F.C.C. Chairman Pushes Sweeping Changes to Net Neutrality Rules

F.C.C. Chairman Pushes Sweeping Changes to Net Neutrality Rules
Apr 26 2017

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday outlined a sweeping plan to loosen the government’s oversight of high-speed internet providers, a rebuke of a landmark policy approved two years ago to ensure that all online content is treated the same by the companies that deliver broadband service to Americans.

The chairman, Ajit Pai, said high-speed internet service should no longer be treated like a public utility with strict rules, as it is now. Instead, he said, the industry should largely be left to police itself.

The plan is Mr. Pai’s most forceful action in his race to roll back rules that govern telecommunications, cable and broadcasting companies, which he says are harmful to business. But he is certain to face a contentious battle with the consumers and tech companies that rallied around the existing rules, which are meant to prevent broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast from giving special treatment to any streaming videos, news sites and other content.

“Two years ago, I warned that we were making a serious mistake,” Mr. Pai said at the Newseum in Washington, where he laid out the plan in a speech. “It’s basic economics. The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”

His plan, though still vague on the details, is a sharp change from the approach taken by the last F.C.C. administration, which approved rules governing a concept known as net neutrality in 2015. The rules were intended to ensure an open internet, meaning that no content could be blocked by broadband providers and that the internet would not be divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else.

The policy was the signature telecom regulation of the Obama era. It classified broadband as a common carrier service akin to phones, which are subject to strong government oversight. President Obama made an unusual public push for the reclassification in a video message that was widely shared and appeared to embolden the last F.C.C. chairman, Tom Wheeler, to make the change.

The classification also led to the creation of broadband privacy rules in 2016 that made it harder to collect and sell browsing information and other user data. Last month, President Trump signed a bill overturning the broadband privacy regulations, which would have gone into effect at the end of the year.

In his speech on Wednesday, Mr. Pai said he would undo that classification.

Mr. Pai said he was generally supportive of the idea behind net neutrality but said the rules went too far and were not necessary for an open internet. The new plan could include only voluntary commitments by broadband companies. He said he would also seek public comment on how to preserve the basic principles of net neutrality — the prohibitions of blocking, throttling and paid priority for online traffic.

Mr. Pai has opposed the current rules for years, and he voted against them as a commissioner. Critics of his ideas for changing the rules say making any commitments only voluntary would pave the way for the creation of business practices that harm competition.

“It would put consumers at the mercy of phone and cable companies,” said Craig Aaron, president of the consumer advocacy group Free Press. “In a fantasy world, all would be fine with a pinkie swear not to interrupt pathways and portals to the internet despite a history of doing that.”

The new policy faces several hurdles before going into effect, including months of comments and revisions. But Republicans have a 2 to 1 majority on the commission, including Mr. Pai, so most proposals he puts up for a vote will generally be expected to pass.

Consumer groups and tech companies have warned of a legal challenge, however. The current net neutrality rules were affirmed by a federal appeals court, which could put an extra burden on Mr. Pai to justify his changes.


How the March for Science seized San Francisco, fueling a growing movement

How the March for Science seized San Francisco, fueling a growing movement
Where does the March for Science go from here?
By Ryan Elwood
Apr 26 2017

Former Chief of Data Science Dr. Patil hands a fistful of markers to his daughter and motions to a blank poster board, asking her what she’d like to write on her sign. A man to his left dressed as Albert Einstein holds one reading, “Understanding global warming doesn’t require an Einstein – just an open mind.” Flying Spaghetti Monster flags flutter over two men dressed as Smokey the Bear, and as demonstrators stream into Justin Herman Plaza to kick off the March for Science in San Francisco, it is already clear this is not your usual demonstration.

Responding to the Trump administration’s recent budget cuts and the muzzling of entities ranging from the EPA to the National Park Service, the March for Science inspired hundreds of thousands worldwide to take to the streets on Saturday to defend scientific research and its use in informing public policy. The March was hatched by Bay Area-based science educator Kishore Hari immediately following the Women’s March on Washington in January; less than 24 hours after Hari announced the planned march, it had more than 1 million followers.

“The tone of the conversation is that [scientists] fundamentally felt like their work, who they were, was being questioned. You could hear the hurt and frustration in that,” Hari told Occupy.com. On Earth Day, April 22, more than 20,000 people filled the downtown streets of San Francisco while some 600 March for Science satellite events spanned the globe – from New Zealand to India to the event’s epicenter, Washington, DC – as science supporters demanded the administration take a new tack. As Hari said, the international demonstration amounted to “[the] largest science event in the history of humankind.”

