iConstituent Helps Federal, State Officials Reach Constituents Like Never Before

From programs that track public sentiment trends across time to streamlining town hall invitations, the expansion of iConstituent’s services to federal and state executive leadership is a hallmark of the company’s client base growth, according to CEO and co-founder Zain Khan.

iConstituent’s data tracking products allow a Congressional staff, or a state executive’s staff, to track trends in voter sentiment across time. The use of integrated heat mapping, which uses color (rather than height or width as in bar graphs) to visualize trends and comparisons, provides a common reference point for staff to come together and use such data to predict upcoming political battles, form strategic narratives, and check their assumptions against the reality of aggregate data on constituent sentiment.

The use of visual communication is not new for iConstituent. Maps have played a unique and interesting role in the company’s CRM product navigation, with the platform’s dashboard displaying a map that connects the top tags of the week to the geographical location they came from—a similarly accessible visual representation of trends and geography.

The company has also announced new text messaging functionality for inviting constituents to upcoming town halls and other functions. Recent news stories of lawmakers “ditching” town halls has caused concern that these important meetings may be in decline, a bad sign for democracy.

“We think town halls are important for members of Congress to attend, but you know, we generally always think constituent communication is a good idea,” said Aaron Stowers, Client Success Manager. “We’re happy to make it easier.”

Helping staff where help is needed most: The company’s clients now include the lieutenant governors of two of the country’s most populated states, and a growing number of federal clients. Incoming constituent communication can be overwhelming, and must be handled quickly, often with scant staff resources.

One of the biggest challenges for both federal lawmakers and state government offices is caps on staff—sometimes fiscal, sometimes statutory. Staff limits, whether by federal law applying to federal positions, or the laws of particular states, can tempt chiefs-of-staff to deprioritize constituent communication. Budgetary limits can have a similar consequence. So iConstituent services can help even two or three staffers handle large amounts of incoming communications quickly. Similarly, iConstituent speeds up communication with local agencies like the DMV, social services, DOT, and more. iConstituent also emphasizes helping staff move off of shared email inboxes. Those shared accounts can create inconsistency issues in cases of staff leave or turnover. The company’s products similarly consolidate otherwise disjointed forms of tracking (think of miles of different spreadsheets). If done right, the end result can be quicker response times, quicker data retrieval, and more efficient use of precious work time.

“Experienced staffers will tell you that slow communication slows everything else down,” says Khan. “We help speed things up.”

iConstituent was founded founded in 2002 to help public officials communicate with their constituents. The company’s expanded services for federal and state government offices and elected officials are part of an overall expansion in its profile of service reaching tens of millions of constituents across the country, said Michael Cohen, VP, Sales and Product Strategy.

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Social Media and British Politics

The current political crisis in Britain stems from a combination of causes, but surely the role of social media in British politics is an exacerbating, if not primary factor.

The 2016 Demos study on the role of digital politics in the United Kingdom found that half of adult British social media users actually used social media for political activity during the previous general election — and, in fact, more people used social media for direct political purposes than those who did equivalent political engagement offline. Almost three-fourths of people surveyed who had gone the digital route politically reported feeling “more politically engaged, in one way or another, as a direct result.” But that engagement was accompanied by something a little more nuanced: those who used social media for political activity reported being more likely to “act on their political convictions” as a result of social media engagement. This included voting, but it may also have included all kinds of political engagement. Between 2015 and now, some parties had a steep learning curve, but now they’re on board — even training their engagement specialists to ignore online trolls.

According to The Guardian“Political parties nationally spent about £1.3m on Facebook during the 2015 general election campaign; two years later the figure soared to £3.2m.” Now basically unregulated (although that could change), platforms are the new UK political debate stage, used to target voters with both specificities of profiles and generality of aggregate data. Instead of campaigners going to people personally, speaking to them, listening to and transcribing their viewpoints, social media offers, in mass data form, aggregate profiles of people who will vote. The next step is often to target ads, en masse and not very critically, “pounding” voters with non-nuanced, non-dialogical messaging to influence their views. Elected officials and candidates can’t realistically opt-out of such methods. You have stories like that of Ian Lucas, a Member of Parliament from Wrexham, who reports that he feels trapped: “I have to use Facebook in my job to communicate,” Lucas told the BBC… “If I don’t, I know that I will not be competitive as a candidate.

