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Broadband and Democratization

iPods, iPhones, iPads – and the Wired and Wireless Broadband Connections That Feed Them

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January 12, 2012 – The Broadband Economy has always been about three things: wired and wireless connections; the iPods, iPhones, and iPads that we got in our Christmas stockings; and the content that makes it fun and useful to “connect” your device to the internet.

Some of us talk about the internet and broadband but think only about content – Netflix, social networking, necessary e-mail traffic. Hardware geeks may think only about the fiber-optic cables, or the new cellular towers that are providing faster fiber-optic connectivity or fourth-generation wireless (4G) connectivity.

In general, the beauty of the internet has been about the openness of each layer. There are always have been concerns about monopolistic behavior. Consider the potential for “natural monopoly” in infrastructure. Or how a once-dominant player like Microsoft was able, for a time, to serve as a choke-point on the “desktop” of the personal computer.

Today’s concerns about competition are just as likely to be had where Google, Facebook and Twitter spar over the integration of their respective social networks, as within Google’s newly revamped search engine features.

But as the International Consumer Electronic Show meets in Las Vegas, it’s worth taking stock of the digital devices – not the broadband, and not the content – that are the heart of the ecosystem.

Indeed, I want to focus on the Apple platform – iPods, iPhones and iPads – that have shaken up the digital landscape in the post-PC world.

Breaking Boundaries on Digital Devices

Apple, the biggest name in the consumer electronics landscape, has done more than any company to keep gadgetry simple. They keep enticing more and more of our nation’s population, and our world’s population, into the digital economy. Ironically, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company doesn’t even have official presence at CES. The roots of CES stem from high-definition television and home stereo, growing into the all-purpose digital monolith when COMDEX, the legendary Vegas dot-com conference, went bust in 2003.

But Apple has hewed toward a go-it-alone venue for publicizing and promoting its products. That’s very much unlike Microsoft, the former king of COMDEX and, until this year, of CES. In the post-PC world, Apple’s strategy seems to have worked.

Indeed, Apple’s extraordinary rebirth from computer-maker into the must-have consumer electronics company goes back to the category-creating iPod (the genre-defining music player introduced in 2001), the iPhone (a smart phone for the rest of us, in 2007), and the iPad (creating a long-elusive market for “tablet” computer, in 2010). I’m not going to count the Newton, the not-ready-for-prime-time device from the 1980s.

Apple has integrated the new versions of each of these post-PC devices to make interchanging them seemless. But any member of the iApple platform underscores how dated it is to view our digital world as if telephones, computers, and televisions were separate objects. My iPhone is as much my computer – and my television – as it is my telephone.

So what does this say for the other layers in the broadband ecosystem? Everything.

Bringing Broadband Adoption to the 21st Century

Many of our country’s leading broadband policy-makers have lamented the inability to get all Americans online, or excited about engaging in the broadband economy. The Federal Communications Commission’s National Broadband Plan found that only 65 percent of the population had adopted broadband technology. Consider the argument that’s taken place over the last several weeks, following the publication of a piece by Susan Crawford, “The New Digital Divide,” in The New York Times.

Crawford, a former special assistant to the Obama Administration White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, argued that the

While we still talk about “the” Internet, we increasingly have two separate access marketplaces: high-speed wired and second-class wireless. High-speed access is a superhighway for those who can afford it, while racial minorities and poorer and rural Americans must make do with a bike path.

Crawford acknowledged the breakneck adoption of smartphones, the policy-wonk’s label for an iPhone or an Android device, but insisted that “smartphone access is not a substitute for wired” because job applications require typing, or because distance learning or small business connections require more than just a wireless connection. Further, she scores the leading wireless providers for fixing rigid monthly data caps on wireless downloads.

Ivan Seidenberg, the recently-departed CEO of Verizon Communications, took issue with Crawford’s dour conclusion about a two-track internet. He claimed that U.S. fiber subscriptions were double those of Europe. There’s an important argument here – for another day – about the state of the speeds and prices of American broadband. But let’s keep our focus on the broadband “adoption” problem, and what it has to do with an iPhone.

An iPhone is a Phone… and a Camera and a Televisions and a Calculator and a Computer

The paradox of broadband adoption is really the same as the paradox of the broadband ecosystem: there’s no point in laying fiber-optic lines, or building tower, or in building the best search engine or social network, if you don’t have lots of  devices on which to consume data.

While it is true that the fastest wireless connections are unlikely to ever match the capacity and speed of the fastest wired linkages, new 4G technologies being rolled out by each of the major providers are considerably pumping up wireless broadband speeds. The simple fact of the matter is that the heart of the Crawford’s digital divide is a dearth about usage. And usage will rise as more and more of our nation, and our world, experience, understand and use the digital tools of today.

Consider my own “magic box,” my iPhone. Everyone’s “top 10” lists are certain to be different. Here are the 10 most recent apps I’ve used on my iPhone:

  1. Phone
  2. C-SPAN Radio
  3. Mormon Channel
  4. Facebook
  5. Clock
  6. Calendar
  7. App Store
  8. Messages
  9. Safari
  10. Contacts

All of these applications, with the possible exception of “Clock,” rely upon the 3G broadband network for which I subscribe to use my iPhone. Consider this value for the network.

