Archive for digital expansion

Hardwiring Assumptions

If you haven’t watched the “HP computers are racist” video on YouTube yet, go ahead and do it now.

The video is funny, but it’s not an isolated incident. Maybe you saw this, too: “Racist Camera! No, I did not blink… I’m just Asian!

At People’s Production House, one of the things we talk about when teaching media literacy – and why we’re working to include lessons on hardware and infrastructure – is that telecommunications and digital media companies make assumptions about their customers when developing their technology. Our devices and networks are no more value neutral than any of our content.  The video and photo above are good lessons in what kinds of assumptions companies sometimes make and what the results can be.

For PPH, we’re looking specifically at the bundles of cell phone devices, software & applications, service, and plans (minute/texting/data packages). In that instance, the assumptions don’t determine minor features on your camera. They can shape how you communicate with your family and friends, even if sometimes it’s hard to see exactly how.

There’s another place we can look where this same phenomenon is also at play, even if it’s less apparent: search. If you base your search algorithm (or however it works) on existing links on the Internet, you are designing your search engine to work for the people who were early to the Internet. The same image comes to mind in this instance as for the HP webcam: a bunch of white guys in a lab saying, “It works for me.”

I remember women of color bloggers discussing the number of men who found their blogs through pornographic search queries and wound up leaving hateful comments. That should cause the same kind of “there’s something wrong here” moment that Wanda and Dezzie (sp?) had with the HP laptop and Joz had with her Nikon S630.

What’s really interesting is that the inclination is often to blame the technology. “Hewlet-Packard computers are racist” or “racist camera.” Yet I assume that in each of these instances, you could just as easily design the technology to bias in another direction – if you wanted to.

Ultimately, this explains why issues like handset exclusivity and other methods of unbundling are a civil rights issue. If you have to take the bundle as the company has made it and you can’t modify it, then you’re stuck with technology developed by a company for the company’s idea of who it wants its customers to be and what it wants them to do. If you have open standards, you can mix, match, and develop your own technology using the bits and pieces that work for you.

Certainly, not everyone has the necessary set of skills to do this, but at least the potential is there and the pool of people who can is much larger than in a walled garden or with closed, proprietary standards. Still, developers of open source technology are plenty capable of incorporating racist bias into the technology, too, so to get the best outcomes, we want more people to have these skills. True openness requires both transparency and participation.

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Want to read my writing? Check People’s Production House

In order to simplify my life and give the company that pays me the full value of my work and energy, I will now be posting to my blog on the People’s Production House website. RSS feed coming soon.

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People’s Production House at the National Conference for Media Reform

People’s Production House is participating in several workshops at the National Conference for Media Reform, taking place in Minneapolis this week.   Our workshops include Shaping the Internet the Fun and Easy Way, Media Reform and Social Change, and When Media Is the Second Issue: Connecting with Social Justice Organizations. Thanks to Free Press for all its work on this important gathering.

The highlight for me is the premier of our Digital Expansion workshop, Shaping the Internet the Fun and Easy Way,” which will be held Friday, June 6th, at 3:30pm in room 208 A.  Have you always wanted to take on the Internet policy wonks, the  geeks, the paid consultants, the corporate lobbyists, and the  politicians, but felt like you lacked the know-how? This highly  interactive workshop is for you. As part of this workshop, we’ll be sharing clips from our new youth-produced video, “Inside the Internet.” I’m helping with this workshop, along with Donald Anthonyson, Alexis Walker, Brian Garrido, and Abdulai Bah, who coordinates the Community News Production Institute.

Check the People’s Production House website for more details on where to find PPH staff and volunteers at NCMR.

On  Saturday, June 7th, at 9:30am in Auditorium Spin 2, PPH
Co-Director Deepa Fernandes will be part of a panel discussion, Media Reform and Social Change with Amalia Anderson, Mark Lloyd, and Medea Benjamin. They will be discussing how critical media reform is for other social change movements.

Later that afternoon, Abdulai will join PPH Co-Director Kat Aaron to delve deeper into this topic with When Media Is the Second Issue: Connecting with Social Justice Organizations. They are joining Nick Szuberla from Appalshop, Karlos Gauna Schmieder from the Center for Media Justice, and Alondra Espejel from the Minnesota Immigrant Freedom Network to discuss strategies for connecting media reform with immigrant rights and other grassroots campaigns for social justice. Come with your own ideas to share in smaller breakout groups. That’s on Saturday, June 7th, at 4:30pm in room 205 C D.