What all of this collectively forms is a picture where political candidates, and officials running for reelection, are “trapped” into using a method that reaches more voters and often reinforces their political commitments via social affirmation — but that risks discouraging face-to-face communication and privileges politically provocative ideas over interpersonal dialogue.

Social media can be a powerful tool of personal, dialogue-oriented campaigning, but that outcome is far from inevitable. It takes time, and staff, to turn FB likes and comments into invitations for activists to get more involved in the political process. It’s basic economics (almost) that encourages advertising geared toward very general (and thus distorted) messaging. In a context such as Brexit, where British society is already very fragmented and often confused, that appeal to the lowest common denominator may become the predominant political method, and UK voters will continue to sacrifice critical dialogue about their relationship with the EU in return for simple, and ultimately ineffective, answers.

Be Right There, Just Need to Text the Mayor

Constituent services have been providing various communication features via SMS for some time. The question being asked now is what a system of individual constituent access to quick communication with government offices would look like.

It would look pretty good! Here’s a roundup of texting and SMS as tools of good government-constituent communication—as well as an accountability and transparency check.

The turn to SMS results from demands all over the world, not just the United States. The online discussion site New Tactics reported some time ago that Kenya and other countries were fielding demands for reliable government news and information sources. SMS can “transmit vote tallies to prevent tampering, track the budget, make the Parliament and Legislative Information System more accessible to citizens,” and monitor referenda and elections. Although anti-corruption and other transparency web sites (such as India’s IPaidaBribe.com) have facilitated the exposure of corruption, SMS allows quicker, more convenient, multi-user/diverse platform communication—more like a conversation than a message board.

SMS messaging is also more likely to be non-monetized, since it’s tied to existing messaging platforms. Non-monetization is another key value of government-constituent transparency. Recently, Arkansas Representative Rick Crawford “announced the formal launch of his new text messaging platform” establishing a direct link between the elected official, their office, and their constituents—everyone in the district. “This system has been adopted by Crawford’s office after the recent news about Facebook’s abuse of personal data and possible manipulation of those who use the platform to engage with constituents,” which Crawford wisely interpreted as a problem of monetization—with the rather uncontroversial understanding that, whatever its other virtues, the profit motive probably shouldn’t govern communication between elected leaders and the people.

This same value is reflected in the other virtue of SMS—that it can more easily be used for communication, not propaganda. The individual, person-to-person nature of the communication actually makes propagandizing inefficient. People can tell when the message they’re receiving is a boilerplate, and they’re likely to be using an SMS interface to get specific questions answered, or weigh in on an issue. iConstituent keeps all those constituent communications in one place in a CRM designed specifically for government.

The shortage of good media for direct constituent communication impacts vulnerable and marginalized communities more than privileged ones, as “local governments can be ignorant about constituents’ changing needs and interests – especially marginalized communities that have been historically ignored or under-represented. Local governments may produce services that they find interesting or please national politicians without any feedback from the people they are expected to serve.” But “targeted two-way communication between local governments and their citizenry” is shockingly easy to implement through text messaging. Essentially, people just need a phone number, and the government offices need interface technology to field the

A new CRM for a new generation of government leaders.

Earlier this year, we set out to recreate our business from the inside out and this started with the belief that positive change and evolution would occur with the right people and culture. So, we revamped our engineering team and moved our company HQ to a WeWork, and began from scratch. We threw away all our prior beliefs, failures, and perceptions, and focused on a new future for iConstituent. We then took the bull by the horns and developed a new tool for today’s government. Today, I am excited about what the future holds for our company and the changing landscape I see in the govtech space.

 

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We are on a mission

We are on a mission to completely reinvent our company and reignite what makes us great: our drive to create and innovate in the govtech space. We are on a mission to connect people and government.

