A Smart City Shouldn’t Leave Any Citizen Behind

When it comes to city services, we expect that as a result of social policy and law, access to vital provisions such as utilities, waste water management, and communications is provided to all citizens no matter the sector they reside in.  In our zest to promote smart cities, are we ensuring that all sectors of a city will be able to participate; that the innovations in city services or economic benefits that are created will flow to all parts of our cities?

A smart city’s advanced communications infrastructure should be deployed in the least advantaged neighborhoods just as they are deployed in affluent neighborhoods. One reason for ensuring universal deployment of advanced communications structure is to enable cities to leverage collective intelligence. Deloitte, a consulting firm, defines collective intelligence as an aggregation of the wisdom of a crowd. City planning staff can gather information from surveys or craft nifty algorithms, but accurate and insightful data can be gleaned directly from city residents. As Deloitte pointed out in a recent report, mobile technology, including connected cars, and wearable tracking devices, allows city planners to capture digital footprints and use the behavior of citizens to design and deploy services that best meet citizens’ needs. In other words, the connectivity created by mobile devices spawns a network of sensors that provides useful data that can be stored as knowledge relied on for future decisions.

If cities are to be truly smart, it means leveraging wisdom, data, knowledge from all citizens including citizens residing in predominantly poor or ethnic minority neighborhoods. One example of the importance of deploying advanced communications networks in low income or ethnic minority neighborhoods is facilitation of affordable transportation. A combination of wireless devices and wireless facilities makes applications such as Mobility as a Service (MaaS) feasible for residents with restricted access to transportation. MaaS has the potential to link various modes of public and private transportation using digital platforms.

For city planners, digital services like MaaS help address the problem of traffic congestion, a problem that will only get worse as more people move into cities and place additional strain on existing transportation infrastructure. MaaS and other digital services also help increase access to job opportunities otherwise unattainable due to transportation constraints.

Whether the issue is transportation, crime, or rights-of-way management, a smart city’s use of technology when managing these issues should combine the wisdom of all its residents with ensuing benefits flowing to all.

With Broadband Technology, Millennials Bring Hip Hop to the Source

Whether it was the sound systems and block parties of the mid 1970s, an aspiring DJ selling records out of a crate, or a brother break dancing on cardboard on a street corner, hip hop culture emanated from the streets, with rap music as its unapologetic anthem. In the early days of hip hop our intimacy with the technology that delivered booming base and scratching turntables was an experience shared with anyone within earshot. Hip hop’s early artists were like frontiersmen moving into the western wilderness, bringing a sound never heard before. As disco took its last breath before heading back to the underground for its conversion to house and electronica, rap music boldly stepped up to fill the void with the intent of planting its flag in permanence.

And it appears that hip hop is here to stay. The late stage Baby Boomers and early stage Generation Xers have passed the hip hop torch to today’s Millennials not only in terms of style of clothing or music but also in the way that the music is delivered. Today’s technology, namely the internet, has helped accelerate the pace at which hip hop culture has become globalized. Listeners to rap make up a diverse audience and artists around the world are using the energy and beats of rap music to produce and deliver a message that is unique to their own experiences, whether those experiences are expressed by France’s Joke or PNL, Kenya’s Khaligraph Jones or South Africa’s AKA.

It has not always been a comfortable relationship between the emerging technologies and artists. The internet’s wild west days saw file sharing technology such as Napster threaten to whittle away at the livelihood of artists as consumers shared digitally filed music instead of purchasing an artist’s work. For up and coming artists already facing the barriers of competition, file sharing only worsened the feast or famine environment.

Today’s artists no longer have to look at technology as a threat. On the contrary, the Millennial generation’s propensity for being wired reflects its ability to both connect selectively with the music environment while sharing at the speed of light its enthusiasm about the music it connects to. For example, music can be accessed via multiple platforms such as iTunes, Spotify, or Pandora. It can be played on various devices including iPods, laptops, or on mobile phones. But with social media, communities can be built around certain artists and savvy artists can connect directly to these communities. You longer need rely on Billboard to tell you whether Beyonce’s latest album is doing well. Between Facebook likes and the number of tweets on Twitter, metrics are instantaneous.

The days of passing by a street corner and hearing the latest tune blare from a boom box are long gone. Globalization and commercialization may give some of us the feeling that the soul of hip hop culture has strayed from its core, from the source. I see today’s technology as a way of bringing the music back to the community, this time to a digital community. An emerging artist no longer has to sell her music from the crates in the trunk of her car. Her corner is now located online and she can bring more of the world back to her neighborhood.

#MobileLikeMe Takes it’s Message to the FCC

The fight to protect your “Free Data” was taken directly to the FCC on Thursday, October 27.  Despite the weather being a little cold and overcast, #MobileLikeMe was extremely effective in getting the message out that free data is important to consumers.

