Global Mobile

Wed, March 24: Tom Tauke on Governance and the Internet Ecosystem

As a part of our ongoing series of events on the power of connective technology and the role of the global network in our world, NDN and the New Policy Institute are proud to host Tom Tauke, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, Policy and Communications for Verizon. Tauke will deliver a major policy address on the future of the internet, which will be followed by a robust Q&A session.

Tom TaukeThe Internet has become the most important communications platform for America and around the globe. Media of all kinds – voice, video and data – can and are transmitted via the Internet. Increasingly the old policy framework that defined and in many ways enabled the communications and Internet technologies is eroding and becoming less relevant to today’s world. Policy adjustments and “fixes” have been adopted over time, but they are increasingly outmoded.

Tom Tauke has long been involved with communications policy, first as a Member of Congress and now as Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, Policy and Communications for Verizon. In his remarks and the ensuing discussion, he will lay out what he sees as a new policy framework for the Internet Ecosystem and why it is important to do the hard work of getting it adopted.

The event will be held at our offices on Wednesday, March 24, at 10 a.m. We hope you'll be able to join us-- either here at our offices or via live webcast-- for this speech. Please RSVP, as we expect this event to fill up quickly!

Conservatives Level the Playing Field in Political Technology

NDN and the affiliated New Politics Institute, have a long history of talking, thinking, and writing about the role of technology in politics. Indeed, that's how we got into this Global Mobile space way back in naught-six.  And all the "New Tools" papers NDN & NPI published back in the day are actually still an incredibly valuable resource for a campaign worker trying to figure out how to guide their candidate through a jungle of new technology: mobile, cable, blogs, search, social networking...

One of the assumed truths about technology in politics was that it inherently favored Democrats. Many early bloggers had a progressive bent, Silicon Valley has always been a lefty hotbed, and disruptive new technologies generaly seem to favor the party that is looking forward to a better future, rather than back at a better past.  Whatever the reason for the Dems' early advantage, it's quickly disappearing. As I've said before, all these tools are just that-- tools-- and they don't tend to take sides in any fight. 

Last week, the Dallas Morning News ran "Gov. Rick Perry's campaign is more text than talk." Perry, the incumbent in the Texas gubernatorial race, is skipping the yard signs, the phone banks, and pimply teenagers knocking on your door in favor of Twitter, e-mail, and pimply teenagers sending you Facebook messages. With more Millennials coming into the electorate and a growing number of Hispanics in the Texas population who are better reached via mobile web than landlines or door-knocking-- it only makes sense to run a tech-savvy campaign, and it was only a matter of time before the Republicans began to figure it out.

In the U.K., similar things are happening.  David Cameron's insurgent Conservatives are reaching voters via Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and other web apps, and, as our friend James Crabtree wrote in the FT last week, they're mastering search, e-mail, and databases-- all perhaps even more powerful than the aforementioned social networking tools. At an NDN/NPI/Global Mobile event a few weeks back, Crabtree explained how the Conservatives' very progressive-- even radical-- open government and open data proposals are leading the way and forcing Labour to keep up. And if you've got access to Wired UK, Crabtree has a 6,000 word bohoemoth that looks deep into the Conservatives' digital strategy.

All this is just to say-- the playing field is now flat.

Broadband and American Jobs

With the FCC preparing to issue new rules and policies to promote universal broadband access, Washington’s hive of think tanks and foundations (and lobbying shops that masquerade as one or the other) have issued a flurry of new studies on broadband’s impact on American jobs. It’s a marriage of two genuinely vital matters: Ensuring that every American has access to the wired world that increasingly permeates most people’s economic and social opportunities; and finding ways to restart job creation across the economy. Perhaps most important for the FCC’s deliberations, the new studies point to the different jobs impact of the network’s two principal parts, the companies that build the broadband infrastructure and those that provide its content.

In the most rigorous new study, Robert Crandall of the Brookings Institution and Hal Singer, a consultant, calculate the new jobs that arise directly from the tens of billions of dollars in new investments undertaken by broadband providers, laying cable, fiber and DSL lines, putting in place new connections, and building out wireless and satellite-based broadband networks. From 2003 to 2009, these direct investments created some 434,000 jobs; and over the next five years, the same process should produce more than 500,000 more jobs. And as we will see, these effects dwarf the job gains linked to the companies providing the content.