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How the technology behind Bitcoin can save our elections

Bitcoin has been dismissed as an anarcho-capitalist fantasy, but its underlying tech could enable secure e-voting – By JULIAN GOTTLIEB

You can be forgiven for thinking of Bitcoin, the best-known cryptocurrency, as the realm of thieves, Wall Street bankers and libertarian techies who’ve drunk too much Soylent. Despite recently intensified media interest, trading Bitcoin is not a particularly accessible hobby to folks outside the finance or tech worlds. So it’s healthy to be skeptical about Bitcoin’s promise, beyond its utility as a speculative investment or a means of laundering money or buying black market drugs.

All that could change as the technology matures. Indeed, there is evidence that the technologies underlying cryptocurrencies  — what are called “blockchain protocols” — have potential uses beyond peer-to-peer payment systems. One of the most exciting possibilities is the potential to use Bitcoin’s underlying technology to improve our system of voting. It’s called “blockchain voting,” and it has some voting experts and security researchers convinced we can bolster our democracy with a secure, transparent and auditable way for citizens to vote from their smart phones.

How it works

First, some background. Bitcoin is built on a type of distributed ledger technology called a blockchain protocol, or blockchain for short. Quite simply, a blockchain is a type of distributed database for recording all of the activity on a network. If Bob pays Alice five bitcoins, that transaction is broadcast to and confirmed by the network. When a majority of the nodes in the network confirm the validity of the transaction, it is settled and recorded on the blockchain.

Each block in the blockchain refers to the most recent set of transactions confirmed on the network. Moreover, each block in the blockchain contains a reference to the previous set of transactions confirmed. In this sense, the entire blockchain is immutable, meaning it cannot be changed retroactively. Thus, it is very hard to counterfeit or “double spend” because the network has to achieve consensus about the accuracy of the blockchain.

In broad strokes, blockchains allow the transfer of value across networks in a transparent and secure way. As a cryptocurrency, Bitcoin’s blockchain is designed to record transactions: payments between third parties using bitcoins. Yet, blockchains themselves could be used to record other things as well: car titles, stocks, gambling debts, and shareholder votes among them. The next wave of blockchain development is focused on the sale and transfer of other types of digital assets, which could rewrite the way people exchange goods and services. Some people are so excited about blockchain’s potential they think it signals the emergence of Web 3.0.

While much of blockchain development is focused on finance, stock trading, cybersecurity and supply chain management, there is some interest in blockchain applications in government. Lawmakers, activists and policy wonks seem to project their own partisan fantasies onto the nascent technology. There is even a Congressional Blockchain Caucus that has garnered bipartisan support. For Republicans, migrating administration and record-keeping to digital ledgers could precipitate the shedding of layers of government bureaucracy.

Blockchain evangelists, like writer and business strategist Don Tapscott, envision fully automated DMVs where all registrations, renewals and permits are recorded on blockchains with self-service stations akin to self-checkout in the grocery store. Admittedly, this comes off as a bit simplistic. We should not discount the expertise, judgment and value of bureaucrats in favor of an elegant piece of computer code that can’t really replicate the work real human beings perform. But for most who favor blockchains over bureaucrats, these are just messy details and most conservatives would gladly throw their weight behind a blockchain or any Rube Goldberg machine that allows the privatization of public services.

For Democrats, blockchain represents an opportunity to give citizens more control over government records, privacy and information security. It could also expand payment services to the unbanked. It may even be an alternative pathway for financing local municipal banks. Even though a federal judge put the brakes on President Trump’s executive order to withhold federal funds from sanctuary cities, what would happen if the injunction was lifted and Trump withheld funds from California? Could the state issue its own local currency on a blockchain to make up for the loss in federal funding? Constitutionally, no. But for now, cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are in murky legal waters; it’s unclear whether the federal government even sees cryptocurrencies as currencies at all. All of which is to suggest that there are some intriguing possibilities with blockchain technology that have garnered bipartisan support from elected officials. Which is why one of the most promising blockchain applications for government involves voting.

