Opinion

The Great Debate

Cuba’s uneasy Internet connection

Last week, an Associated Press article, “US Secretly Created ‘Cuban Twitter’ to Stir Unrest,” sparked an uproar. The U.S. Agency for International Development had funded a Cuban version of Twitter called ZunZuneo , the AP reported, that attracted more than 40,000 users before ending in 2012, according to the story.

Commentators have derided the program as boneheaded, dangerously absurd and disrespectful to Cubans. Analysts have discussed its pros and cons. The White House maintains that the program was not “covert.” USAID contests aspects of the AP story.

The article, however, is a propaganda windfall for the Cuban government, which tends to label bloggers critical of it as U.S.-funded mercenaries. Cuba’s media has been having a field day, running gleeful headlines like “ZunZuneo: the Sound of Subversion.”

The ZunZuneo debacle highlights the difficulty of bringing connectivity to Cuba. It has one of the lowest Internet penetration rates in the Western hemisphere. Only 5 percent of Cubans have access to the Internet, according to 2012 estimates. Some connect through hotels, schools, workplaces or illegally. A greater percentage of Cubans access a domestic “intranet.”

Though Cuba censors Web content, the public’s major obstacles are unavailability, slow connections and high prices. Cubans generally don’t have Internet access at home, and connecting at a hotel for an hour can cost more than an average state worker’s weekly salary.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Comcast: How to win at monopoly

The proposed merger between the cable television interests of Time Warner Cable and its principal rival, Comcast, demonstrates a neat example of how the theory of the free market differs so radically from the marketplace in practice.

In the storybook version of how business works, companies compete for customers by offering rival services and the company with the best products and prices wins. In this fairytale, everyone wins. Customers benefit from competition through a better choice of products and cheaper prices, the good companies take a handsome profit and prosper, and the bad companies go to the wall.

In real life, this heroic version of how the world spins is far less noble. In the mythical version of the free market, companies fiercely compete with each other for market share by trying to outdo each other in pleasing customers. In reality, companies tend to forego the difficult and expensive art of wooing customers from a rival and resort to buying the competition. Buying business is far easier than earning it.

Internet access is a vital healthcare tool

When Mark Zuckerberg announced a new private sector initiative last month to make affordable Internet access available to people in developing countries, he breathed new life into a long-simmering debate within the global development community — what is the value of technology in societies suffering from urgent social, economic and humanitarian challenges? Familiar voices of criticism have been heard, pointing out that in communities lacking food, clean water and medicine, getting people online is hardly a priority.

Some of these critics are trusted friends and colleagues within the healthcare and humanitarian sector. But as someone with over thirty years of field experience in developing countries, I humbly disagree with them. Achieving greater Internet access in developing countries can save lives, transform communities and revolutionize the quality and provision of healthcare for hundreds of millions of people today. Not only should connectivity be part of the global development agenda, it must be recognized as a vital enabler of the entire agenda.

There are several important reasons for this.

First, better tools for diagnosis and communications can lead to differences in health outcomes. One group of students at Stanford, through our Liberation Technology course, recently produced a mobile app to improve clean water delivery in a large slum in Kenya, allowing users of the app to locate the cheapest prices for water in their community, comment on quality and identify sources of water that make people ill. Another app for community workers targets cholera treatment in areas without any physicians. While many of us in the developed world use our mobile phones for triviality, in developing countries they can be the first line of defense in a public health emergency. This isn’t about cat pictures or Angry Birds — mobile phones can be the difference between life and death.

The ‘next generation’ of American talk

It’s hard to imagine communicating without Skype, Facetime, X-Box, Twitter or a text on your smartphone. Mobile devices and other Internet Protocol (IP)-based services powered by high-speed broadband have revolutionized the way we connect with one another at just about every moment of our lives.

Millions of Americans are now abandoning traditional, copper-wire phone service. In just the past three years, U.S. smartphone adoption has increased from 16.9 percent to 54.9 percent, according to Nielsen. One out of three homes in the United States now relies on wireless-only technologies, according to the National Health Interview Survey.

Copper telephone technology has limited capabilities. It falls short in providing robust, high-speed Internet services that support IP-enabled applications such as Voice over Internet Protocol. Nor can it offer the next-generation healthcare, education and public-safety IP-based applications that consumers demand. Shifting our nation’s communications networks to all-IP is critical to ensuring consumer access to the most modern communications services.

