“Why Cell Phones Went Dead After Hurricane Sandy”

Photo courtesy of Bloomberg.com

Via Bloomberg View

The lack of a cell phone service in the wake of Hurricane Sandy a few weeks ago stripped those affected of one of the most basic communication tools needed in order to facilitate relief and notify and get in touch with loved ones in the wake of the storm. The issue at hand, as pointed out by Contributor Susan Crawford in her article, is that the federal government has no authority over telecommunications companies to guarantee reliable and reasonably priced service to the American public due to increasing deregulation over the past ten years based on the networks’ claims of constitutional right to “editorial discretion.” As the likelihood of annual tropical storms in the U.S., at least in the northeast, increases due to climate change, the issue takes on growing significance.

Verizon certainly has the constitutional right to make this argument. The country needs to understand, however, that what it’s asking for is to privilege its own speech over that of more than 300 million Americans…The Constitution shouldn’t be used as a sledgehammer to protect the business interests of a small set of giant companies on whose services the entire country depends.”

It is appalling that the general public, one-third of which relies on mobile phone service as their exclusive voice-communications engine, is denied an explanation of why the telecom carriers failed to take the backup precautions recommended in such a dire situation because the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is, simply, not allowed to inquire. What would you do if you could not get in touch with a loved one during a natural disaster for an indefinite period of time? From first hand experience it’s, quite frankly, terrifying and unnecessary in any country whose government is accountable to its people.

Mobile-Enhanced Participatory Budgeting in the DRC

via http://blogs.worldbank.org/ic4d/node/542

The video & article discuss, among other details, how the DRC government is using ICT through mobile phones to enhance transparency and participation efforts in the following ways (I paraphrase):

  1. Invitation: Citizens are invited to participatory budgeting assemblies through geo-targeted SMS messages. These messages, reaching all the phones receiving signal from a particular tower, announce the date, time and location of the assemblies.
  2. Voting: Mobile phones allow citizens to send a text to identify which of the priorities they would like to see addressed in their community.
  3. Announcements: Phones are also being used to announce the voted decision, making the process more transparent and inclusive than ever before.
  4. Feedback: Citizens are asked their opinions about the projects that had been chosen. Through text messages, they are able to offer feedback and monitor the projects. Over 250,000 text messages have already been sent throughout the different stages of this initiative.

It is clear how much these people (those interviewed, at least) are excited about this increased possibility for transparency and participation in their government. It’s also amazing to see how far a seemingly simple, yet proactive, governmental policy or program can go, especially in matters which much of the developed world takes for granted.