Many of them, like “C-SPAN Radio,” a simple-to-use app that enables web-streaming as if I were on the C-SPAN web site, rely upon the web sites of the wide open web. Consider this value for the content.

Some of them, like the Facebook app, may well compete to work better on my iPhone platform than on another platform, like the Galaxy Nexus. Consider this value for the device, my iPhone.

This sort of ecosystem – broadband network, internet content and digital device – has the potential to gradually bring more and more, and ultimately everyone, into the digital world.

Drew Clark is the Chairman of the Broadband Breakfast Club, the premier Washington forum advancing the conversation around broadband technology and internet policy. You can find him on and Twitter. He founded BroadbandCensus.com, and he brings experts and practicioners together to advance Better Broadband, Better Lives. He’s doing that now as Executive Director for Broadband Illinois, based in Abraham Lincoln’s Springfield.

Editor’s Note: Don’t miss the discussion, “The Wired Home and Wireless Policy,” at the Broadband Breakfast Club on Tuesday, January 17, 2012, from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Register now.

Drew Clark is the Editor and Publisher of BroadbandBreakfast.com and a nationally-respected telecommunications attorney at The CommLaw Group. He has closely tracked the trends in and mechanics of digital infrastructure for 20 years, and has helped fiber-based and fixed wireless providers navigate coverage, identify markets, broker infrastructure, and operate in the public right of way. The articles and posts on Broadband Breakfast and affiliated social media, including the BroadbandCensus Twitter feed, are not legal advice or legal services, do not constitute the creation of an attorney-client privilege, and represent the views of their respective authors.

Broadband and Democratization

Stamping out Election Falsehoods Like Playing Whack-a-Mole, Says Georgia’s Brad Raffensperger

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Photo of Brad Raffensperger from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

February 5, 2021 – With election misinformation and conspiracy theories rampant in Election 2020, secretaries of state representing pivotal states swapped stories on Thursday about the howlers they faced – and what they did to try to maintain public trust in upholding election integrity.

Perhaps no one faced more pressure to act to overturn the results of his state’s presidential vote tally than Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.

Among the many false accusations he faced was that a Ron Raffensperger, allegedly a brother of his, works for a Chinese technology firm. While there is such a person, and that person does in fact work for the Chinese telecom equipment giant Huawei, that Ron Raffensperger is not Brad Raffensperger’s brother.

At Thursday’s meeting of the National Association of Secretaries of State, Raffensperger said again that he does not have a brother named Ron. He also expressed condolences for the real Ron Raffensperger out there.

Stamping out falsehoods is like playing a game of ‘rumor-whack-a-mole,’ said Brad Raffensperger. Once you eradicate one rumor, another just pops up. It’s as if the truth has 30,000 Twitter followers while falsehood has 80 million followers, he added.

Screenshot of the NASS webinar

Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs addressed the “Sharpiegate” scandal, another fake claim concocted by Republicans. Sharpiegate was the wrong notion pushed by some that Sharpie pens distributed at polling places were handed out for voting.

But the felt-tip pen’s ink bled through the ballot, making it unreadable by a machine and thus keeping the Sharpie victim’s vote from being counted. The twist in this particular story is that only the Sharpie-marked ballots cast by Republican candidates were thrown out, somehow.

While recognizing the seriousness of this misinformation campaign, exacerbated by Eric Trump’s tweets about it, souvenir Sharpies were ordered bearing “Sharpiegate 2020” printed on them – just as a joke, said Hobbs.

Michigan had a plan in place for months on how to collect, process, and release voting results, said Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. However, because its processes were so efficient, Michigan caught its critics off guard. This exposed Michigan to accusations of allegedly counting its ballots too fast in an effort to try to “fix” the election. Robocalls targeted minority majority communities, including in Detroit.

Ohio also anticipated a barrage of misinformation. As a preemptive measure, the state rolled out numerous tools and resources to inform citizens of voting processes.

Secretaries of state need to help voters build confidence knowing their voice will be heard in a fair and honest contest, and not to tear it down, said Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State. He praised Ohio’s election integrity and said it had a record low in ballot rejection, and a record high in ballot workers.

The state also tried to stop spreaders of misinformation by warning of felony charges for spreading lies.

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Broadband and Democratization

At New America Foundation Event on India, Panelists Talk of ‘Digital Colonization’ by U.S. and China

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Screenshot from the webinar

October 1, 2020 – When it comes to social media, India is currently in a “two-house race” between the United States and China, explained India expert Madhulika Srikumar at New America on Wednesday.

Tiktok and Facebook have been big players in this race, each attracted to India’s large audience base.

Srikumar, an attorney formerly with the Cyber Initiative at Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, cited two statistics. First, one-third of TikTok’s users were Indian, before the app was banned in June by the Indian government. Second, if India’s Facebook audience were a country, it would be the fourth largest in the world.

