Politics

33 posts categorized

June 05, 2016

How Mobile Technology Can Save Taxpayers Billions

 

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The Missouri Department of Transportation (MDOT) and other “next generation” government agencies are leveraging mobile technology to save taxpayers serious sums of money. Government agencies are notorious for wasteful spending, but various departments of transportation are taking cues from the Jefferson City, MO, location, as it’s become the model and standard for saving taxpayers millions via new technologies. 

 

Mobile Maps

Mike Miller, the assistant information systems director for MDOT, told Forbes magazine all the way back in 2012 about his department’s clever use of mobile maps. MDOT had to close two major interstate highways that year, and instead of shutting them down for “eight years” while keeping two lanes open and endangering workers, the department opted to provide residents with mobile maps and apps so they could drive around the freeways. That one decision saved MDOT more than $100 million in taxpayer funds.

 

Five-Year Plan

MDOT’s former head Peter Rahn suggested an ambitious plan to save taxpayers $500 million over five years. According to Miller, the department is ahead of schedule with plan implementation, as it began work in 2010 and has already met 70 percent of its goal. Among the efforts to make the five-year plan a success are using vans equipped with video cameras that film road roughness and allowing residents to rate them. MDOT subsequently fixes the affected road as soon as possible. 

Other actions in the five-year plan include having every MDOT building and roadside access point feature wireless capabilities for employees, so no one wastes time trying to find information. The department utilizes its social media channels to provide people with updates and news, cutting communication costs. MDOT uses SharePoint to manage its records and maintain 33,000 miles of road and thousands of bridges. SharePoint use has saved the department a great deal in oversight and project management costs. 

These are only a few examples of how MDOT is reducing costs with mobile technology. 

 

e-Construction Tools

Another tech innovation saving DOT organizations and taxpayers big money is e-Construction tools. These tools are defined as processes and technology that eliminate paper use, with examples including the digitization of construction documents for distribution to stakeholders through mobile devices. e-Construction was named as a standout tool in a recent Pavia System survey, with 53 percent of DOT respondents saying they adopted e-Construction and 71 percent of respondents noting that they use such tools “widely.”  e-Construction has helped build roads, bridges, and highways, and makes for much more timely deliveries. DOT respondents also said e-Construction tools contributed to at least 76 percent of on budget construction project completions. 

Representatives for the Idaho, Pennsylvania, and Texas Departments of Transportation all applaud e-Construction tools for their ability to save money and time while increasing productivity and resulting in fewer mistakes. 

 

Challenges

With so many benefits stemming from government agencies “going paperless,” why haven’t more departments of transportation made these helpful changes? One theory is that such agencies are responsible for long-term obligations unlike private industries, which simply move on to the next project once one is completed. A lack of tools customized for project owners’ specific needs is another possible reason. Regardless, going the “pilot” route and slowly using more and more e-Construction tools will hopefully alleviate these issues. 

December 11, 2015

Net Neutrality: Confusion Reigns Over Text Messaging's Status

 

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified fixed and mobile Internet access this year as “common carrier services.” This reclassification falls under Title II of the Communications Act. It aims to use net neutrality rules to prevent carriers from blocking text messages. 

What kind of text messages? Bulk text messages, which at this time aren’t exactly regulated. Bulk texting, as with bulk emailing, is a huge business, and many bulk texts are useful. Others fall under the spam variety, such as those saying the receiver has won the lottery and has to pay a certain amount to “unlock” the winnings. And while blocking “spammy” text messages may seem like a good idea, what constitutes spam is currently under review. 

Verizon created a lot of controversy some eight years ago when it blocked messages to users from an abortion rights organization. The carrier reversed its stance following a New York Times article about the issue, however it caused Public Knowledge and other advocacy groups to petition the FCC. The groups urged the agency to disallow wireless carriers from refusing to provide short codes because of content.

The FCC didn’t respond to the request, however the agency recently solicited public comments regarding a petition started by Twilio, a messaging company who argues carriers must adhere to common carrier rules regarding text messages. 

"The wireless carriers' practices of blocking, throttling, and imposing discriminatory content restrictions on messaging services traffic is not only a daily occurrence, but an increasing threat to the ubiquity and seamlessness of the nation's telephone network," Twilio said in a petition.

 

Free Reign

The messaging company received support from Public Knowledge, Common Cause, and Free Press, all of which stated carriers currently have "free rein to abuse their gatekeeper position,” and that "Discriminatory text message blocking by the carriers not only raises competitive concerns, but also interferes with free speech rights."

