#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.

Mobile Like Me Asks FCC to Keep Data Free

This article originally appeared on Politic365.com

 

With the mantras, “FCC, Please Keep Our Data Free” and “Free Data is the Only Way For Me”, #MobileLikeMe campaign supporters gathered outside of the Federal Communications Commission last Thursday to implore the FCC to continue its support of free or “sponsored” data plans.

Free or ‘sponsored’ data plans are the innovative offerings by wireless companies that give consumers “free” content as part of their existing wireless data plans. With free data plans consumers are able to explore websites, download apps or stream movies and music without it counting against their data. Which means consumers can access the internet for health, education and career related browsing and apps without fear of running over their existing data plans.

With over 40,000 petition signatures in hand from fellow supporters, the group rallied to highlight the importance of these options to smartphone-dependent Americans whose main point of access to the Internet is via mobile technology. There is an estimated 10% of Americans who have smart phones, but cannot afford broadband at home, and so rely on their smartphones to be a part of our digital world.

#MobileLikeMe Executive Director Isaac Mance stated,

“Today, and every day, our focus is on creating the kind of environment where the promise of mobile tech can be realized by all people.  By continuing to support experimentation with free data plans, the FCC is keeping consumers first and taking active steps to close the digital divide.”

Since the Mobile Like Me campaign launch earlier this summer the group has been working to provide insights and education around the importance of free data and mobile technology as the answer to closing the digital divide. Spokesperson for the group, actor Hill Harper added,

“We all use or are touched by mobile technologies in some way in our daily lives. The policies that undergird this environment must be forward looking. We can’t constrain the technology of tomorrow with the rules of yesterday. The FCC’s decision, thus far, to keep free data free is a promising sign about how this space can develop.”

Even as the rally went on outside of the FCC, #MobileLikeMe engaged with online supporters as well – many tweeting and retweeting its message in support of free data and other issues around mobile technology that should be addressed if we are to truly close the digital divide and bring everyone online.

Earlier this year when the FCC passed the Net Neutrality Order, they decided not to ban free data offerings and instead decided to evaluate these new offerings on a case by case basis. #MobileLikeMe is will continue to implore the FCC to continue looking at ‘sponsored’ data in this way with an eye toward digital equity for all.

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.”

Facebook may bring zero-rated “Free Basics” app to smartphones in US

This article originally appeared on ARS Technica.com by JON BRODKIN

Facebook is considering whether to launch a mobile application in the United States that would provide free access to a selection of websites, according to a Washington Post report today.

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Facebook has been talking to White House officials about how to roll out the Free Basics program in the US without inviting regulatory scrutiny, the article said, attributing the information to anonymous sources. The Free Basics application provides access to a variety of websites—including Facebook and Facebook Messenger—without counting against customers’ data caps, so Facebook would also need cooperation from US mobile operators.

“The US version of Free Basics would target low-income and rural Americans who cannot afford reliable, high-speed Internet at home or on smartphones,” the Post reported.

Free Basics is already available through carriers in more than 40 countries, most of which are in Africa. In total, Facebook says it has connected more than 25 million people. The service includes a mix of general Web browsing and more crucial services like job listings and access to medical information.

Free Basics was available in India until that country banned it in its new neutrality rules. Facebook is moving slowly in the US, holding private discussions with government officials in the hopes of avoiding a repeat of the India experience, where the application was launched and then banned, according to the Post. India’s telecom regulator prohibited arrangements that charge different amounts for access to different parts of the Internet.

The service is controversial among net neutrality proponents who say ISPs should not be able to pick and choose which services count against data caps because that gives unfair advantages to websites that are zero-rated. The Federal Communications Commission’s neutrality rules do not prevent US carriers from offering data cap exemptions, and all four major nationwide carriershave begun zero rating certain content. Among those, AT&T and Verizon Wireless charge companies for the ability to bypass customers’ data caps.

