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The ACCESS ACT Takes a Step Towards a More Interoperable Future

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By Katharine Trendacosta, Bennett Cyphers, Cory Doctorow, and Cindy Cohn
June 11, 2021

When it comes to online services, there are a few very large companies whose gravitational effects can alter the entire tech universe. Their size, power, and diverse levers of control mean that there is no single solution that will put right that which they’ve thrown out of balance. One thing is clear—having such large companies with control over so much of our data is not working for users, not working for privacy or freedom of expression, and it’s blocking the normal flow of competition. These giants need to be prevented from using their tremendous power to just buy up competitors, so that they have to actually compete, and so that new competitors are not incentivized to just be be acquired. Above all, these giants need to be pushed to make it easy for users to leave, or to use other tools to interact with their data without leaving entirely.

In recognition of this reality, the House Judiciary Committee has released a number of proposed laws which would reign in the largest players in the tech space in order to make a healthier, more competitive internet ecosystem. We’ll have more in-depth analysis of all of them in the coming weeks, but our initial thoughts focus on the proposal which would make using a service on your own terms, or moving between services, much easier: the ACCESS Act.

The “Augmenting Compatibility and Competition by Enabling Service Switching Act”—or ACCESS Act—helps accomplish a goal we’ve long promoted as central to breaking the hold large tech companies have on our data and our business: interoperability.

Today too many tech companies are “roach motels” where our data enters but can never leave, or be back under our control. They run services where we only get the features that serve their shareholders’ interests, not our needs. This stymies other innovators, especially those who could move beyond today’s surveillance business models. The ACCESS Act creates a solid framework for change.

Privacy and Agency: Making Interoperability Work for Users

These services have vast troves of information about our lives. The ACCESS Act checks abuse of that data by enforcing transparency and consent. The bill mandates that platforms of a certain size and type make it possible for a user to leave that service and go to a new one, taking some or even all their data with them, while still maintaining the ability to socialize with the friends, customers, colleagues and communities who are still using the service. Under the bill, a user can request the data for themselves or, with affirmative consent, have it moved for them.

Interoperability means more data sharing, which can create new risks: we don’t want more companies competing to exploit our data. But as we’ve written, careful safeguards on new data flows can ensure that users have the first and final word on what happens to their information. The guiding principle should be knowing and clear consent.

First, sensitive data should only be moved at the direction of the users it pertains to, and companies shouldn’t be able to use interoperability to expand their nonconsensual surveillance. That’s why the bill includes a requirement for affirmative consent before a user’s data can be ported. It also forbids any secondary use or sharing of the data that does get shared—a crucial corollary that will ensure data can’t be collected for one purpose, then sold or used for something else.

Furthermore, the bill requires covered platforms to not make changes to their interoperability interfaces without approval from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), except in emergencies. That’s designed to prevent Facebook or other large platforms from making sudden changes that pull the rug out from under competitors. But there are times that the FTC cannot act quickly enough to approve changes. In the event of a security vulnerability or similar privacy or security emergency, the ACCESS act would allow platforms to address the problem without prior FTC approval.

We Need Multiple Possible Consequences for Platforms, Not Just Those Levied by the FTC

The bill is not perfect. It lacks some clarity about how much control users will have over ongoing data flows between platforms and their competitors, and it should make it 100% clear that “interoperability” can’t be construed to mean “surveillance advertising.” It also depends on an FTC that has enough staff to promote, rather than stymie, innovation in interoperable interfaces. To make sure the bill’s text turns into action, it should also have a private right of action. Private rights of action allow users themselves to sue a company that fails to abide by the law. This means that users themselves can hold companies accountable in the courts, instead of relying on the often overstretched, under-resourced FTC. It’s not that the FTC should not have oversight power, but that the bill would be strengthened by adding another form of oversight.

Put simply: the ACCESS Act needs a private right of action so that those of us stuck inside dominant platforms, or pounding on the door to innovate alongside or in competition with them, are empowered to protect ourselves.

The bill introduced today is a huge step in bringing much-needed competition to online services. While we believe there are things missing, we are glad to see so many problems being addressed.

Source: Electronic Frontier Foundation

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How Are Grassroots Energy Projects Are Taking Back Power From Utility Companies

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From solar power that cuts NYC energy bills and powers streetlights in Detroit to affordable high-speed internet throughout the United States, grassroots utilities projects are delivering on their promises to underserved communities of color.

By Aric Sleeper, – US, United States –

As power outages caused by extreme weather events become more intense and frequent, the efforts by federal, state and local legislators to abate human-caused climate change may seem futile to those on the front lines, who are left sweating or freezing in their homes after the power goes out unexpectedly and at the worst time possible.

Without intervention, these events will only become more recurrent. According to data provided by the National Centers for Environmental Information—which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and maintains and provides national geophysical data and information—there was an average of around three “weather and climate disasters” per year in the 1980s, compared to a staggering 22 extreme weather events in 2020.