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The MobileLikeMe movement spread the word as curious passersby’s learned more about its mission and support for free data programs.  They soon realized the movement is dedicated to helping everyone  access the internet via their mobile devices through education, capitalization on innovative offerings, and elimination of regulatory and legislative obstacles.  In fact, by the days’ end, our message had gone viral and over 3 million people around the country had learned more about #MobileLikeMe.

With over 40,000 petitions in support of free data programs on display, the day was not only about letting the public know how MobileLikeMe is fighting to help consumers access the internet, it was also about letting the FCC commissioners know why accessing the internet (especially on cell phones/ tablets) is vital to people everywhere.  We were fortunate enough to meet with 4 out of the 5 FCC commissioners (Commissioner Pai, Wheeler, Rosenworcel, and Clyburn) all of whom provided great insights as to how we can help even more people.

This was truly a great day.  #MobileLikeMe will continue to spread the word and not only engage those who are “Mobile Like Me” –  millennials, people with lower income, and minorities, but also those who are yet to become Mobile Like Me. We will continue to meet with crucial decision makers to gain their support of our Mobile Like Me movement.

Clyburn Says She Won’t Vote to Ban Sponsored Data Offerings

FCC Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn has always seen the bigger picture with regards to telecom issues and how they relate to and affect Americans who remain digitally divided. Recently, she once again stood up for those being left behind in our ever evolving digital world by stating her support of “sponsored data”

Sponsored data, or “zero-rated” content as the industry refers to it, are wireless service offerings in which service providers offer some services whose use is not counted against customers’ data usage plans. These plans have been criticized by some advocates of the FCC’s open Internet rules.

Clyburn has taken a more progressive and insightful approach to the issue. She sees it as an opportunity to once again get people online in the ways most accessible to them: mobile devices. Clyburn stated, “I usually don’t show my hand that explicitly but I’m doing so today.”

She continued, “Everyone in this nation should have the opportunity to lawfully express and expand themselves and their potential, and I think we have the capacity to continue to make that happen.”

Based on data from the Federal Communications Commission itself, 55 million Americans still lack broadband access at home. Many of those people are members of low-income communities, people of color, elderly, disabled, or people living in rural communities. It is untenable that nearly 20% of America’s citizenry lag behind their digitally connected counterparts.

Ms. Clyburn said that sponsored-data services are valuable because they could be “an affordable way for people to stream and connect with content” – including important services such as medical services – in “a non-economically punitive way.”

Critics fear that sponsored data or zero rating treads on Net Neutrality rules; however, Clyburn and other forward thinkers see sponsored data as a way to get smart-phone dependent Americans online without them having to worry about running up against data caps when they need access the most – medical services, education, employment, etc.

With regards to those who are wary of what sponsored data may look like Clyburn added that the FCC “will take a case-by-case approach” on sponsored-data offerings.  She also said that such offerings “could be the way for the next creative content provider that can’t get on the legacy platforms to do so.”

“We want product differentiation, we do not want any violation of open Internet rules,” she said, adding, “I think there is a way for us to walk and chew gum at the same time on that.”

#Solutions2020 Policy Forum Hosted by FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn

On October 19, 2016 Commissioner Mignon Clyburn hosted a very informative conference about access to the internet, most importantly this forum was about finding solutions not excuses.

The day started with a lighting round about “Bridging the affordability Gap:” an incredible session about ensuring that internet access stays affordable to all communities, especially minorities, lower income, and those is rural areas.

Next we had the panel discussion “Ushering in the Next Chapter of Broadband and Health.” It was here that the panel highlighted the increasing importance of the internet in the Health care sector. Showing how crucial it is for the medical community to be able to access and share the most recent medical advances.

The third session was the lighting round: “Combating Inequality in the Communications Sector.” This session was a very solutions orientated session focusing on the need (and lack of) diversity in the communications sector. Providing ways more women and minorities (especially Native Americans) can have influence on the content and ownership of media outlets, particularly digital, radio, and televsion media outlets.

After a break, we continued with our fourth session a lighting round about “Digital Inclusion in the 21st Century.” The “inclusion” that this session focused on was how everyone needs to be included in the growth of our digital society. Solutions were delivered on how we can make sure access is provided to entrepreneurs, to women, to minorities on how they can create the latest technological advances in the digital space.

The fifth and final session discussed “Unlocking the 5G Revolution.” Here several solutions were given about the importance of 5G mobile access predominantly in rural areas. It emphasized that we need to have a strategy for the rural areas that was more than “just a watered down version” of the strategy for highly populated areas of the US.

