Tag Archives: digital divide

Access for the People?  Free Streaming and Smart Feature Phones

New Orleans       There was a brief blurb that went across my screen the other day.  ACORN Canada was taking another national action demanding “Internet for All” in the long running campaign we have waged to increase access to the internet for lower income families.  We’ve made progress there. Way more than we have in the USA and many other countries.  A low cost $10 to $15 a month program for high speed has now been extended on a voluntary basis to most of the major internet providers in Canada, thanks to the intercession of the Canadian Radio & Television authority which handles internet access much like the FCC does in the US.  Given the resistance of companies like Canadian Bell, it was a win and showed some progress.  In most countries including the USA, we have less to show, even as there is universal consensus that the digital divide is creating huge barriers that are exacerbating inequality.

There is some good news from an unlikely quarter:  not a smart phone, but a smart feature phone.  75 million were shipped in 2017 to India, Africa, and Indonesia with 84 million expected to roll this year.  In India, where 60 million have now been sold, the phone is called JioPhone and put out by the giant local company Reliance.  The phone can be purchased for $20 and many can keep their monthly payments to as little as $2.50 making them affordable for very low-income families and workers.  As any would expect, they are slower and less powerful, but recognizing the cost and access to electricity, part of that is because they have a much longer battery life on a single charge.  The phones are manufactured largely by Hong Kong-based KaiOS Technologies.  Google of course has invested in KaiOS, according to the Wall Street Journal.  An Indonesian model is reportedly going to go on sale for $7.  A model is being designed for Brazil.  We need one for the USA and the rest of the 3.4 billion people worldwide without internet access.

Beat ‘em at their game, I like it.  Another instance of this kind of shrewdness has to do with streaming, and it’s crazy clever.  I caught notice of this new streaming service when four monopolistic US broadcast networks combined to sue something called Locast.  As described in the Times, Locast “is available through a free app that relays broadcast feeds online.  It has more than 200,000 users in 13 cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Washington.”  The founder, David Goodfriend, formerly with the Obama administration and now a law professor, found a loophole in the law allowing this service.  “Under federal law, broadcast stations must provide their signals free to the public, making networks …easily available through the use of an antenna.”  Remember always, friends, that the airwaves are public property licensed to broadcasters, not private property!  “Locast argues that its service complies with copyright law because as a nonprofit entity, it is allowed to act as a so-called signal booster for the broadcasters’ programming.”  Wow, isn’t that the bomb!  I wonder if AM/FM and our radio stations couldn’t figure out how to do this as well, but that’s another question for another day.

My point is that in this bleak area there is hope that the disrupters and the monopolies might still be hoisted by their own petard once there is a realization that people come first, and their demands for service and streaming are huge and must be met at an affordable level.

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Arkansas Playing Gotcha with the Poor to Cut Them Off of Medicaid

New Orleans  In a sordid and shameful episode a few weeks ago Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson pridefully announced that the state had managed to bar 4300 people from health care support through Medicaid because of its new work requirement policies.  Seema Verma the head of the federal Center for Medical Services (CMS) who had approved this draconian attack on the poor played clueless cheerleader.

As more information come forward the real evil that underlies this shame emerges.  Let’s look at the facts.

Arkansas began the experiment by exempting two-thirds of the eligible recipients from having to report work hours, knowing this was going to be a problem.  30,000 people were then required to report.  16,000 didn’t report any qualifying activities to the state, either work, training or volunteer time.  In fact, according to the New York Times, “only 1200 about 2% of those eligible for the requirement, told the state they had done enough of the required activities in August, according to state figures.”  That’s pickle-poor!  It screams to a state failure not a people failure, and it foretells thousands more that will be denied coverage.

State officials tried to cover their rear ends, claiming they had done everything possible:  mailings, calls, and even putting out fliers some places where Medicaid patients congregate.  Even more ridiculously they touted the fact that they send emails and posted on social media sites.  Who are they trying to fool?  Arkansas ranks 48th among all of the states in the US in terms of connectivity and 30% of the population is underserved.  230,000 people in Arkansas don’t have any wired internet providers available where they live.  Who wants to guess whether embedded in these sorry statistics lie most of these lower income Medicaid recipients?

Shockingly, the Times then quoted Amy Webb, the chief communications and engagement officer for the Arkansas Department of Human Services saying, “If there’s something we are not doing to reach people, if someone will tell us how to do that, we will do it.”  Yeah, really?  She doesn’t mention that the state legislature forbade any use of media to increase enrollment under the Affordable Care Act.  Nowhere do they claim they were on the television or radio airwaves.  As the manager of KABF, a 100,000-watt noncommercial smack dab in the middle of the state with more than 50,000 listeners per week, more than half of them lower income, I can absolutely tell you we never received a public service announcement from them, much less any support for a real information promotion of the program.

Every other indication is one of abysmal failure.  The state conceded even when they had email address, only 20 to 30% opened the email.  Call centers said many didn’t answer their phones.  A professor from New York visited three counties in August and interviewed 18 people and 12 were unaware that work requirements even existed.  Other experts noted that an incentive system, even a punitive one trying to get more people into the workforce, won’t work if people don’t know about it.  Duh!

Adding injury to injury, all of the work hours are required to be submitted through the internet.  That’s the same internet thing that hundreds of thousands of Arkansans are not able to access, and even with access are not necessarily all-pro at using the state’s clunky website.

State officials in Arkansas need to start some truth telling.  These so-called work requirements are nothing of the kind.  This a pure and simple way to push eligible people off of Medicaid.  Hopefully a coming court hearing will stop this hypocrisy.

In the meantime, this is a scandal that none of us should be able to stomach.

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Please enjoy Johnny Guitar from Twisted Wheel.

Thanks to KABF.

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