Map: Detroit’s Digital Divide

DETROITography

detroitbroadband-improve

I’ve often shared information here that notes 40% of Detroit households have no access to internet, both broadband and cell phone access. In a city that faces countless issues with connectivity and communicating with pockets of people spread across a large area, there is great potential for internet to bring Detroit together, improve communications, and equalize access – jobs, education, resources, etc.

The latest numbers from the 2014 American Community Survey show Detroit has 95,825 households or 37% of all Detroit households have no internet access. The city sadly ranks #2 nationally for cities with over 50,000 households. The logical next step in saying that 37% of Detroit households have no internet is to then ask where are those households located? Who is impacted?

From the above map you can see the obvious outline of Detroit with low broadband internet access. Downtown, Boston-Edison, Grandmont-Rosedale, Palmer Woods, and a handful…

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Major outbreak of AT&T disables population, no end in sight

Recently, I have come down with a serious case of AT&T. The last time this happened was in 2010 and both times it lasted over 3 weeks. What is AT&T and how can one acquire it, simply by attempting to access reliable internet service from the telecom giant known as American Telephone & Telegraph company.

Here were my common Symptoms:

  • Desire to tear out hair when hearing digital voices
  • Outbursts when encountering elevator music
  • Serious mental fatigue from being on hold (often referred to as “fried brain”)
  • Aversion to calling any “helpdesk”

My most recent case of AT&T lasted for 3 weeks and ended in a very unsatisfactory conclusion. From that experience I decided to do some number crunching to compare my cases in 2010 and 2012. The measures I used were:

  1. Number of people involved in my case (direct contact)
  2. Personal time spent: on hold, waiting for technicians, and during technician visits
  3. Internet speeds promised by representatives and speeds actually accessed (only 2012)

My first measure was based on how many people that I was in direct contact with regarding my case of AT&T. Direct contact is defined as an in-person technician contact or human-over-the-phone conversation. My case in 2010 involved a high number of people because AT&T had not yet developed its digital voice system to direct “helpdesk” calls to the right place. As a result I had to talk with many people and be transferred often during my 2010 case. In 2012, the number of people I spoke with didn’t spike until my issues involved billing and my call was dropped twice (9/28). I know there were also a higher number of people dealing with my 2012 case from the main office and technical team, but had no way to track those numbers.

The company has given greater control and access to representatives to be able to deal with “helpdesk” issues, reducing the number of transfers. I am happy that I don’t have to deal with as many people, but this seems to have increased the personal time that I need to spend dealing with my case because it never reached the right people and my problem persisted.

Unfortunately, in both cases, my personal time spent managing my cases was abhorrent. My case in 2010 took almost 20 hours to reconcile with the majority of this time being spent on hold or in transfer. In 2012, my personal time went over 24 hours after being asked to block a 12 hour window for a technician to be able to come and work on my line. My 2012 case involved AT&T “chronic facility issues” which sounded like a systemic issues with poor quality internet connectivity.

It wasn’t until after the 6th technician who came out to my house told me to call billing that I was then informed that the internet speed promised during my first call (08-24-12) was completely impossible because my area was on “lock” for 6 mbps.  Three weeks, 24 hours, and the first representative I talked with couldn’t even tell me accurately what was available in my area? Shouldn’t this be basic?

A healthy dose of prevention could have saved me a lot of trouble and the company a lot of money in both my 2010 and 2012. I was compensated $370 in 2010 and roughly $280 in 2012 (not including technician pay). This telecom giant needs to be more receptive to customer needs and increase the reliability of both their “helpdesk” system to tell customers honest information and their technical systems for delivering good internet.

A study has found that American consumers are paying higher prices for slower connections. It’s an epidemic and truly there is no end in sight.

why are there no doctors?


(photo: empty waiting room at Zonke Clinic 2, no doctor)

Over the past 8 years Africa, international development, and health care have been the focus of my work and studies. Just last year (it’s been a year already?) I completed an internship in South Africa at a center for children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS called VVOCF (Vumundzuku-bya Vana ‘Our Children’s Future’). The internship was a completion of my ‘field experience’ requirement for my International Relations major at James Madison College and was supported by the Young People For internship program. The paper that I wrote as an investigation, analysis, and report has been by far my most rewarding piece of academic work, but also my most depressing.

To work with a community on difficult issues is one thing. To witness harsh realities while working within that community is another. But to know the historical and present reasons behind those issues and harsh realities is yet another – and it is painful only be able to watch. Sure you could argue that I and others spent time working with the community at VVOCF, but in truth all we can do as outsiders is watch. We will never live long-term in the community and we will never fully understand the issues that we study and claim to know so well.