Blockchain voting

Online voting has been a vexing problem for election officials for years. It seems like voting online could have the potential to make voting easier and more accessible, a noble pursuit for any democracy; and yet, most existing online voting systems are vulnerable to tampering. While blockchains have their own security vulnerabilities, there are a number of features that make a blockchain a very attractive way to record votes. In the same way that blockchains record transfers of digital assets like Bitcoin, blockchains can record the transfer of a voting token to a particular candidate or issue position, so the theory goes. Nasdaq has already successfully completed a blockchain voting test in Estonia to allow proxy voting on a stock exchange.

There are a number of advantages built into a blockchain voting system. Arguably the greatest strength of a blockchain voting system is that people can vote from their mobile phones. The government could issue voting tokens to citizens through a unique mobile wallet address connected to voter registration information, and voters could send the tokens to their preferred candidates.

Blockchain ledgers are transparent to all of the participants in the network. Anyone can see Bitcoin’s blockchain; the entire record of transactions is publicly available. This gives users faith in the integrity of the network because it can be audited and verified in real time by the entire network of users. With a blockchain voting system, we could see the record of votes as they happen in real time with almost instant verification.

Distributed ledgers like blockchains are not stored on any one particular server, but distributed among nodes in a network. The strength of distributed systems like blockchains is that a local failure of any node in the network cannot crash the whole system because the other nodes in the network still update and maintain the blockchain. This feature also means it is very difficult to alter a blockchain entry once it has been recorded without a massive amount of computing power or a shutdown of the entire network. This makes such a system less vulnerable to hackers.

While blockchain voting might seem like an elegant solution to our electoral problems, it faces significant barriers to adoption. Indeed, with Republican voter suppression efforts like insidious voter ID laws, it’s clear that half of our country’s politicians don’t really want to make voting easier. Vinny Lingham, the CEO of Civic, an identity verification and management company, has argued that you can’t have blockchain voting without identity verification. And whether blockchain voting works or not, the same questions about voter IDs and accusations of fraud are likely to emerge.

There are a number of startups working to create secure digital identity services that would allow people to verify their identities before engaging in activities like voting, but most states are not ready to take that leap yet. Until then, blockchain voting systems are unlikely to be rolled out.

There are some flawed assumptions and hollow political beliefs underlying blockchain evangelism in government. A digital ledger is not a panacea for what most ails our democracy. Blockchains do not solve austerity, generational poverty, pollution and institutional racism any more than the neoliberal institutions we have already built to meekly confront these challenges. Even if blockchain does live up to the hype, building blockchain-based voting platforms that manage real elections will require careful planning and democratic feedback. The capacity of blockchains to create decentralized voting systems may “disrupt” the flawed electoral process we have, but that doesn’t guarantee we can replace it with something better.

Article Written by Julian Gotleib – Salon

Why another orchestra?

Let me start backwards:

I founded a chamber orchestra in Los Angeles in 2016,  called the Vicente Chamber Orchestra. So far, we have performed two concerts – one in November 2016 and the last one in October 2017. Both went amazingly well. But, why start another orchestra in Los Angeles when there are so many great performing arts groups in this city? Who cares about yet another classical music ensemble?

I do.

Music has always been important to me, and who I really am as a person. I am a musician. That’s what I studied back in college and with my beloved mentor, Mehli Mehta. Everything I do is colored by my love of music. This goes for my business activities as well (running a business is much like conducting an orchestra – which I will get into later in another blog post).

Ed and me
LA County Supervisor, Ed Edelman (1930-2016) and the members of the Temple Emanuel Chamber Orchestra, Beverly Hills. Circa 1990. Ed loved music and, come rain or shine, he played his cello every week. He appreciated the beauty of music.

So, I woke up one day and decided to pursue my life long passion of conducting my very own ensemble. I didn’t want to wait any longer. After all, there may be no tomorrow – NOW is the time to do what you really love to do. I went ahead and founded my own orchestra, naming it the “Vicente Chamber Orchestra” – after San Vicente Blvd, a street close to my home in Los Angeles. It’s all I could come up with at the time and the name of the group was just a side issue for me. It was more urgent that I get going and make music.