Creative protests signs featured prominently here and in marches nationally. So did the roster of high level scientists who were invited to speak. While Bill Nye was perhaps the most prominent figure to address the crowd in DC, San Francisco featured numerous leaders in the field, including Kathy Seitan, former project manager of the Environmental Protection Agency.

“EPA is the eye of the storm,” Seitan told Occupy.com. “We are the number one agency that they want to dismantle. Of course, they want to dismantle anything that has any relevancy to people’s actual lives. The EPA is the center of that because we’re the ones who produce the facts and the solutions to the problems that they deny even exist, so that’s why we’re bearing the brunt of the attack.”

Prior to the march, controversy circulated among scientists about the potentially negative outcomes of politicizing science – making it a partisan issue by attacking primarily Republicans’ position on science issues, ranging from climate change to vaccines to reproductive health. But “everything is political, what isn’t?” said Seitan. “The scientific method itself is not political, it remains objective and it strives to be objective – it means we strive to be unbiased to the facts. However, what is political are the attacks on science and the refusal to apply science to our most pressing policy issues. Scientists [are] standing up for themselves and the work we produce to use it to affect policy.”

Dr. D.J. Patil, former U.S. chief data scientist, spoke to the power of science in helping steer more enlightened, practical policy measures. “When we were in the White House, and you saw whatever crisis came through – Zika, Ebola, or even the question of how do we find the next tailored genomic treatments for somebody who has a rare disease or cancer – that requires scientists,” Patil told Occupy.com. “Not just investment in science but active, aggressive figuring out how science goes into every single type of policy, every single thing we do as a nation. When that comes together, that’s really one of those super powers for us as a country.”

Adam Savage, scientist and co-host of the popular show Mythbusters, also spoke at Saturday’s rally prior to the march. He said he doesn’t see politicization as an issue worth focusing on. “I’m excited about this demonstration,” Savage said. “One of the key ways we exercise democracy is by voting, but even more importantly by gathering together and unifying our voice – voting is one way to do it, this is another. And I think that the last few months have shown that this is a really powerful way for the left to organize and let their voices be heard.”

When the speeches came to an end just after noon, the mass of thousands began walking, singing, chanting and cheering as they made their way down Market Street. Some protesters carried bird puppets, while others rode bicycles with speakers blaring protest songs. Every so often, “science, not silence” shouts emanated from the crowd. The march emptied out into a science fair in front of City Hall, where dozens of educational booths were set up, including the Cal Academy of Science and the 49ers STEAM team.

Now, in the aftermath of Saturday’s success, the inevitable question arises: Where does the March for Science go from here? “I’m hoping that [after this], people will better understand what the attacks on science are, and how critical they are to the life of the entire planet” Seitan added, “and [that people] will continue to put pressure on the whole political spectrum for making sure that science informs our decisions and that we act on these very pressing problems.”

Bryan Dang, a marketing and tech professional who helped organize the March for Science in San Francisco, said he hopes this “becomes a real paradigm shift in terms of mentalities that people have towards scientists and how scientists engage with the public, and how we’re able to come together to promote evidence-based policy and stand for the scientific consensus that we may have at the time. In San Francisco, I hope that this turns into a group that really focuses on outreach in the Bay Area.”

Speaking to the political nature of debates over science, Savage said, “[Even] if there are people who are going to hear me that will disagree with me politically, I hope we can agree that we all have the same first principles: a better world for ourselves, our kids, our loved ones, our community. If we can start a conversation from that, we are in great shape.”


Why Even the World’s Highest-Scoring Schools Need to Change

[Note:  This item comes from friend Andy Maffei.  DLH]

Why Even the World’s Highest-Scoring Schools Need to Change
Teachers, not corporations, should be in charge of our children’s education.
By Marion Brady
Mar 17 2017

Betsy DeVos, the new U.S. Secretary of Education, has a theory. She agrees with Jeb Bush and other education amateurs now shaping American education that “the system” is basically sound, but teachers lack skills and kids lack grit. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix. Competition in the form of market forces—choice, vouchers, merit pay, charters, privatization, and so on—will shape them up.   

DeVos is wrong. Dozens of variables—most of them beyond educator control—affect kids’ ability to learn. Believing that market forces can erase the effects of those variables is magical thinking.