My blogging well in South Africa took a hit because of the lack of internet access and since then has been limited to posts of some of my academic papers for classes. What will follow this post will be a series of posts copied and pasted from my final, field experience paper. I hope that it can be a resource for others. I also hope that it is a deeper look into an issue faced by a community with plenty of room for further research, learning and understanding.

There will be roughly a dozen posts on the health care system in South Africa: effects of apartheid, impacts of HIV/AIDS, issues in Zonkizizwe specifically, and conclusions. Be sure to check back later today for the first post.

the growth of rwanda by way of multinational corporations

Multinational corporations would benefit from an international agreement on foreign direct investment, but not all people and states would benefit from such an agreement. There are many preconceived notions about Multinational Corporations (MNC), which Balaam and Veseth work tirelessly to argue against. These notions are shared by many and in some ways cannot be overlooked in the grand scheme of MNC sot Transnational Corporations (TNC) as Balaam and Veseth define. MNCs bring a lot in the way of foreign direct investment and this brings up the age old question of exploitation and domination of a less economically developed country (LEDC). MNCs and TNCs are seen as huge companies originating in the economically developed countries that are very influential and hold sway in the international Political economy (IPE).

Do MNCs exploit and actually harm countries with foreign direct investment (FDI)? We first have to look at the positive side. FDI from MNCs in economically developed countries brings in much needed cash flow, jobs, and they create economic development. Many countries seek to draw in MNCs for this very purpose. This is all well and good until Balaam and Veseth turn their argument to include the Washington Consensus. In the 1990s the world saw an increase in FDI flows and these reflected the growing transnational markets, regional and global. Balaam and Veseth note that many ‘less developed countries’ (LDC) have adopted the Washington Consensus policies. They say that these policies create an environment more conducive to TNCs investment, but is that what is best for a LEDC? The effectiveness of the Washington Consensus is underscored by its failure to understand the many conditions of a LEDC and its governance. When a LEDC adopts the Washington Consensus it opens its, often, unstable economy and government to the world. There is very often a problem of foreign debt and the policies of the Washington Consensus require LEDC to focus capital on building pointless infrastructures while its people are dying because of lack of healthcare or are in need of an education system. Among the many policies outlined in the Washington Consensus one is the liberalization of FDI. Beyond the controversy of FDI many countries now actively seek it to grow their economic situations.

Earlier this month the Foreign Policy magazine claimed that the “next great place for multinational corporations to invest” may be Rwanda. The landlocked African country just might be the place as Rwandan President, Kagame, seeks to create a new view of the country as a business friendly venue. This is an instance where FDI by MNC very well may be benefiting both the state and the people. Kagame recently visited the US and met with the CEO of Starbucks and Costco to discuss specialty coffees. Other Rwandan officials have met with executives from Alltel, Bechtel, and Columbia Sportswear. Google has also been a part of Rwanda’s development by providing ad-free and free-of-charge web-based software to government ministries, each ministry gets its own domain name. This is an instance where the development of government may also lead to the advancement of the Rwandan people. However we need to be sure to look at the potential impact of FDI. Specialty coffees may increase the workforce, new corporations invested will also grow the workforce, but Rwanda needs to be sure that its people are not exploited for their labor. MNCs/ TNCs are often toted as companies that exploit LEDCs for cheap labor. This is most likely not the case.

Another great example of FDI by MNCs in Rwanda is the work of an American millionaire, Greg Wyler. Wyler and his company want to make Rwanda completely wireless to make Rwanda the most modern wireless, developing country. The Rwandan government hopes this project will make the country a rival to the high-tech Indian city of Bangalore. Wyler believes that with making the country wireless it will create so many opportunities for economic development and unrestricted entrepreneurship. This is an FDI by MNCs that I have to argee with skeptics in that if you have an economically developing country that has a starving population, then what good will free internet access provide? Nevertheless this increase in FDI in Rwanda is a prime example of how FDI by MNCs has the potential to change peoples lives and benefit both the state and those it serves.

Today MNCs/ TNCs are motivated not from monopoly power , but by investment abroad in the new competitive environment that is found in transnational markets. This environment where MNCs work best is brought about by a liberalization of trade and investment policy. The Washington Consensus pushes these changes and many countries are now working to adopt them to increase their FDI. This is where countries should take a warning and remember that they cannot forget the people that they serve. Economic advancement is important if a country is to grow in standard of living, but it has to be done where people are not left behind. Change in policy to facilitate MNCs investment has the great potential to bring positives for LEDCs.

Bibliography:
Balaam and Veseth. Introduction to International Political Economy. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc, 2005.

‘Web Access for All Rwandans.’ Spiegel Online International. . (date accessed 17 April 2007)

‘We wish to inform you that Rwanda is open for business.’ Foreign Policy Passport Blog. . (date accessed 17 April 2007)