Offline underclass
January 29, 2015 1:40 AM   Subscribe

75 million Americans don’t have internet. Here’s what it’s like.
posted by flapjax at midnite (142 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
I absolutely feel that internet access should be affordable for everybody, but I think the outraging part of this video was actually that children that are so super young have so much internet-homework and that they'd get F's in school if they don't do that. We have internet at home, but if I had four children there would still not be enough time for each of them to take turns on the computer to do so much homework after dinner. And this is yet another thing were children of parents who are unable to help them (like this mother does: driving her kids to the library) are at a severe disadvantage. If schools find it important that children do a lot of online stuff, they should provide the resources to do that at school.
posted by blub at 2:08 AM on January 29, 2015 [106 favorites]


Ugh. One more way we put poor people at an institutional disadvantage.
posted by univac at 2:34 AM on January 29, 2015 [23 favorites]


My wife is an 8th grade math teacher, her school provides a laptop to every student. However, being very aware that over 50% of the students in her classes qualify for free or reduced lunches, she makes sure that she does NOT assign homework that is dependent on her students having access to the net while they are at home.
posted by HuronBob at 2:58 AM on January 29, 2015 [22 favorites]


What, precisely, are they doing online?

It looked like the kid was playing flash games, is that extracurricular "catch up" stuff or what?
Do they somehow show that they did X number of minutes on math flashcards?
I'm not really familiar with how "internet homework" is supposed to go.

Also, if you discount flash, a lot of the web is surprisingly usable even on dial-up*, especially government sites that aren't loaded down with ads.

This woman seemed like she was barely scraping by, but for a lot of that 75 million, dial-up is affordable at less than $10/month.
Hell, You can still get AOL for $6.99
Even comcast has a low-income tier for broadband, though they hide it well.

*Definitely going to want an ad-blocker if you venture outside of wikipedia, though
posted by madajb at 3:12 AM on January 29, 2015


Dial-up may not be sufficient for some of those sites they have the kids use, though.
posted by corb at 3:22 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


This year the IRS is not sending out most of its forms and schedules, instead pointing people online. We're just getting a selection of 1040s at the library (and had to complain to get 1040EZ) and one copy of the instructions. Oh, and a giant box of flyers directing taxpayers to those handy online resources that they probably would have been using if they could get online in the first place. I guess the reasoning is "9/10 of people file online!" (well, that and a 300 million budget cut from Congress), but that seems to neglect any thought about what to do with the remaining tenth.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 3:31 AM on January 29, 2015 [27 favorites]


Comcast offers an internet essentials program for $9.95 / month (includes a deal to buy a computer for $149). This is available to families who participate in the national school lunch program. I'm sure it's a slow and crappy computer (and a slow connection), but it's not an insane cost upgrade from dialup.
posted by jenkinsEar at 3:52 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


And of course you also need to have a hard line in the first place to get the $10/month dialup, don't you? And a computer.
posted by XMLicious at 3:53 AM on January 29, 2015 [43 favorites]


I'm in the UK, not the US so I don't know how much different it is. But I would say over here those people are not representative of all of the people who are not online. I work with people who are not able to get to the library and even if they were able to get to the library, they don't have the IT skills or the literacy skills to use the computer. That's if the computer has the right access software and physical adaptations so they are able to use it.

It's not just about the cost of the connection. Although I think that's the aim of the people who are making the video and it is important. But it's really important to realise that the barriers to getting online are not just the costs involved.
posted by Helga-woo at 4:03 AM on January 29, 2015 [30 favorites]


I guess the reasoning is "9/10 of people file online!" (well, that and a 300 million budget cut from Congress), but that seems to neglect any thought about what to do with the remaining tenth.

The cynic in me thinks that they've not neglected any though about the remaining tenth. Since that 10% are low income, not being able to file for income tax returns is just another way to prevent having to give any more "handouts". Who cares if it's their money that shouldn't have been taxed so heavily in the first place?
posted by dances with hamsters at 4:37 AM on January 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Coincidentally, Apple sold 75 million iPhones in the last quarter.

Hey, I have an idea...
posted by spitbull at 4:54 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


It would be kinda sad if this type of framing is what it took to make people care about systemic poverty.
posted by odinsdream at 4:59 AM on January 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Dialup requires a landline, which requires a fixed home situation. It also requires a large deposit to get service (typically $200 or more, from what I've seen in Canada). So it's not cheap.

I guess none of the cell providers are stepping up with cheap 3G in needy areas.
posted by scruss at 5:05 AM on January 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


Comcast offers an internet essentials program for $9.95 / month

That might work if Comcast offers service to your area. Much of rural America cannot get any Comcast service. I have a place near Grass Valley, CA, one mile out of the town border. I cannot buy any form of wired Internet. AT&T and Comcast both refuse to run the cables the extra 2500' down a rural road it would take to serve another 15 houses because it would be less profitable. With an FCC-granted duopoly, why should they bother?

Dialup is no longer useful Internet. I defy you to try it some time. Dialup is limited to 56kbps at the very best. I just spent the last 2 days in Frankfurt with a shitty 256kbps hotel link, 4x that speed, and it was nearly unusable. Like trying to look at a Google map takes 45 seconds, loading anything at all on Gmail takes 30 seconds, etc. Even 1Mbps is pretty awkward; basic text pages work fine, but video is only barely possible and only for sites that can limit themselves to 360p. And modern computers often require 100MB+ updates; those are half-hour ordeals at 1Mbps, and each time one is running your Internet is useless for anything else because the link is saturated.

I'm a little off-topic here, complaining more about the problems of rural Americans than poor Americans. Plenty of overlap, of course.
posted by Nelson at 5:13 AM on January 29, 2015 [32 favorites]


It would be kinda sad if this type of framing is what it took to make people care about systemic poverty.

How much more sad when that doesn't work either?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 5:18 AM on January 29, 2015 [13 favorites]


In the part of West Virginia I go to escape, the locals can't even get reliable phone service. I'm not talking cellular here, which is nonexistant, I'm talking dial up through a wire on a pole.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 5:21 AM on January 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


Stat is a bit off; it's 52 million (~17 per cent) with no internet access at home when counting by population and not households and when you include people who report household internet access without having a paid subscription.

A pity we can only have one half of the conversation here.
posted by kithrater at 5:26 AM on January 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Give them internet? We're busy trying to undo their healthcare!
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:27 AM on January 29, 2015 [46 favorites]


Ditto what Nelson said, and it points to an even bigger problem - lack of any sort of access in many areas, regardless of whether you can afford it. There is no Comcast,, in my area and you cannot get "home use" DSL. I am lucky enough to have "Business" DSL service (priced higher for a whopping 1.5M down/256k up - the fastest available) from my place of employment. The other folks in my area - zip.
posted by dukes909 at 5:30 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


What, precisely, are they doing online?

It looked like the kid was playing flash games, is that extracurricular "catch up" stuff or what?


If it's anything like the homework given to my kids, it's flash games that let you practice mathematical principles, or online quizes and tests that let teachers check that you really understand what's been taught in class.

The boy talked about using "mathletics", which is probably this site: http://www.mathletics.co.uk/. My kids get sent to Kerboodle & MangaHigh, which are similar sites, but all of them are available from school computers & the kids get access to computing facilities in school which they can use to do their homework if they can't do it at home.
posted by pharm at 5:32 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


It would be kinda sad if this type of framing is what it took to make people care about systemic poverty.

It is nothing more than another aspect of systemic poverty, and one that is not necessarily considered or looked at all that often. So why, one wonders, would it be "sad" if this is 'what it takes' to make people care about systemic poverty? I mean, whatever points attention to the multilayered problems experienced by poor people should be considered a good pointer, right?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:35 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I do consider the outcome good, I just think it's got this weird "Can you believe there are people who don't have *Gasp* internet!?!? .... also it's because they are poor" thing going on.
posted by odinsdream at 5:38 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


My aunt and uncle are still on dialup. AOL, to be exact. It's pretty useless for anything beyond email, and even that can be an eternal wait. And, God forbid an email contains a couple of snaps of their grandkids.

But as far as actually browsing the web? Nope. It's just too abysmally slow, and many sites simply don't load for them.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:39 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Dial-up is not even an option if you can't even afford a computer to start with. If you're working more than job, are exhausted, just trying to keep the lights on and the kids fed, having money for a computer, no matter if it's the lowest priced model means a ton of money.

I have often thought about this in terms of the poor and the elderly and the disabled. For the majority of us, we're lucky to be able to be doing this here, typing on our desktops/laptops/smartphones/tablets, talking about this. We probably are able to use online services for banking, postage, etc. But some of the comments about "it's only a $10 a month!" remind me of when people get pissed at the existence of USPS, forgetting there are whole swathes of folks out there who are not as lucky and fortunate as you. Just because you don't need it or you have it, doesn't mean you should lose sight of those who are struggling.
posted by Kitteh at 5:41 AM on January 29, 2015 [32 favorites]


I think we'd all be better off without Internet except for an hour a day or whatever is essential.
posted by stbalbach at 5:43 AM on January 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


I had a conversation last week with a really nice man who works in digital publishing, and when I told him I had actually taught undergrads using an ebook, he was really curious about my experiences, and really shocked when I told him that a lot of my students (at a flagship state U) didn't have regular internet access, or the kind of computing equipment that allowed them to access an ebook as easily as a regular book.

He even made a rueful comment to the tune of "I guess we just assume most of our customers have the same level of access that we do."

I tried to be polite and measured in a response that boiled down to "WELL MAYBE STOP MAKING THAT ASSUMPTION OMG."
posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:43 AM on January 29, 2015 [23 favorites]


Also, I didn't own my own personal computer with Internet as an adult until I was 30. I was at the library constantly for email and any web browsing I wanted to do (or cadging Internet time off friends with access). I was working a minimum wage job and simply couldn't afford it.
posted by Kitteh at 5:44 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


I just think it's got this weird "Can you believe there are people who don't have *Gasp* internet!?!?

Hmm… I didn't get that sort of tone from the linked video. It seemed to me that it just laid out the information, and did it pretty straight (some regional percentages given, that sort of thing). But I'm missing the GASP part that you interpret.

also it's because they are poor" thing going on.

Well, um… yeah. It's because they... are poor. That's the point of the video. It's about people who are too poor to afford internet access. If they weren't that poor they would *have* internet access. Right?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:49 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


This Metafilter page is 200KB to view. On a dialup link, that takes 28.7s to load under optimal conditions; 35–40s is more likely. And Metafilter is a very lightweight optimized site. Huffington Post is 2MB, or 5 minutes. CNN.com is 4.5MB, or 10 minutes. (And that's only if you have the auto-loading video disabled). Dialup Internet is no longer useful Internet.
posted by Nelson at 5:49 AM on January 29, 2015 [44 favorites]


I think we'd all be better off without Internet except for an hour a day or whatever is essential.

