First Post: Monopoly Stacks

Celebrate National Day of Civic Hacking at Civic Hall; monopoly reigns in the high-speed internet space; and more

  • This is civic tech: This Friday, August 10th from 5-7pm, join BetaNYC, Progressive Hack Night and Civic Hall to celebrate the National Day of Civic Hacking with a social showcase here at Civic Hal. RSVP to save your spot.

  • Civic Hall @ Union Square has received a $100,000 grant from Microsoft to support the digital skills training center that we will be creating as part of the project, Nicole Brown reports for AM New York.

  • Take a moment and help Civic Hall member Kristen Rouse, founder of the NYC Veterans Alliance, shoulder the load she and her team are carrying.

  • Anoush Darabi reports for Apolitical on the ongoing work of the Open Government Partnership.

  • Kudos to Sarah Jeong of The Verge, who is is joining the New York Times editorial board to be its lead technology writer, and to Jess Morales Rocketto, the political director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, who will be one of six Technology and Democracy Fellows at Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance this fall, in her case focusing on digital voter suppression.

  • Monopoly plays: For Americans looking for high-speed broadband, Charter is the only choice for 38 million people and Comcast is the only choice for 30 million people, while AT&T, Verizon and other telcos only offer sub-broadband speeds over copper wires, according a new report by Hannah Trostle and Christopher Mitchell of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. And by some magical process, Charter and Comcast only compete directly with each other in territory that covers 1.5 million people (mostly in Florida), despite their each reaching more than 100 million overall.

  • Trostle and Mitchell note that since their report is based on census block reporting submitted by the providers to the FCC, and a provider could list a block as served if just one resident is receiving service, “we believe the reality on the ground is even worse that what FCC data shows.” People in rural areas are the worse-served, while the cable giants only compete with each other for high-speed customers in urban areas. Meanwhile, the federal government is giving the large telcos $1.5 billion a year through the Connect America Fund to bring slow speed service to rural areas.

  • Related: Ben Merdmuller ponders the “unbearable monopolization of being” (great title if you are a Milan Kundera fan like me) and warns his fellow technoloigists that, “There will come a time where people grow sick of their lives being enclosed into a monopoly stack, where rent must be paid to a growing set of private companies in order to simply go about one’s day. At that time, a new set of technologies and services will become desirable: collaborative, open platforms that support ecosystems, rather than zero-sum wealth silos.”

  • Semi-related: This series of data graphics by David Merrill and Lauren Leatherby of Bloomberg show in beautiful relief exactly how America uses its land. (Let’s hear it for the cows!)

  • Information disorder: Working with two Clemson University researchers, Darren Linvill and Patrick Warren, FiveThirtyEight’s Oliver Roeder has posted 3 million Russian troll tweets from the 2016 election.

  • Here’s a good explainer of the QAnon internet conspiracy phenomenon, courtesy of Isaac Stanley-Becker of the Washington Post. More followers are showing up in real life at places like President Trump‘s recent rally in Tampa, Florida, and the Post’s Margaret Sullivan explains why this is so dangerous. Here’s their subreddit.

  • Facebook says it has detected and removed 32 pages and fake accounts that appear to be linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency and that were engaging in divisive tactics aimed at roiling the 2018 election, Nicholas Fandos and Kevin Roose report for The New York Times. The pages were largely left-leaning and had been followed by more than 290,000 accounts. In one case, the company appears to have removed the page for a legitimate protest event involving activist Chelsea Manning, confusing the work of fake pages that had endorsed the event, they note. Here’s Facebook’s post on the announcement.

  • Yesterday’s Senate Intelligence hearing on what to do about defending American democracy from foreign interference heard valuable testimony from the likes of John Kelly of Graphika and Renee Diresta of New Information, and as Makena Kelly reports for The Verge, “many lawmakers see interference as a nearly impossible task to conquer for both the platforms and the legislative body that could regulate them.”

  • Tech and politics: Texting is the hot political app of 2018, kids! (Ok, you already knew that two years ago, but Kevin Roose brings New York Times readers up to speed.)

  • One word: Plastics! Paul Waldman explains in the Washington Post why you don’t need to worry about the sudden prospect of millions of people making themselves undetectable plastic guns on their 3-D printers. (Seriously, it’s already absurdly easy to buy a regular gun in America.)

  • What sharing economy? New York City’s council speaker Corey Johnson has rejected the offer of a $100 million hardship fund for yellow taxi drivers that was offered by Lyft, Uber and Via in exchange for the council dropping its plans to restrain the ride-hailing sector’s growth for a year, Dana Rubinstein reports for Politico NY.

  • Google is planning a return to China, complete with a censored version of itself, Ryan Gallagher reports for The Intercept. A custom Android app has been built, that will block banned sites from appearing in search result. All of this is pending approval from Chinese officials. A source within Google told Gallagher, “I’m against large companies and governments collaborating in the oppression of their people, and feel like transparency around what’s being done is in the public interest,” adding that they feared “what is done in China will become a template for many other nations. It remains to be seen if Google employees, who recently successfully pushed back on the company’s plans to use AI to help the Pentagon deploy next-generation weaponry, will also organize to block this shift in longstanding company policy.