Deepa and Abdulai will also be presenting at the Media Justice Fund breakfast at 9 am on Friday, June 6th, along with the Center for Rural Strategies and the Center for Media Justice. We’ll be talking about the full spectrum of our work to incorporate media  policy into our education and organizing with students and immigrants  in New York, Washington DC, and the Gulf Coast.

Recently, People’s Production House and the Center for Rural Strategies have begun discussing a shared rural-urban Internet policy agenda. This is crucial as we head into 2009, where Republicans and Democrats will try to divide us along these lines as they launch discussion on the Universal Service Fund, the spectrum dividend from
the digital transition, and the need for open handsets and open attachment standards on cellular phone networks. If you are interested in joining us as we continue this discussion at the NCMR, please send me an email.

In addition to these presenters, PPH Operations Manager Jacqueline Kook and DEI Video Team members Darnell Lubin, Kristian Roberts, and Helki Frantzen will also be there. You’ll find us all at the above sessions and at many of the other great workshops, panels, and social events. Please send us your recommendations. We look forward to
seeing you soon!

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City Council members, PPH, and Common Cause call for delay in FCRC vote

As reported in Crain’s NY Business, consumer groups want franchise delay. After taking our concerns to the public hearing yesterday, we will join City Council members on the steps of City Hall today at 11:00am.

At the press conference, Councilmember Gale Brewer (chair of the Technology in Government Committee), Councilmember Tony Avella (chair of the Zoning and Franchise Committee), Susan Lerner from Common Cause/NY, Russ Haven from NYPIRG, Chuck Bell from Consumers Union, and I will call for a delay in the Franchise and Concession Review Committee vote on the proposed cable franchise for Verizon to permit greater public scrutiny.

A deal of this magnitude deserves more than a passing glance from the public and our elected officials. It will largely determine how we watch TV, make phone calls, and use the Internet in New York City for the next 20 years. The fine print tells you that this franchise is not designed to serve all New Yorkers equally. Verizon wants it rubber stamped before enough of us notice.

For my specific concerns with the deal, read my testimony here. The response from DoITT to these concerns were insufficient. For example, when Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer asked why the penalty for a missed appointment dropped from a month of free service to $25, the answer was that “competition” will ensure good customer service.

Even if that were true, the new, lesser consumer protections will soon be written into the new Time Warner and Cabelvision franchises and go into effect immediately citywide. Meanwhile, the “competition” from Verizon that is supposed to provide a new and improved protection will go into effect slowly and unevenly. Huge portions of the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens will have no competition and weaker protections for the next 4-9 years. That’s just bad policy.

For other criticism of the hearing schedule, see Bruce Kushnick, “Is New York City and Verizon trying to slip one by you?” and Broadbandreports.com, “Interested In Pretending You Have Influence On Verizon/NYC Deal?

Although this might be getting ahead of myself, this whole situation shows that we need procedural reforms in the franchising process:

  • The public notice of hearings needs to be more extensive.
  • The proposed franchise agreement needs to be made available for public review.
  • There needs to be more time for public review.
  • We need a Cable Franchise Oversight Committee with direct community participation.

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Public Hearing on proposed Verizon cable TV franchise tomorrow

The City and Verizon have negotiated a deal that will have a greater impact on our television watching and Internet usage than any other action the City or a company will take in the next 20 years – and you have been shut out of the discussion. The 6-billion-dollar deal (see my earlier post for background) to build a fiber optic network throughout the entire city was negotiated behind closed doors.

As part of the franchise approval process, the Franchise and Concession Review Committee (FCRC) is required to hold a public hearing. That meeting will be held tomorrow, Tuesday, May 20, from 3-6pm at the New York City College of Technology, 285 Jay Street.

As far as I can tell, this is the first place this information has been posted online. This is another instance of a supposedly “public” meeting falling in the city where no one can hear it. Just because you don’t lock the doors doesn’t make the meeting public.

Section 371 of the City Charter prescribes for the publication of notice for a public hearing on a proposed franchise agreement, but the requirements are weak: publish in the City Record and a daily newspaper – nothing about the DoITT website, even though that’s where the City proudly proclaimed that it had reached a deal with Verizon. I don’t expect that many people can make it to downtown Brooklyn at 3pm on a workday regardless of how much notice they have, but by not properly publicizing the hearing the FCRC has cast the legitimacy of the entire process into doubt.