My Mission

The mission of the Vicente Chamber Orchestra is simple: to make “music for music’s sake.” We don’t have a subscription season, offer music education in our public schools, have red carpet galas with Hollywood celebrities, pander to an audience who crave Hollywood movie music, have lavish fundraisers for the rich of Los Angeles, or even have a Board (at least, as of current).

And, I really don’t care. Because, all I (really) want to do is make music. Music is not a means to an end. It’s all that really matters to me. All the other stuff is a distraction from my core mission.

I want to share my love of music with those who perform with me and those who come to hear us. And, THIS is the core of what the Vicente Chamber Orchestra is all about; it’s not a stepping stone to something else for me, and I don’t have any illusions of conducting any other group, other than the Vicente Chamber Orchestra. I am perfectly happy making music on my own terms with other musicians who have the same vision as I.

Most of the musicians in the Vicente Chamber Orchestra are volunteers – they play for free, because they love music like me. Some of the musicians are paid. But, they are just as passionate about making music as everyone else. It so happens that these few musicians make a living in music, so I honor and respect this requirement.

The Vicente Chamber Orchestra only performs when we are inspired. Otherwise, why perform? Why play a concert for concert’s sake? You need to be inspired, excited and want to share this with everyone who attends. If not, don’t bother performing. Forget it. The Vicente Chamber Orchestra is about expressing our love of music and not about anything else.

I admit, I am idealistic. But, I can afford to be. Music is not a career for me (it was many years ago). However, it’s a life. Music is my life and not my career. It’s what I love and what I want to share with everyone who wants to listen.

In the past, when I was younger, music was a means to an end, a path to somewhere else. But, now I realize that music is the end point. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world, a language all its own.

Mehli and Zain (1)
Mehli Mehta and a few of the American Youth Symphony orchestra members at a fundraiser circa 1991-2. Mehli’s greatest talent was teaching his students to LOVE music and to really feel the spirit of the music we performed.

 

Richard Clarke on take-aways from the global WannaCry ransomware attack

 

From my friends at Good Harbor Security Risk Management (@ghsrm)

  1. A short primer on WannaCry that may be helpful in discussing WannaCry with colleagues in your organization.
  2. Good Harbor Chairman Richard Clarke’s op-ed, “WannaCry: Whom to Blame?” with four key take-aways from WannaCry.
  3. A few additional resources for further reading.

 

  1. A primer on WannaCry

 

On Friday, May 12, a new strain of ransomware, which encrypts critical files on targeted desktops and servers, called WannaCry, was released into the wild. WannaCry, with its worm-like ability to propagate quickly within and between networks, spread globally, impacting large organizations worldwide including NHS hospitals in the United Kingdom, FedEx in the United States, Telefonica in Spain, and Peru’s LATAM Airlines.

The exploit used in the attacks, nicknamed EternalBlue, was drawn from National Security Agency (NSA) exploits that had been stolen and posted online in a dump of hacking tools by a group calling itself The Shadow Brokers. The Shadow Brokers are believed by many security experts to be a front for Russian intelligence, although no formal attribution has been made publicly by the US government. EternalBlue exploits a vulnerability in Microsoft’s Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, which allows an attacker to take full control of a targeted system and, in this case, hold it for ransom.

Following the Shadow Brokers dump, on March 14 Microsoft issued a patch for the exploited vulnerability, but many organizations have been slow to apply the patch. Also, older, legacy systems like Windows XP are no longer directly supported by Microsoft, leaving them vulnerable from 14 March to the outbreak of WannaCry. Microsoft has since issued patches for systems that are beyond end-of-life support.

Luckily, the original WannaCry ransomware included code that “checked back” to an Internet domain, and a security researcher was able to register that domain as his own and use that control as a “kill switch” to stop the malware from propagating further.

Experts fear that criminals or hackers will jump on the success of WannaCry and learn from the original malware’s mistake, perhaps developing and releasing “WannaCry 2.0” without the discovered “kill switch.”