But the power of a market-based economy lies in the ways that a basic infrastructure such as broadband stimulates additional economic activity, much as highways and railroads once did. Building out these networks creates a platform for the development of thousands of new applications, and the combination creates new demand for the computers, software and other IT equipment needed to use the network and its applications.

Consider the iPhone cited in another new study from the Democratic Leadership Council. Without the broadband network, the iPhone would be just another cell phone. With it, Apple sold 43 million units in three years, its’ users downloaded 1 billion applications, and other mobile device makers scrambled to develop competing devices. And the people newly employed to produce these computers, software and other equipment earn wages and salaries, which enable them to buy more goods and services that yet more workers have to produce. Altogether, economists figure that these dynamics created another 430,000 jobs per-year from 2003 to 2009.

But there’s a big catch. As millions learned when the New Economy bubble burst in 2001, new technologies create enduring wealth and jobs only if they enable us to either do something entirely new or do more efficiently something we already do. Otherwise, the technology mainly moves around demand and the jobs linked to it: When we get our news from the Internet, it creates jobs on those sites while costing jobs at newspapers and magazines. This tradeoff happens especially when the economy is growing smartly and different companies and sectors have to compete for investment capital. So, we have to recognize that the cheering investment and job numbers for broadband don’t usually take account of the jobs that weren’t created when investment in other areas slowed — and that’s why economics is called the dismal science.

This caveat, however, also points to broadband’s real potential to create new efficiencies and new economic value — and the jobs that go with those gains. First, there are “spillovers” to other parts of the economy. So, as the use of broadband and its applications expand, other sectors from hotels and manufacturing to retail trade and educational services have to keep pace; and that requires that they increase their own investments in computers, software and so on. Those investments create new jobs not only to produce those technologies, but also to operate them once in place. One recent study estimated that for every one-percentage point increase in broadband penetration, several hundred thousand more new jobs are produced — and broadband access has been rising by several percentage-points per-year.

Combinations of broadband and advanced applications also can generate entirely new savings which allow people to spend more on other things, and so create additional jobs not counted in all of those studies. We see this happening in telecommuting, which saves transportation and other energy costs, as well as in telemedicine, which can not only reduce transportation and energy costs but also make the practice of certain areas of medicine more efficient and more effective. And if telemedicine saves people’s lives or reduces how long they’re sick, the economy gains all of the productivity which otherwise would have been lost.

There is one more catch in all of this good news: These various gains are not distributed evenly across the economy or equally across the society. It’s not just a matter of much of the gains going to workers in industries that develop and sell the fiber, cable, satellites, computers, cell phones, software, and so on. Beyond that, a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California found that communities with new access to broadband — and parts of communities — experienced average job growth 6.4 percent greater than before they had broadband. To begin, much of those gains will be captured by workers with sound IT-related skills. Furthermore, this suggests that communities without such expanded access — and parts of cities where most residents remain not wired — will lag behind even more than before.

And within the broadband universe, the direct job gains associated with higher investments are also concentrated. Dividing that universe into the broadband providers such as AT&T or Verizon and the content providers such as Google and eBay, studies and SEC data show that, first, broadband providers invest three-to-four times as much as the content providers. Moreover, studies also find that each dollar invested by broadband providers creates about twice as many jobs as each dollar invested by the content providers.

These studies suggest several takeaways for the FCC. First, the FCC’s goal is the right one: Universal access to broadband is critical to promoting more job opportunities and economic growth across the economy. Second, the central element for job creation here are the investments required to ensure universal access — not only now, but also as broadband technologies continue to advance. The FCC should promote these investments in every way it can. At a minimum, the Commission should be extremely cautious about policy changes which could weaken the incentives for those investments — i.e., reduce their returns — or raise the price for people to access broadband.