She explained the recent trend of Chinese and U.S. companies each investing in Indian companies.

New American CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter said in response, “When I hear you Madhu, all I can think of is digital colonization.”

Slaughter stressed that it was vital we don’t have a world where states lock down their internet and asserted that the world would be a better place if there was more competition and if companies had to be more open with their policies

“Our institutions for holding power accountable are still from the analog age,” Said Rebecca MacKinnon, founding director of New America’s Ranking Digital Rights project, adding that there’s nothing in our law that could prevent Tiktok from becoming a vehicle for hate speech.

Slaughter blamed the platforms, claiming that platforms were publishers wielding great political power who were responsible for polarization and declining trust.

She pointed to a future Biden-Harris administration, and projected that if elected, it would provide a new vision for internet policy by working with a number of other countries, including Europe, to adopt global standards for a free internet. This consortium would insist that companies abide by such rules.

When asked whether the UN could play a role, Slaughter said that it could, but it would need to have strong member support since “the current U.S. government has distain for non-US institutions.” The United Nations would have difficulty putting regulations in place with one of it’s biggest members not being supportive.

MacKinnon agreed that UN involvement would be complicated. For the past decade, there’s been a fight brewing over who sets standards for the tech community and for global technologies.

Srikumar, in turn, appealed for greater resources to flesh out what exactly an open internet means, as well as a move to divorce content from gatekeepers.

Joshua Keating, senior editor of Slate moderated the webinar.

See also “The Privacy Negotiators: The Need for U.S. Tech Companies to Mediate Agreements on Government Access to Data in India,” by Madhulika Srikumar on New America

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Broadband and Democratization

Mobile Technology Aided the Growth of Black Lives Matter, But Will Hashtag Outrage Lead to Change?

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Screenshot of panelists on the Brookings Institution webinar

September 21, 2020 — In the United States, widespread public use of mobile phone cameras and social media has thrust the longstanding issue of police brutality against Black Americans into the national spotlight like never before.

Delving deeply into the subject of how digital tools have contributed to the goals of anti-brutality activists, panelists at a Brookings Institution event on September 14 detailed the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and whether the explosive growth of the hashtag #BLM might result in any institutional change.

In the summer of 2014, videos, images, and text narratives of violent encounters between police officers and unarmed Black people circulated widely through news and social media, spurring public outrage.

“A large digital archive of Tweets started in 2014, when Michael Brown was killed,” said Rashawn Ray, professor of sociology and executive director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research at the University of Maryland.

Media activism fueled by the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner gave rise to Black Lives Matter, or #BLM, a loosely-coordinated, nationwide movement dedicated to ending police brutality, which uses online media extensively.

The panelists referenced the “Beyond the Hashtag” report authored by Meredith Clark, assistant professor at the University of Virginia, analyzes the movement’s rise on Twitter.

“Mobile technology became an agent of change,” said Mignon Clyburn, former commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission, referring to the 2007 introduction of the iPhone as a turning point in the way individuals utilize devices. “Devices became smaller, less expensive, and more ubiquitous,” said Clyburn, “we are now seeing a global, mobile revolution.”

Increased accessibility to mobile devices and social media cracked open doors previously kept tightly shut by pro-corporate, pro-government gatekeepers of the media, which spread anti-Black ideologies. Mobile devices initiated a leveling of the media playing field, allowing for marginalized groups to intervene in dialogues.

“Black Americans have the opportunity to share distinctively what is happening to us,” said Nicol Turner Lee, senior fellow in governance studies and the director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institute.

“These videos show our humanity, and how it is destroyed and undermined,” added Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the National Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

While videos taken to report instances of police brutality are critical resources, they come with significant consequences for those filming and viewing them.

In order to record an instance of police, an individual has to be courageous, as many citizen journalists attempting to capture an act of police brutality, end up a subject of cruelty.

“You have the right to record protected under First Amendment,” Clarke informed, urging that officers be trained on respecting citizens First Amendment rights to film.

While recording instances of police brutality is distressing in itself, sharing the video online, although necessary, amplifies the video’s power to traumatize indefinitely. “There will no doubt be a generation of children that will be traumatized,” by repeatedly seeing images of Black Americans brutalized by the police, said Lee.

Clarke urged individuals who decide to share content, to do so with a trigger warning.

While digital tools have enabled video evidence of brutality to be caught, amass widespread attention, and cause public outrage, as of yet, it has not translated into real-life justice for Black individuals. Difficulty to bring prosecution against excessively violent officers remains.

Clarke noted that police union contracts are barriers to reform. “The terms of collective bargaining agreements allow officers to see video evidence before reporting on how the events transpired,” detailed Clarke.

Ray called for the passage of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, H.R. 7120, introduced by Rep. Karen Bass, D-California, which he said was currently ‘collecting dust’ in the Senate.

The bill would establish new requirements for law enforcement officers and agencies, necessitating them to report data on use-of-force incidents, obtain training on implicit bias and racial profiling, and wear body cameras.

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