The ongoing WannaCry incident raises important questions about the difficulties of timely patching within major organizations, the challenge of unsupported legacy IT, the ability of intelligence agencies to keep their own tools secure, and how and when intelligence agencies should disclose dangerous vulnerabilities to vendors.

Good Harbor Chairman and CEO Richard Clarke penned the following op-ed to examine the four key take-aways from the WannaCry episode so far.

Below the op-ed are three additional resources to understand the issues raised by WannaCry.

 

  1. Richard A. Clarke, “WannaCry: Whom to Blame?”

The extensive damage done by the WannaCry cyberattack reveals persistent problems that governments and companies have failed to address despite repeated warnings.

There are four big takeaways:

First, America’s own National Security Agency (NSA) found the vulnerability in Microsoft Windows that would permit a hacker to gain control of a device. When the agency found that vulnerability, it should have told Microsoft right away, so that the error could have been fixed as part of the regular monthly “patching” program without calling attention to it.

As a member of the President Barack Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Technology, I recommended (see: The NSA Report, Recommendation 30) a policy of telling software makers about vulnerabilities in 2013. I came to the conclusion that the costs to our corporations and governments of having these vulnerabilities used against us far outweighed the benefit of having NSA secretly using them to collect intelligence. WannaCry proves that point.

The Obama Administration said it accepted that policy recommendation, but clearly there was a problem in its implementation which needs to be rectified.

Second, this would not have happened if NSA had been able to protect its own software. The attack tool used in the WannaCry attack was developed by NSA and then was somehow stolen and posted on the Internet for all to see and some to use.

Despite the lessons learned from the Snowden affair, the NSA’s repeated inability to protect itself from the theft of its internal documents and tools is placing the networked world at risk. This problem must now be addressed urgently by the Director of National Intelligence and the White House.

Third, many companies and government agencies are still running software (Windows XP for example) that is no longer supported by Microsoft and is riddled with vulnerabilities that hackers can use. In the U.S., most companies have the more modern, more secure versions, but many U.S. government agencies are still running software from the 20th century.

It is time for a complete refresh of government software similar to the effort in 1999 to prevent the “Y2K” software vulnerability from disrupting networks at the turn of the millennium. That effort was expensive and a new refresh now will be even more costly, but it is equally necessary.

Fourth, companies and government agencies ignored Microsoft’s clear warning to fix the vulnerability that WannaCry exploited. The software maker issued a critical “patch” two months ago. Many network administrators want to test a patch before they deploy it and that delays implementation, but it should never delay it by more than a few weeks. In the case of a critical patch, it should be a matter of days.

CEOs and board members do not like to get into the weeds of their networks’ management, but they need to understand issues like “patch” policy. They need to know when their systems are at risk and for how long.

Whoever sent WannaCry into cyberspace may not have done it for the money. Thus far, they have collected relatively little money, far less than they have cost companies and governments. The attackers may have done it to teach us some lessons like the four points above. Do you think we will learn those lessons this time? Past experience suggests we will not.

http://abcnews.go.com/International/news-analysis-takeaways-wannacry-cyberattack/story?id=47420590

 

  1. Microsoft’s President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith on lessons from WannaCry: https://blogs.microsoft.com/on-the-issues/2017/05/14/need-urgent-collective-action-keep-people-safe-online-lessons-last-weeks-cyberattack/#sm.0001nuez5iz27d0avup13vtui3vu6

 

  1. Lily Hay Newman, “The Ransomware Meltdown Experts Warned About is Here”: https://www.wired.com/2017/05/ransomware-meltdown-experts-warned/

 

  1. MalwareTech, “How I Accidentally Stopped a Global WannaCry Decryptor Ransomware Attack”: https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/05/wanna-decryptor-kill-switch-analysis/

 

 

 

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Emilian Papadopoulos | President | m +1.202.256.0828 | o +1.703.812.9199 | @ghsrm

How Bad Is the Digital Divide in California?

 

lloyd_levine
Lloyd Levine is a consultant to the California Emerging Technology Fund, a former California Assembly Member, and currently President at Filament Strategies.

