Discuss: U.S. Mobile Data Compared to Rest of Globe

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

I think I’m making things too hard on myself trying to write posts. Sometimes the material is self-evident. Like this:

Discuss the reasons why the U.S. is so non-competitive with other developed nations including some that are less developed, and nearly all that are smaller economies, when it comes to mobile data.

You’ll note this is just a comparison of pricing and not speed or accessibility. It’s not good. How do we fix this?

Do note the tweeter, Vala Afshar — his employer relies on mobile data. Why is our country holding his employer back and so many others who also rely on mobile data?

Fertile Ground: Lack of Broadband and Disinformation Proliferation

Focusing on infrastructure this week, The Verge published an article Monday about broadband distribution in the U.S., providing a tidy map denoting which counties are not adequately served by high-speed internet.

Do you see what I see? Because it looks really familiar, kind of like this somewhat more granular map published in USAToday:

There are exceptions to my theory, but on the face of it there’s a correlation in most states between broadband access and so-called conservative voters.

Look at these two excerpts side by side:

There may be another corollary, at least in Michigan: the areas with crappy to nonexistent broadband are the ones which were hardest hit by the third wave COVID because there are more anti-mask, anti-lockdown, ‘COVID’s a hoax’ residents on average. Here’s NYT’s national map of COVID hot spots from April 9 (sorry, I didn’t get a zoomed-in image of WI-MI at that time):

Wisconsin is not as obvious a challenge in this map but the lack of broadband and red voters correlates to COVID hot spot region in north Texas.

This map, published by State of Michigan a few weeks earlier into Michigan’s third wave COVID cases, also shows the correlation:

While there are some exceptions like Marquette and Keweenaw Counties (both of which may have been affected by student and faculty populations in state universities) in the Upper Peninsula, the hot spots tracked from March into May the areas with low broadband and red voters.

Do note the one small outlier county near the middle of Wisconsin — that’s Menominee County, which voted blue but has crappy broadband. It’s the least populated of all counties in the state but its roughly 4550 residents are more than 87% Native American. Which means there’s not enough profit for broadband providers, and no ethics or adequate legislation at either state or federal level obligating coverage.

This week’s map of vaccination uptake in Michigan as published by Mlive shows the effect of anti-vaxx disinformation. In spite of horrific case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths in the low broadband Trump-voting areas, vaccine uptake has been slow.

Note the yellow county at the right of the map along Lake Huron; this is in MI-10, an area so pro-Trump that its previous congressional representative retired rather than run for re-election. Also not served adequately by broadband. (Also ripe for manipulation by outside parties like banking and real estate investors; it’s through this county that the new pipeline for water from Lake Huron to Flint was run at considerable expense and time, in spite of the proximity to Saginaw’s water system to the north and Detroit’s to the south.)

Another layer to this onion is the lack of print news media, shown on this Knight Foundation national map:

While that Trump-voting Michigan county of Sanilac on Lake Huron has print media, there’s a correlation between other counties without adequate broadband and low vaccine uptake.

I can’t find a decent map showing broadcast TV and radio coverage but some of the same problematic counties are underserved — most definitely in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and the upper portion of Wisconsin. There are concerns about how much of the state is served by Sinclair-owned television stations; they’re not as bad as Fox, but Sinclair owns far too much opportunity to push right-wing friendly content over publicly-owned airwaves.

Granted, there are some additional factors which shape the ideology espoused by persons who are slow to accept vaccination and reject masks. Some of these counties are extremely non-diverse, by which I mean more than 96% non-Hispanic white. Some are more than 55% male.

At least one of the counties in Michigan’s UP leans the other way because its population is older. Ontonagon County’s median age is 52.7 years while Sanilac’s median age is 43.

All of this is to say that the lack of broadband infrastructure serving Americans uniformly leaves them prey to disinformation about existential matters. If they aren’t getting information from a variety of media served up by broadband, AND they don’t have ready access to print media, AND they are likely underserved by broadcasters, they are ripe for whatever media is easiest to access including Facebook and other social media platforms on their cell phones.

~ ~ ~

Now here’s where it gets personal.

I have a family member who lives in a broadband desert, in a Trump-voting rural county. I thought of them immediately when Marcy wrote Radicalized by Trump: A Tale of Two Assault Defendants last week. This family member has written some things my kids won’t share with me (I’m not on Facebook and they are) because what this person has shared is so Trumpy and Qultish.

One of the two defendants Marcy wrote about blamed “Foxitis” for their radicalization. This isn’t the case for this family member because they live in a broadband desert. They may get digital broadcast but this means they aren’t exposed to Fox programming on cable. They don’t have cable, DSL, or wireless internet, only the data they purchase with their cell phone service.

This family member isn’t getting the newspaper, either; they’re not stupid but they’ve never been much of a reader.

Whatever is rotting their brain is coming through their phone, and my kids already know Facebook is one of the social media outlets this family member uses.