Unsurprisingly, AT&T, Verizon, and the CTIA—a trade group representing most wireless carriers—are asking the FCC to reject Twilio’s request. T-Mobile and Sprint did not make official statements, however they are represented by the CTIA. 

"Twilio frames its Petition as an effort to curb what it calls the 'blocking' and 'throttling' of messaging traffic but in fact, Twilio is asking the Commission to invalidate consumer-protection measures that prevent massive quantities of unlawful and unwanted mobile messaging spam from reaching and harming consumers," CTIA wrote.

Verizon’s comments to the FCC were similar: 

"Despite the successful growth of mobile messaging from a niche product to a massively popular means of nearly spam-free communication, Twilio wants to upend the status quo by subjecting wireless providers’ messaging services and the industry-developed common short code system to Title II," Verizon wrote. "That is a solution in search of a problem and would open the floodgates to spam, harming consumers that have come to depend on messaging services."

The FCC's net neutrality order was put in effect last March and prevents carriers from block messages delivered over the Internet. However, the FCC did not make clarifications regarding traditional text messages.

November 06, 2015

Roaming Charges Have Been Scrapped in Europe

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The extra costs associated with using a mobile phone in European countries other than the one you live in are to be scrapped. The ban on data roaming charged, agreed by MEPs in June after years of negotiations, has been passed into law, and will take effect from 15 June 2017.

Roaming charges are currently added to phone bills when users browse the web, make calls or send text messages while abroad. Once the ban kicks in, tourists traveling within the EU won’t notice any difference between the cost of mobile connectivity at home and abroad. The move was described by former vice-president of the European Commission Viviane Reding as “a victory for consumers.”

It’s been a long road for anti-roaming campaigners, as EU member states voiced concern about the potential financial impact on their domestic telecoms providers. A proposal for a roaming ban to take effect this year was scrapped after negotiations stalled. 

The overall ban will be preceded by a ‘phasing out’ process to lessen the burden on operators and allow time for the infrastructure to adjust.  

As things stand, operators can charge tourists up to 22 cents (around 14 pence) per minute for outgoing calls, five cents for incoming calls, six cents per text message and 20 cents per megabyte of data. That’s in addition to their regular tariff. As of April 2016, the costs will be reduced to five cents per minute, two cents per text message and five cents per megabyte.

The impending ban has been welcomed by consumers and campaigners, especially advocates of net neutrality, who broadly oppose unregulated tariff-setting for electronic communications. Under the new telecommunications law, operators will be required to treat all web traffic equally. For net neutrality advocates, the ban on roaming charges is another victory in the fight to keep the lines of digital exchange as open and free to the widest number of people possible.

 

August 28, 2015

Election Campaigners Are Using SMS to Consolidate Support

 

It comes as no surprise that presidential candidates are looking at mobile technology to sound the political battle cry. After all, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to connect the pervasive nature of smartphones with the essence of the democratic process—a vote from every registered voter with a cell phone would equal the greatest voter turnout in history! However unlikely that outcome is, the principles driving the candidates to communicate with voters via mobile are redefining the campaign trail, from dusty road to digital highway.  

 

In particular, campaigners are relying on SMS or text messaging to ignite passionate volunteers to action, as well as for updating supporters on rally meetings, local campaign groups, and other related information. Texting is an immediate form of communication that hits about as close to home as one can get—without actually going door-to-door. 

 

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, hasn’t spent a dime on advertising political rallies. Instead, his staff has focused on adding data specialists to the team, refining methods of gathering data on rally attendees, and working to convert those people into campaign volunteers/supporters. 

 

In July, Sanders hosted a simulcast from a Washington, D.C., apartment to 3,500 event locations across the country. Instead of soliciting for email addresses, Sanders called upon more than 100,000 viewers to text “work” to the organizing number. 

 

According to the New York Times, nearly 50,000 people became volunteers for the grassroots-style movement that evening.

 

Sanders isn’t the only candidate connecting with voters via text. Senator Ted Cruz, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Rand Paul have all incorporated aspects of SMS messaging into their campaign initiatives. What’s more, this isn’t the first time texting has been used in the political process. In 2008 President Obama managed to curate a list of more than 1 million people, although according to his staff, the campaign was unable to do much with it at the time. 

 

The 78-year-old Sanders, however, is taking the technology and running with it.

According to Billy Howard, a Sanders supporter from Reno, Nevada, the effects of the mobile rallying efforts have increased volunteer leadership in the area—surpassing what Howard saw in Reno during Obama’s 2008 presidential bid. 

“That means Sen. Sanders isn’t going to have to spend as much money as Obama did,” Howard said.

