Blog Archive 2007-2008
November 20, 2008
Indications are that technology policy is going to be a high priority for the Obama administration. Obama was the first presidential candidate in history to release a detailed technology policy agenda. His campaign was well-served by tech-savvy staffers who understood how the Internet could be used to mobilize voters.
One of the first appointments to the presidential transition team was former FCC chief counsel Julius Genachowski, who is leading the search for the nation’s Chief Technology Officer. The CTO will manage one of the administration’s most important efforts — to modernize and streamline the government’s use of information technology and the Internet. According to the Obama website, the role of the CTO will be to “ensure that our government and all its agencies have the right infrastructure, polices, and services for the 21st century.”
For a tech-savvy citizenry, greater online access to government services, information and resources is a welcome and overdue development that will bring transparency to the workings of government. Notably, the incoming administration recognizes that without a corresponding focus on broadband deployment, not all communities will be positioned to take advantage of these developments. Data from the Pew Internet and American Life Project show that only 29% of Hispanic adults have broadband Internet access at home. If Hispanics and other digitally-underserved populations continue to face present-day barriers to high-speed Internet access, the modernization of government services would further disenfranchised communities from their government. In some cases, it is these very communities that most need access to the resources that the administration hopes to centralize online.
Because of this, the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunication Partnership will continue to advocate for policies that will enable all communities to have high-speed Internet access. Our coalition members know first-hand that high-speed Internet access helps our children succeed in school, allows small businesses to reach new marketplaces, supports community development and advocacy efforts, helps families connect affordably across borders, and provides access to essential social and commercial services. As government resources become more accessible online, broadband is going to become even more important to our communities. In order to ensure that our most vulnerable communities do not fall further behind, we must work with the administration to ensure that increased access to broadband remains a priority issue.
November 20, 2008
HTTP thanks FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein for his leadership in requesting that FCC Chairman Kevin Martin investigate whether Arbitron’s Portable People Meter (PPM) ratings undermine media diversity and the viability of minority owned media outlets. According to the Commissioner’s November 18 letter, the FCC has “heard from numerous broadcasters and advocates for diversity that the continued deployment of PPM in new markets without accreditation from the Media Ratings Council (MRC) constitutes a clear and present danger to media diversity.”
The Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Council, the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council, the Spanish Broadcasters Association and other minority media and civil right groups have actively opposed the use of the PPM data. The Chairwoman of the House Small Business Committee, Hon. Nydia Velazquez has called on the FCC to investigate Arbitron’s new PPM system, and both the Attorney General’s of New York and New Jersey have filed court suits to stop the new PPM system.
The new PPM system requires individuals to wear a small device which picks up inaudible radio identification signals from the wearer’s environment throughout the day. The information is transmitted to Arbitron via the wearer’s land-line where it is compiled in a database. Advertisers rely on Arbitron data to determine where to spend their ad dollars. The PPM system replaces one in which listeners manually recorded what they listened to in a diary.
Notwithstanding Arbitron’s claims that the new system provides more accurate data, the Media Ratings Council has twice declined to grant the new PPM system accreditation and has repeatedly urged Arbitron to work with the radio industry to resolve the concerns regarding the new methodology.
Minority broadcasters depend on advertising revenue to continue to serve their audiences. In the short time that the system has been in use, we have already seen how Arbitron’s new ratings system has negatively impacted minority radio ratings, and has moved advertisers away from minority broadcasters.
The Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership strongly supports Commissioner Adelstein’s request to open an investigation of the PPM ratings methodology.
November 14, 2008
Most users of Internet applications probably don’t give the issue of cost much thought. For many, applications like Google Calendar have become part of everyday life. Signing up for another service is as easy as entering a name, an email address and a password. Click through the Terms of Service and you are ready to go.
Until recently, access to Internet services was largely based on a fee-for-services model. This was a very straightforward model of commerce, which mirrored the way that consumers conducted business transactions in their 3-D lives. But now, many online companies that provide online services and applications are doing business a little differently. In this model, information about us and our online activities – our searches, our buying habits, who we talk to, and with whom we share information – has become a valuable commodity. To access personal information, providers of Internet applications make a deal with users. Users may access online services if they allow the providers to track, collect and sell information about their online activities to others.
The fact that no money is exchanged allows users to feel as if these services are “free”. In fact, users are trading something of great value – their personal information and their privacy – to access online applications and services. It is easy for Internet firms to downplay that your privacy is the true cost of the exchange.
Among these firms are companies that are increasingly turning their attention to Hispanics. Launches of sites such as MySpaceLatino demonstrate that businesses recognize Hispanics as an emerging online market. Broadband has allowed more Hispanics to use online applications and services in their work and personal lives. In our neighborhoods, advocates and organizations are using these tools and integrating Internet advocacy into their grassroots strategies.
