Tag Archives: Comcast

Microsoft Invests in STEM for Young Black Girls

Kimberly Bryant

Microsoft, the world’s biggest maker of computer software, announced a partnership with Black Girls Code and the Technology Access Foundation to bring STEM education to students of color. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella announced the $500,000 partnership.  (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and math.)

Black Girls Code provides programming and technology education to young and pre-teen girls of color. The curriculum is provided through clubs  and taught by women engineers of color. BGC can be found in 13 cities across the U.S. and, with the funding from Microsoft, will launch their 14th chapter in Seattle.

Founder of Black Girls Code, Kimberly Bryant, explains her mission;  “By launching Black Girls Code, I hope to provide young and pre-teen girls of color opportunities to learn in-demand skills in technology and computer programming at a time when they are naturally thinking about what they want to be when they grow up.”

Trish Millines Dziko

  Technology Access Foundation provides STEMbyTAF. Former Microsoft executive Trish Millines Dziko founded STEMbyTAF in 1997. The program is an out-of-school program that teaches technology skills, provides internships and college prep to students of color in the Seattle area.

Since its launch TAF has opened its own school and become a model for creating learning environments that erase racial disparity in academic achievement. STEMbyTAF is focused on duplicating their successful formula in other schools. TAF has partnerships with Amazon, Comcast, Expedia, Google and Boeing.

Black Girls Code also has partnerships with several of Silicon Valley’s top technology companies including Google, Oracle, Adobe, Verizon and AT&T.

 

The War for Net Neutrality! Breaking It Down

The FCC voted along party lines to end the Obama administration’s rules on net neutrality. This war for a free and open Internet has been going on for some time. This is just the latest battle.  This decision is by no means the end of it. But what is happening and what does it mean for Black Internet users?

 

 

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the idea that all data carried over the Internet is treated the same. That means that whether you’re streaming Netflix, shopping online, playing games or just reading the news, all the data is the same. Same speed and same price. For users of the Internet that meant that you could access any website and use as much data as you wanted. Before the change Internet service providers or ISPs like Comcast or Verizon could not deliberately speed up or slow down Internet traffic from specific websites or apps. But they did. The practice was known as throttling. The net neutrality rules, put in place by the Obama administration in 2015, were intended to keep the Internet open and fair. If you really want to understand how this works imagine sitting in traffic while those willing to pay whiz by you in the express lane. That is the basic idea behind the new rules of the Internet. 

How does that affect Black people?

People using the Internet, schools, small businesses and others are now subject to a potential new way of using the Internet and paying for it. You could be charged for high-speed streaming like Netflix. You could also be charged more for using data from some websites or apps over others. The rules used to say that ISPs could not favor one website over another for its content, the aptly named fast lane/slow lane Internet. Those rules just went out the window. Expect more throttling and slower web speeds and loading. Businesses with numerous computers and heavy data consumption could end up paying more. Start up businesses, especially minority owned, could be stifled by high data costs. According to MIT the repeal of net neutrality could be harmful to innovation. The exact opposite of what FCC chairman Ajit Pai claims.

Where this hurts black people, other minorities and the poor, is that just getting Internet could be costly. Already we are dealing with a lack of high speed Internet in poor and minority schools. As matter of fact the United States is already behind in both wireless and fixed wire Internet speeds.

Poor and minority children are already dealing with poor public education. That situation could be further eroded further by a lack of adequate access to the Internet. Classroom instruction will suffer as they fall further behind more affluent school districts. The digital divide is going to grow along with an under-educated under-class that is the source of poverty.

In some cities high speed Internet is nearly non-existent. Detroit for example is one of the worst cities in the country for high speed Internet especially for poor people. Repealing net neutrality is not going to help this situation.

Black people are avid users of mobile technology. The use of mobile devices could become more expensive. Shopping online, banking and other online activities could be slowed down or throttled. Another area of concern for black people is social and political activism.  A free and open Internet meant that no matter who you are you could get your message to the masses. These new rules could make it expensive for, or even censor, groups like #Black Lives Matter. Many believe that the Internet is key to free speech and the right of the public to know. 