What is *essential* varies so widely from person to person and circumstance to circumstance that this statement is almost meaningless.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:51 AM on January 29, 2015 [17 favorites]


This Metafilter page is 200KB to view.
Speaking of which, does Lofi even work anymore? Or any of the other ways to view metafilter on a low-bandwidth connection?
posted by and they trembled before her fury at 5:58 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


During my days in Library IT, I was a little shocked at how many government agencies were switching to online forms with the assumption that "well, if people don't have a computer, we'll just send them to the library". There'd never be a warning to the neighborhood library in advance, library staff would find out when the person who needed to apply for unemployment, benefits, etc. were there in the building asking for help.

And that was a good ten years ago now.
posted by gimonca at 6:03 AM on January 29, 2015 [20 favorites]


Capitalist communication industry gives exactly zero shits for people without toll money.

Socialist public library stretches thin to fill the holes in the dike.

Yet another example of how we're (willfully, ignorantly) on the wrong track.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:04 AM on January 29, 2015 [27 favorites]


And of course you also need to have a hard line in the first place to get the $10/month dialup, don't you? And a computer.

And the kind of stable address that allows you to get utilities -- moving between weekly motels, staying for a few months with your mom before moving back in with your ex, or renting an illegal sublet won't allow you to access these kinds of services.

The only way it is publicly visible around here, though, is in the long wait lists to get access to the computers at the library (which of course, to prevent porn browsing, are set up so that every patron and library employee can see exactly what you are doing; the idea of doing my taxes in half hour time slots with everyone able to watch is like one of those anxiety dreams about being naked in a crowd). Otherwise it's no more visible that finding out how many people are staying with family, say.

I know people who teach at the local Community College, and the majority of their students have no off-campus internet access, either; coursework, email, and registration for the next quarter's classes all have to be done in the on-campus computer labs, which of course limits communication and what can be finished at busy times of the year; it also creates pedagogical complications when a large percentage of students are trying to learn how to use computers (like from absolute basics, "here is the mouse," etc) at the same time as trying to learn the actual course information.

At the same time, the expectation these days for even entry level, non-office jobs is that the person can do basic computer stuff. My field employees (who have outdoor, manual labor jobs) have had to learn how to use email, put information into a very basic spreadsheet, etc, this last year, and it has been a slow process since none of them have home computers. The good thing is that we have the institutional scale to offer in-house training for these things, so my guys can go to classes on the clock instead of getting fired for not having those skills. There are a lot of jobs that are off-limits if you aren't comfortable with basic computer skills, even though the job itself doesn't have anything to do with using a computer.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:07 AM on January 29, 2015 [28 favorites]


In the part of West Virginia I go to escape, the locals can't even get reliable phone service. I'm not talking cellular here, which is nonexistant, I'm talking dial up through a wire on a pole.

I should add that this is not the poor, southern, former coal-mining portion of the state either. For me it is an escape to go back to a place and a lifestyle where they don't use plastic cards for money (because that requires at a minimum reliable landline phone service) and no body can call you on the phone, but I can imagine that for the permanent residents there life can be taxing and limiting. Shockingly, people still read the paper (on paper no less!) and talk to eachother face-to-face and are therefore far more informed than one might imagine!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 6:12 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


This is an issue at my university, because we increasingly assume that everyone has internet access. We do orientation over the summer and then tell students to email us if they have a question. We assign students registration dates and times and then tell them to go register at that time from their own computers. A lot of classes have online homework. It basically works fine for the vast majority of our students, but there's a small minority, which tends to be the students who are most disadvantaged and at-risk anyway, who really don't have the computer access to make it all work. They're often living off-campus with family-members, sometimes thirty or forty miles away. They can't make it to the campus computer labs, and they're often working when the library is open, and they don't have decent access at home.

The other issue is that almost everyone is adept at using a computer, but we really don't have any support at all for the tiny minority that isn't. We used to have a "how to use a computer" class, but we took it away because of lack of demand. So at this point, basic computer literacy is like being able to read or do basic math: you have to show up with those skills, and if you don't, you can't be successful. Most traditionally-aged college students have enough skills to get by, but some non-traditional students don't.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:12 AM on January 29, 2015 [11 favorites]


During my days in Library IT, I was a little shocked at how many government agencies were switching to online forms with the assumption that "well, if people don't have a computer, we'll just send them to the library". There'd never be a warning to the neighborhood library in advance, library staff would find out when the person who needed to apply for unemployment, benefits, etc. were there in the building asking for help.
Precisely.

And often you get "They said the library would help us apply for unemployment, they said the library would help us apply for a job" -- and it's not that I don't want to help! But when someone is starting from scratch with computer skills, or you suddenly find out that the job they're applying for wants an email address and they don't have an email address, well, I can't help out that one person without neglecting eight or nine other people waiting at the desk.

Ideally we would have, either in libraries or elsewhere, large banks of computers that are adequately staffed to give people 1-on-1 intensive computer help whenever they need it. But it's hard enough to get funding for what little we can do.
posted by Jeanne at 6:16 AM on January 29, 2015 [35 favorites]


In every thread about poverty, there are always users who come in to shed their great wisdom they have about how to fix the problem. Typically it's something so simple, something so obvious that of course poor people have thought of that before, and it makes me wonder how those saviours view the intelligence of the impoverished.

This thread is no different. Can we please, please stop having the "well all you need to do is XYZ and then PROBLEM SOLVED, aren't I smart" comments? Trust me, from personal experience, that it doesn't matter if your "solution" only costs $10 a month. It is not viable. Why is it so hard for you to comprehend that there are some people and families that are, honest to goodness, just not able to do or have whatever resource it is they're deprived of?

Another sentiment in here that needs to stop: "the internet isn't so great/we'd all be better off if we only used it once a day, etc". Ok? You don't like technology. That's nice I guess? But how does that help this mom who has kids who are required to have the internet in order to pass school? How does that help the people who are disabled and can't get to the library, or anywhere else, and would really benefit from being able to access SSID website? How does that help someone who is looking for a job, and the employer requires an online application?
You're having a completely different conversation that's willfully ignoring all of the real-life problems that are being brought up, in favor of some personal anti-technology fantasy, and it makes you look like an ass.
posted by FirstMateKate at 6:26 AM on January 29, 2015 [98 favorites]


During my days in Library IT, I was a little shocked at how many government agencies were switching to online forms

well, when you defund your consumer affairs and labor departments such that they have to reduce their intake staff to one person, this is pretty much the only method for these agencies to actually reach out to taxpayers

but of course the taxpayers being protected are the ones who can afford legal representation but would not like to because they're saving up for a trip to Cancun. but who cares! free markets, streamlines, business protection, get your value for your money, we don't need socialist institutions in our government, blah blah blah etc
posted by saucy_knave at 6:26 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Shockingly, people still read the paper (on paper no less!)

Ah, yes, the local West Virginia daily. All the news that's fit to print, no doubt.

and talk to eachother face-to-face and are therefore far more informed than one might imagine!

Access to the internet and talking to one's neighbors face to face are (shockingly!) not mutually exclusive. I use the internet daily and talk to my neighbors daily as well. And sure, it's great to talk to your neighbors, but, surprise surprise, your next door neighbor, whether you're in West Virginia or Tokyo, may be found lacking in regards to the particular information you might be looking for. The internet just might know more about it than your neighbor. Or even his cousin!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:26 AM on January 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


I wonder what America, let alone the world, would look like if we could all agree that electricity should be a human right and internet access should be treated as a public utility.
posted by SinisterPurpose at 6:30 AM on January 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


And if you're poor and have a computer or cell phone then many people will get to feel good when they point out that you're not really poor because you have those things, and maybe you should sell them to get some money so you can stop being poor. /headdesk
posted by rtha at 6:31 AM on January 29, 2015 [67 favorites]


And if you're poor and have a computer or cell phone then many people will get to feel good when they point out that you're not really poor because you have those things, and maybe you should sell them to get some money so you can stop being poor. /headdesk

For example, Fox News.
posted by ymgve at 6:38 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wonder what America, let alone the world, would look like if we could all agree that electricity should be a human right and internet access should be treated as a public utility.

That's exactly the difference -- electricity was treated that way early in the twentieth century, so there were fantastically huge subsidies for rural electrification along with the creation of the TVA and BPA (among many smaller versions) to build dams and generation capacity and to operationalize the electrification projects. The result was connecting almost every household in the nation to the electrical grid, no matter how far flung and cost-prohibitive it was to do so.

We are obviously not doing that for broadband, and you can see the result in this discussion.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:40 AM on January 29, 2015 [21 favorites]


Serious question to anybody who wants to suggest dialup: When was the last time you bought a computer that actually came with a dialup modem? It isn't 1995 anymore. A cursory search of Walmart's website does not yield a single 56k modem that's actually available for in-store pickup immediately, and I didn't see any when I was there the other day picking up an emergency keyboard replacement. Not only do you need a landline, you need a computer that can actually use it, which I'm pretty sure with a USB modem rules out nearly all tablets. And, I'm pretty sure, Chromebooks. What are schools that do provide devices often providing to kids? Tablets and Chromebooks.

If you happen to already have a landline to use for it. Wait, sorry. Your kid does not have five minutes of homework to do. Even if dialup speed was adequate, you would be blocking your ability to receive any other phone calls during that period of time. Make that two landlines. The continued availability of dialup is not something that's a viable choice for low-income households with children who don't have previous computer experience. It's there because of older people who have zero intention of replacing their Windows XP desktops and only log on once a day to check email, that sort of thing.
posted by Sequence at 6:41 AM on January 29, 2015 [17 favorites]


There's a very simple solution. Unfortunately the idea of everyone sharing resources for the common good is a bit out of fashion these days.

When I was born the people of the UK owned their electricity supply, water supply, Gas, Communications, even an airline. Now we have less than Fuck all (even the sacred NHS is falling apart at the seams) and pay more for these cost effective privatised services (while the staff get paid less). My dad depends on me to pay his internet line. He pays more than me for Gas and electricity because I'm fortunate to be able to pay quarterly and by DD.

Capitalism sucks. Fuck profit.
posted by twistedonion at 6:45 AM on January 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


Spending an extra $9.95 per month is easily going to add a day to your waiting for pay day fast. How many meals would you choose to skip for literally the most awful tier of Comcast service?
posted by Skwirl at 6:47 AM on January 29, 2015 [17 favorites]


I was expecting kids running through fields of tall grass, actually enjoying life and stopping to smell the roses.
posted by phaedon at 6:51 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


We are obviously not doing that for broadband, and you can see the result in this discussion.
posted by Dip Flash at 11:40 AM on January 29 [1 favorite +] [!]


Yeah, but why? (Not directed at you, specifically, Dip Flash). What is it that is stopping us? Giving everyone in the damn country electricity is just as "far fetched" as giving everyone the internet, and yet there's something in our hive mind that's stopping us. Society says you have to earn things, rather than just get them. But look how much we can fucking accomplish when we share resources? Why do we romanticize an impossible bootstraps ideology over actual progress?
posted by FirstMateKate at 6:55 AM on January 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


A lot of this assumes, also, that someone in the household has the time and capability to argue with Comcast for that lowest-tier access. I'm currently working with a lot of people with sub-standard computer skills, and I'm not sure any of them would A) know who to call and B) know what to ask for. This, on top of everything that everyone else has brought up, including that $10/month can be more than is possible for a lot of the group we're talking about.