Like all communities, we are embracing the Internet as an ever-present aspect of our daily lives. For many of us, it is rare to ever be truly ‘offline’. Online or not, consumers should take exception to businesses that do not clearly provide users with up-front and complete information about how their personal information may be used. This is particularly important on the Internet where it is not money, but personal information that is being exchanged. If a company makes money off of consumers’ private information, it has an obligation to be as transparent as possible so that users can make decisions about how and when to use their services. This is a matter of responsible business practice, transparency and respect for the consumer.
October 30, 2008
Today, HTTP asked the Federal Communications Commission postpone its November 4 vote to authorize the use of white space spectrum by unlicensed devices. Some advocates have come out in support of immediate adoption of the white spaces proposal because they believe that the use of white spaces provides a mechanism to expand broadband access. HTTP submitted a letter to the FCC Chairman, Kevin Martin, to bring attention to important aspects of this issue that have been ignored by these advocates. HTTP is concerned that the negative impact of interference from white space devices on broadcast programming serving the Hispanic community would be magnified by the DTV transition.
Specifically, we are concerned that the FCC’s October 2008 technical report on the issue does not provide sufficient reassurance that white space devices will not interfere with over-the-air television reception. The possibility of interference is of particular concern to our community because Hispanics are more highly reliant on “free”-over-the-air television. In addition, a large segment of the Latino community relies on Spanish-language programming through low-power or Class-A television stations. These over-the-air stations, which are largely viewed by language-minorities, would be most affected by this interference.
The combination of the DTV transition – less than 4 months away – and the potential impact of white space devices precludes experimenting with a new policy that could cause widespread damage to consumers. Unchecked interference from new devices in the TV spectrum could effectively disenfranchise over-the-air viewers across America. Many Hispanic households could be marginalized in the digital era by the loss of access to the free broadcast information safety net.
On October 15, 2008, Nielsen Media released a report that documented that the Hispanic community was behind the curve on the DTV transition. The report noted that Spanish Language TV viewers would be most impacted by the DTV transition because they were the least prepared for it.
Furthermore, HTTP believes that the DTV transition will cause over 3 million Hispanic TV households to be at-risk of losing their LPTV and/or “Class A” broadcast stations because digital converter boxes sold for over-the-air viewing on older TV sets are not analog-pass-through ready.
Interference issues can be especially problematic in densely populated areas and multi-unit dwellings, where residents share walls. In apartments with a master antenna, a single unlicensed portable device can cause interference throughout the building. This is particularly problematic for Spanish language over-the-air viewers, as nearly 40% of Hispanic households reside in multiple dwelling units.
For over 10 years, HTTP has strongly supported policies which expand access to broadband, but we cannot support a vote on the issue of white spaces devices because we believe that their proposed implementation will in the long-run threaten the Hispanic community’s access to broadcast television.
While we support innovation and advancements in telecommunications technology, we stand back from doing so at the expense of our community’s access to broadcast TV services. In view of the above, we’ve ask the FCC to postpone this vote and open a formal public comment period on the findings of the October 2008 report. This issue is too important to the future of our community to be voted on without input from those affected by the proposal.
September 29, 2008
A poll released last week by Consumer Reports indicates that while 72% Americans are concerned with Internet privacy, 48% “incorrectly believe that their consent is required for companies to use the personal information they collect from their online activities.”
We wonder how a similar survey, focused solely on communities that have only recently crossed the digital divide, would differ from the Consumer Reports poll. We hypothesize that such a poll would either uncover an alarming sense of confidence in Internet safety or that privacy concerns are preventing segments of the population, particularly Hispanics, from utilizing the Internet to its fullest potential.
Recent Congressional interest in Internet advertising practices provides an opportunity for users, advocates, and community educators to become more aware of how, why and by whom information about their online activities are being used. A hearing held by a Senate subcommittee last Thursday focused on “behavioral targeting”, a practice used by Internet companies to track user movements through networks of websites in order to deliver tailored advertising.
Congress is taking steps to understand current practices in online advertising because it is concerned that consumers are unaware their online behavior is being tracked without their explicit consent. The Senators and the witnesses at Thursday’s hearing – representatives from the advocacy group Public Knowledge and Internet service providers AT&T, Time Warner and Verizon – agreed that online behavioral targeting can benefit consumers, provided that the technology is implemented in a manner that respects user privacy and allows consumers to exercise their right to control access to information about their online habits.
At the hearing, AT&T and Verizon pledged not to engage in the practice of online behavioral advertising without a consumer’s “affirmative consent”. They advocated for high consumer privacy and protection standards for all companies engaging in the business of data collection and online advertising. They also challenged other Internet companies to join them in adopting policies which allow consumers to opt-in to behavioral advertising, and laid out guidelines which would require transparency, protect consumer privacy and would give consumers control over personal information.
HTTP applauds these ISP’s proactive approach to consumer privacy protection. But we also know that there is a complex multi-layered system of user behavior data-mining and that most consumers never imagine this is based on their online activities. Because of this, the laudable privacy protection policies announced by AT&T and Verizon must become an Internet “Code of Conduct” that is embraced by all Internet businesses with access to private information including search companies, browser firms, advertising networks, and other ISPs.