 

July 11, 2015

EU Scraps Roaming Charges

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After two years of negotiations, the European commission, members of parliament and national ministers have reached an agreement to drop roaming charges in an effort to pave an internet fast lane for the future. Despite obvious resistance from the mobile industry, telecoms received some assurances with a side deal aimed at service providers and faster connection fees—the broader issue of net neutrality has also come into focus. 

On average, EU travelers spend £61 more than usual during a holiday. By mid-2017, roaming charges are scheduled to drop completely after an interim period beginning April of next year. This year, mobile service providers can still charge travelers to EU states as much as 19 cents a minute for outgoing calls, 5 cents for incoming calls and 6 cents per text message.  

By allowing telecom firms to charge service providers like Google, Facebook, and Netflix increased fees for faster connections, some fear smaller competitors will be forced out completely. While campaigners celebrated the dropped roaming charges, others worried the new laws were ambiguous and blurry, leaving much open for profitable interpretation.  

According to the new rules, companies can pay to use the internet fast lane only if the improved connection is determined “necessary” for the service. Whether or not “necessary” protects nonprofits, startups and public service websites has yet to be realized. However, it is clear the draft laws are making an effort to identify public interest exceptions including network security, eliminating child pornography, and improving connections for sensitive health or safety services.   

The telecom industry has condemned the legislation from the start, emphasizing its restrictive nature and potential threat to innovation and competition. For now, the votes are pro-free internet and a likely catalyst for more discussions on net neutrality. 

Compared to the EU, the United States hasn’t been as progressive on net neutrality. The EU’s new rules outlining more equal access to the internet might not be perfect, but it confirms their stance on the wider issues at hand.

The issues are of course about equal access regardless of platform, application or user. Net neutrality aims to ensure that information is not made financially inaccessible because of strict regulations placed on service providers or limited by fees and faster broadband. 

It’s likely that this particular case in the EU will spur discussions in the United States and perhaps influence the outcome of subsequent laws in the EU. Time will ultimately tell if the internet fast lane is a safe place to surf the web.   

May 15, 2015

The World's First SMS Referendum Took Place Last Month... in Mongolia

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For all the rapid advances in digital technology over the past decade, the business of democracy remains firmly analogue. Ever since mutterings ranging from ‘foul play’ to ‘system error’ cast a pall over the 2000 Presidential elections, electronic voting in the U.S. has been in decline, with states abandoning machines in favor of traditional pencil-and-paper voting. Voting watchdogs and analysts have major reservations about the security of a digital system if faced with committed, politically motivated hackers. Strange as it seems, electronic voting may have had it’s day.

If e-voting - which is at least supervised by election officials in a centralized venue - is on the wane, it seems unlikely that mobile voting will fare any better. For those fearful of tampering and corruption, the remoteness of casting votes via a mobile device will do nothing to reassure. 

Well, it doesn’t get any more remote than Mongolia, which last month became the world’s first country to stage a referendum in which citizens can engage with the democratic process via their mobile devices.  

Prime Minister Saikhanbileg Chimed asked three million Mongolians to air their views on the country’s dwindling economy, which, according to Bloomberg, has slowed down from a record 17.5 per cent in 2011 to around 7 per cent in 2013. The mining industry, a bedrock of the economy, is beset with legal wrangles. Foreign investment has collapsed, causing the Tugrik to fall 42% against the U.S. dollar. The government is involved in a tax dispute with Rio Tinto Group, who were slated to finance one of Mongolia’s biggest assets, the $6.6 billion Oyo Tolgoi mine. Public and political opposition to the open-cast mining industry has only fanned the flames of economic unrest.

With negotiations at a stalemate, Saikhanbileg has shrewdly recognized the only credible way out of the mess is via a public mandate. In January, just two months into his office, Saikhanbileg took to national television to offer Mongolians a stark choice to save the economy: press on with multi-billion dollar mining projects or cut spending and scale back investment in the industry. The Prime Minister invited citizens to state their preferred strategy via text message.

Four days later, the votes were in. Austerity measures received a resounding ‘no’ from the people, giving the government the go-ahead to - hopefully - revitalize the mining industry and resume negotiations with multinationals like Rio Tinto.

For the wider world, the implications of the result are perhaps less significant than the implications of the voting method. Democracy by text message had never been tried before. It seems to have worked, but only time will tell whether the Mongolian experiment is destined to be an anomaly or a historic precedent.

April 03, 2015

What Do the Israeli Elections Tell Us About the Future of Mobile Political Campaigning?

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To note that mobile and social media carry great weight in today’s world is pretty obvious. Particular events, however, offer even greater insight into the impact of mobile, such as presidential elections. Let’s take a look into how mobile affected the recent Israeli elections, as well as the influence it will likely have on the 2016 U.S. presidential race. 