Sorry, it feels like I'm just wailing about doom, DOOOOM. But the answer is so complex, and probably involves a mix of free citywide broadband, extended library hours with larger banks of computers plus...I don't even know for rural areas. Something involving satellites? Or towers? And some kind of county-wide laptop or smartphone distribution plan? There are so many solutions, but they each cover only part of the problem, and require the acceptance that people should maybe not be actively punished for being poor and also that internet access and computer skills are becoming a basic need that has to be met by society.
posted by kalimac at 6:57 AM on January 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'm still shocked at the very idea of issuing online homework to young children, I don't know children old enough to have been exposed to this stuff yet.

There's something seriously off-putting to me about the idea of migrating maths worksheets to a Flash website. The fact that maths can be learned with nothing but a pencil and paper is not just of practical value when resources are scarce, it should be treasured as a symbol of the democratic nature of learning... and of course compulsory schooling should never require resources that as many as a quarter of pupils don't have.

Which isn't to say that equal access to high-speed internet shouldn't be a political priority.
posted by ormon nekas at 7:04 AM on January 29, 2015 [19 favorites]


I wonder what America, let alone the world, would look like if we could all agree that electricity should be a human right

I'd run my A/C full blast in the summer, and never, ever turn off a light bulb.
posted by Hatashran at 7:04 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


people should maybe not be actively punished for being poor
This.

Say it's $10 a month per person in the US. $750m a month. That's a maximum price to ensure every child has the internet at home. What's that, like 0.1% of the countries Budget?
posted by twistedonion at 7:05 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Add into this fact that computers are hard. Sure, they are fairly easy for people who grew up with them, who have been using them for years, but if you just handed a computer to someone on food stamps and said, "Here, go," it's probably not going to.

I work IT for a living. My girlfriend is incredibly smart. We still run into computer problems that take hours and hours to fix.

And good luck keeping that box patched and up-to-date on dial-up. My last OS update was 500 MBs. It also hosed my box. I had to reinstall. Imagine if I had kids waiting on me to get their homework done and I am troubleshooting missing display drivers.

So who is going to do in-home tech support for these folk?

Free wifi spots are part of the answer, but I think we're reached the tipping point where we need a government municipal project where we bring fiber to the door of everyone in America. Make it the new roads project and get it done.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:11 AM on January 29, 2015 [19 favorites]


I think we'd all be better off without Internet except for an hour a day or whatever is essential.

Hahahaha yes well my essential internet time is ~11hrs per day or else I can't pay my rent, so...

It looked like the kid was playing flash games, is that extracurricular "catch up" stuff or what?

A huge amount of instruction is now written into formats like flash games. It doesn't even need to be any kind of extra offsite thing; major educational publishing houses incorporate it into their core programs now.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 7:12 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I spend 8 hours on the internet at work, another two or three at home surfing (usually while streaming), and then I lay in bed and flip back and forth between Netflix and Clash of Clans until I get sleepy. All my hobbies (for the most part) revolve around online activities or have an online component. So pretty much every waking hour.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:14 AM on January 29, 2015


What's that, like 0.1% of the countries Budget?

More like 0.003%.
posted by marxchivist at 7:23 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


It looked like the kid was playing flash games, is that extracurricular "catch up" stuff or what?

When I was a freshman in high school, my biology teacher gave us an in-class assignment - we teamed up and played this computer game where you dissected a frog, identified all of the organs, and then had to put the frog back together. (If it was reassembled 100% correctly, it did a little tap-dance a la Michigan J. Frog.) A week or so later, he gave us this same game as a pop quiz, and graded us on it.

This was in 1984.

Sometimes games aren't just extracurricular, and it's been that way for a while now.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:30 AM on January 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


The only way it is publicly visible around here, though, is in the long wait lists to get access to the computers at the library (which of course, to prevent porn browsing, are set up so that every patron and library employee can see exactly what you are doing

It hurts me that the idea of other people watching porn online apparently bothers enough folks that the library adopts a model of computer set-up that inconveniences lots of people who aren't watching porn just to prevent patrons who might like to do that.
posted by layceepee at 7:32 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


The internet just might know more about it than your neighbor.

Or, as is quite often the case (present company excluded of course), the internet might think it knows more about it.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:35 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't see anything wrong with computer games in the classroom, on school-provided computers, where the computer offers something more than traditional methods (like a simulation program). Isn't that different from Flash games as compulsory homework?
posted by ormon nekas at 7:35 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just a thought, surely it's in the states best interests that every citizen is online. Instead of selling it as lifting people out of poverty how about turning it into a security issue. Gotta keep an eye on the poor in case they get any crazy ideas.
posted by twistedonion at 7:39 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


It hurts me that the idea of other people watching porn online apparently bothers enough folks that the library adopts a model of computer set-up that inconveniences lots of people who aren't watching porn just to prevent patrons who might like to do that.

I think it is less a matter of "I, a hypothetical public librarian, object to adults enjoying pornography" and more "how can we keep these machines from being riddled with malware, and also consider the fact that most libraries have small children running around on a near-constant basis."

That said, I certainly agree that offering private workstations for sensitive information entry (taxes, medical info, FAFSA, etc) would be a wonderful service. I tutor a HS student who has no computer access at home, and I've started offering her access to my tablet so that she can fill out the Common App and other forms as she applies to college. The fact that she can't get online at home and her public school can't provide useable facilities when she's at school is pretty depressing.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 7:40 AM on January 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


What is *essential* varies so widely from person to person and circumstance to circumstance that this statement is almost meaningless.
posted by flapjax at midnite


It's not meaningless. It's up to you to decide what is essential. What, you think I'm trying to tell people what essential is? Nice little straw man attack. Good essential work.
posted by stbalbach at 7:50 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Time for those dreaded Obamaphones to get some subsidized ObamaNet. Government agencies that replace paper forms with web-forms should be required to make sure they work in a mobile browser.

I wonder if the FCC reclassification of broadband as telecom, should it go through, would open the door to a kind of universal service fund for rural/poor access.

Here's an industry article from 2013 discussing cost-recovery issues regarding standalone broadband and naked DSL, with attention to service for rural areas.

We do have the "Connect America Fund," which seems like some kind of fumbling attempt to have some kind of universal service program. This last December, the FCC raised the target speed to 10 Mbps download / 1Mpbs upload (from 4 down and 1 up). However, it would seem that carrier participation isn't mandatory:

FCC officials at today’s meeting said Phase II of the CAF program for price cap carriers is expected to get underway next year. That program calls for carriers to be offered support levels for broadband deployment to unserved areas based on a cost model. Carriers will have the option of accepting or rejecting funding on a state by state basis. If a carrier declines funding for a state, there will be a competitive bidding process to award funding.

(The Universal Service Administration has explanations of some of the classifications used in that article, like 'price cap' vs. 'rate of return' carriers here.)

Regarding schools and libraries, there was a funding increase of $1.5B for the eRate program (which brings telecom and broadband to underserved schools and libraries), and some adjustments to prioritize broadband over legacy telecom in use of the funds. However, 60% the increase just addresses the impact of inflation between 1997 and 2010, and "meeting connectivity goals will [still] require average prices to fall by 50%."

In an apparent no-brainer, the eRate program was also explicitly tied to Universal Service: it will now require telcos "to provide high-speed broadband to schools and libraries in geographic areas where the telco receives support from the high-cost Universal Service Fund." One wonders why it was not always so.
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:52 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Who is going to provide IT support is a great question, cjorgensen. I have a lot of friends who are poor and live in deep rural places. I often spend my visits making their archaic computer setups work or fixing their kids' school issued laptops. I'm no stranger to a 386 running windows ME over dialup. I save old hard drives and RAM chips to take on my visits. I have more than a few times sent old decommissioned rigs from my own stash off by ups.

What a great idea for a volunteer service project it would be: "Summer of tech support," teams go into poor communities and fix shit. I know for a fact there is demand.
posted by spitbull at 7:52 AM on January 29, 2015 [18 favorites]


Hell, I work for a company that happens be housed in a building that doesn't have hardwired internet, we have a wireless antenna on our roof and if it snows too heavily our internet goes down, and thus our business also, we run an integrated software that runs in browsers.

Comcast wants to give us fancy fast internet but our landlord who is so rich to not care has not returned any of their calls so that the cables can be laid to our building. The landlord doesn't care if our business is efficient and successful, or if it exists at all, and this is in Boulder, CO...

Replace landlord with government or corporate mono-caplitialism and you get an idea where we are headed as a country when it comes to infrastructure, only those you can pay the tolls or are deemed to be in the proper class to be allowed to pay the toll will be able to function/thrive.

Everything else: people, business, buildings, communities will be left to rot.
posted by Divest_Abstraction at 7:52 AM on January 29, 2015 [10 favorites]


Can parents get conscientious objector status if they've uninstalled Flash?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:56 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Religious exemption, like vaccines.
posted by spitbull at 7:57 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have an older relative who is not very technically literate. She can manage to read gmail but can't reliably figure out how to forward messages, and facebook is kind of baffling. I do most of her complicated interactions for her (eg dealing with online social security direct deposit stuff, etc).

I cannot imagine her having to deal with this without having access to the internet at all.
posted by rmd1023 at 8:02 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


The *average* total transfer size for a single web page these days is approximately 1.9 MB.

According to this download speed calculator that equates to approximately 4 minutes, 37 seconds on a 56k modem.

So I did another test using Quizlet, a site that a student in middle school might be asked to use. A sample page containing 20 interactive Spanish questions came in at about 1255k and then once cached by the browser about 705k.

So in that scenario, the first time someone on a 56k modem goes to that Quizlet page it will take approximately 3 minutes and 3 seconds to load the page, the next time they go to a similar page (and take advantage of the browser caching) it will still take 1 minute 43 seconds.
posted by jeremias at 8:13 AM on January 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, as a supplement to the Connect America adjustments, it seems the FCC has an experimental competition running to test newer forms of access in reaching underserved areas:

Funding for rural broadband experiments was awarded in three categories, including:
19 entities targeted to share $75 million toward the cost of bringing broadband at speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 25 Mbps upstream
12 entities that will share $15 million toward the cost of bringing service at speeds of at least 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream
9 entities that will share $9.5 million toward the cost of bringing service at speeds of at least 10 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps upstream to areas that are extremely costly to serve
Projects were funded in a total of 25 states and Puerto Rico.


The results will be fed back into the bidding processes and standards used by Connect America.