The FCC has been examining zero-rating since last year to determine whether any specific implementations interfere with the ability of consumers to reach content or the ability of content providers to reach consumers, but the group shows no signs of cracking down on the offerings.

Facebook has reportedly been talking to small, regional carriers about offering Free Basics in the US.

“Facebook has not attempted to strike a deal with national wireless carriers such as T-Mobile or AT&T, said the people familiar with the matter, over concerns that regulators may perceive the move as anti-competitive,” the Post reported. “Instead, it has pursued relationships with lesser-known carriers.”

Facebook has tried to limit criticism of Free Basics by opening the platform to third-party developers so that anyone can get their website added to the application’s stable of zero-rated services. Free Basics is optimized to work on slow network connections and old phones, so developers must meet certain guidelines such as not using “VoIP, video, file transfer, or photos larger than 200KB.”

Facebook did not confirm or deny plans to bring Free Basics to the US when contacted by Ars today. “While we have nothing to announce, Facebook’s mission is to connect the world and we’re always exploring ways to do that, including in the United States,” a company spokesperson said.

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

How to Close the ‘Homework Gap’ in the Digital Divide That’s Holding Back Our Kids

This article originally appeared on The Root.

Rep. Eva Clayton

When Xerox CEO Ursula Burns steps down from her position later this year, it will mark the end of having an African-American woman leading a Fortune 500 company as its chief executive officer. Burns, in retelling the story of her rise to success, acknowledges that her mother “knew that education was [her] way up and out.”

Long before Burns graduated from Columbia University and worked her way up to become an executive at Xerox, she keenly understood quite intimately that access to knowledge was the stepping-stone of success.
 As technology is increasingly integrated into every level of education today, students without access to the internet at home find themselves at a huge disadvantage among their peers. This disparity is known as the “homework gap,” and students who come from minority, low-income or rural households disproportionately fall into it. What’s more, this same population is on the wrong side of the digital divide, which is more broadly defined as the gap between those who have access to the internet and those who do not.

African Americans and Hispanics are three times as likely as whites to be “smartphone-dependent” because they lack both high-speed internet access at home and hardly any other means of getting online beyond their mobile devices. These statistics hold true for Americans with household incomes of less than $30,000 per year. 
Closing the homework gap and digital divide is one of the major challenges of our time, since high-speed internet is the modern economic leveler that enables social mobility.

As providers seek to attract a younger and more diverse consumer base, there’s a new tool in the toolkit with “free data” programs that, in some ways, help address some of the pressing societal challenges facing underserved and unserved communities—both rural and urban.

The concept of free data is simple. Companies cover some of the cost of accessing content (i.e., websites and apps) on mobile devices, leaving consumers with more mobile data in their monthly data plans to use in other ways, including to complete homework, look up health information, explore job opportunities, stay connected with family or simply read the news.

It comes as no surprise that consumers are embracing free-data programs. And why wouldn’t they? Who could be against giving people more access to online content for free? 
The opponents of free data ignore the user rates and are focused on trying to influence the Federal Communications Commission to ban free-data programs, despite the overwhelming public support for them. While these groups continue to equate free-data programs with other unrelated tech issues and make erroneous claims about how they could affect mobile services, they continue to completely ignore the potential benefits that free data could have.

Closing the homework gap and digital divide is vital to addressing long-standing income-inequality issues in communities that continue to be left behind. Access to quality education has always been a fundamental building block of upward mobility, and for students who have limited options for getting online, a smartphone represents their “way up and out,” as Burns would put it; and free-data programs will open more doors to all the internet has to offer.

Regulators in Washington, D.C., can aid the policy discussion of socioeconomic equality and upward mobility by supporting programs such as free data, when applied fairly and equally. This will allow an exciting, new consumer mobile-internet development to grow and expand.

For millennials and Generation Z, the future starts now, and in order for our young people to reach their full potential, we need to ensure that more minority and low-income households have access to and utilize technology to advance.