Albert Einstein, Buckminster Fuller, David Bohm, Alfred North Whitehead, Ernest Boyer, Harlan Cleveland, Arthur Koestler, Thomas Merton, Peter Senge, and many other internationally known and respected thinkers have a different theory about poor learner and school performance. They say the core curriculum—the curriculum America’s reformers have standardized with the Common Core State Standards—is poor. They say it’s fragmented, incoherent, artificial, disconnected from the reality it’s supposed to explain to learners and help them explore.

If they’re right, until educators acknowledge the inadequacy of the core and satisfactorily address its problems, even the world’s highest-scoring schools won’t serve learners well. 

Here’s Why:

1. For efficient, productive thought, information must be organized in a logical, intellectually manageable way. The core subjects organize information, but they don’t explain how all those organizers “fit together” and reinforce each other to improve sense-making.

2. Businesses, industries, the military, and other information-dependent entities don’t use academic disciplines or school subjects to organize information. To (a) a more accurately model reality’s systemically integrated, holistic nature; (b) cope with reality’s inherent complexity; and (c) solve real-world problems, they use systems theory and systems thinking.

The Situation

Tradition, institutional inertia, multi-layered bureaucracies, fear of change, textbook publishers, testing companies, uninformed politicians, and upside-down organization charts that put amateurs in charge of experts, block educator acceptance of systems thinking as the primary organizer of school curricula. No plan is in place to address these institutional obstacles to curricular innovation.

A Way Forward

Lasting curricular change is bottom up and voluntary, propelled by the enthusiasm of kids and teachers. The optimum place and time to introduce systems thinking is at the middle school level, using multidisciplinary teacher teams working with small groups, and offering social science, language arts, and humanities credits. Introduce systems thinking at that level, and its merit will eventually lead to adoption at other levels.


No Longer a Dream: Silicon Valley Takes On the Flying Car

No Longer a Dream: Silicon Valley Takes On the Flying Car
This isn’t science fiction. A number of start-ups as well as big aerospace firms are trying to build personal aircraft you could fly around town.
By John Markoff
Apr 24 2017

CLEARLAKE, Calif. — On a recent afternoon, an aerospace engineer working for a small Silicon Valley company called Kitty Hawk piloted a flying car above a scenic lake about 100 miles north of San Francisco.

Kitty Hawk’s flying car, if you insisted on calling it a “car,” looked like something Luke Skywalker would have built out of spare parts. It was an open-seated, 220-pound contraption with room for one person, powered by eight battery-powered propellers that howled as loudly as a speedboat.

The tech industry, as we are often told, is fond of disrupting things, and lately the automakers have been a big target. Cars that use artificial intelligence to drive themselves, for example, have been in development for a few years and can be spotted on roads in a number of cities. And now, coming onto the radar screen, are flying machines that do not exactly look like your father’s Buick with wings.

More than a dozen start-ups backed by deep-pocketed industry figures like Larry Page, a Google founder — along with big aerospace firms like Airbus, the ride-hailing company Uber and even the government of Dubai — are taking on the dream of the flying car.

The approaches by the different companies vary and the realization of their competing visions seems far in the future, but they have one thing in common: a belief that one day regular people should be able to fly their own vehicles around town.

There are challenges, no doubt, with both the technology and government regulations. Perhaps the biggest hurdle will be convincing the public that the whole idea isn’t crazy.

“I love the idea of being able to go out into my backyard and hop into my flying car,” said Brad Templeton, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who has served as a consultant on Google’s self-driving project. “I hate the idea of my next-door neighbor having one.”

Kitty Hawk, the company backed by Mr. Page, is trying to be one of the first out of the gate and plans to start selling its vehicle by the end of the year.

The company has attracted intense interest because of Mr. Page and its chief executive, Sebastian Thrun, an influential technologist and self-driving car pioneerwho is the founding director of Google’s X lab.

In 2013, Zee Aero, a Kitty Hawk division, became the object of Silicon Valley rumors when reports of a small air taxilike vehicle first surfaced.

Mr. Page declined a request for an interview but said in a statement: “We’ve all had dreams of flying effortlessly. I’m excited that one day very soon I’ll be able to climb onto my Kitty Hawk Flyer for a quick and easy personal flight.”

During his recent test flight, Cameron Robertson, the aerospace engineer, used two joysticklike controls to swing the vehicle back and forth above Clear Lake, sliding on the air as a Formula One car might shimmy through a racecourse. The flight, just 15 feet above the water, circled over the lake about 20 or 30 yards from shore, and after about five minutes Mr. Robertson steered back to a floating landing pad at the end of a dock.