Of course, even if these programs are successful, even very cheap service is not free and can still be too expensive for those barely scraping by, or can be unavailable to those without a stable address, as has been said many times in this thread.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:15 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


What is *essential* varies so widely from person to person and circumstance to circumstance that this statement is almost meaningless.
posted by flapjax at midnite

It's not meaningless. It's up to you to decide what is essential. What, you think I'm trying to tell people what essential is? Nice little straw man attack. Good essential work.
posted by stbalbach

With regards to what is presented in the linked video, your original comment ("I think we'd all be better off without Internet except for an hour a day or whatever is essential.") came off as patronizing and breezily dismissive of the genuine internet needs of the family of four profiled there. I mean, sure, you're entitled to your opinion about how we'd *all* be better off in some completely different societal scenario. But if you can't understand that, in the context of this discussion, your comment appears elitist at worst or tone deaf at best, then, well...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:17 AM on January 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


"These people don't have access to broadband."
"Can't they use dial-up?"
"They may not even have a landline."
"Let them use an iPhone."
posted by entropicamericana at 8:20 AM on January 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


When I was growing up our only income was TANF. The periods of time during my childhood when we were able to have a landline phone or even a (crappy, old, used, black and white) TV set were few and far between. $10 can buy a week's worth of dinners, or a pair of shitty sneakers for a kid to replace the ones that have been used so long they have holes worn through the soles. It's not a trivial amount of money when you have to make every penny stretch to its utmost.
posted by trunk muffins at 8:20 AM on January 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


I simultaneously agree with stbalbach and see how the comment could come across as elitist. It's only elitist, though, if you assume ordinary people don't have the capacity or authority to have opinions about the big picture decisions on what directions we should take with our technology development. For all the talk about tech development just being some organic, unstoppable natural process that operates according to its own natural logic, the reality is, capitalism is the mechanism that decides what our technological reality is going to be. That sounds nice and impersonal, but when you get right down to it, it's not. It's actual specific people with a lot of excess capital choosing deliberately where to invest that money to create the future we all have to live within. There's nothing necessarily elitist about questioning that decision-making. In fact, it's the opposite of elitist from a certain point of view to expect ordinary people to have opinions and some meaningful say in what investment choices our society makes to create the technological realities of the day. Technological development isn't self-directed--it's shaped by the choices investors make. So it's really not elitist to suggest that ordinary people might not agree with the technological priorities of the investors is it?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:27 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but why? (Not directed at you, specifically, Dip Flash). What is it that is stopping us? Giving everyone in the damn country electricity is just as "far fetched" as giving everyone the internet, and yet there's something in our hive mind that's stopping us.

For a lot of reasons we've mostly stopped investing in big infrastructure projects. It's easy to criticize projects like the tva (on environmental grounds if nothing else) but the combined effect was tremendously redistributive and improved the material lives of many millions of people.

As a country we have stopped doing that, at least temporarily, and there will be a high price for that inaction.
posted by Dip Flash at 8:27 AM on January 29, 2015 [12 favorites]


I'd also add (though I'm sure it will enrage those who like to tsk-tsk the decisions of poor families from the remove of their comfort zones) that reforming the cable TV industry and making more programming available for subscription over the Internet would help ease the squeeze on poor families. If they could cancel the overpriced basic cable and get a better tailored collection of family channels and non-English language programming online for less, that would help with affording even subsidized broadband. And nicely gets around the problem of subsidizing the broadband portion of bundled cable services, which has the effect of propping up cable TV.
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:32 AM on January 29, 2015


"These people don't have access to broadband."
"Can't they use dial-up?"
"They may not even have a landline."
"Let them use an iPhone."


Oh, bullshit. A phone is cheaper than a PC, doesn't have the maintenance overhead and learning curve, is subsidzed by the carrier, doesn't require a stable address for installation, and is multipurpose. It's common for poorer people to have a smartphone and not a computer. This is what the supposed "Obamaphone" service (actually, the 'lifeline' program, which is part of Universal Service under the FCC) recognizes.

In many developing countries, they're skipping the whole terrestrial phase of telecom buildout and going straight to wireless.

Trying to serve people using the equipment they already have or are likely to buy is just about the opposite of 'let them eat cake.'
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:39 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Great. Now we just have to make sure that all the educational web developers are optimizing all their code to work on iOS and Android devices. Given the heavy reliance on Flash, I'm sure that's a piece of cake.
posted by Doc Ezra at 8:46 AM on January 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


Just last week I applied for a job using my iPhone. It was really difficult and I'm not going to assume someone has crossed the digital divide just because they have a smartphone.
posted by Monochrome at 8:46 AM on January 29, 2015 [20 favorites]


I had dial up several years ago. 28k; 56k wasn't even available. It's part of the reason I've hung around the site so much; MetaFilter isn't super bandwidth intensive even on 28k internet. This was 2008 or so, when web developers were tossing aside the notion of accessibility and abusing the heck out of Flash by replacing their site's navigation or--worse, much worse, special circle of Hell worse--entire content with Flash. MetaFilter was often among the only websites I could really access anymore.

Satellite is not viable internet either. First of all, it's expensive; it's the kind of connection you buy at great cost if you're forced to downgrade from broadband to dial-up/ISDN due to a relocation or something. I couldn't really afford satellite during the period that I had it, but threw money at it anyway. You're looking at $70+/mo., duopolized between two companies who often actively despise you, so that's obviously not a solution for people struggling to get by.

Latency isn't the big issue everyone imagines it to be; it takes about a second to bounce data into space and back, so you can't play games but that's not a big deal for any other use and you're throwing information into outer space and catching it as it's fired back down to you. That is admittedly pretty cool.

Congestion and bandwidth are the main concerns with satellite. There just isn't enough bandwidth via satellite to serve a large population, and all satellite servers are badly, horrifically oversold. Connections completely break down during peak hours, so your most likely window for having time for the internet--5PM - 11PM--is permanently locked. Service is provided in tiers, so corporate and government users get priority bandwidth, followed by wealthy private users and so on. So you? You get leftovers.

To conduct this perpetually wrecking train, satellite ISPs enforce incredibly draconian bandwidth usage policies. My ISP gave me 200MB per day. You have no idea how stupidly easy it is to exceed that amount just with ordinary web browsing, let alone anything else you might need to do. Staying within the limit increasingly means being tech/net savvy enough to block things that chew up a lot of bandwidth and schedule downloads/usage. Going over that limit means losing your connection for a punitive 24 hour period beginning the minute you go over that limit. Technically, you do still have a connection, but it's throttled to about 2k, so it's nothing but a legal loophole that allows satellite ISPs to advertise as providing "unlimited" internet even when they turn it off a lot.

Of course, it's not like the bandwidth policies could just be lifted. They have been, occasionally, and the breakdown of peak hours just extends to the rest of the day. Satellite internet is fundamentally broken. And it's generally at the top tier of internet access for rural poor people; most people are going to decide to just forgo the high financial cost and the emotional toll of constantly having to deal with satellite, and just get that cheap, useless 28k connection.
posted by byanyothername at 8:53 AM on January 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


It's common for poorer people to have a smartphone and not a computer.

Sadly true. Unfortunately smartphones and tablets are consumption devices. Giving the poor mobile connectivity will do nothing more than massage the statistics. People need to be computer literate and mobile devices do not serve this purpose.
posted by twistedonion at 8:53 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, I really wanted to write more about poverty and accessibility, but people for whom this is not a concern have an enormous amount of misconceptions about alternative internet access (and satellite in particular) so that post just kind of mutated into a big list of why suggesting satellite for people who are poor, rural or otherwise unable to get good internet access is a terrible idea.

Short version: it's a lot more complicated than suggesting people "just" "get X method of connectivity."
posted by byanyothername at 8:57 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also an iPhone is going to be totally useless for doing any Flash-based coursework, and even if you do get assignments that work on a four-inch screen, they're going to chew through your 1-2 GB of monthly data use quickly. Probably well before the month is over.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:00 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


First, I'd like to make a comment or two about the video. Those kids seem awesome, and mom seems to be trying really hard to be awesome too. Nowhere is dad in the pic, or the suggestion that dad takes the kids to the library sometimes, or provides access to a computer in any way, which is sad. Secondly, the vid seems to be trying to raise awareness that organizations exist to try to mitigate the problem. those of us concerned should probably do some research and see if these orgs are worth supporting.
Secondly, w/r/t online homework, especially math. what i have seen is that the need for this comes mostly at the early stages of developing number sense, and the basics of arithmetic. those flash games are an adjunct that gives kids a chance to practice, and see numbers in an environment that they might be more familiar with (cartoon characters vs paper and pencil numbers). in a big classroom with kids of a variety of levels of understanding, teachers feel like they are progressive to use this adjunct, because it not only frees them from making worksheets and correcting them (the flash games are self-correcting or provide a scoring system) but it makes them feel like they are also giving kids another skill, using the computer. I am not a teacher, but i have spent countless hours volunteering at my kids' school and helping tutor math to grade-schoolers.
it would be nice to see the schools give after school access to low income families, to use the school's computers if they cant get to the library or use one at home.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:01 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Great. Now we just have to make sure that all the educational web developers are optimizing all their code to work on iOS and Android devices. Given the heavy reliance on Flash, I'm sure that's a piece of cake.

This is already well under way, actually. Almost everything I've worked on in the last 3 years is iOS and Android compatible.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 9:09 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


It hurts me that the idea of other people watching porn online apparently bothers enough folks that the library adopts a model of computer set-up that inconveniences lots of people who aren't watching porn just to prevent patrons who might like to do that.

Do you use library computers? I do sometimes. I'm not particularly puritanical, but I have, multiple times, ended up sitting next to someone watching porn. It made me uncomfortable. It would have made me really uncomfortable if I'd had a child with me. I don't think I'm alone in this.

Anyway, in my area Cox has a $10 broadband plan for low-income families with students (I think there might also be some sort of assistance with buying computers), which strikes me as a good thing, as much as I can't stand Cox otherwise.
posted by geegollygosh at 9:11 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


People need to be computer literate and mobile devices do not serve this purpose.

To a point, many people need to learn how to use today's software who don't currently know how to use it, sure. But do you really think that a kid who is in pre-K today is going to be using an OS when they graduate from high school that resembles the user experience of today's desktops? Both Windows and Mac are focusing increasingly on tying together the desktop and mobile experiences. I don't think a phone with 4g is as good as a laptop with home high-speed wifi, but I actually think it's leaps and bounds better than the idea of people with dialup connections and hand-me-down desktops.

But it does raise the problem of things like Flash, which is why I think it should be on the educational institutions to start insisting that the providers of web apps they use do so in proper responsive HTML5 because god damn it we can do that now and there's no reason not to. Is that likely? Maybe not, but I don't think putting a working modern computer and high-speed internet in every household is likely, either. I think that given current trends, though, expanding mobile data capacity is going to be happening anyway, the shift away from Flash and towards responsive design is going to be happening anyway, it's marginally more reasonable to try to capitalize on that.
posted by Sequence at 9:11 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Being next to somebody who's watching porn is super uncomfortable, but even if they did just make every workstation isolated it's still bad hygiene, both physically (eew, sticky) and in terms of keeping mal/spyware off the computer.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:17 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah, but why? (Not directed at you, specifically, Dip Flash). What is it that is stopping us? Giving everyone in the damn country electricity is just as "far fetched" as giving everyone the internet, and yet there's something in our hive mind that's stopping us.

