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Georgia PSC five dollar fee for Lifeline impacts Georgia’s black citizens

There are a lot of “brothers and sisters” living here in Georgia, and the Georgia Public Service Commission rule imposing a five dollar monthly fee on recipients of free cell phones through the Lifeline program could have a disproportionate impact on blacks in Georgia, particularly as internet access and broadband adoption are concerned.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, 31.2% of Georgia’s residents are black, more than double the percentage of all Americans.  Nationwide, 80% of black adults use the internet, according to a report issued yesterday by the Pew Research Council.  This compares with 87% of white adults that travel the information superhighway.

The gap is wider when you compare broadband adoption at home between blacks and whites.  Sixty-two percent of black adults have broadband internet access at home versus 74% of white adults, according to Pew.

The picture levels somewhat when considering wireless access to broadband internet.  According to Pew’s findings, 92% of blacks and 90% of whites own cell phones.  Ironically in households where income is under $30,000, 90% of black adults own a cell phone while 82% of adult whites in these households own a cell phone.  Black adults edge out white adults in smart phone ownership, with 56% of black adults owning a smart phone compared to 53% of white adults.  In addition, 10% of black adults indicate that while they have no broadband connection at home, they connect to the internet via their smart phones.

According to data from the Kaiser Foundation, 35% of blacks nationwide live in poverty.  In Georgia, that percentage rate is 33%.  In its federal lawsuit seeking to overturn the Georgia PSC’s rule, the CTIA cited a position taking by the Federal Communications Commission on imposing a minimum fee on Georgia Lifeline recipients:

“The FCC found that a minimum charge could potentially discourage consumers from enrolling in the program and could result in current Lifeline subscribers leaving the program.”

If we assume a close relationship between national data on adoption of broadband and internet access by blacks with Georgia’s black residents, a minimum charge would have a negative impact on broadband adoption and continued internet access by blacks in Georgia.  This means reduced access to mobile wireless health services and employment opportunities for a significant portion of Georgia’s black population.

In an economy that is not yet fully employing its labor resources, reducing access to broadband by continuing to impose this fee would be devastating to blacks.

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Broadband and tuberculosis. The health benefits shouldn’t be ignored

Taking medication to address a health concern can be tedious and depressing.  I know first hand having been diagnosed as diabetic.  Those of us on insulin go through the daily routine of checking our blood sugar; administering our insulin; counting carbohydrates; and ensuring we get a sufficient amount of exercise in so that we can burn that excess sugar.

Monitoring all this is a pain in the ass.

I can only imagine what monitoring concerns tuberculosis patients have.  Although the disease is relatively rare today, thousands of Americans have it and have to undergo a time consuming and expensive regimen of monitoring adherence to drug prescription usage and dosage.  According to a piece written by Rose Stuckey Kirk, smartphone technology can be used to reduce the costs of implementing patient monitoring programs, thus facilitating the effectiveness of drugs used to combat the disease.

In her piece, Ms. Kirk describes how video directly observed therapy can be used to ensure patients are taking medication as described.  Using smartphone technology, a patient video records when they take their medication and submits the record to his doctor.  This approach to drug monitoring is now being used in San Diego, New York, San Francisco, and London.  I hope that the technology can be used in other cities here and around the world as well.

What concerns me however, is whether current public and regulatory policy is supporting this path to improving public health.  For example, in the Maryland General Assembly, the House will take up HB 48, a bill that prohibits certain telephone companies from replacing landline or wireline service with certain wireless telephone service, subject to certain exceptions.  The bill also prohibits the Maryland Public Service Commission from authorizing such replacements.  That bill is scheduled to be introduced on the House fllor on January 8.

In Georgia, the Georgia Public Service Commission adopted in  October 2013 a rule that would require low income Lifeline recipients of free cell phones to pay five dollars a month for their mobile service.  The rule, which is currently being challenged in federal court by CTIA, was implemented to address potential fraud in the Lifeline system.

These two actions could adversely impact efforts to adopt the broadband technology necessary for making the tuberculosis drug monitoring program more widespread for patients.  Prohibiting replacement of legacy networks with wireless networks means a wireless broadband network with less of the capacity needed to manage data traffic for drug monitoring and other mobile health services.