The Kitty Hawk Flyer is one of several prototypes the start-up, based in Mountain View, Calif., is designing. The company hopes to create an audience of enthusiasts and hobbyists, who later this year will be able to pay $100 to sign up for a $2,000 discount on the retail price of a Flyer to “gain exclusive access to Kitty Hawk experiences and demonstrations where a select few will get the chance to ride the Flyer.”


The March for Science was a moment made for Bill Nye

The March for Science was a moment made for Bill Nye
By Caitlin Gibson
Apr 23 2017

The moment he emerged onstage in a black jacket and red bow tie, the crowd noise hit near-deafening decibels. A sea of iPhones appeared, everyone stretching and jostling for the best possible photo angle. They cupped their hands to their mouths, screaming his name.

“Greetings, fellow citizens,” Bill Nye said to the thousands huddled beneath umbrellas and hand-lettered signs. “We are marching today to remind people everywhere, our lawmakers especially, of the significance of science for our health and prosperity.”

Near the foot of the stage, a young woman with a bright-green pixie cut shouted: “I love you!”

It was a significant moment — for science, for William Sanford Nye and for the masses who have followed him for decades, from fuzzy TV screens in their middle school classrooms to the grounds of the Washington Monument at Saturday’s March for Science. He is beloved by millennials who came of age watching the ’90s-era PBS series “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” a role that made him an icon: half mad professor, half Mr. Rogers, perpetually clad in a pale-blue lab coat and bow tie as he unveiled the science of eroding mountains or orbiting comets with theatrical flourish.

More than 20 years later, the 61-year-old still wears the bow ties, and he still punctuates his speech with impassioned catchphrases. (“It’s not magic, it’s science!” is his new favorite.) But now his disheveled locks and vaguely Vulcan eyebrows are streaked with gray, and his persona has assumed a new edge. He has become more than the zany educator-entertainer who charmed kids with cartoonish sound effects. He is an activist for science, leading those now-grownups into political battle.

Of all the roles he has played, this is the one he was preparing for all along.

“I did imagine it could come to this,” Nye said Friday, during a visit to The Washington Post the day before the march.

By “this,” he meant the legions of scientists, doctors, engineers and concerned members of the public taking to the streets of Washington and more than 600 cities worldwide. Their demonstration was a response to the rise of anti-scientific notions — the anti-vaccination movement and climate-change denial in particular — and a retort to the Trump administration, which has proposed deep budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health.

In the weeks before the march, many called this kind of mass protest from the scientific community unprecedented. But Nye was not surprised.

The current “anti-science thing,” he said, had been on the rise for decades. “People were denying pollution in 1970, saying it’s a-okay.”

He took note of the early warning signs as a young man in Seattle, where he got his start in broadcasting with a local sketch-comedy show. He also was volunteering on weekends at the Pacific Science Center and with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program.

“I realized that kids are the future,” he said. “The reason I made the ‘Science Guy’ show was quite deliberate. If we can get young people excited about science, then we have a shot. I knew I was fighting the fight.”

The fight is political, but not partisan, he emphasizes. Still, he has drawn his share of partisan critics. Some, like Sarah Palin, have questioned whether Nye is actually qualified to speak on behalf of science: “Bill Nye is as much a scientist as I am,” she once declared.

Nye chuckles in response: “Well, Ms. Palin, you’re wrong.”

To be fair: He did make his name as an entertainer. “I’m not a research scientist,” he acknowledged, like his good friend and fellow science celebrity Neil deGrasse Tyson, who climbed the academic ranks as an astrophysicist. Nye earned his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering at Cornell then went to work for Boeing. His fancier science credentials — designing an interplanetary sundial used by NASA and becoming chief executive of the Planetary Society, a space-advocacy group co-founded by Carl Sagan — came after his TV fame.

Still, his education was grounded in the scientific method. And, he argues, it doesn’t take a paleontologist to defend evolution or a meteorologist to comprehend the perils of climate change.


The disabled and the elderly are facing a big problem: Not enough aides

The disabled and the elderly are facing a big problem: Not enough aides
By Judith Graham
Apr 23 2017

Acute shortages of home health aides and nursing assistants are cropping up across the country, threatening care for people with serious disabilities and vulnerable older adults.

In Wisconsin, nursing homes have denied admission to thousands of patients over the past year because they lack essential staff, according to associations of facilities that provide long-term care.

In New York, patients in rural areas have been injured, soiled themselves and gone without meals because paid caregivers aren’t available, according to testimony provided to state legislators in February.