The Dazzling Future of mHealth

Dr. Eric Topol of Scripps Health and the West Wireless Health Institute spoke on the Hill last year, at an event co-hosted by CTIA and NDN.  His amazing presentation was a look into the future of wireless technology in healthcare. He showed off devices and applications-- not so far removed from the iPhone apps of today-- that will be able to track vital signs, monitor chronic diseases, and collect data about our bodies: about sleep, about pregnancy, about disease, and about just about everything else.

Dr. Topol gave a talk at TEDHealth last fall, and the video gives a good picture of the (amazing) near-future in mobile Healthcare.  Enjoy:

Political Unrest and New Media in Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand - Today is a day of deep political tension here in Thailand. A ruling by the Thai Supreme Court, expected in just a few minutes, will determine the fate of more than $2 billion of Ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's assets. Thaksin, a former telecommunications tycoon who was popular with many here for his populist policies, was removed from power by a military coup in 2006. He has been accused of corruption and abuse of power, specifically of negotiating business deals favorable to himself and his family while in power. Today's ruling will determine whether $2.3 billion of his family's assets will be seized. Today's ruling is expected to fuel political tensions here.

Since 2006, Thaksin has been living in exile in Dubai. However, he has remained active, and "frequently addresses mass rallies of supporters via video link, statements on pro-red shirt websites, blogs and via Twitter," according to Al Jazeera. Thaksin has over 65,000 followers on Twitter, and frequently uses Twitter to communicate directly with his followers, the red shirts.

In a country where broadband penetration is not especially high, particularly outside of major cities like Bangkok, Phuket, and Chiang Mai (where I'm writing from now), Twitter has begun to figure especially prominently. For while computers and internet cafes are far from ubiquitous, internet-capable mobile phones are everywhere (see this picture I snapped of a monk shopping for a phone). During my travels here, I have been many places without wi-fi, but I've always been able to connect using my (jailbroken and unlocked) iPhone. Everywhere I've been, from near-deserted tropical islands to endless rice paddies in the center of the country, I've had wireless data service (for which I pay just $3 a month). Many of Thaksin's supporters are in the rural North-East of Thailand, so mobile-friendly media are particularly important to their political communication and organization.

I'll be writing more as the situation here develops - Thaksin's supporters are planning rallies country-wide in March, largely organized using new media. Given all the red shirts I'm seeing here today, it should be an interesting few weeks.


Social Networking Against Violence in Ciudad Juárez

Ciudad Juárez, just across the border from El Paso, may be the most violent city in the world; the spectacular murder rate and the uncounted headless bodies are attributable primarily to the drug trade that plagues the entire border region. Back in October, a State Department Tech Delegation to Mexico City kicked off a collaborative effort to allow citizens of the border region to offer the police anonymous tips via free text message whenever they witness violence.

But that's not all that's going on in Juárez to combat the pandemic of grusome violence. A bottom-up movement organized by one librarian has been holding protests, vigils, and speaking out against the violence in their city. Daniel Cruz Batista was fed up with all the violence in Juárez, so he started a Facebook group called “Ya Basta de Violencia en Juárez!!” (Enough With the Violence in Juárez).  He gained 6,000 followers within a week, and now has more than 9,000. Another Facebook group, “Jóvenes Por Juárez” (Young People For Juárez), has 4,000 members, and has similarly acted as a forum for citizens to connect, share information, and organize.

In an essay I highlighted a few days ago, Ethan Zuckerman offers three theories of how internet access can change closed societies. Two of those theories can, I think, be applied to a place like Mexico's border region, where the problem isn't government oppression, it's that average people are powerless in the face of violent crime syndicates. The first, which Zuckerman calls the "Twitter Revolution Theory" is the idea that if people have web access, they'll be able to use that connectivity to communicate and organize with like-minded people. The second, the "Public Sphere Theory," holds that the web provides people a place to think, speak, and express themselves freely, and to create a "parallel public sphere" to empower social actors.

The problem in Juárez is, on its face, a problem of law enforcement's inability to stand up to a powerful criminal element. But it runs deeper to a weak local government, and, at its root, a civil society that lacks the power, cohesion, or capability to stop the violence.  While social networking tools like Facebook are clearly not the whole solution to this kind of a problem, they are a crucial step, through the mechanisms described by the above theories. Via two Facebook groups, begun by average citizens, the rational, peaceful, law-abiding majority is able to communicate and organize, and then, ultimately, build a civil society that is strong enough and cohesive enough to stand up for security, stability, and justice in Juárez.