Who is benefitting from this rule change?

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

Most people would agree that the telecom companies are benefitting the most from this rule change. FCC Chairman Pai, an Obama appointment and promoted to chairman by Trump, has claimed that the new rules will not affect a free and open and Internet. Pai has been a critic of the net neutrality rules and believes that the rules of the Obama administration allowed the government to “micro-manage the Internet.”

The telecom industry approves of Pai’s plan. Pai argued that earlier regulation was a drag on broadband investment and innovation. In a blog post, Comcast downplayed concerns, saying customers “will continue to enjoy all of the benefits of an open Internet today, tomorrow, and in the future. Period.” Yet at the same time it appears that Comcast is already planning to charge you for more Internet speed.

According to the Los Angeles Times  several companies have also been preparing for this moment for some time and the profits of priority handling of Internet content. These companies will not say what they consider a free and open Internet is nor will they promise to treat all data the same. Basically they are keeping quiet.

Telecommunications companies like AT&T, Charter Communications and Comcast have run full page ads in the Washington Post claiming to preserve an “open Internet.” These practices supposedly include “no blocking of legal content,” “not throttling” data speeds and “no unfair discrimination.” They never said you wouldn’t have to pay for it. 

Another winner of the repeal are the big content providers. Netflix, Google and other large content providers also have the money and the leverage of millions of subscribers to negotiate deals with ISPs. This would allow them access to the Internet fast lanes and potentially get a competitive advantage. Any deal that Netflix, Google or YouTube cuts with the ISPs could mean a price increase for the consumer. You lose.

Supporters of net neutrality believe that consumers could be charged extra to stream certain content if they don’t want to be hampered by network congestion or throttling. Others are warning that consumer choices of Internet service providers could shrink and prices of broadband service could increase due to lack of competition.

What is actually happening is that the FCC, under the Trump administration, has declared that information is free. Access to it is not. The Internet, until now, was regulated as a utility. This brings that to an end. Now the Internet belongs to private industry and they are willing to make you pay for access because that is what they do. They couldn’t care less about your business needs, your child’s education or your need to know…period. They have the capability to keep the ignorant ignorant, the poor poor and the the competition from competing.. They can slow down information or cut it off completely if you don’t pay. Corporations have scored a victory but the war is far from over. 

Next: The Net Neutrality War is Not Over!

 

 

African-Americans and Internet Privacy

Black people don’t like the idea of putting their business “in the streets.” Its a cliche that means we keep our affairs to ourselves and unless it concerns you then stay out of it. But black people are Internet users and we need to be concerned about our privacy there as well.

Recently some changes have occurred that need to be addressed if you go online. The Federal Communication Commission and President Trump have rolled back Obama administration rules that kept your Internet service provider from tracking your online activity and selling it to whoever wants to buy it. Basically its now legal to put your business in the streets of the cyber world.

You need to understand that its not just your business but the online activity of anyone in your home that uses your Internet connection. That includes your children. Why are they doing this?  Its all about targeting advertisements at you.

For marketers knowing what’s happening with you and in your home helps them to sell you to something. But it goes deeper than that. They can sell this information to the police or anyone willing to pay for your digital profile. Whats in your digital profile? Try financial data such as your online banking, shopping and credit data, personal health information, your browsing history such as what websites you visit including social media and porn, app usage, and your location. If you have children in the house what are they doing online? The cable company knows who their friends are and where they are, what school they go to and a lot more about what they do online.

But let’s take it deeper. You probably have cable television, phone service and even cellphone service from the cable company. If you have Comcast that additional service is coming this year.  AT&T is also offering this bundled service.   So what does that mean for your privacy? It means these companies know everything you are doing. What television shows you watch and record on your DVR and who you call on your home phone and/or cellphone.

Let’s get even deeper. Do you have a home security system provided by the cable company? How about a smart thermostat on your wall? Now the cable company knows when you come and go and can even see into your home if you have security cameras. The cable company, because it provides your internet connection, knows how cool or warm you like your home and its all for sale. Thats your busness in the street.