In Illinois, the independence of people with severe developmental disabilities is being compromised as agencies experience severe staff shortages, according to a court monitor overseeing a federal consent decree.

The emerging crisis is driven by low wages — around $10 an hour, mostly funded by state Medicaid programs — and a shrinking pool of workers willing to perform this physically and emotionally demanding work: helping people get into and out of bed, go to the bathroom, shower, eat and participate in routine activities, often while dealing with challenging behaviors.

Experts warn that this labor problem portends even worse difficulties as America’s senior population swells to 88 million people in 2050, up from 48 million today, and requires more assistance with chronic health conditions and disabilities. 

“If we don’t turn this around, things are only going to get worse,” said David Gifford, senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs for the American Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes.

“For me as a parent, the instability of this system is terrifying,” said Cheryl Dougan of Bethlehem, Pa., whose profoundly disabled son, Renzo, suffered cardiac arrest nearly 19 years ago at age 14 and receives round-the-clock care from paid caregivers.

“We’ve gone through hundreds of . . . workers, and there have been times I’ve found Renzo sitting in a recliner, soaking wet, because his diapers hadn’t been changed. And at times I wasn’t sure if he was being fed well or treated well,” Dougan continued. “It’s exhausting, mentally and physically. You live with a constant sense of crisis.”

Rising demand

For years, experts have predicted that a rapidly aging population’s demand for services would outstrip the capacity of what is called the “direct care” workforce: personal care aides, home health aides and nursing assistants.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that an additional 1.1 million workers of this kind will be needed by 2024 — a 26 percent increase over 2014. Yet the population of people who tend to fill these jobs, overwhelmingly women age 25 to 64, will increase at a much slower rate.

After the recession of 2008-2009, positions in Medicaid-funded home health agencies, nursing homes and community service agencies were relatively easy to fill for several years. But the improving economy has led workers to pursue higher-paying alternatives — in retail services, for example — and turnover rates have soared.

At the same time, wages for nursing assistants, home health aides and personal care aides have stagnated, making recruitment difficult. The average hourly rate nationally is $10.11 — a few cents lower than a decade ago, according to PHI, an organization that studies the direct-care workforce. There is a push on now in a handful of states to raise the minimum to $15 an hour. 

For-profit franchises that offer services to seniors who pay out of pocket are also having problems with staffing.

“All the experienced workers are already placed with families. They’re off the market,” said Carrie Bianco, owner of Always Best Care Senior Services of Torrance, Calif., part of a national chain with franchises in 30 states.


Thousands of tiny satellites are about to go into space and possibly ruin it forever

Thousands of tiny satellites are about to go into space and possibly ruin it forever
By Avi Selk
Apr 21 2017

Halfway through the European Space Agency’s new film, we’re at the part where — if this were some happy space documentary from yesteryear — Carl Sagan might be giving us a tour of a distant galaxy.

But it’s 2017, Sagan is dead, and this is a film about space trash. So six minutes in, we’re stuck a mere 800 miles above Earth, watching a wasp swarm of defunct satellites whip around the globe to a frenetic soundtrack that sounds like the end of “The Dark Knight.”

It’s a dramatic simulation of what low Earth orbit looks like today. You can even watch it in 3-D. Because the European Space Agency really, really wants you to pay attention to the space debris problem.

The problem is about to get worse, experts say, as cheap, tiny satellites are shot through the stratosphere in unprecedented numbers.

Worst-case scenario: a massive, unstoppable, chain-reaction traffic wreck above our heads. So much for escaping Earth to distant galaxies.

The short film “Space Debris: A Journey to Earth” was screened this week in Germany at the world’s largest annual gathering of space-debris experts.

The news from space was not great.

Hundreds of thousands of bits of space junk are orbiting Earth, according to NASA. These include tiny paint flecks that can take out a space shuttle window, and some 2,000 satellite shards left by a collision of Russian and American satellites several years ago.

In Germany, the audience was shown a slide from another depressing space film, “Gravity.” The part where the International Space Station is destroyed in an avalanche of space trash.

“There were many mistakes in that movie; I will not go through that,” ESA Director General Jan Woerner said. “But the effect, as such, is a very serious one.”

Woerner cut to video from the real International Space Station, which has not yet been destroyed.

Bobbing around in zero gravity, astronaut Thomas Pesquet described what the space station crew has to do when a piece of debris whizzes past: Climb into an escape shuttle, wait and hope.

“This happened four times,” Pesquet said. “In my own interests, let me wish you a successful conference.”