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Net neutrality could be killed under President Trump

(TECH NEWS) We rarely take a political position on anything here at AG, but we’ve long advocated for the policy supporting net neutrality, which could be in danger under Trump.

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With transition comes change

It’s common for presidential transitions to herald changes in perspectives and thus policies, especially when the president-elect hails from a different political party than his predecessor. U.S. History is replete with examples of shifts and changes in programs and policies, but certain principles have stood time’s tests for the republic.

There used to be clear actions of America’s power, ensuring the marginalized within our borders were protected, and that every person was the beneficiary of the powers of a nation that protected families by making certain that caveat emptor was no longer the de facto or the de jure law of the land. When Teddy Roosevelt came to office, for example, filled with a zeal for reform, he was swift to act, ensuring people could eat untainted meat, work in a safer environment for fewer hours, and that the corporations could no longer be controlled by monopolies of power.

America has previously passed needed laws and regulations to ensure that the rights of the many were not impeded by the powers of the few. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look as if net neutrality will belong to that legacy of protection.

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What is net neutrality and why should I care?

Here’s the question: Do you think that your internet service provider (ISP) should allow you to access legal content and applications on an equal basis, favoring none and allowing all sources without having to pay premiums to do so?

If you do, you support the concept of net neutrality — and you’re not alone. Content providers, including Netflix, Google, and Apple, along with millions of others who filed public comments with the Federal Communications Commission last year, support the concept of net neutrality.

Current rules prohibit ISP’s from charging content providers more for faster access to their customers or deliberately slowing the content of competitors.

Net neutrality keeps accessing content on the internet free from bias of who is providing it. Supporters focus on the fact that consumers pay for access to the things that they want to see. Consumers want to access all content at the speeds that they were promised when they bought their plan. The FCC’s adoption of the Open Internet Rule in 2015, protecting net neutrality, has — so far, anyway — made it past the legal challenges that have come its way.

So, who doesn’t agree with that? Typically, dozens of broadband companies, including giants such as Comcast, Cox, Verizon, and AT&T. Their position is that the net neutrality regulations are overly prescriptive and act as a deterrent to innovation and further investment.

And the new president and his FCC advisers agree with them.

Changes are afoot

Trump’s recent appointment of advisers Mark Jamison and Jeffrey Eisenach to the FCC transition team serve as a likely herald regarding the future of net neutrality, as well as the FCC itself.

To be fair, we saw this coming. While not commenting on many things tech during the course of his campaign, Trump did speak directly on net neutrality. “Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media,” he tweeted in 2014.

Interesting point, except that it reflects a lack of understanding as to what net neutrality is and how the policy works.

The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC policy that ended in 1987. At its core, it required FCC-licensed TV and radio stations to provide a portion of their programming to issues of controversy and public importance, ensuring opposing viewpoints were aired.

The Washington Post explained the Fairness Doctrine further, writing, “[t]his meant that programs on politics were required to include opposing opinions on the topic under discussion. Broadcasters had an active duty to determine the spectrum of views on a given issue and include those people best suited to representing those views in their programming.”

There’s no missing nuance of Trump’s tweet. His point was that net neutrality rules would somehow censor conservative media. Since the regulations don’t address the specifics of content, and, in fact call for all content to be treated equally, the message is somewhat clear: I don’t get it, but the ISP’s beat content providers.

So, who’s advising the President?

It’s clear that Trump has taken the position that net neutrality isn’t long for the keeping, and the role of the FCC is possibly subject to change as well.

Jamison and Eisenach have both been connected with the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI). AEI focuses on limiting government intervention in business, and providing businesses the ability to operate without what some would call government interference, and others would call government oversight.

While testifying in front of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee in 2014, Eisenach took the position that the broadband market, which is another way of identifying ISPs, is “[not] a cause for concern,” as the market was neither a monopoly nor “cozy duopoly”. It’s not as if history has been vacant of examples of competing businesses within the same field, in which a monopoly did not exist, engaging in collusion to ensure satisfactory business conditions for them all.

