Internet as a Weapon at Home and Abroad

Houston   Silicon Valley and its fans argue that tech is a tool enabled by the wonderful world of the internet.  They aren’t totally wrong, though like all tools, tech and the internet, have to be used correctly of course.  We all know that, right?  We also are finding out more and more that these tools in the wrong hands for the wrong purpose, quickly become weapons.

When India went after its Muslim state and citizens in Kashmir, what did it do quickly?  Turn off the internet.  Zimbabwe dealing with civil strife and unhappiness with the economy responded to its people by doing what?  Turning off the internet.  We’ve seen turning the internet off and on frequently as a weapon used by countries to contain and coerce their citizens around the world.

In another way, we see the internet used as a weapon by big telecoms against the populations that need and depend on the service.  An investigation by the Dallas Morning News found that AT&T, whose headquarters is in the Dallas area ironically, had weaponized access to the internet for profit.  More than that, they had targeted lower income families and census tracts using access to the internet and its affordability as blunt instruments against the poor.

The paper found that AT&T determined where to establish faster internet by property values.  Higher values, indicating higher incomes, got faster internet first.  Lower property values got faster internet either later or not at all.  There’s more though.  AT&T also charged lower income customers in those areas more for the slower service than they charged those with higher valued locations.

Local 100 and ACORN in the US, Canada, and elsewhere have campaigned aggressively under the banner “Internet for All” to lower the digital divide.  Amazingly, AT&T in Dallas, and likely other cities once these investigations spread, is not only profiting from the digital divide, it is building a digital wall with the rich on one side and the poor on the other.

Reading the Dallas Morning News article was not exactly a surprise to us.   Several years ago (BT, before Trump) when the FCC had required Comcast to offer $10 per month internet access in acquiring Times-Warner, they touted this program on a voluntary basis to other companies.  Our Dallas office was never able to get AT&T to respond or meet with us to join a similar program.  Now, (AT, after Trump), there’s no mention of a voluntary or mandatory program.

AT&T is likely using a similar geo-placement strategy throughout the country.  They are unlikely to be the only company practicing this scam on their customers and larceny against the poor.  Will the FCC act?  Unlikely.  Will local public service regulators step into the breach?  Let’s hope so.

This is outrageous!

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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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