The FCRC has also scheduled a special public meeting for 11am next Tuesday, May 27 at 22 Reade Street, presumably to rubber stamp the franchise.

Section 371 also requires that notice of the public hearing indicate the place where copies of the proposed agreement may be obtained by all those interested. I don’t know how the public can be expected to comment on a document they cannot review. (Leaking to the press doesn’t count.) Since the proper city agencies have not done so, I am posting the proposed franchise to the Web for download here:

I’ll have my own summary and analysis of the franchise in the near term, but there’s very little to be happy about unless you live in Staten Island or want to wait 10-16 years for choice in cable TV or faster Internet speeds. I will also try to record tomorrow’s hearing.

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McKibbin Street and Wireless Philadelphia – breaking news from the distant and not so distant past

It’s only 1:00am, but so far “Young Artists Find Private Space, Without Privacy” is outpacing “Citywide Wi-Fi could be shut down” by 3 to 2 in terms of how often the article has been emailed to me. Suffice it to say, there are no surprises in either one.

The Metro article tries to be coy about One Community’s attempt to deal with EarthLink and Wireless Philadelphia and that the sticking point is the money EarthLink owes as part of the Street Light Use Agreement (as I detailed on March 25). I’ll write more about this soon. Feel free to email me or comment below with specific questions.

One more thing about the Metro article: It’s not accurate to call Wireless Philadelphia “the nonprofit set up to help low-income residents connect to the system,” since it was actually set up to own the system, then it found a new purpose in managing the system, then it abandoned that to help low-income residents connect to the system. So that’s why it’s there now, but that’s not why it was set up. Erasing that history obscures the organization’s responsibilities.

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A Public Forum on The Future of Philadelphia’s Wireless Internet Initiative

Media Mobilizing Project has just announced that they are holding a public forum on June 3 on the future of Wireless Philadelphia. The announcement is below.

This couldn’t come at a better time. Everyone is hungry to chart a new course, including EarthLink, as I laid out earlier this week. And MMP, which has been offering media trainings to many community and labor organizations in Philadelphia, is the right group to convene this discussion. See the list of sponsors at the bottom.

I’m particularly heartened to see Wireless Philadelphia listed. It’s a sign that Greg Goldman understands the need for public re-engagement and that he cannot make that happen on his own.

I encourage everyone in Philadelphia to attend this event. I expect it will be closely watched by everyone in the field of municipal broadband

The Future of Philadelphia’s Wireless Internet Initiative: A Public Forum

When: Tuesday, June 3, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Tuttleman Learning Center, Room 105,
Corner of 13th St. and Montgomery Ave. Temple University

Get connected!  Learn about the latest issues surrounding Philadelphia’s wireless Internet initiative during a June 3 public forum.

The Media Mobilizing Project and Temple University’s School of Communications and Theater are co-hosting a public forum, which will be the beginning of an ongoing dialogue about the future of Philly WiFi and the city’s promise to provide affordable broadband access to all residents.

Under Earthlink’s management, Philadelphia’s wireless network has faced both technical and customer service challenges, weakening public engagement. Now is a vital time to reignite the discussion about the wireless network as Earthlink officials have announced their intention to sell or transfer the 135-square mile network. With new ownership on the horizon, a renewed opportunity exists for Philadelphia’s WiFi initiative to serve as a national model for community media. The promise of a city where everyone has the potential to be connected, opens new doors for economic, social and political participation.

The forum will host a diverse panel of speakers, while including an open space for participants to speak about the future of the wireless Internet initiative. It will be held in 105 Tuttleman Learning Center, Temple University, at 6:30 p.m.

The time is now. While so much opportunity exists with the WiFi network, it is essential for Philadelphians to have a space to share their ideas about making digital inclusion a reality across the city. By participating in this forum, local residents can help shape the future of the network and ensure that all Philadelphians, regardless of their income or education levels, have access to affordable, high-speed Internet.

The event is co-sponsored by: Wireless Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Student Union, Casino Free Philadelphia, Juntos, Philadelphia FIGHT/Critical Path Project, Geoclan,  Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania, The Philadelphia Unemployment Project, Prometheus Radio Project and Media and Democracy Coalition.

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