While conceding that ISPs have power in the market, and that power “can create the incentive for firms to deny access to their platforms”, he posited that there was no reason for the FCC to inject itself in regulatory affairs because these conditions weren’t unique to the broadband ISP field. Therefore, continuing his logic trail to its end, since the FCC doesn’t need to be involved in regulatory affairs over broadband ISPs, there must not be an existing problem.

Thus, “net neutrality regulation cannot be justified on grounds of enhancing consumer welfare or protecting the public interest”.

Jamison’s approach to the issue is similar. Writing for AEI, he took the stance that FCC’s regulations regarding net neutrality were necessary only if a monopoly of broadband providers existed. Predictably, he doesn’t believe that there is. “If the U.S. is to continue to be a place where consumers, entrepreneurs, and other enterprises can develop the next generation of information technologies, the country must move beyond net neutrality controversies,” he wrote. “This means letting the industry make business decisions and regulating only when monopolies take over.”

Even in “instances where there are monopolies,” Jamison continued, “it would seem overkill to have an entire federal agency dedicated to ex ante regulation of their services.” Let’s let that sink in for just a moment before continuing, shall we?

His solution? Almost everything that the FCC does can be handled by the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Health and Human Services.

But of course. We wouldn’t want an entire federal commission only dedicated to the regulation of public communications in the 21st century. I’m certain those other agencies aren’t too busy with what’s currently in front of them. Surely they can shoehorn in these other responsibilities, as well as get up to speed on the issues facing the FCC in an expedient and efficient fashion.

Jeff Sessions, a United States Senator from Alabama and the presumptive nominee for U.S. Attorney General, is also on record as opposing net neutrality regulations, thus likely securing the perspective for the Trump administration on the near future of Internet regulation. Given the public statements of the two men assisting Trump in the FCC transition team, it is also likely that the FCC may be phased out or leashed to the point in which there are no real regulations on how the companies that control the means of our nation’s communications do so.

We’re not neutral about net neutrality

We at The American Genius believe that reasonable people can certainly disagree on how the country is best run. What we don’t stand for is turning a blind eye to dangers in front of us. Jefferson had it right: some truths are simply self-evident. And those truths are worth defending, loudly and vigorously.

A monopoly of public utilities has rarely proven to be a winning strategy for innovation in the long run, and an unregulated monopoly grows staler still.

Without anyone in a dedicated federal agency to look out after our best interests when it comes to the volume and exchange of ideas and content on the Internet, it will fall to each of us to ensure that our ISP of choice understands what we choose to do with our dollars should they decide to throttle content. It behooves us to ensure that our US Representatives and Senators understand what we will choose to do with our support as well.

#NetNeutrality

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Tech News

Australia wants Facebook and Google to pay media royalties

Australia seeks to require Facebook and Google to pay royalties to media companies for use of news content on their platforms.

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Australia is in the process of requiring tech giants, Facebook and Alphabet, to pay royalties to Australian media companies for using their content. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced the move the day after the US Congressional antitrust hearing that put the CEOs of Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon, and Apple back in the regulatory spotlight.

In addition to the pressure from the United States investigation into market control by these companies, global leaders are calling for similar regulations. Though none have been successful, media companies in Germany, France, and Spain have pushed for legislation to force Google to pay licensing fees to use their news content. Some companies have been pushing for this for years and yet, the tech giants keep dragging out their changes, even admitting their actions are wrong.

In 2019, the Australian government instructed Facebook and Google to negotiate voluntary deals with Australian media to use their content. The Australian government says the companies failed to follow through on the directive, and therefore will be forced to intervene. They have 45 days to reach an agreement in arbitration, after which the Australian Communications and Media Authority will create legally binding terms for the companies on behalf of the Australian government.

Google claims the web traffic that it drives to media websites should be compensation enough for the content. A Google representative in Australia asserts that the government regulations would constitute interference into market competition – which would be the point, Google!

According to a 2019 study, an estimated 3,000 journalism jobs have been lost in the last decade. The previous generation of media companies has paid substantial advertising fees to Google and Facebook while receiving nothing in return for the use of its news content. Frydenberg asserts the regulatory measures are necessary to protect consumers and ensure a “sustainable media landscape” in the country.