Well, there are a bunch of answers to that question. But if you look at the history of rural electrification in the US, a few things come out:

First, there were studies done to show that it actually was cost-effective. The most famous was the "Red Wing Project" in Minnesota, which was a sort of academic/industry co-op project to see if dragging power lines out to farms made a lot of sense. It turns out it did (although I don't know if it necessarily was profitable, per se, for the power companies, or rather only when analyzed in terms of overall economic benefit), at least for farms. And that was the argument through most of the 1920s: it wasn't about bringing electricity out to rural people, as much as it was providing electricity to rural farms to replace other energy sources and bring about agricultural efficiency improvements. And the message was aimed as much at farmers as it was at policymakers; I think the electric companies' interest in the pilot projects were mostly because they saw it as a way to spur demand. Unfortunately, most farmers just couldn't afford it, so there wasn't much built in the 20s.

The real buildout occurred in the 30s under the Rural Electrification Act, which was a loan program. Even in the Depression, anything that smelled like a direct handout wasn't feasible, but loans—which incidentally also had the effect of creating a lot of jobs—was. The loans allowed farmers and ranchers to get themselves connected to rural electric cooperatives, and pay back the cost of installation over long periods of time (I think they were initially 15 or 20 year loans, but eventually extended to 35 years).

Anyway, that's how you got rural electrification. On one hand, you have the case showing that it actually makes sense for a farmer, and then you had Federally backed loan programs that let them spread the cost over a long enough time period to actually afford it. The delivery mechanism were the electric cooperatives, some of which still exist.

There's probably a lot you could do to roll out broadband infrastructure the same way, but also some differences. Some of the issues come from the lobbying power of the dominant ISP companies, especially against municipal broadband or co-ops funded by bond issues; you didn't have as much of that in the 30s from the power companies, because they were highly regulated. Consolidated Edison of New York didn't give a shit about some rural electric cooperative in Iowa, because they were never going to provide power service in Iowa anyway; Comcast, apparently, sees every podunk town with a municipal ISP program as an existential threat. That's a problem.

Also, there's no real electrical equivalent to satellite internet. If I'm rich, and I have a summer cabin in West Virginia or a dove ranch in Texas, and I want Internet service, I can get it via satellite, and my neighbors get no benefit from it. With the exception of small wind or hydropower projects (or running your own power plant like the Vanderbilts did at the Biltmore), that's not how electricity works. If one rich guy at the end of the road decides he wants electricity and has the lines run, everyone on the street gets it.

There's no duplication of infrastructure with electricity, either; there's only one power company per area, and that's where you get power from—you don't have the phone company building one halfassed network, and the cable company building another, and three different cellular companies each doing their own thing. That's deregulation's fault, mostly. I suspect that without deregulation, we might have much slower and more expensive Internet in cities (courtesy of Ma Bell), but we'd probably have uniform service everywhere.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:22 AM on January 29, 2015 [15 favorites]


Do you use library computers? I do sometimes. I'm not particularly puritanical, but I have, multiple times, ended up sitting next to someone watching porn. It made me uncomfortable. It would have made me really uncomfortable if I'd had a child with me. I don't think I'm alone in this.

There are lots of different kinds of content available in libraries, both on computer and in the stacks, that some people might be uncomfortable with other people accessing. I would be disappointed with libraries that censored content based on this, even in cases where the discomfort might seem "reasonable."

Similarly, I don't have a problem with setting up public spaces like libraries to minimize the chances of children seeing content that is inappropriate, but when that rises to the level of banning certain kinds of material outright, I would disagree with the decision to handle the challenge in that fashion.

Holy Zarqon, it seems as though geegollygosh's library has managed to deal with "hygiene" issues without banning access to "porn," so I am encouraged that libraries are able to address the problem without relying on censorship.
posted by layceepee at 9:28 AM on January 29, 2015


A few possible solutions:

Subsidies and regulations via the Connect America Fund. Conservatives: "Up yours." Historians: "Nearly the same thing happened in 1935 to bring electricity to farmers when markets failed." Conservative (leaders): "Internet is not as important as electricity." The entire world: "Yes it is"

Experimental public/private initiatives, especially the potential of TV band white space devices for rural backhaul.

Silicon valley: High throughput transponders on fleets of low altitude satellites might do the trick for sparsely populated rural areas and developing nations. Google (loon) and O3b are counting on it, maybe even Elon. Btw GREAT way to collect data and loyalty of budding developing world consumers by offering them internet for free - for now.
posted by Halogenhat at 9:30 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Unfortunately smartphones and tablets are consumption devices.

If this were ever true it's for sure not now.

The majority of media I consume was probably shot on a smart phone. Every single faculty member I support uses a tablet to teach and often to compose their lecture content. I'd say 25% of my metafilter interaction uses the speech to text function on my iPad (it would be higher if I weren't using a desktop as my primary work machine).

I look around and the kids these days are almost all using tablets to take their class notes, and I am seeing more and more people replacing their laptops with tablets.

A shitload of music, art, and design are done on tablets and phones. The number one camera being used today on flickr is an iPhone (it's also the number two and number three camera).

This is a common narrative—that phones aren't for creation—but I'd say it takes an astounding level of deliberate self-deception to maintain this delusion.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:31 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


it takes an astounding level of deliberate self-deception to maintain this delusion.

Or an inability to type comfortably on a touchscreen. Are all those note-taking students using bluetooth keyboards? Because wow, I cannot imagine trying to keep up with a class without a real keyboard.

It is possible I am an old, or also possible I am deliberately deceiving myself.
posted by asperity at 9:48 AM on January 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


A lot of the people who aren't online aren't families with young children. I work with a lot of isolated older people, and we often recommend people get tablets and smartphones if they want to start getting online. The accessibility features are all built in, and if you're going to be using it to check the horse results, Skype your daughter in australia and chat on your neighbourhood's Facebook group then it will probably suit your needs. Some people grow out of them, but a lot don't.

And now to be a cycnic. The people who are doing a lot to get people online in the UK? Housing Associations, because if people can't get online to claim their benefits, they'll default on their rent. A major bank (adverts all over the TV recently) because they can cut costs if they don't have to run branches and send out paper statements...

What a great idea for a volunteer service project it would be: "Summer of tech support," teams go into poor communities and fix shit. I know for a fact there is demand.

I'm going to blow my own trumpet here, please forgive me, this is what we do, if you are blind or partially sighted and live in the UK. There are other organisations that do the same for anyone with any disability.
posted by Helga-woo at 9:57 AM on January 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


I kind of wish people pushing Apple products here would pay a little more attention to the topic at hand. If the conversation were about the state of public transit, it would be equally obnoxious to tell people to just buy a diesel Mercedes because the fuel economy is so good.
posted by Poldo at 9:58 AM on January 29, 2015 [9 favorites]


... people pushing Apple products here ...

That's really unfair. And it's also a bad analogy - at least the way I'm reading it, people are saying that regularly scheduled train service might not ever be available in certain areas - rails are very expensive to lay down - but buses may be a decent option, especially as the bus service capabilities improve.
posted by RedOrGreen at 10:05 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


If the single mom in the clip can't afford a cheap computer (say $100 to $300 depending) and a cheap connection (say $10 to $30/mo, depending), how the heck can she afford a $500 phone/tablet and a $30 to $40/mo mobile plan?

I have no idea how a phone is supposed to help this woman. If the cheap fixed-line option is too expensive for her, I don't see how a double-priced mobile one is going to work better.
posted by bonehead at 10:24 AM on January 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


The phone plans are really risky if you're low income, too, because they tend to have all sorts of hidden fees and penalties and hourly charges and other unpredictably variable costs bundled in. I'm a highly technical professional and I've never found a persuasive economic argument for someone in my position to swap a landline for a plan. I keep a burner phone for emergencies. Between that and my landline, I have all the same functionality as someone with a smartphone plan and smartphone but for considerably lower monthly cost.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:34 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


> A shitload of music, art, and design are done on tablets and phones. The number one camera being used today on flickr is an iPhone (it's also the number two and number three camera).

That's super. Is there an app to apply for, say, SNAP?
posted by Monochrome at 10:38 AM on January 29, 2015 [8 favorites]


I'd rather not get into a meta-argument involving analogies. As bonehead pointed out, telling people to buy stuff is not a solution to a systemic problem.

IMHO if internet access has become a required thing to have to fully participate in society, then it should be accessible freely both in price (eg: give everyone an iphone and a basic plan) and in speech (make the hardware and software 100% open for inspection and modification).
posted by Poldo at 10:41 AM on January 29, 2015


If it's anything like the homework given to my kids, it's flash games that let you practice mathematical principles, or online quizes and tests that let teachers check that you really understand what's been taught in class.


So, according to the site, kids take the quizzes in their "spare" time, and the teacher gets a report with class metrics, etc.

I suppose that's ... better than just old-fashioned take home assignments?
I wonder if it really does reduce the teacher workload like they claim.

Any teachers in here that have experience with this from the classroom side?
Is it worth this mom rushing here and there so her kids can get online?
posted by madajb at 10:54 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


With regards to what is presented in the linked video, your original comment ("I think we'd all be better off without Internet except for an hour a day or whatever is essential.") came off as patronizing and breezily dismissive of the genuine internet needs of the family of four profiled there. I mean, sure, you're entitled to your opinion about how we'd *all* be better off in some completely different societal scenario. But if you can't understand that, in the context of this discussion, your comment appears elitist at worst or tone deaf at best, then, well...

Your comment looks like a clown fishing for favs by framing other people's comments in a negative light. If your that hard up for favs you have to attack your fellow mefites, then, well...
posted by stbalbach at 11:09 AM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


A lot of this assumes, also, that someone in the household has the time and capability to argue with Comcast for that lowest-tier access. I'm currently working with a lot of people with sub-standard computer skills, and I'm not sure any of them would A) know who to call and B) know what to ask for.

As much as I like to hate on Comcast, _if_ you know this program exists and qualify (basically, you need proof that you have a child that receives free lunch), it is really easy to get.
There's even a different number to call, so you don't run the gauntlet of "retention specialists" and people trying to sell you an ESPN package.
They even will forgive your previous Comcast debt if a family is reluctant to sign up because of past due cable bills.

I don't know what the speed is, 5mb down maybe, but it is good enough for one of the families in our preschool to Skype with relatives, so it would probably be good enough for flash-based homework sites.
posted by madajb at 11:13 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


FWIW I read your initial comment as pretty negative and condescending, stbalbach.
posted by rtha at 11:13 AM on January 29, 2015 [6 favorites]


FWIW I read your initial comment as pretty negative and condescending, stbalbach.

