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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Tenants Are Front and Center in Presidential Race

Milwaukee       A funny thing happened on the way to the 2020 presidential primaries in the long shadow of the Great Recession of 2007:  Democrats are finally discovering the tenants living right under their noses, and the fact that the American dream is no longer home ownership, it’s affordable housing.  One candidate after another, elbowing to get to the top of the heap is advocating some kind of plan to address the soaring housing costs in cities around the country.

The latest in the new Tenant Sweepstakes is Senator Cory Booker from New Jersey who has now announced his plan.  It has a big price tag and a huge footprint.  His campaign claims his plan, if implemented, would benefit 57 million Americans including 17 million children.  The central objective, importantly is family-based, rather than developer centered.  Booker’s plan would create an entitlement so that a family’s rental costs would be capped at no more than 30% of their income and make up the difference between that number and fair market rent in the family’s neighborhood.  Booker’s plan would involve an income transfer through a tax credit.  It’s pricey. Reporting in the New York Times offered further details, saying,

“There would not be an income cap limiting who could qualify, according to the campaign, which said the median participating family would receive $4,800 per year. His campaign estimated the program would cost $134 billion annually. It did not propose specifically how to pay for the plan beyond rolling back changes to the estate tax made by President Trump, which it said would raise about $25 billion annually. The remainder, the campaign said, would come from restoring various taxes that were cut in the Republican-led tax overhaul from 2017.”

Now, let’s agree, this is a bold and exciting plan on a number of levels, regardless of the fact that Booker is sitting at 2% in the polls and is carrying huge, almost disqualifying baggage from his courtship with billionaires and Wall Street over the years and the charter school and Facebook debacle in Newark while he was mayor.  I also don’t want to get in the weeds with speculation about whether calculating the spread between 30% of income and the family’s neighborhood would subsidize a family’s residence in a lower income neighborhood and not impact gentrification and exacerbate segregation. The campaign estimates that the median benefit would be $4800 per year, but that certainly wouldn’t allow a family, following Booker’s own personal narrative, to move into a gentrified area with good schools and opportunity to increase their tax credit.  I can just imagine the outcry from existing communities about families moving to their areas to expand their tax credits.  They would be changing the name of that website to NOT Next Door!

The exciting thing has to be that the door is opening for tenants and affordable housing to be at the center of a political campaign waged against an upscale condo developer now living in public housing in the White House.  I like that contrast.  Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren also have housing proposals of interest, and with Booker putting his bet on the table, we can bet the others are going to have to match that ante as well, so the odds of something happening increases, if any of them are able to beat Trump’s current lease on the presidency.

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Please enjoy Ohio by Cherry Glazerr.

Thanks to KABF.

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