The Biden administration’s participation in COP26, which took place in Glasgow from October 31 to November 13, 2021, was a step in the right direction to address climate change, compared to the previous administration, which derailed any progress made by the U.S. to address the current climate crisis. President Joe Biden, however, still did not go far enough at the international climate conference in terms of addressing environmental justice, systemic environmental racism and the disproportionate support for repairing the damage caused by extreme weather events in impoverished countries and underserved communities in the United States. The actions and projects needed to address these issues and bring about real change on the ground are, meanwhile, being championed by grassroots organizations led by women and people of color who are taking steps within their communities to move away from fossil fuels, power their neighborhoods with clean energy, and stay connected with community-created broadband infrastructure.

In New York City, Making Solar Power Affordable and Accessible Is About ‘More Than Just Putting Panels on Rooftops’

Working at the intersection of climate change and environmental justice in the heart of New York City is the Latino community-based nonprofit UPROSE. Founded in 1966, and based in the city’s largest maritime industrial district, the nonprofit organizes sustainable development projects and advocates for policies in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park and throughout all five boroughs. Their Sunset Park Solar project, which “will be New York City’s first community solar project owned and operated by a cooperative for the benefit of local residents and businesses,” will save its participants about 15 percent on their monthly electric bill, once the solar system has been installed and is operational.

The road to the project’s completion has been long and challenging due to the slow-moving gears of the existing governmental processes, according to Summer Sandoval, energy democracy coordinator at UPROSE.

“Sunset Park Solar is about more than just putting panels on rooftops; it’s about creating a scalable and replicable community-led model for the development of solar projects that build long-term community wealth and exhibit a Just Transition,” Sandoval says. “This project builds on the traditional community solar model but is vastly different from anything that’s been done before, and it’s challenging to navigate our way through processes, financial models and incentive programs that weren’t built for projects like this.”

Sunset Park Solar would allow for about 200 subscribers to utilize renewable energy and would not require any of them to install solar panels on their homes or pay any upfront costs, as UPROSE and its partners in the project have already done the heavy lifting. The panels for this project will be installed on the Brooklyn Army Terminal rooftop and will provide 685 kilowatts of clean electricity. In addition to the tangible cost-saving benefits to residents, the project has shown that community-led clean energy projects are possible.

“Even before construction, this project has demonstrated that the climate solutions are coming from the people on the front lines, and hopefully decision-makers see that as well and invest their resources directly into those front-line communities,” says Sandoval.

A Bright Spot in Detroit With Solar Streetlights

In Highland Park, Michigan, a city that sits within the City of Detroit, the nonprofit Soulardarity has been fighting for energy democracy since 2012.

“The idea of energy democracy is essentially focused on ensuring that the people who are affected the most by the decisions in energy should be the ones with the greatest amount of say in the process,” says Soulardarity Program Director Rafael Mojica.

Energy costs for city residents have been skyrocketing for decades (and continue to do so). The rate hikes were largely at the hands of the investor-owned, state-regulated utility company, DTE Energy, which made an interesting demand when Highland Park residents could no longer afford to pay the maintenance bill for their streetlights.

“In 2011, DTE gave [an] ultimatum to the City of Highland Park that they [either] pay the debt associated with the streetlights’ maintenance costs or lose them, and unfortunately, the city was in no position to pay their debt, so DTE followed through and removed more than 1,000 streetlights from the city,” says Mojica. “They didn’t remove everything. They left the stumps as a reminder to the community of their presence.”

When like-minded community members, led by Highland Park resident Shimekia Nichols (who is now Soulardarity’s executive director), organized as a result of the streetlight removal, they formed Soulardarity to bring light back to the community. After gathering funds from local residents, the first solar-powered streetlight was erected in 2012 in the neighborhood known as Avalon Village in Highland Park.

Soulardarity’s mission isn’t only to illuminate their streets with solar energy but also to shine a spotlight on the failed model of electricity production that for-profit, investor-owned utility providers like DTE Energy represent.

“DTE increases the rates they charge customers on a regular basis, exacerbating financial distress [for] communities of color, and despite the profits they’re raking in, they’re not using it to reinvest in their infrastructure. As a result… [the communities in Highland Park] have a poor level of service,” says Mojica. He adds that in the summer of 2021, “for example, Southeast and mid-Michigan experienced a huge number of blackouts, which are in DTE’s service area.”

Mojica points to the rippling effects of frequent power outages, especially in the summer and winter months, which can lead to refrigerated groceries that cost hundreds of dollars going bad as a result of these outages or can lead to rising hotel costs that may cripple the budgets of poor families living from paycheck to paycheck.