What can you do about it? Now is the time to learn about VPN’s. A VPN is a service that creates a private connection over the public Internet between you and the website you visit. Its called tunneling. The VPN service can scramble or encrypt you information so that not even your ISP can see it. Basically a VPN hides who you are, where you are and what you’re doing online.

VPN’s are relatively easy to install and use but there a few things you need to understand. They are not perfect. For example you may experience a slow down in your connection speed. VPNs don’t block ads or ad tracking. You need to block cookies and ads using your browser. To block ad trackers, try using a privacy-focused browser extensions like uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger. These will stop ad-trackers from following you around the Internet.

Most major browsers offer ad blocker extensions. You can find the best paid and free ad and pop up blockers at PC & Network Downloads.

But there is an easier step you can take to protect your privacy, simply switch web browsers. To make an immediate difference in your online privacy download and install the Opera web browser. This is currently the only available web browser that comes with a VPN. Opera also offers a mobile browser and a free standing VPN app along with other tools.

A few other things you need to know about VPNs. Finding one that is the “best” is a tough job. There are many available and not all are created equal. Some use outdated encryption technology and others keep logs of your traffic. This is where the work comes in. Why would you use a VPN service that keeps logs of your internet activity? Kind of defeats the whole purpose doesn’t it? You need to check their privacy policies before you purchase a VPN service. And by the way they are fairly cheap. About $50-$100 a year. Some sell lifetime subscriptions.

Right now the atmosphere in the Washington D.C is not conducive to protecting your privacy. And, to be honest, its damn near impossible. But you can keep some of your business off the streets some by  exercising a few measures and using a VPN is a good start.

Now you know.

 

Internet Service Providers Can Sell Your Data

 FBI Director James Comey said, “There is no longer absolute privacy in the United States.” In the age of information everything you say do, write or watch on television is recorded somewhere. And now Congress is letting your internet service provider sell your personal data including your internet activity.

On Friday, the Senate blocked the implementation Obama administration rules stopping internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon from selling customers internet browsing history and other data. The rule itself was scheduled to go into effect next year. It would have been a significant wall to ISP’s efforts to sell your personal data and combine that data with your other services to target advertising at you.

Many people fail to realize, or have become accustomed, to the level of tracking that is done by major corporations. For example Facebook tracks everything users do on their website and beyond, everything! And so do many other social media sites. This move lets ISP ‘s do the same.

But ISP’s have a bit of an advantage over sites like Facebook. For example many ISP’s offer bundled services. You can get television, internet, telephone and even cell phone service and home security in one package and one price.   This basically allows them to create a profile of not only what you watch on television, but who you call or calls you, your emails, your web searches, online activity and your mobile activity on your smartphone.

If you use Verizon your profile just expanded significantly. The Senate vote cleared the way for Verizon to link up all its databases. These databases contain customer information from AOL which Verizon purchased in 2015 for $4 billion. Soon that database will get even bigger if the sale of Yahoo! to Verizon goes through. 

Since the election of Donald Trump Republicans have worked to undo regulations imposed under President Barack Obama. All 50 Republicans voted in favor of killing the rule while 46 Democrats and two independents voted against.

Low Income Families To Receive Broadband Subsidy

fcc-seal_rgb_emboss-largeThe Federal Communications Commission has voted to provide subsidies to low income families for broadband Internet service. 

The decision expands on the 1980’s era Lifeline program that provided a monthly subsidy of $9.25 for voice-only phone service. The FCC plan costs $2.25 billion with a clause attached that states that if the Lifeline program came close to that amount the commission would have to choose whether to increase the funding. Republican members of the commission voted against the expansion believing that limit could easily be exceeded if the FCC either votes to increase it or does nothing. The FCC expects that figure to increase as people take advantage of the new broadband subsidy offer. Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee are considering a bill to put a cap on the program’s spending. 

Internet and broadband access has become a human right issue. The Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly declared access to the Internet a basic human right which enables individuals to “exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.”