Commissioner Clyburn more than surpassed her goal of creating a forum that provided “Solutions” for growth in the digital specter. Solutions to help close the “Digital Divide”; solutions for ensuring the future of the digital space will help everyone, not just the chosen few. Solutions for several causes that Mobile Like Me is looking to make a major impact around the country. As the Executive Director of Mobile Like Me I was fortunate to attend this event and most importantly I was able to present Commissioner Clyburn a small token to say “Thank you for helping on the issues that we find so important to helping grow our digital society.

Uninterested and Cost-Prohibitive: 33 Million Americans Still Offline

A surprising number of Americans are not connected to the internet. According to National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Director of Minority Telecommunications Development, Office of Policy Analysis and Development, Maureen Lewis,

“In 2015, 33 million households (27 percent of all U.S. households) did not use the Internet at home, and 26 million households – one-fifth of all households – were offline entirely, lacking a single member who used the Internet from any location in 2015.”

How could this be?  More importantly, why?

The top reason households gave for not using the Internet at home in 2015 was that they did not need it or had no interest in going online (55 percent). Many of these households, regardless of race or income level, who have not previously had internet access in their home find it unnecessary to have it now. The graph below shows an uptick in those who find being connected unnecessary and have no interest.

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This could be based on comfort or lack of exposure and education as to the importance of being connected.

According to new data released by the NTIA, another “24 percent of households said they didn’t use the Internet at home because of cost concerns.”

Interesting is that cost concerns as a deterrent to going online is a reason often given by households that previously had internet in their home, but can no longer afford it. These households know what it’s like to be connected and know they are at a disadvantage.

The world is changing rapidly and unfortunately, these households that are left out of the digital loop, are at risk of falling in greater despair. Convincing them to pay for a service they feel is unnecessary or they can’t afford is a task. Some have admitted if internet access was more affordable, they would give it a try.  Other reasons given by those surveyed include, lack of an adequate computer, privacy/security concerns, and availability of internet services in their area.

 

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One way to reach the 33 million households not connected to the Internet is via mobile devices. In fact, according to recent Pew data, smartphone ownership rates have skyrocketed in many countries since 2013.  For those surveyed whose primary concern is cost, more affordable options have begun to present themselves.

For example, for those worried about expensive data plans or running out data, free data options is a viable option.  Sponsored data, as it is sometimes referred to, allows smartphone users to surf the web for entertainment and music using the free stash of data, while being able to save their data allotment for more important tasks.

Those left offline are a part of the widening digital divide. Banking, bill pay, health services, job opportunities, education and vital communications are all done online. Managing day to day with no access is not only be inconvenient, but will eventually not be an option.  Internet access should be looked at as a necessary living expense and therefore treated like any other affordable living program.

Free Data Benefits Extend Beyond Corporate Profit

A recent op-ed by Mike Elgan, writing for Computer World, took aim at the profit motivation behind companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon for their free data offerings. Each company has been experimenting with new methods of providing internet connectivity or digital goods at no cost to consumers. Some praise companies offering free data options for creating innovative means for the digitally disconnected to get online. Others try to discount the offering as little more than an attempt by large corporations to increase their potential customer pool.

In truth, the promise and potential of free data programs cannot be reduced to this kind of binary thinking. At a time when wages remain stagnant, technology access is becoming a necessity, not just a nicety. As such, we must explore new avenues for reducing the digital divide.  In fact, it is incumbent upon us as a society to ensure that all people – regardless of income, ethnicity, or geography – have the tools to get online.

Free Data Offerings Help Close the Digital Divide

Based on data from the Federal Communications Commission, 55 million Americans still lack broadband access at home. Many of those people are members of low-income communities, people of color, elderly, disabled, or people living in rural communities. It is untenable that nearly 20% of America’s citizenry lags behind their digitally connected counterparts, all because they can’t get online like everyone else. But that is the reality we face as nation, a situation that free data options – regardless of their genesis – may be able to solve.

FCC Making Considered Review of Free Data Plans on a Case By Case Basis

There is no one-size-fits-all offering for free data programs.  Thus far, the FCC has been wise in sticking to a consumer friendly “watch and see approach” to free data plans, which a variety of companies – ranging from large, Fortune 100 entities, to small start-ups trying to establish a new niche – currently use. Two of the biggest barriers to broadband (high-speed Internet) adoption are cost and relevance/awareness. Consequently, free data offerings give people the opportunity to experiment with new products and services and familiarize themselves with new platforms without incurring the cost of such use.

In cases where companies are testing how free data offerings jibe with their business objectives, we, as consumers, get to witness a win-win situation.  Those most in need of digital connectivity are able to access and use new internet products and services free of charge, and the companies sponsoring that use can potentially expand their customer pool.