 

High-Quality Targeting

Mobile media offers the possibility of high-quality targeting, as it provides advertisers with the opportunity to target very specific audiences. Political parties’ media budgets are larger than ever before, and most candidates hire dedicated agencies to run their media campaigns. New advertising platforms continue to crop up, while Facebook’s mobile-only user base recently reached the half billion mark, making it easy to reach voters during every phase of a campaign. Location-based targeting also helps considerably, as parties can look at users from specific states and determine if they should increase their advertising efforts, and if so to which audiences. 

 

Political “Gamification”

Any on-point campaign manager knows it’s important to play to voters’ increasingly-short attention spans, and are subsequently utilizing gamification techniques to harness and hold this attention. Gamification techniques have been used with success in the Israeli elections, as ads focused less on direct message transmission and instead honed in on creating an experience that featured a more subtle approach.

Entertaining mobile games that sent strong political messages were also used. For example, one Israeli election game had users engage in a “temple run” game featuring their favorite candidates. Other games were used to align opposing parties, but again in a discreet way. Gamification has made politics a more fun and engaging experience for young voters, and allows candidates to reach an audience they would otherwise have a hard time engaging. 

 

Mobile User Power 

Video content was frequently used during the Israeli elections, as videos were widely shared across social media platforms by all parties, even orthodox religious parties. U.S. mobile video ad spending has doubled over the past year, so the idea that video content will likely play a large role in the 2016 elections is imminent. Often more entertaining and less formal than the political ads traditionally seen on television, videos are dissolving the boundaries between independent political activists and official messages. Content isn’t just user-focused--it’s also user-generated. 

 

Wrap-Up

Mobile has become the favorite device of all age groups, meaning campaign managers have to scramble to create a mobile-based approach to elections if they haven’t already. Rich media, text marketing, video content, and the plethora of other mobile focused campaigns must be implemented for any candidate developing massive public outreach.

January 27, 2015

Net Neutrality Vote Happening on February 26th

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During a discussion at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler announced that the commission will vote on a proposal to reinstate Net neutrality rules. The vote will take place at an open commission meeting on February 26th. 

Wheeler also said the proposal will circulate among commissioners beginning February 5th, and while he didn’t delve into specifics, Wheeler alluded the new proposal will “reclassify broadband traffic” as part of Title II utility. Some supporters believe this reclassification will put new neutrality rules on “stronger legal footing.”  

In November 2014 President Obama encouraged the FCC to reclassify Internet traffic under Title II of the Communications Act, though Wheeler has not said whether he supports the president’s suggestion. 

Net neutrality is defined as the idea that all online traffic is subject to fair treatment by broadband providers, meaning no restrictions or preferential treatment is bestowed on certain types of traffic. The FCC is working on new rules that will replace those adopted in 2010.

The issue of broadband traffic reclassification has been one of the hotter issues regarding the net neutrality debate, with large broadband providers such as Verizon and AT&T noting reclassification will “stifle innovation” via imposed, antiquated telecommunications regulation for an industry they believe has evolved positively despite no government regulation. However, other consumer advocates and Internet companies such as Netflix say broadband service reclassification is the only option for ensuring new Net neutrality rules hold up in future court challenges.  

During his discussion with Consumer Electronics Association head Gary Shapiro, Wheeler made it quite clear that the FCC’s approach to the proposal will not include “all of the restrictions under Title II meant for traditional telephony networks to broadband.” Rather, the proposed rules would “forbear or exclude” broadband from clinging to Communications Act provisions that don’t apply to broadband service. 

He said the idea is to make certain that the agency can “provide a legal standing” for rules prohibiting broadband providers from “blocking content, throttling traffic, or offering a paid prioritization service.” The other idea is to ensure Internet service providers manage their wares in a way that is transparent to customers.

"The wireless industry has been wildly successful as a Title II regulated industry," he said. "So there is a way to do it right."

Wireless industry reps disagree with Wheeler in terms of Title II restrictions on broadband. 

"Comparisons to the regulatory framework for mobile voice are misplaced and irrelevant," Meredith Attwell Baker, president and CEO,CTIA-The Wireless Association, said in a statement. "Congress created a regulatory regime for mobile voice under Section 332 and Title II. Congress also created a separate regulatory regime - -explicitly outside Title II -- for other services like mobile broadband. The FCC cannot now rewrite Congress's intent to rewrite the Act or rewrite history."

Wheeler has also remarked that he has “no intention of allowing broadband providers to create a two-tiered Internet of haves and have nots." The vote later this month will hopefully settle some much debated issues around this topic. 