In the United States there is a significant digital divide between the rich and the poor as well as racial groups.  A 2012 Pew Report “Digital Differences,” revealed that only 62 percent of people in households making less than $30,000 a year used the Internet. In contrast households with income of $50,000-74,999 was at 90 percent.

Looking at the issue from a racial perspective showed only 49 percent of African-Americans and 51 percent of Hispanics have high-speed internet at home. Compare this to  66 percent of Whites.

The digital divide has a definite impact on a family’s economic well being as well as a child’s educational development. A Pew survey of teachers of low income students tended to be less able to use educational technology effectively than their peers in more affluent schools. Of teachers in the highest income areas 70 percent said their schools provided support for incorporating technology into their teaching. Only 50 percent of teachers in low income schools said the same. Teachers in low income schools said that inadequate access to technology is a “major challenge” for using technology as a teaching aid.

Major corporations are also stepping to help bridge the digital divide. Comcast recently announced a pilot program that will bring low-cost Internet service to public housing residents in Miami-Dade County, Nashville, Philadelphia and Seattle. Comcast, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHome initiative set up the program to fight the digital divide. As many as 40,000 public housing residents will benefit from the program.

Normally, Comcast’s Internet Essentials package costs $9.95 a month. The service comes with a free Wi-Fi router and families are also offered computers for less than $150. All public housing residents in the four pilot markets are eligible to apply for the service online or by calling 1-855-847-3356.

Comcast reported that since 2011 it had invested $280 million to help fund digital literacy training initiatives and has distributed more than 47,000 subsidized computers at less than $150 each.

Another major technology company, Google, says it’s going to give away its high speed Internet service through Google Fiber to thousands of low-income Americans across the country. The program kicks off in its Kansas City market at theWest Bluff Townhomes community in Kansas City, Mo. Ultimately, as many as 1,300 households in Kansas City, Mo. and Kansas City, Kan.

Google Fiber eventually plans to wire “select” public housing buildings in all of the cities where it operates, the company said.

President Obama, the nation’s first cyber president, is also backing a plan to provide as many as 20 million more low-income families to affordable broadband services by 2020. 

Breaking It Down

Ignorance equals poverty. The two intercourse and breed. And that is where a lot of our problems begin. Access to the Internet is a human right because we cannot allow a restriction on information and education to create a bed for poverty and ignorance to lay. We need to accept that all children have a right to rise up from poverty. The FCC is making it clear that we need to help these families and in the long run help ourselves.  This nation and indeed the world came to the conclusion that telephone was a vital instrument. Now we face the same reality with the Internet.

 

 

 

Silicon Valley Cash? Not for Blacks and Women

courtesy: imagerymajestic

courtesy: imagerymajestic

Silicon Valley is a white male dominated world. Is America’s womb of technology struggling to find people of color to add to the mix or simply rejecting them?  There are probably plenty of answers to that question depending on who you ask. Some of the valley’s biggest and best known companies are at least trying to bring color to the white world of technology.

One of the companies trying to step up to the diversity challenge is Intel Corporation. In an effort to boost diversity in IT, Intel Capital has launched a $125 million investment program aimed at startups run by women and under-represented minorities. This in addition to a seperate investment program of $300 million announced last January with the stated goal of bringing more women and minorities into its workforce by 2020.

Intel has plans to change its capital investment program to make it more accessible for women and minorities. The world’s largest chip maker wants to be more open and responsive to funding requests from startups run by women and minorities. Intel has also established an advisory board of senior Intel employees to help make funding decisions.

Apple, the most successful company in history, is donating more than $50 million to organizations that intend to get more women, minorities, and veterans working in tech.

Apple’s chief of human resources, Denise Young Smith, granted an exclusive interview to Fortune magazine. In the interview Young Smith said that Apple is joining forces with non-profit organizations in a multi-year, multi-million-dollar effort to increase the number of women, minorities, and veterans in the technology industry and at Apple.

“We wanted to create opportunities for minority candidates to get their first job at Apple,” said Young Smith. “There is a tremendous upside to that and we are dogged about the fact that we can’t innovate without being diverse and inclusive.”