Lloyd Levine, September 7, 2016

In California in 2016, the state that practically invented the Internet, 30% of Californians (nearly 12 million people) do not have meaningful broadband at home, according to an August 2016 survey by The Field Research Corporation.

This article, part one of a two-part series, will look at the historical data on the Digital Divide and the new data from the recent Field Poll. This data will provide the context necessary to understand the problem and formulate appropriate public policy solutions.

The graph to the left provides some historical context for California’s current Digital Divide. The overall broadband (i.e. high-speed internet) adoption rate has increased significantly since 2008, climbing from 55% in 2008 to 84% as of July 2016. However, that 84% is really illusory and doesn’t paint a full picture. California’s broadband adoption rate is at 84%, only if we include the 14% of people whose only access is on a smartphone.

The California Emerging Technology Fund, which commissioned the survey, is technology neutral but recognizes differences in technological functionality. Smartphones do not have the necessary functionality to be an appropriate substitute for laptop or desktop computers. Because smartphones have small screens, small keyboards, and limited functionality on websites and applications, individuals who rely on them are considered “under-connected”—in other words, they are not able to fully compete in the digital economy.

Because of the limitations inherent in smartphones, and because 14% of Californians are “smartphone only” users, it is more accurate and appropriate for policy makers to use the “meaningful” broadband adoption rate of 70%.

To really understand why and how a 30% Digital Divide exists in California, it is necessary to understand the terms “access” and “adoption.”

Access has to do with the physical infrastructure necessary to bring broadband into a home, apartment, school, library, workplace, etc. A community that does not have broadband infrastructure is labeled an “unserved” or “underserved” area (with speeds below what the federal and state governments define as “broadband”). “Unserved” means broadband is simply not available, as the infrastructure does not exist to connect that community. “Underserved” means Internet speeds are too slow for properly transmitting the amount of data necessary to have meaningful functionality. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) considers an area served if broadband is available at speeds of 6 mbps downstream and 1.5 mbps upstream, or greater. And recently, the federal government redefined broadband as 25 mbps up and 3mbps down.

Lack of access is predominantly a rural issue, because many rural areas lack the fiber optic cable infrastructure that enables broadband. The “Geocode” section of the chart at left illustrates that point, showing that as the population in an area declines so does the broadband adoption rate. Because of distance and often challenging terrain, it costs significantly more to deploy the infrastructure necessary to reach and connect rural communities.

Broadband infrastructure is generally built by the private sector, which argues that because of the much smaller customer base in rural areas, it does not make financial sense to serve those areas. In areas lacking broadband, consumers either forego the Internet entirely, or depend on dial-up or satellite Internet service that provides speeds significantly slower than broadband.

Adoption is the process of a consumer signing up for broadband from an Internet service provider (either stand-alone or as part of bundled service). Numerous studies have shown that many low-income households do not “adopt” broadband, because the cost of the necessary computing device and the monthly fees are more than they can afford.

While the overall actual broadband adoption rate is 70%, the 2016 Field Research Corporation analysis of subgroup data shows the Digital Divide is worse among vulnerable populations.

Income is the strongest predictor of broadband adoption at home. As the chart at left shows, the lower the income level, the lower the broadband adoption rate. Also, note that the percentage of households (the green segments in the chart) that have Internet access only via smartphone increases as income decreases.

Age and ethnicity are also significant indicators of broadband adoption. The chart below provides the data for these groups and others. Among seniors 65 and older, only 51% have broadband at home, and monolingual Spanish-speakers also significantly trail the state average.

People with disabilities also have lower broadband adoption rates. Different disabilities require different equipment to enable computer use, and the equipment is often expensive. From a screen reader for the visually impaired to alternate input devices for those with muscular control disabilities, devices add a layer of cost and difficulty.

In Part 2 of this series, Which will be posted September 14, I will discuss why broadband access and adoption are matters of public policy, and look at some policy recommendations for closing the Digital Divide.

Lloyd Levine is a former California Assemblymember and chair of the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee. He is the co-founder of the UC Riverside Center for Broadband Policy and Digital Literacy, and runs his own consulting firm specializing in technology policy. lloyd@filamentstrategies.com.