But there is very little FTTH in the US: FTTH makes up just 9.5 percent of overall US subscriptions.


There’s real hope now.

And, for just a bit more good news, it turns out the internet isn’t bad for you after all.


“…new study by researchers at Pew Research Center and Rutgers University found the opposite: Frequent Internet and social media users do not have higher stress levels than those who use technology less often. And for women, using certain digital tools decreases stress.”


The President is telling all of us, “Relax, get happy, go on-line!”


Please enjoy Lee Ann Womack’s Send it On Down, Thanks to KABF.