Well other people didn't. I'm not the simple asshole you are looking for. We've been talking about internet addiction and pervasiveness in our lives on MeFi for years.
posted by stbalbach at 11:17 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


Do you use library computers? I do sometimes. I'm not particularly puritanical, but I have, multiple times, ended up sitting next to someone watching porn. It made me uncomfortable. It would have made me really uncomfortable if I'd had a child with me. I don't think I'm alone in this.

My library doesn't allow unattended adults in the children's section.
So the old men watching porn are separated from the kids by a floor.

I've never seen it, but I imagine this would help out with the "need a computer to do homework" problem, as you wouldn't be competing against the people playing online games for screen time.
posted by madajb at 11:20 AM on January 29, 2015


My wife is a teacher at a elementary school in a very low income area. Over 90% of the kids at her school are recent immigrants or refugees. They don't assume kids would have access to a computer. They have to assume that any material not directly supplied in the classroom might as well be on the moon. A lot kids there don't even have winter coats. The teachers generally avoid giving any kind of homework because a lot of the parents can't speak English, and the home situation for many of the kids is so chaotic that it would be unlikely to get done.

Even at my kids' elementary school, homework never requires computers.
posted by fimbulvetr at 11:21 AM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


There are lots of different kinds of content available in libraries, both on computer and in the stacks, that some people might be uncomfortable with other people accessing. I would be disappointed with libraries that censored content based on this, even in cases where the discomfort might seem "reasonable."

The conflation of people who don't want to skype with gramma while sitting next to someone watching Greased Up Fistfuckers Vol. III with people who want to censor stuff like books with what, interracial relationships? Books about gay people? It's a pretty bizarre slippery slope. Sorry that I'd prefer not to see a dozen guys jerking off onto a woman's face while I see if the book I want is available at another branch. If you think that makes me intolerant then I'm totes fine with that.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:26 AM on January 29, 2015 [17 favorites]


Today I learned that people look at porn in the library. What the hell, people? Some things are meant to be private. Hell, I'd be embarrassed to be seeing reading 50 shades of crap on the bus, much less view porn in a public space where there are kids around. Gross.

Also, this is yet another reason we should make sure everyone has access to cheap broadband and home computer access (grin). We need to force Comcast et al to choose whether to be a content provider or a utility provider, by regulating them till their eyes pop out. The idea that a private company that operates at the pleasure of the people/government thinks they can sue a municipality for creating a public fiber network is just totally dumb. Unfortunately the new Congress is bathing in the tired, college-econ-freshman "private is better" Kool-aid so things probably won't get better.

Also also, I'm a programmer and have tablets, phones, laptops, desktops and stuff all over the place, but if I had to fill out a web form on an iPhone, I would go to the "print form and use snail mail" method first. Phones suck the big one for actually doing certain things. I mean, people play games and surf the web on those teeny screens but the experience on something the size of an iPad is about 1000x better.
posted by freecellwizard at 11:28 AM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


The conflation of people who don't want to skype with gramma while sitting next to someone watching Greased Up Fistfuckers Vol. III with people who want to censor stuff like books with what, interracial relationships? Books about gay people? It's a pretty bizarre slippery slope.

I'm not saying I object to censoring porn because it might lead to censorship of other things that are worthwhile. I'm saying I object to censoring porn because I object to censorship and I value pornography.

And if you aren't old enough to remember when all books about gay people were classified as porn, you are younger than I am.
posted by layceepee at 11:51 AM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I also read that original comment as pretty condescending, stbalbach, and really, really tone deaf given the content of the conversation. For what it's worth. Maybe consider why people are reacting to it instead of doubling down on the "NO IT'S FINE ALL OF YOU ARE WRONG"-style responses?

Also, I have a laptop and a smartphone. That is pretty much what I can afford right now. When my laptop is broken and in the shop--which has happened relatively frequently in the last three years, about once every six months or so--I suddenly have to access everything through my phone. Banking--my bank has NO physical branches--bill-paying, the works. I'm just lucky I've never needed to fill out out an online form while I wait for access to a keyboard to return. I cannot imagine having to rely on a bloody smartphone for one's internet-based tasks permanently--it just takes so freaking long to get the information encoded, and typos and text communication is ridiculously frustrating.
posted by sciatrix at 11:53 AM on January 29, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also, re: the porn discussion: I'm not sure that "putting the desktop monitors in an open, easily viewable space so we can see your screen being porn-free" is the same thing as censorship. FWIW. I thought that was what we were talking about?
posted by sciatrix at 11:54 AM on January 29, 2015


Further, the sort of people who want to watch porn in public are often doing so because doing it in public is their kink, involving others in their sexual enjoyment without the consent of those other people, which is, of course, super fucking gross and not much different from the dude who whips out his cock on the subway when you're alone in the car with him.

And yeah, censorship is not "please don't watch porn in public," for fuck's sake.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:01 PM on January 29, 2015 [16 favorites]


ugh, this is a shitty derail that i deeply regret involving myself in.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:03 PM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Thinking that people watching porn in a public library is a bad thing is not the same as wanting to censor porn. Most people probably wouldn't be ok with couples having sex in a supermarket aisle. If people are having sex in the supermarket aisle because they are homeless and don't have a warm bedroom at home to do it, then let's improve society so they have a home by adding public housing or a guaranteed minimum income or something instead.

I feel bad if I started or contributed to the porn derail. I was just struck by an overwhelming case of Wait You Mean This Is A Thing? Seems like the libraries could just ask people to stop or leave.
posted by freecellwizard at 12:04 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, re: the porn discussion: I'm not sure that "putting the desktop monitors in an open, easily viewable space so we can see your screen being porn-free" is the same thing as censorship.

Well, if the reason you want to see that my screen is porn-free is because you aren't allowed to access porn on the library computer, then it is the same thing as censorship.

And the objection that the problem is the public viewing of porn doesn't make sense. I was reacting to a post that said that the monitors were not set up to give privacy to all kind of users who might not want to share what they were looking at--like their tax return information--specifically because the library wanted to prevent patrons from looking at porn in private, where no one could see it.

It's like if they removed all the doors from the toilet stalls in the bathroom to make sure no one was having sex in there.
posted by layceepee at 12:17 PM on January 29, 2015


That video really opened my eyes. I worked in public libraries for ~17 years. Our policy was everyone got 2 hours per day of internet access with no exceptions. Because the library was so busy, we never got to know the poor mothers like the woman in the video.

There were so many barriers to meeting the computer needs of the poor and digitally disadvantaged. Most patrons weren't interested in learning about how to use the internet. They just wanted me to show them how to do what they wanted to accomplish (due to budget cuts, we only had three librarians to serve an incredibly busy building). I put up a link to a good computer literacy site on our research computers, but nobody was interested in sitting down and going through the lessons.

City Hall wasn't very supportive of the library expanding services to the poor. They didn't want the library to be full of poor people, never mind that it is a historically working-class town with an enormous immigrant population.

We couldn't do anything for the people who spent two hours filling out an enormously complex form and then had their session end because their two hours were up. Those of us on the floor sympathized with these people, but we got in trouble if we extended their time by even 10-15 minutes.

Thus, the institutional disadvantage of the poor mentioned upthread is actively enforced even by the agencies that are supposed to help fight it (one of the many reasons I no longer work in public libraries).

As to the argument about banning watching porn in a library being censorship, California has a law prohibiting pornography being shown in areas where children are present. The library I worked at had only one floor. Kids were always running all over the place. Many kids, especially the tweeners, did not want to use the computers in the children's room, so we really had to crack down on the porn watchers.
posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 12:39 PM on January 29, 2015 [7 favorites]


Just last week I applied for a job using my iPhone. It was really difficult and I'm not going to assume someone has crossed the digital divide just because they have a smartphone.

That's super. Is there an app to apply for, say, SNAP?

This to my mind is not a problem with mobile devices as one of multiple ways to reach underserved groups, but rather with employers and government.

Having alternative barebones, non-Web 2.0 forms for mobile/"lite" browsers is really not hard or expensive.

While it shouldn't be necessary, as there should be direct support, a laudable project for an interested non-profit would be developing some kind of proxy app for some of these purposes.

The Flash thing to my mind is a distractor: Flash sucks and crashes on desktop machines too, especially modest, aging, or inexpertly maintained systems. Flash is not an open standard, but rather a commercial product whose former de facto monopoly thankfully has one foot in the grave, and compatibility with it should not dictate public policy. Adobe already has enough of that going on with the increasing reliance on PDF as a record-keeping file format.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:44 PM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


Page bloat has been a factor in web design for a long time, and some interesting books have been written about it. Scott Jehl's Responsible Responsive Design, for example. I do wish that more designers tried to remember that not everybody is downloading their site on a color-balanced, enormous monitor with gigabit connections.

As for online forms, one of my favorite Kickstarters that I backed recently was one to make food stamp applications easier.

Still, this is patching the larger whole in that access to the internet should be for everyone, just like the mail, or a non-sucky bank. The Post Office could do all of those things if conservatives weren't interested in driving it into the ground.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 12:56 PM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


I spent last Wednesday evening at a town hall meeting to encourage tech skills in the youth of a minority community. I went because my husband and I both work in the tech industry, and we've both benefited greatly. We live in a neighboring community, but I'm of the rising tide/all boats philosophy so I thought it'd be a good thing to offer insights to my particular wing of the tech industry and do some brainstorming on how to begin to address the digital divide.

Unfortunately, the larger part of the discussion focused on how to get kids interested in building apps to make tons of money. There was a discussion on how to teach kids coding and what types of math skills they would need to learn python. There was a discussion on how social media applications can impact a movement and how it was essential to get kids the skills to build the next Twitter.

No one mentioned how many of these kids don't have a computer at home. They talked about taking a 6 week class and getting a laptop for completion. No one mentioned connectivity. No one mentioned how do families learn about this project if they don't have the internet?

We discussed how the digital divide leaves people behind because they don't have the skills to get the new high paying jobs. No one mentioned how few jobs still let you apply with a paper form. And most of those only have the form available online.

I mean, I get it. People hear about this kid who made an app and who is a millionaire now. They think that kid is the solution to the massive economic disparity in this country. But these simplistic ideas of "just teach the kids to code" and "give them a computer" are as realistic as giving a kid a football and teaching him how to get in the shotgun formation is all he needs to be the next Peyton Manning.
posted by teleri025 at 1:10 PM on January 29, 2015 [14 favorites]


I do wish that more designers tried to remember that not everybody is downloading their site on a color-balanced, enormous monitor with gigabit connections.

This is really important, and it's important to think of device size and connection speed as separate issues. My company has web apps that work great on mobile devices size-wise, but to deal with the connection speed thing you really need to use a tool (usually installed) to simulate low or variable bandwidth. It's eye-opening. Some of our target audience is business users in places with sucky internet (like Chad or DRC) and it's a lot of work to build a web app that they can reasonably use.