A five dollar fee on low income Lifeline recipients puts a subscriber in a position of deciding between accessing broadband data services or using funds for other items.

If people with health needs are to make the most of new technology; if our social policy is to ensure that all citizens are getting the best care available; and if our social goal is universal access to a broadband network that makes delivery of the technology and health services more effective, then public policy should reflect that.


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There is more to Idaho than potatoes and Debbie Austin

My son and I are apparently keeping up with some of the Joneses.  Yesterday his mother came into town to visit him and presented him with a smartphone.  Yes, a smartphone.  The old man is still in 3G la la land having upgraded from a 2G flip phone back in November 2011. (I’m still smartin’ from having my chops busted by Dr. Nicol Turner Lee for having the audacity to carry a 2G flip phone in public a couple years back).  Anyway, with two cell phones in the house and no wireline, the Chuckster and I are firmly a part of the unit of analysis evaluated by Pew Research and the National Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for determining the number of households that have snipped the cord at home and rely completely on wireless access to communications services.

According to a study by the CDC, 52.3% of adults in Idaho live in households that do not have  a wire line but have at least one wireless phone.  On the lower end, 19.4% of adults in New Jersey live in households that do not have a wire line but have gone the wireless-only way.  In my home state of Georgia, that percentage is 37% while Maryland comes in at 29.4%.

A closer look at the urban areas of Georgia and Maryland show that the percentage of adults that have opted for wireless only households is higher.  DeKalb County and Fulton County Georgia show 41.8% of adults living in households where there is a wireless phone only while the rest of the Peach State is at 36%.  In Maryland, Baltimore City comes in at 39.6% while the rest of the state registers at 27.6% of adults living in wireless only households.

If you have a penchant for old school, legacy land line usage then New Jersey is the state you want to be in, according to a Pew Research study, with 78.9% of households in Tony Soprano land have at least one land line.

Age and wealth have a bearing on whether a household cuts the cord, according to Pew.  Citing additional CDC research, Pew concluded that:

“The wireless-only lifestyle is especially predominant among the poor and the young. According to the CDC, nearly two-thirds (65.6%) of adults ages 25-29 lived in households with only wireless phones, as did three-in-five (59.9%) 30- to 34-year-olds and a majority (54.3%) of adults ages 18-24. A majority of adults living in poverty (54.7%) lived in a wireless-only household, versus 47.5% of what the CDC calls the “near-poor” and 35.3% of non-poor adults; wireless-only households also predominate among Hispanics, renters and adults living with roommates.”

Policy wise this tells me that regulators should not force broadband providers like AT&T and Verizon to continue putting resources toward maintaining old copper networks.  The country, whether for aesthetics, convenience, or financial reasons, showing its preference for mobility and regulations that go against this grain only encourages inefficiencies in resource allocation.

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Georgia HB 1049 needs to clarify definition of retail transaction

Posted March 4th, 2012 in wireless communications and tagged , , , by Alton Drew

Georgia bill HB 1049 calls for a $.75 charge per retail transaction for pre-paid wireless services. I don’t have a problem with funding E-911 services with a monthly charge per line, but the bill as written isn’t clear about what exactly classifies as a retail transaction.

The bill defines retail transaction as the purchase of pre-paid wireless service from a seller for any purpose other than resale. It’s the any purpose that gets me. The only legitimate purpose should be prepaid voice services. Until public safety networks are capable of receiving and relaying instant messaging or e-mail, I see no other purpose for assessing a charge that funds E-911 services but for the voice portion of the service. Because of the way text, voice, and video are bundled, however, other pre-paid services will get lumped in regardless.

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Georgia House committee passes bill eliminating universal service fund

Posted February 17th, 2012 in Georgia, telephone, universal service fund and tagged , by Alton Drew

It looks like the state of Georgia doesn’t need universal funding for telephone service anymore. The Georgia House Committee on Energy, Utilities, and Telecommunications passed HB 855, the Telecommunications Fair Competition and Consumer Protection Act. The Act would reduce the amount of universal service funding received to the equivalent of 110% of the average state-wide weighted rate of a residential line provided by rate of return carrier.

The bill also caps payments received from the fund for the next three years. In 2012, distributions would be capped at $9 million; in 2013 at $6 million; and in 2014 at $3 million. There would be no more distributions after 2014.