Currently, Soulardarity has been sifting through the language of the latest budget bills to ensure they provide funding for renewable energy projects in communities like Highland Park. Specifically, Soulardarity is seeking funds from the Department of Energy’s Communities LEAP program, which provides “supportive services valued at up to $16 million for community-driven clean energy transitions.”

Soulardarity has also completed an analysis in partnership with the Union of Concerned Scientists to outline what a clean energy, net-zero future would look like in Highland Park in the future called Let Communities Choose.

“Ultimately, we want to break free from DTE, and in this analysis we found that it is doable,” says Mojica. “Not only that, but there are a number of community benefits that would come with the transition to renewable energy in the form of job creation and economic development, and our communities would be healthier and safer—basically, dramatically improving the quality of life for all community members.”

Internet Access for All American Communities as a Gateway to Democracy and Equity

While the replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy sources like solar is essential to preventing further global warming and boosting local economies, power also comes in the form of information. When access to high-speed internet is controlled by corporations that operate in a similarly monopolistic manner as utility companies like DTE Energy, underserved communities suffer, especially during situations like the ongoing pandemic.

“If you aren’t fortunate enough to live in a place with affordable and reliable high-speed internet, you are essentially locked out of participating in modern society in so many ways, whether it’s distance learning, telemedicine, entertainment or even civic participation,” says Sean Gonsalves, senior reporter for the Institute for Local Self Reliance’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. “These problems really came to the fore during the pandemic.”

Currently, the high-speed internet market and broadband infrastructure, especially in rural communities, are inadequate, according to Gonsalves. When internet service providers are for-profit monopolies, large segments of the country either can’t afford reliable internet service, or don’t have access to high-speed broadband.

“When a community is reliant on outdated technology like DSL, they can’t even have a Zoom meeting, and good luck sending an email,” says Gonsalves. “In a healthy functioning market, people have choices, but when it comes to broadband, there aren’t options, which leads to high prices, poor customer service and bad coverage.”

To gain more reliable and affordable internet service, cities across the United States have formed their own municipal broadband networks to compete with the existing monopolies. Cities like Longmont, Colorado; Wilson, North Carolina; and Chattanooga, Tennessee, have transformed their economies and communities after organizing to create their own municipal broadband networks.

“The golden child is EPB in Chattanooga, which is a city-owned utility,” says Gonsalves. “Not every community can do what Chattanooga has, but in terms of benefits, the return on investment was $2.7 billion in the first 10 years of operation.” With federal legislation like the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act setting aside resources to increase and strengthen community broadband networks, Gonsalves and others at the Community Broadband Networks Initiative are hopeful that more communities will organize and take advantage of these opportunities and create their own broadband networks with the use of federal funding.

“The infrastructure bill represents a watershed moment in terms of the largest investment by the federal government in broadband ever,” says Gonsalves. “Even private investors are showing interest in community broadband, and now is the time for communities to start planning and pushing forward in an organized and strategic way.”

This article was produced by Local Peace Economy, a project of the Independent Media Institute.


Aric Sleeper is an independent journalist whose work, which covers topics including labor, drug reform, food and more, has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle and other publications local to California’s Central Coast. In addition to his role as a community reporter, he has served as a government analyst and bookseller.

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bell hooks on feminism, race, violence and dealing with rage

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The world-famous Black author and thinker known as bell hooks passed away on December 15, 2021, at age 69. From the WINGS archive, here are excerpts of her speaking in 1993, the year she published Sisters of the Yam: Black women and self-recovery, and whilst she was working on the book to be titled Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995).

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From Punk to Planet: Slam Dunk the Junk with Dave Street

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For many years, you could see punk comedian and lyricist at various New York City punk clubs or some of the really authentic stores selling punk lifestyle and clothing…. But how did this punk rock wordsmith go from punk to planet? How did he evolve from smoke filled clubs to educating young school children about valuing the Earth and understanding environmental science? It is time to Slam Dunk the Junk with Dave Street

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Mobilized TV on Free Speech TV  takes a deep look at our world, the consequences of human activity on our planet, and how we can reverse and prevent existing and future crises from occurring. Mobilized reveals life on our planet as a system of systems which all work together for the optimal health of the whole. The show delves into deep conversations with change-makers so people can clearly take concerted actions.

Produced by Steven Jay and hosted by Jeff Van Treese.

Mobilized’s TV series Mobilized TV  premieres on Free Speech TV on Friday, October 15, 2021. All episodes appear:

Fridays 9:30 PM Eastern (USA/Canada)

Saturdays:  6:30 PM (Eastern USA/Canada)

Sundays:  8:30 AM Eastern (USA/Canada)

January 7, 8, 9, 2022

Leading Environmental Justice Attorney, Thomas Linzey of the Center for Democratic and Environmental Rights is a leading force helping communities implement successful rights of nature laws. Find out how your community could take on big business to serve the health of all.

 

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