To learn more about the benefits of Free Data options, visit: http://www.mobilelikeme.com/issues/#free_data

Mobile Broadband Adoption Exploding Globally

More than 226 million people in Africa have smartphone connections, and more than half a billion are mobile cell phone subscribers, a figure that’s expected to grow to 725 million by 2020. At the same time, 92% of China’s mainland population is expected to have mobile broadband at 4G speeds by 2018. With figures like these, it would be an understatement to say that mobile broadband adoption around the world is on the rise. But the recent trends in cell phone and smartphone ownership are just the tip of the iceberg.

As mobile and smart devices become cheaper, and more people get to experience the array of life-enhancing applications the Internet enables, mobile growth will only continue to skyrocket. A recent report by the Pew Research Center finds that smartphone ownership is surging in emerging economies, but that advanced economies still have higher rates of technology use. Here in the U.S., people use cell phones and smartphones at a rate higher than almost anywhere in the world, surpassed only by Australia, with Canada and the U.K. as close seconds.

While the digital divide remains a real stumbling block for people on the wrong side of the technology access equation, mobile adoption is helping to reduce digital disparities. By providing portable, affordable Internet access, especially for members of rural or low-income communities, mobile accessibility enables access to beneficial, and at times, life saving platforms and technologies. Even where home broadband adoption has plateaued, mobile broadband use over a smartphone or cell phone is allowing people to get and stay connected to the technologies we’ve become some dependent on for daily interactions.

Considering the profound importance of Internet access these days, maintaining affordable options of mobile connectivity is key to reducing the digital divide. Increased mobility is also essential for ensuring that people around the world can access the opportunities made possible by the Internet.

Pokémon Go Makes the Case for Free Data

Get up, get out your seat, get outside and get your very on Chizardon! Making a new case for free data, Pokémon Go has taken the nation by storm, and as kids and adults alike rush outside to play the game that not only encourages outdoor activity, but also led to the resurgence of one of Ninetendo’s most popular brands, one thing is clear: Pokémon Go requires a lot of data.

According to a letter written by Congressional Democrats from the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, as the biggest mobile game in U.S. history – with 7.5 million downloads in its first week out – users typically use “between 10 and 20 megabytes of data per hour of play.” On average, people are users spend 43 minutes a day on Pokémon Go. Further, “a serious user playing for three or more hours a day could use two gigabytes of data per month.”

To account for increasing consumer demand, and mindful of the high data use associated with the app that encourages people to leave traditional wifi-zones in their homes to go out an explore their broader environment, some companies are coming up with innovative offerings that help people stay within their data limits. On T-Mobile Tuesdays (which started July 19), the company gifted users with free, unlimited data for Pokémon Go. As long as new and existing customers download the T-Mobile Tuesday app by August 9, they can receive free Pokémon Go data allotments through the end of August 2017. At the same time that T-Mobile is boosting free data for mobile gaming, Comcast and AT&T have both announced plans to raise mobile data caps to 1TB (i.e. a heck of a lot of data) by August 21.

With Pokémon Go setting dramatic new precedent for how we’ll likely use data in the future, we can expect companies to continue to come up with innovative offers and pricing mechanisms to help us better manage data usage and keep costs down.

Prepaid Cell Phone Use on the Rise

With budges getting tighter by the minute, people are often looking for more affordable ways to make ends meet, even as they try to stay connected in a digitally dominated world. That’s part of the reason why prepaid cell phones and no-contract phones are becoming a more attractive option, with some saying that a full “10% of American mobile customers have left traditional contracts and are going for cheaper plans.”

Companies like Virgin Mobile, FreedomPop, Cricket Wireless, Net10, Strait Talk, and GoPhone Lease Network are working with companies like Sprint, AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile to provide lower-cost options for folks who want the full functionality of cutting-edge technology, but have financial constraints or want to stay within a fixed budget. The emergence of Over-The-Top (OTT) technologies that allow people to access content online and through internet-connected devices is also making it easier for customers to enjoy greater products and pricing options.

As people make the move to prepaid devices, it’s important that consumers remain aware of options to protect their data, privacy, and security. A recent article in The Christian Science Monitor explained that “how we get online matters. When people cannot afford their own broadband connection, or a private computer loaded with security software, the have little control over what can be loaded onto their machine, or what data leaves without permission.” To counter some of the dangers inherent to purchasing less expensive, or lower quality technology, “Major carriers offer inexpensive Android devices with the latest operating system (Lollipop, at the time of writing) from hardware manufacturers with a good reputation for updating devices promptly. For less than $50 you can get a prepaid device, and avoid credit checks that would otherwise require you to surrender your social security number.”

The move toward prepaid devices marks an important market that allows people to stay connected in safe and affordable ways.