Apple’s efforts include a partnership with the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, a non-profit supporting students enrolled in public, historically black colleges and universities or HBCUs. In total there are 100 HBCUs in the U.S of which 47 are considered public  graduating 20 percent of African-Americans who earn undergraduate degrees.

Diversity is a big issue with Apple CEO Tim Cook who see’s diversity as a vital ingredient to the future of the company. “I think the most diverse group will produce the best product, I firmly believe that.”

Other companies that are pumping money into diversity efforts include AOL which launched the $10 million BBG Fund. The fund will focus on women-led Internet startups. Cable giant Comcast venture fund, Comcast Ventures, launched the $20 million Catalyst fund in 2011 to invest in companies led by women and members of minority groups.

But there are some that believe that investing in minority owned start ups just because they are a minority is not the best approach. Some black entreprenuers are asking that investment be made in minority start ups because its good business.”The more people who think this is an obligation, a social obligation, that’s probably not a good thing,” said Hamet Watt, a venture partner at Upfront Ventures.

The problem is pretty basic and straightforward, white venture capitalists are not interested in female or minority led start ups. White men make up the overwhelming majority of venture capitalists. The National Venture Capital Association/Dow Jones VentureSource reported that 89 percent of VC Partners are men, specifically white men who made up 76 percent.  A study of all VC Partners showed that just 10 percent identified as Asian, 1 percent as African-American, and less than 1 percent as Latino.  In 2014 total VC capital investment reached $48 billion the highest total in over ten years. 

It is a sad fact that there is clear prejudice against companies founded or led by women and minorities. A  2010 study conducted by CB Insights  focused on the disparity of venture capital funding for companies founded by minorities and women as compared to companies founded by whites.

The results revealed that less than 1 percent of venture-capital-backed company founders were black and 12 percent were Asian, 83 percent had a racial composition that was completely white.

In the report preface CB Insights writes:

“When we ask venture capitalists what gets them excited about the young, emerging, and often unproven companies in which they invest, we never hear about deals and dollars. Rather, the first answer is frequently ‘the team’ or ‘the founders’. This demonstrates just how crucial human capital is in VC (venture capital) investment decision-making.”

To translate that statement it simply says race and gender makes a difference when it comes to who gets the money in Silicon Valley.

Of the $1.92 billion invested in March of 2014,

  • Companies led and made up of whites received 61 percent of the total investments, which equates to $1.41 billion.
  • Asian-led companies recieved a 17 percent share of investments at slightly more than $383 million.
  •  Latin American and Middle Eastern led companies took in $460 million, or 18 percent.
  • Mixed-race leadership teams received $96 million in investments, or 4 percent.
  • African-American led companies recieved the lowest share of investments. Only one black company recieved capital funding in the time period studied and that totaled a paltry $1.9 million. (Source: CB Insights)

Because of this glaring prejudice many black entreprenuers are faced with unfair pressure to back black owned start ups.

Charles Hudson, a partner at SoftTech VC, said he feels like he has to make himself accessible to African-American entrepreneurs.

“I also feel a certain pressure to try to help African-American entrepreneurs who I think are talented not work on terrible ideas,” Hudson said. “It’s not that they’re terrible ideas in general, it’s just that they’re not appropriate for venture. To me, that’s not unique to African-Americans.”

Hudson admitted to feeling “an enormous amount of pressure backing an African-American entrepreneur.”

“Pursuing an African-American business, for whatever reason if that investment doesn’t work, the buck stops with me,” Hudson said. “You realize that for whatever reason that investment’s failure is likely to be scrutinized to a greater degree than that SaaS company that didn’t work out. And I think about that. I wish I didn’t have to think about that.”

But the complexion of Silicon Valley is changing make no mistake about that. More and more black athletes like Floyd Mayweather and hip-hop artists are bringing their money into the technology start up game. Black athletes are also taking seats on the board of major technology companies. Most recently Magic Johnson took a seat on the board of directors of Square. The payment start up company is preparing to go public this year.

Now you know