Violence can be a force as oppressive as authoritarianism, violating rights to life, liberty, and security of person. Fortunately, tools of connectivity have the potential to be as powerful in standing up to drug lords as they can be in standing up to dictators.

VIDEO: Open Government in the U.S. and U.K.

We hope EVERYONE was able to tune in on Friday for our event on open government with Andrew McLaughlin and James Crabtree, but we realize some of you may have had lunch dates that, at the time, seemed more important.  Not to worry!  We've got the whole show recorded and prepared for your viewing (below).  Also, in the block at right, you can check out a version of the video edited down to just McLaughlin's talk on the Obama Administration's Open Government Initiative.

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Andrew McLaughlin on the Open Government Initiative

See video

Andrew McLaughlin, Deputy Chief Technology Officer at the White House, speaks on the Open Government Initiative of the Obama Administration.

Vodafone Unveils the $15 Phone

At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Vodafone unveiled the world's lowest-cost mobile phone-- a handset that costs less than $15.  The Vodafone 150 will be capable of voice and SMS services, with five hours of talk-time, and room for 100 contacts. More importantly, by virtue of its SMS service, it supports the mobile payment systems that are spreading around developing world, as well as the many mHealth initiatives that are taking root across Africa and elsewhere.

It will launch in India, Turkey, Eastern Europe and a bevy of African countries. But don't take my word for it, here's Vodafone's charming Patrick Chomet:

As mobile ownership climbs toward five billion this year, the pool of potential new subscribers will continue to shrink, and it will become increasingly important-- for purely business reasons-- for mobile companies to market to low-income people around the world.  Hats off to Vodafone for living, as always, on the bleeding edge of mobile development.

The Practical Quesitons of Internet Freedom

Well, I just wrote a long blog post and then accidentally deleted it. But it's probably just as well, since it was basically a less-good summary of Ethan Zuckerman's recent essay about the merits and limitations of circumvention technologies-- tools that allow people in repressive states like China and Iran to get around their censors by using a remote server to mask their identity-- and, more broadly, about how we will actually go about the business of promoting internet freedom around the world.

Point is, go read the post.  But I will quote here a couple of my favorite passages. Here, he lays out the case for internet freedom in deeply convinving language:

I think much work on internet censorship isn’t motivated by a theory of change – it’s motivated by a deeply-held conviction (one I share) that the ability to share information is a basic human right. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” The internet is the most efficient system we’ve ever built to allow people to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, and therefore we need to ensure everyone has unfettered internet access. The problem with the Article 19 approach to censorship circumvention is that it doesn’t help us prioritize. It simply makes it imperative that we solve what may be an unsolvable problem.

And then, at the end, Zuckerman offers a few ideas that begin to answer the question of how we can actually support internet freedom. These three struck me as particularly right, and you may hear me riffing on these themes in coming weeks:

- We need to shift our thinking from helping users in closed societies access blocked content to helping publishers reach all audiences. In doing so, we may gain those publishers as a valuable new set of allies as well as opening a new class of technical solutions.

- If our goal is to allow people in closed societies to access an online public sphere, or to use online tools to organize protests, we need to bring the administrators of these tools into the dialog. Secretary Clinton suggests that we make free speech part of the American brand identity – let’s find ways to challenge companies to build blocking resistance into their platforms and to consider internet freedom to be a central part of their business mission. We need to address the fact that making their platforms unblockable has a cost for content hosts and that their business models currently don’t reward them for providing service to these users.

- The US government should treat internet filtering – and more aggressive hacking and DDoS attacks – as a barrier to trade. The US should strongly pressure governments in open societies like Australia and France to resist the temptation to restrict internet access, as their behavior helps China and Iran make the case that their censorship is in line with international norms. And we need to fix US treasury regulations make it difficult and legally ambiguous for companies like Microsoft and projects like SourceForge to operate in closed societies. If we believe in Internet Freedom, a first step needs to be rethinking these policies so they don’t hurt ordinary internet users.

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