Should these Internet companies fail to recognize their social responsibiliy to respect and protect individual privacy rights, they run the risk of having a re-elected Congress come back after the November elections to mandate on-line privacy protections.
The Internet and the freedoms it has enjoyed has created business models that have helped our economy grow, and it has an enormous potential to further contribute to our social and economic advancement – but not at the cost of losing our right to privacy.
Lastly, to truly empower and protect the privacy of Internet users, government, businesses, and public sector groups must also do more to further public education about online safety and privacy issues.
September 27, 2007
For nearly a decade, the Internet Tax Moratorium has prevented state and local governments from imposing taxes on Internet access services. As this policy is due to expire this November, we support its extension through the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act, S.156/H.R.743. As this legislation comes before the House and Senate in the coming weeks, we urge you to support its passage.
If the moratorium expires, local and state governments could view Internet access as a target for more tax revenue. As a result, the average consumer’s bills would rise, thus discouraging broadband adoption and other service upgrades. By impeding consumer demand, these taxes would also inhibit fiber deployment and investment in new technologies. Lower income Americans would be left behind without an affordable broadband option.
On the other hand, a permanent extension of the tax moratorium will broaden the reach of technology and help eliminate the Digital Divide. Investment and innovation in wireless technology can continue and consumers will reap the benefits. Regardless of one’s income, race or neighborhood, an entrepreneur can start a business with merely an Internet connection. These small businesses not only serve consumers, but also create jobs and spur economic development.
In view of the serious implications of allowing the Internet Moratorium to expire, and its deleterious impact on the Hispanic community, HTTP urges Congress to pass the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act and expand upon the Internet Tax Moratorium’s benefits for the Hispanic community and.all Americans.
Consumers watching TV with an antenna, will have to either purchase a digital TV or get a government subsidized digital converter box to continue to watch television after February 17, 2009. These TV sets will operate on new digital channels. However, some high tech companies, like Microsoft, want to sell unlicensed devices that will use these digital television channels. These devices are likely to interfere with TV reception. TV pictures will freeze and the sound will go out. Your neighbors using these devices will interfere with your television set. This issue is very important to Hispanic viewers, because we rely heavily on antennas to receive television service. HTTP will be working with the FCC and Congress to insure that Hispanic viewers do not lose access to new digital television signals.
August 21, 2007
On July 30, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) which seeks comment on potential DTV consumer education initiatives. Comments are due by September 17, 2007. The FCC seeks comment on requiring broadcasters, multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs), retailers and manufacturers to take certain actions to publicize the digital transition. It will facilitate the upcoming transition to digital on February 17, 2009, a deadline established by Congress. A successful completion of the digital transition depends upon ensuring that appropriate policies are in place to minimize the burdens and costs borne by consumers. It also depends on government and industry working together in promoting consumer awareness.
The digital transition will make valuable spectrum available for both public safety uses and expanded wireless competition and innovation. It will also provide consumers with better quality television picture and sound, and make new services available through multicasting. These innovations, however, are dependent upon widespread consumer understanding of the benefits and mechanics of the transition.
Since the beginning of the transition of the nation’s broadcast television service from analog to digital television service, the Commission has been committed to ensuring all Americans reap the benefits of the transition. The Commission has been working with representatives from industry, public interest groups, other government agencies and Congress to make the significant benefits of digital broadcasting available to the public.
The NPRM seeks comment on proposals to help convey the timing, logistics and benefits of the DTV transition to consumers, including:
Broadcaster Public Service Announcements, other Consumer Education Requirements, and Reporting
Notices in Cable, Satellite, and other MVPD Bills
Notices from Consumer Electronics Manufacturers
Employee Training by Consumer Electronics Retailers
Adjustments to the DTV.gov Partners Program
For more information, visit www.fcc.gov/dtv/
May 22, 2007
Ten years ago, a group of leading Hispanic organizations formed HTTP to ensure that the needs and perspectives of the Hispanic community were included in policy debates regarding the Digital Divide. Since then, broadband technologies, and the accompanying telecommunications policy discussions, have evolved in ways we could not have imagined, but the gap between technology haves and have-nots continues to plague certain segments of our society.
The Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Internet Project recently issued a report that confirms that the Hispanic community is still on the wrong side of the Digital Divide. Among Internet users, Latinos are less likely than whites to have a broadband Internet connection at home. According to the report, “29% of Latino adults have a broadband connection at home, compared with 43% of white adults.” Of the 44.3 million Hispanics in the U.S., only about 56% use the Internet at all, compared to 71% of non-Hispanic whites and 60% of non-Hispanic blacks.
A number of factors, including language and education, account for the gap in Hispanic Internet use. HTTP’s member organizations address these concerns as part of their core work, but they have made an additional commitment to HTTP because they believe that technology policy decisions significantly impact the people with whom they work. Today, the Internet is a gateway to the tools, information, and resources that are key to success in our society. HTTP will continue to bring the Hispanic perspective to telecommunications policy discussions in order to ensure that all underserved communities have access to the benefits of technology.