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Tech News

Onboarding for customers and employees made easy

(TECH NEWS) Cohere enables live, virtual onboarding at bargain prices to help you better support and guide your users.

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Web development and site design may be straightforward, but that doesn’t mean your customers won’t get turned around when reviewing your products. Onboarding visitors is the simplest solution, but is it the easiest?

According to Cohere–a live, remote onboarding tool–the answer is a resounding yes.

Cohere claims to be able to integrate with your website using “just 2 lines of code”; after completing this integration, you can communicate with, guide, and show your product to any site visitor upon request. You’ll also be able to see what customers are doing in real time rather than relying on metrics, making it easy to catch and convert customers who are on the fence, due to uncertainty or confusion.

There isn’t a screen-share option in Cohere’s package, but what they do include is a “multiplayer” option in which your cursor will appear on a customer’s screen, thus enabling you to guide them to the correct options; you can also scroll and type for your customer, all the while talking them through the process as needed. It’s the kind of onboarding that, in a normal world, would have to take place face-to-face–completely tailored for virtual so you don’t have to.

You can even use Cohere to stage an actual demo for customers, which accomplishes two things: the ability to pare down your own demo page in favor of live options, and minimizing confusion (and, by extension, faster sales) on the behalf of the customer. It’s a win-win situation that streamlines your website efficiency while potentially increasing your sales.

Naturally, the applications for Cohere are endless. Using this tool for eCommerce or tech support is an obvious choice, but as virtual job interviews and onboarding become more and more prevalent, one could anticipate Cohere becoming the industry example for remote inservice and walkthroughs.

Hands-on help beats written instructions any day, so if companies are able to allocate the HR resources to moderate common Cohere usage, it could be a huge win for those businesses.

For those two lines of code (and a bit more), you’ll pay anywhere from $39 to $129 for the listed packages. Custom pricing is available for larger businesses, so you may have some wiggle room if you’re willing to take a shot at implementing Cohere business-wide.

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Tech News

Smart clothing could be used to track COVID-19

(TECH NEWS) In order to track and limit the spread of COVID-19 smart clothing may be the solution we need to flatten the curve–but at what cost?

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COVID tracking clothing

When most people hear the phrase “smart clothing”, they probably envision wearables like AR glasses or fitness trackers, but certainly not specially designed fabrics to indicate different variables about the people wearing them–including, potentially, whether or not someone has contracted COVID-19.

According to Politico, that’s exactly what clinical researchers are attempting to create.

The process started with Apple and Fitbit using their respective wearables to attempt to detect COVID-19 symptoms in wearers. This wouldn’t be the first time a tech company got involved with public health in this context; earlier this year, for example, Apple announced a new Watch feature that would call 911 if it detected an abnormal fall. The NBA also attempted to detect outbreaks in players by providing them with Oura Rings–another smart wearable.

While these attempts have yet to achieve widespread success, optimism toward smart clothing–especially things like undershirts–and its ability to report adequately someone’s symptoms, remains high.

The smart clothing industry has existed in the context of monitoring health for quite some time. The aforementioned tech giants have made no secret of integrating health- and wellness-centric features into their devices, and companies like Nanowear have even gone so far as to create undergarments that track things like the wearer’s heart rate.

It’s only fitting that these companies would transition to COVID assessment, containment, and prevention in the shadow of the pandemic, though they aren’t the only ones doing so. Indeed, innovators from all corners of the United States are set to participate in a “rapid testing solutions” competition–the end goal being a cheap, fast, easy-to-use wearable option to help flatten the curve. The “cheap” aspect is perhaps the most difficult; as Politico says, the majority of people have a general understanding of how to use wearable technology.

Perhaps more importantly, the potential for HIPPA violations via data access is high–and, during a period of time in which people are more suspicious of technology companies than ever, vis-a-vis data sharing, privacy could be a significant barrier to the creation, distribution, and use of otherwise crucial smart clothing.

There is no denying that the Coronavirus pandemic has accelerated, among other things, technological advancement in ways unseen by many of us alive today. Only time will tell if smart clothing–life-saving potential and all–becomes part of that trend.

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