I also am not sure building responsive sites is *that* easy. With Bootstrap and media queries and stuff it's *easier*, but we still have lots of mobile-only bugs and tricky layout issues that have to get manually fixed by really smart web devs. And a lot of sites are not built by the top tier of developers, or at least not ones with latest-and-greatest skill sets.
posted by freecellwizard at 1:29 PM on January 29, 2015


Also: having a smartphone is one thing, having a data plan that supports the whole family going online at once 1 hour a day is different. Please watch the video and explain to me how a single iphone helps this woman's family as much as forcing Silicon Valley brogrammers to build cheap free wireless solutions for the world. Of course they'd probably have mandatory popup viewing. And somehow cost taxpayers more than every Blackwater contract combined. Crap I withdraw that suggestion.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:40 PM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


People hear about this kid who made an app and who is a millionaire now. They think that kid is the solution to the massive economic disparity in this country.

“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”
posted by bonehead at 2:24 PM on January 29, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've seen a few "digital cafes" or commercial joints such as Kinkos trying to bridge these tech gaps by providing computer/internet access on a pay-by-hour model.

the problem with this, of course, is that the ones I've seen are universally shitty and expensive for what they are; they are the digital access equivalent of having to haul your shit to the laundromat and go through a day's wages to get everything dry, or go to the payday loans place because you're too poor to have a bank account; i.e. they're yet another invisible tax upon the poor.

I'd be willing to bet stuff like this proliferates and is the sort of business model that would be wildly popular with conservative / libertarian types because "bootstraps" and "small business entrepreneurship" and I can't even just ugh.
posted by lonefrontranger at 3:13 PM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


“Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”

I'm really tired of seeing that line trotted out. I think active suppression in the McCarthy era and cold war, and entrenched class bigotry on the part of America's so-called left have a lot to do with it.
posted by nangar at 3:23 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


> A phone is cheaper than a PC, doesn't have the maintenance overhead and learning curve, is subsidzed by the carrier, doesn't require a stable address for installation, and is multipurpose

I live within shouting distance of Seattle, and there are many areas around me with no cell phone coverage. Cell phones are not the answer, not with the infrastructure we currently have.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:31 PM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I had a brilliant solution to the issue, but per some other advice I received, I decided to just understand that poor people are poor.
posted by Metro Gnome at 3:56 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


yea I live in Boulder which is like the richest of the techie white liberal college towns, and you go 2-3 miles west of here and you are in a complete digital wasteland / dialup hell / mobile access wasteland aka "the mountains". I mean even the ski resort hotels have the shittiest of shit slow faux-"broadband" access and they charge like $400 a fucking night to stay there. and then of course they have the stones to charge extra for internet / wifi access and present that as some kind of sanctimonious "oh hey we know our internet sucks, btw you should be out enjoying the slopes not checking facebook you cretins" benefit, ugh.

Colorado is one of those places that has a vast wealth / income class gap and this kind of crummy attitude from the granola set (along with shitty insular local politics on both sides of the spectrum tbh) is partly why.
posted by lonefrontranger at 4:12 PM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


In a number of countries around the world there is a phone technology called the Personal Handy-phone System or Personal Access System that's sort of like a short-range mobile phone system for population-dense areas, essentially household cordless phones that can connect to the phone network directly, that were originally created because the handsets could be made at a fraction of the cost. But per that Wikipedia article the networks are shutting down in lots of places, so the technology evidently doesn't compete well against modern mobile phones.
posted by XMLicious at 4:40 PM on January 29, 2015


I wonder what America, let alone the world, would look like if we could all agree that electricity should be a human right and internet access should be treated as a public utility.

It would be nice if we could even get there for fucking water. A bunch of street kids/jugallos were semi-squating in a gigantic, like 8 bedroom rental house(with side cottage also full of people) a couple blocks from my friends house i was graciously crashing in after i got kicked out in high school. Someone sort of paid the rent, but none of them had any money and were basically homeless save for crashing in that house. It was owned by a slumlord who never paid the garbage pickup, and the water got shut off.

Why the fuck can you even shut water off?

They had no water for DAYS. Finally i showed up with a sledgehammer and a gigantic pipe wrench, and just busted the lock mostly off the water and forced it back on past the now kinda shattered lock loop.

They fucking cheered. A couple people cried. The toilets were filled with shit and surrounded by flies, none of them could shower, and a bunch of them were super dehydrated because what the fuck are you supposed to do, go buy gallon jugs of water? with whose money.

Electricity is basic and important too, but it blows my mind that even water is treated as a luxury or whatever. Oh, they can punish you, and declare a place unsafe or uninhabitable without it... but they can still shut it off. Fuck that.

I've done this more than once for more than one group of people. I always tell them if they get hassled by the cops, just say that some random guy from the area walked by who had tools and decided to help. Because, well, that was the truth.

Just last week I applied for a job using my iPhone. It was really difficult and I'm not going to assume someone has crossed the digital divide just because they have a smartphone.

A lot of the "modern" people i know who are Really Really Broke only have internet access at home through a smartphone. Smartphones are really cheap now, like $50 for a halfway decent or even pretty good one cheap. Prepaid plans for them are cheap too, like $25-35 on virgin or whatever.

This would be a semi ok solution for some people except for what you describe, which is that a LOT of sites just have fucking awful interfaces that completely break in mobile browsers, or appear to work but refuse to actually submit the form at the end.

I, and several friends, have slogged through important forms like this on a phone and it sucks. Many times it's actually impossible.

I would support in any way i was capable of a program for free wifi everywhere, internet access vouchers where that isn't practical, and laptop vouchers(for something basic but usable like an HP stream... $220. hey, it includes office too!) you could qualify for the same way you can with SNAP/EBT. I also think there should be a 24/7 tech support line you can call if you qualify for that. Both that will handle your local ISPs shitty awful support for you, and help you out with computer problems.

In my state, although you can do it in person, they really want to take the food handlers permit test online. I had to take time off work, when i was barely getting any hours anyways and living on something like $400 a month, to go take that test in person. Online wasn't available at the time, but the fact of the matter is if you have internet access you can bypass that inconvenience. The solution isn't more availability of meatspace classes that probably still wouldn't work with peoples schedules, it's giving everyone computers and internet.

Being super fucking poor in the late 2000s when they wanted you to do everything online, and you had no internet access at home, really totally sucked ass.
posted by emptythought at 4:41 PM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


"These people don't have access to broadband."
"Can't they use dial-up?"
"They may not even have a landline."
"Let them use an iPhone."


Aah, but don't you remember all the conservative HURF DURF about iPhone-having poor people using food stamps in the checkout line?

How dare they. Sackcloth and gruel for them.
posted by anemone of the state at 5:43 PM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


As longtime readers might know, I manage a public library branch in the poorest part of a fairly poor city. Daily, I see people with no home internet, people with no home computer, people whose highest-tech personal device is a LifeLine dumbphone, people who we have to tell them 'left-click means you hit the button on the left.'

I'm mostly commenting so that I see Recent Activity, but, yeah, the digital divide is totally a thing. A heartbreaking, hard-to-navigate, people-being-left-behind thing.
posted by box at 6:41 PM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Why Obama Took the Lead on High-Speed Internet Access Policy: "in Cedar Falls, Iowa, the President... praised the city for its 'visionary' move of investing in a community network twenty years ago in order to 'add another option to the market'. He went further: he applauded Cedar [Falls] for noticing that people needed greater capacity and upgrading its public option to a fiber network."
Today, I’m in Cedar Falls to talk about how we can give more communities access to faster, cheaper broadband so they can succeed in the digital economy. And I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know — today, high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. This isn’t just about making it easier to stream Netflix or scroll through your Facebook newsfeed — although that’s fun, and it is frustrating if you’re waiting for a long time before the thing finally comes up. This is about helping local businesses grow and prosper and compete in a global economy. It’s about giving the entrepreneur, the small businessperson on Main Street a chance to compete with the folks out in Silicon Valley, or across the globe. It’s about helping a student access the online courses and employment opportunities that can help her pursue her dreams.

And that’s why, through the Recovery Act, when I first came into office and we were trying to make sure that we prevented a Great Depression but also start building some foundations for long-term growth, we built or improved more than 113,000 miles of network infrastructure throughout the country — that’s enough to circle the globe more than four times. And we offered tax credits to help spur businesses to expand their networks. We’ve hooked up tens of thousands of schools and libraries and medical facilities and community organizations. And then we launched something we call ConnectED, which trains teachers, and spurs private-sector innovation, and is connecting 99 percent of America’s students to high-speed Internet.

But — and this is why I’m here — we’ve still got a lot of work to do. Right now, 98 percent of Americans have access to the most basic levels of broadband. That’s a good thing. But that number doesn’t look quite as good when you look at the speeds we’re going to need for all the apps and the videos, and all the data and new software that is constantly coming onto market. We’ve got to keep pace. We’ve got to be up to speed.

Right now, about 45 million Americans cannot purchase next-generation broadband. And that next generation of broadband creates connections that are six or seven times faster than today’s basic speeds. And by the way, only about half of rural Americans can log on at that super-fast rate.

And if folks do have good, fast Internet, chances are they only got one provider to pick from. Today, tens of millions of Americans have only one choice for that next-generation broadband, so they’re pretty much at the whim of whatever Internet provider is around. And what happens when there’s no competition? You’re stuck on hold. You’re watching the loading icon spin. You’re waiting, and waiting, and waiting. And meanwhile, you’re wondering why your rates keep on getting jacked up when the service doesn’t seem to improve.

Now, in Cedar Falls, things are different. About 20 years ago, in a visionary move ahead of its time, this city voted to add another option to the market and invest in a community broadband network. Really smart thing you guys did. (Applause.) It was a really smart thing you guys did. And you’ve managed it right here at Cedar Falls Utilities. And then a few years ago, you realized that customers were demanding more and more speed. All the movies, all the increased data, Instagram — all this stuff suddenly is just being loaded up, and basically, you guys were like the captain in Jaws, where he said, “We’re going to need a bigger boat.” (Laughter.)

So having already made the smart investment 20 years ago, about five years ago you said, we’ve got to upgrade to a fiber network throughout the city, and eventually, with the help of some federal funding, the surrounding rural areas as well.

So today, Cedar Falls is Iowa’s first Gigabit City. (Applause.) Now, that sounds like something out of a Star Wars movie, Gigabit City. Here’s what it means: Your network is as fast as some of the best networks in the world. There’s Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris, Cedar Falls. (Laughter.) Right? That’s the company you’re keeping. (Applause.)

You are almost a hundred times faster than the national average — a hundred times faster. (Applause.) And you can log on for about the same price as some folks pay for a fully loaded cable bundle. So today, you’ve got small businesses like Marc’s that are serving clients worldwide. Google named you the best city in Iowa for e-commerce. And what you’re showing is that here in America, you don’t have to be the biggest community to do really big things, you just have to have some vision, and you have to work together.