January 19, 2015

How Does the World’s Most Powerful Organization Rule with Outdated Technology?

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The United States has the strongest economy in the world, and therefore its government should have access to the latest devices and cutting-edge tech. Unfortunately, however, the U.S. government has had a problem getting its equipment up-to-date. Despite the creation of the technology cabinet position by President Obama, the Chief Technology Officer appears to have little control over the deployment of state-of-the-art equipment throughout government departments.

Megan J. Smith is President Obama’s top technology adviser, and with her background we may expect to see a great deal of change in government tech. She matriculated at MIT, and spent a good deal of her career working in various departments at Google – the divisions that developed Google Glass and the driverless car, as well as the acquisition of Google Maps and Google Earth. Clearly, her reputation precedes her. 

So why is the Chief Technology Officer using a BlackBerry?

In a recent New York Times article, Julie Hirschfeld Davis reported that Smith is using a Blackberry and a 2013 Dell Laptop. These are not considered outdated technology by government standards, because the Administration has had a history of being a little behind the tech curve. As evidenced by the disastrous rollout of healthcare.gov, perhaps we should expect this of the devices that the government chooses to use.

Because of her direct connection to the executive office, Smith will have the opportunity to convince the Obama administration to recruit technologists who can build a proper infrastructure for digital services. A drawback of the relative newness of her position is that there is very little funding available in the budget for the Chief Technology Adviser. Furthermore, the position doesn’t have any authority over other agencies. This makes the implementation of new technology a very difficult task for Smith. 

Fortunately, America’s CTO has a history of problem-solving in her career. She has gained a reputation as a woman with big ideas, and of course she has a great deal of confidence and expertise in the area. Regarding the necessity of a technological update, she stated: “We’re on it. This is the administration that’s working to upgrade that and fix it.” (New York Times)

We’re likely to see some exciting updates to technology in government. Megan J. Smith has the bona fides necessary to help the United States catch up with the rest of the modern world. Only time will tell how long – and with what resources – it will take the Chief Technology Officer to implement these sweeping digital infrastructure changes.

 

January 02, 2015

6 of the Best: Green Apps

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Mobile tech has made rapid advances in recent years. It’s reached a point where traditional desktop web browsers are beginning to look anachronistic. Apps and mobile-friendly interfaces not only provide a better customer experience, they are constantly evolving to change with the times. 

One of the key concerns for modern manufacturers and retailers is the desire to minimize the ecological toll their business takes. If they fail to judge public opinion, which is turning greener by the year, their bottom line will suffer. Commensurate with the rise in eco-consciousness is the mobile app boom. After all, software already has a headstart when it comes to lowering carbon emissions: no factories, no large commuting workforce, no production line. Just (generally speaking) some computer-wielding geeks and a good idea. 

Eco-friendly apps go further, actively helping their users live greener lifestyles. We’ve trawled the web (using virtual-dolphin friendly nets, natch) to bring you the very best green apps on the market: 

1) 3rd Whale

A brilliant guide to all things green in your area, 3rd Whale helps you find the nearest vegan restaurant, organic café or bike shop, wherever you are. As well as providing location information, the app serves up the details of a specific company’s green credentials so you can make sure you’re dealing with the right people. 

2) Earth 911 

This smart little app has been advocating a greener lifestyle for ages now, and they recently launched a free iRecycle app too. Ideal if you’re looking for recycling centres, iRecycle grants access to details for more than 100,000 of them. Find your nearest centre, as well as maps, routes, opening hours and a list of the materials that can be recycled there. With Earth911, you’ll never have an excuse for throwing anything to landfill!

3) GoodGuide

Helping you find everything from energy-efficient household appliance to green gifts for friends, GoodGuide Mobile is an indispensable little app. It provides access to more than 250,000 green products, each with detailed reviews and eco-ratings. 

4) GreenMeter

Green Meter helps you reduce energy consumption and get more mileage out of your vehicle by calculating how much gas you’re using and offering advice on how to improve your fuel efficiency. Like all the best green apps, it’s twin appeal lies in offering ordinary drivers the chance to save money and the planet.

5) Eco Dice

A fun way to turn good intentions into positive change, Eco Dice is devastatingly simple. You simply toss a die on your mobile device, but instead of numbers, the faces contain green tasks for you to fulfil during the day. Options include separating trash, taking your own bags to the grocery store and turning off appliances on standby.

6) Carbon Tracker

This free app uses GPS to calculate your carbon footprint according to how many miles you travel. It factors in emissions from different forms of transport, and even allows you to switch from miles to kilometers in case you’re travelling abroad.