Fortunately this same family member isn’t prone to activism and has enough demands on their personal time that they aren’t likely to take off and go to rallies with other Trumpers and Qultists.

But we’re still looking at someone who views any messaging from the state government under Governor Whitmer and the federal government under President Biden with great suspicion and skepticism, to the point where they may resist measures intended to protect them, their family, and their community. The only information they’re getting about either state or federal government is through the filter of their limited social media.

I’m afraid this person’s mind won’t change until they have access to a lot more information from a much broader range of sources. Until they have cheap and easily accessible broadband, they’re going to be lost to disinformation and at continued risk.

This is bad enough — a family member who lives a couple hours away who I’ll have to write off as inaccessible for the near term because they have been poisoned by disinfo.

But this disinfo poisoning managed to affect my household directly.

Friends who are in agriculture suggested purchasing a side of beef soon as they expect meat prices to go up over the next few months. They recommended a processor in one of the counties which was hit hard by the third wave — a processor from whom we haven’t purchased before.

I suggested to my spouse that we try a processor up north who we’ve used in the past. They live in a very rural county which has fared a little better, and we’ve always liked their service.

When my spouse looked into placing an order, he was told they’d just lost two personnel who died of COVID and orders were backlogged.

How the heck do people who process meat for a country store in a county of less than 15,000 people end up dead of COVID?

What else may be hurting, possibly killing these people for lack of adequate, rational information?

I can’t be certain of anything except for not buying my beef there any time soon, and that country store’s location in a county indicated by blue denoting a lack of broadband.

Tony Fratto’s Post Office Field Trip

Ex-Bush flack Tony Fratto set me off on a rant this morning when he tweeted this:

Over the past 10 yrs I might have visited a post office 10 times, total.

(FWIW, Ed Henry also doesn’t frequent post offices, he mused from the luxury of Martha’s Vineyard.) Maybe I was misunderstanding what Fratto meant by the tweet, but he seemed to suggest that the frequency someone like him–someone so successful he once worked at the White House–used post offices should have any bearing on policy regarding the postal service. When I suggested that was, “probably why you have little understanding oof [sic] ppl who do,” he responded, “? Is there a certain “kind” of person who visits post offices??”

I started listing the kinds of people who I see when I go to the post office.

  • Poorer people
  • People using a post office box (some who might have unstable housing)
  • Rural people who live outside of delivery areas and have to pick up their mail
  • E-bay type entrepreneurs fulfilling sales orders
  • Immigrants sending care packages to people from their country of origin
  • Non-profits sending newsletters

Now, that’s an unscientific sample–it’s just who I see using the post office when I go. But in spite of the fact that these people at least look like they’re using the post office because it offers a reliable, accessible service for a price they can afford, I suggested the elite had access to a bunch of different services–like FedEx or UPS–that might make it easier to avoid the post office.

To which Fratto replied,

The issue isn’t “elite” vs “poor”! Good grief. It’s that we mail 1/10 of what we used to! My goodness…

Getting rid of post offices, Fratto said, was not “not ‘tearing down a public good’. We’re emailing.”

Which I think proved my point. For someone who doesn’t frequent a post office to see people who simply can’t replace the postal service with the technologies Fratto described as having replaced the postal service–fax, email, and online payments–it’s easy to forget that those technologies are simply inaccessible to a big chunk of the country–a chunk that is predominantly poorer.

The map above shows the non-mobile broadband access available in the country as of June 2010. As the NYT noted in an article earlier this year, 28% of America doesn’t use the Toobz at all.

As the world embraces its digital age — two billion people now use the Internet regularly — the line delineating two Americas has become more broadly drawn. There are those who have reliable, fast access to the Internet, and those, like about half of the 27,867 people here in Clarke County, who do not.

In rural America, only 60 percent of households use broadband Internet service, according to a report released Thursday by the Department of Commerce. That is 10 percent less than urban households. Over all, 28 percent of Americans do not use the Internet at all.

And some of these people live in places that may lose their post offices. Many of these people live in places that can’t afford to be among the places that could lose some 220,000 postal jobs in upcoming years, on top of the 212,000 already lost.

Yet policy wonks who don’t even use the post office (and presumably have the mobility that affluence offers) argue,

I’m fully aware of people who need the post office, but we can’t have them on every corner. Always going to be a balance…

…& cost has to matter. At some point it’s just not economically practical.

Fratto got a lot quieter when I pointed out the postal service deficit–$238 billion over the next decade–was actually peanuts compared on what we spend dropping bombs in Afghanistan and other forever wars.

Elite pundits increasingly seem to be making the argument that we simply can’t afford to be a nation-state anymore–we can’t afford to offer the most basic federal services to our poor and rural citizens. Yet they rarely consider how easily we manage to come up with unbelievable sums to remain an empire.

Drone strike budgeting: ruining rural lives here and overseas for fun and profit!