Policy debates in the Internet Age

Technology is changing how power struggles are waged between the White House and Congress. For the last few years, negotiations between Democratic and Republican leaders have too often led to stalemate. The battle over how to avert the “fiscal cliff” is the latest example.

Since President Barack Obama’s reelection, he has begun to shift strategies — taking his case directly to the American people as a way to pressure Congress. After all, members of Congress ignore their president without penalty, but ignoring the opinions of their constituents can cost them their jobs.

Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both effectively used television to address the nation when facing off against a House of Representatives controlled by the opposing party. While TV will remain important, going directly to the American people continue to morph in the era of the Internet. Political messages can be customized and narrowly targeted.

Training a generation of citizen-journalists

Two years ago, frustrated by the powerlessness citizens expressed to me about the political process, moved by their transpartisan worries about the state of U.S. democracy, I began an experiment on Facebook: I sought to train “ordinary” people from all walks of life as reporters and opinion writers.

The community grew fast, to a reach of over 10 million and between 100,000 and 250,000 users a week. People joined from 23 countries. There was clearly an appetite for this kind of training and the material it produced.

More exciting to me as a journalist was that the quality of information these “ordinary” citizens were generating – once they had taken on board basics such as “what is double sourcing?”, the importance of “who, what where, why and how?” and the role of eyewitness accounts and original documents – rose very high.

Stopping the Stop Online Piracy Act

Now that Congress has hit pause on its controversial Stop Online Piracy Act and nearly every argument about the merits and failings of the piece of copyright legislation has been made, it’s a good time to ask: what, in 2012, will it take to actually stop a bill like this?

Because despite the delay, the situation still isn’t looking so hot for those looking to bring down SOPA. Amendments to tone down the bill’s more disliked points have been routinely defeated in the House Judiciary Committee by numbers sufficient to pass the bill to the full House floor.

But, at this point in the process, numbers aren’t everything. In the wake of the Arab Spring, talk of censoring technology hits the ears differently. More important is that in SOPA’s short two-month life, opposition to it has catalyzed online and off. But to succeed, its opponents will have to both boost the volume of their public alarm and convince Congress that, in an Internet-soaked 2012, questioning SOPA needn’t be politically fatal.

Why the Internet is everybody’s business

By David Barroux
The opinions expressed are his own.

LES ECHOS/Worldcrunch — The first-ever E-G8 summit, beginning Tuesday in Paris with a notable lineup of government leaders and a “digital Who’s Who,” has been hit by a range of criticisms, from political hijacking to state censorship. But these attacks reveal only part of the truth. Sure, Nicolas Sarkozy, struggling in the polls, sees this as a chance to “presidentialize” his image while attempting to make his mark on this subject so attractive to the younger generation. But the self-interest driving his approach doesn’t necessarily mean it is uninteresting.

Long considered a free space that could develop on principles of self-government, the Internet has become so crucial to democratic life and economic growth that today it is legitimate for political players and large industrial groups to be involved in its management. States and multinationals would be wrong to want to plan and regulate everything, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they should simply stand back and watch.

Working in tandem, states and businesses can first act on the infrastructure. In past centuries, states financed the construction of roads or railways. Today, mechanisms should be found that allow private actors to invest in indispensible broadband information superhighways.

from MediaFile:

Should you trust Facebook with your email?

INTERNET-SOCIALMEDIA/PRIVACY- Michael Fertik is the CEO and Founder of ReputationDefender, the online privacy and reputation company. The views expressed are his own. -

Facebook already knows a massive amount about you.  They know your age, what you look like, what you like, what you do for fun, where you go, what you eat, whom you know, whom you know well, whom you sleep with, who your best friends and family are, and, again, how old they are, what they like, and so on.

On top of that, Facebook has a well-known history of privacy breaches or at least snafus.  Publicly they seem committed to the notion that privacy is dead.  Their CEO and Founder has said as much.

from The Great Debate UK:

Remembering how to forget in the Web 2.0 era

Amid ongoing debates over the hazards of excessive digital exposure through such Web 2.0 social networking platforms as Facebook and Twitter, a new book by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger extols the virtues of forgetfulness.

Since the emergence of digital technology and global networks, forgetting has become an exception, Mayer-Schonberger writes in "Delete".

"Forgetting plays a central role in human decision-making," he argues. "It lets us act in time, cognizant of, but not shackled by, past events."

  •