And we’re seeing that same kind of innovation and that same kind of energy and foresight in communities across the country. In Lafayette, Louisiana, companies are bringing jobs to the city in part because of their fast, next-generation broadband network. In November, the people of Yuma County, Colorado, voted overwhelmingly in favor of a community broadband network. That’s in the same election where 85 percent of folks just voted for a Republican Senate candidate. So this is not a partisan issue. It’s not a red issue or a blue issue. Folks just want to know that they’re at the cutting edge of this new economy. Folks around the nation want these broadband networks. They’re good for business. They’re good for communities. They’re good for schools. And they’re good for the marketplace because they promote efficiency and competition.

Here in Cedar Falls, if you don’t want the highest-speed package, you can still choose between the Cedar Falls Utilities or options like Mediacom or CenturyLink. It’s not like you don’t have choices. You can pick the company that offers the best service at the lowest cost for your family’s needs. That’s how free markets and capitalism are supposed to work. But here’s the catch. In too many place across America, some big companies are doing everything they can to keep out competitors. Today in 19 states, we’ve got laws on the books that stamp out competition and make it really difficult for communities to provide their own broadband the way you guys are. In some states, it is virtually impossible to create a community network like the one that you’ve got here in Cedar Falls. So today, I’m saying we’re going to change that. Enough is enough. We’re going to change that so every community can do the smart things you guys are doing. (Applause.)

So not long ago, I made my position clear on what’s called net neutrality. I believe we’ve got to maintain a free and open Internet. Today, I’m making my administration’s position clear on community broadband. I’m saying I’m on the side of competition. And I’m on the side of small business owners like Marc. I’m on the side of students and schools. I believe that a community has the right to make its own choice and to provide its own broadband if it wants to. Nobody is going to force you to do it, but if you want to do it, if the community decides this is something that we want to do to give ourselves a competitive edge and to help our young people and our businesses, they should be able to do it.

And if there are state laws in place that prohibit or restrict these community-based efforts, all of us — including the FCC, which is responsible for regulating this area — should do everything we can to push back on those old laws. I believe that’s what stands out about America — this belief that more competition means better products and cheaper prices. We do that with just about every other product. We ought to be doing it with broadband. It’s just common sense.

And that’s why leaders from 50 cities and towns across the country -— it’s a coalition called Next Century Cities — have pledged to bring next-generation broadband to their cities and towns. And that’s why I’m announcing a series of additional actions to support their efforts and encourage more communities to follow your lead, Cedar Falls. I’m directing federal agencies to get rid of unnecessary regulations that slow the expansion of broadband or limit competition. They’re going to report back to me in six months. The Department of Commerce — Penny Pritzker, who is here — they’re going to work to offer support and tactical assistance to communities that want to follow your lead and set up their own networks. USDA — the Department of Agriculture — is announcing new loan opportunities for rural providers. And this summer, I’ll host mayors from around the nation at a Community Broadband Summit to chart the next steps that we need to take.
The New Space Race: One Man's Mission to Build a Galactic Internet - "OneWeb is a supercharged version of O3b. Instead of dozens of satellites, Wyler plans to put up hundreds—648, to start with. The satellites will be in a low-earth orbit 750 miles up, much closer than even O3b’s machines. Engineers expect data to travel between space and the surface in 20 milliseconds, which would provide a state-of-the-art Internet service capable of handling any application."
posted by kliuless at 8:18 PM on January 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


I did the audio for a government event (Ontario if I recall correctly but there could have been some Feds there) about 20 years ago. It was extremely disheartening to see people effectively pleaing for a decent urban/rural/remote Internet access initiative because no one was listening to them. We have the same thing today, with so many listening to absolute crazy, hateful nonsense while voices of reason have to be sought out.

But as far as actually browsing the web? Nope. It's just too abysmally slow, and many sites simply don't load for them.

Every web designer/developer/programmer dreads words just like those spoken to someone in Management who decides that the web site(s) must be totally modern and look modern with the tube videos and such, but still download fast over Commmodore 64 modems.

Greased Up Fistfuckers Vol. III

Vintage porn I assume.

Today I learned that people look at porn in the library. What the hell, people?

It really is unfathomnable but it seems there really are real Peter Griffins.

Having alternative barebones, non-Web 2.0 forms for mobile/"lite" browsers is really not hard or expensive.

Management often disagrees until they absolutely cannot because someone they respect who knows nothing about web development tells them it was unpleasant on their Samsung or iPhone.

I do wish that more designers tried to remember that not everybody is downloading their site on a color-balanced, enormous monitor with gigabit connections.

Though a lack of memory may well exist for some designers/developers (though I think that is unlikely, particularly for developers as well as any designers who actually understand the web and are not entirely immersed in the print world still), the clients, or management, who will not listen to anything you say about accessibility, less images, smaller images, different resolutions, etc. often dictate the flashy sites.
posted by juiceCake at 9:26 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


OneWeb is a supercharged version of O3b. Instead of dozens of satellites, Wyler plans to put up hundreds—648, to start with. The satellites will be in a low-earth orbit 750 miles up, much closer than even O3b’s machines.

Wow. I wish them well. The Iridium constellation, which was designed to do similar things for voice (many satellites in LEO, much shorter delays than GEO systems, cellular-like handoff) but had only 66 satellites, actually bankrupted the Motorola subsidiary company that was created to run it. The system is only even around today because the government stepped in to stop it from being destroyed. Space is hard. I'm very suspicious of claims that space-based systems are the most cost-effective way to roll out broadband.

re the Personal Handy-Phone System

I think that it lost out in the market to not a single technology but to several; DECT became the winner for simple cordless phones, WiFi for data, cellular for longer-distance subscriber telephony. Each were "good enough" for their respective markets and there just wasn't a niche left for Handy-Phone. And compared to WiFi, given that you can now make voice calls over IP, Personal Handy-Phone only really offers one major benefit, which is handoff. I think we will see client devices (phones, etc.) that can do seamless WiFi-WiFi and WiFi-Cellular handoff in the next year or so. It'll start off at the iPhone level, of course, but it'll move down to lower cost devices.

And I think WiFi also deserves quite a bit of credit for expanding access to broadband Internet, simply by virtue of letting a bunch of people share a connection in a way that is not nearly as practical or convenient with wired networks. I know quite a few people who have done the shady-sublet thing, and get online by passing a few bucks (or mowing their lawn or whatever) to a neighbor in order to jump on their wireless. People today tend to forget, but ISPs actually tried pretty aggressively to crack down on that sort of thing years ago when it first became practical (it's still generally prohibited in the TOS somewhere), but seem to have realized there's no winning. So it is possible to win victories against Comcast et al, but slowly.

Interestingly, the way that Comcast and Verizon do their speed tiers almost seems to encourage connection sharing, if you can get someone who is willing to sign up and be on the hook for the monthly bill and you know how to set up the equipment correctly. The newer, faster speed tiers are going to make this even more true: 150 Mbits down—Comcast's newest, highest speed tier—is pretty ridiculous for a domestic connection, and at something like $200/mo I don't know who would want to pay for it... but you could provide reasonable enough (not Netflix HD streaming, but useable browsing speed) internet to a good-sized apartment building with that. Or really good (Netflix-able) for several people who'd otherwise be ponying up ~$60/ea.

If you were going to teach basic tech skills, how to set up a router and wireless AP and pull Ethernet would be much higher on my list of priorities than coding Flappy Bird knockoffs. 'Tech entrepreneur' types seem not to think that way, though I wonder if that's because they've always taken the existence of the infrastructure for granted.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:34 PM on January 29, 2015 [4 favorites]


Though looking at various cableco's pricing tiers, I think the way they prevent meaningful connection sharing is by pairing high-bandwidth connections with absurdly low transfer caps. So yeah, you can get a 150 Mb pipe for like $99/mo (that's from Cox in Northern Virginia), but it's paired with a paltry 400 GB/mo of transfer. If you were sharing it with more than just a couple of people you would hit that transfer limit long before you actually saturated the 150 Mb pipe regularly. That's where they get you—and if you want more transfer, you have to move up to a business-class connection where the price goes up stupendously.

This is a real risk of judging the quality of Internet connections by data rate without considering other factors. (Ten years from now: "Sure, everyone has 100 Mb internet now! But too bad if you want to use it...")
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:55 PM on January 29, 2015 [1 favorite]


The real buildout occurred in the 30s under the Rural Electrification Act, which was a loan program. Even in the Depression, anything that smelled like a direct handout wasn't feasible, but loans—which incidentally also had the effect of creating a lot of jobs—was. The loans allowed farmers and ranchers to get themselves connected to rural electric cooperatives, and pay back the cost of installation over long periods of time (I think they were initially 15 or 20 year loans, but eventually extended to 35 years).

I agree, but I'd emphasize the role of the huge federal infrastructure programs like the TVA in the east and the BPA projects in the Columbia Basin, among many others, in that process. It was all meant to have economic benefit for the nation (as well as creating immediate jobs) and I think it unquestionably did (along with creating some huge environmental problems that we haven't found any good solutions for yet, of course). I think it is unfortunate that we have moved away from that model in recent decades because while the result is good for specific companies, it is bad for the nation's economy as a whole for all the reasons people here have articulated.

The marginal cost of connecting far flung farms to the power grid was ridiculous, but there were clear advantages to the national economy and for lifting millions of people out of poverty at a time when malnutrition and other symptoms of poverty were acute problems in many areas. By the same token, extending modern communication access (meaning broadband) to all areas similarly has high marginal costs, but would have long term economic benefit. Instead we are stuck on a pattern of privatizing the gains and socializing the losses, just like we have with Wall Street -- it's regulatory capture and there is a clear cost.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:26 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


That's super. Is there an app to apply for, say, SNAP?

Safari, Chrome?
posted by cjorgensen at 9:39 AM on January 30, 2015


http://www.cdss.ca.gov/cdssweb/entres/forms/English/CF285.pdf

This is the California application for food stamps. I opened it in Safari iOS! And that doesn't do me any good!
posted by rtha at 10:07 AM on January 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'd emphasize the role of the huge federal infrastructure programs like the TVA in the east and the BPA projects in the Columbia Basin, among many others, in that process.

Agreed, that's true. We have seemingly lost the appetite for similar high-cost/high-return but long-payoff projects today. I think part of that is attributable to the creeping, cancerous spread of Wall Street quarter-by-quarter thinking, combined with politicians not giving a shit about anything that happens beyond their current term.

But you also wouldn't be able to do something like that today because people have gotten much better at opposing top-down projects like that; the original TVA projects were widely opposed by the locals and involved huge seizures of land and staggering environmental damage. In retrospect it was probably worthwhile, but if you tried to do it today, I doubt you'd be able to run roughshod over concerted local opposition. The TVA is occasionally referred to as Stalinist in approach (during the Depression and WWII), and there is some truth to it—it's the upside, along with the trains running on time, of heavy-handed authoritarianism. In rejecting that sort of relationship between government and citizens, we also limit the ability to do projects on that scale and with those sort of efficiencies.

To do the same thing today would probably require a century's worth of litigation alone.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:04 AM on January 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


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