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Silicon Valley Struggles to Hack its Diversity Problem

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(The Washington Post) – Yahoo disclosed last week that African Americans made up just 2 percent of its workers, while Hispanics stood at 4 percent. Those revelations came days after Facebook reported that in 2014 it had employed just 81 blacks among its 5,500 U.S. workers.

Silicon Valley has a diversity problem, a contentious issue that has come into sharper focus in recent months as tech firms have sheepishly released updates on their hiring of minorities. The companies have pledged to do better. Many point to the talent pipeline as one of the main culprits. They’d hire if they could, but not enough black and Hispanic students are pursuing computer science degrees, they say.

But fresh data show that top schools are turning out black and Hispanic graduates with tech degrees at rates significantly higher than they are being hired by leading tech firms.

Last year, black students took home 4.1 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in computer science, information technology and computer engineering, according to an annual survey by the Computing Research Association of 121 top U.S. and Canadian colleges. That’s double the average of blacks hired at the biggest tech firms. Hispanics accounted for 7.7 percent of the degrees.

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Business

Advocates: Internet Companies Must Partner With Ethnic Media to Close Digital Divide

Last week, Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 156 into law. That legislation requires the state to make a multi-billion dollar investment into the construction of a state-owned open access network of internet cable with several offshoot lines that will connect unserved households and businesses mostly in urban and rural areas.  

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Laptop and phone photo courtesy Benjamin Dada via Unsplash

Digital equity advocates – people who have been working for decades now to come up with solutions to narrow the divide between people who are connected to broadband and those who still aren’t – say Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must partner with the ethnic media to reach people in California who remain unconnected and under-connected to broadband service.

“We have focused on the importance of community and Ethnic Media. We think that the Internet Service Providers should be advertising with (ethnic media), reaching out to you and connecting with you,” said Sunne McPeak, CEO of the California Emerging Technology Fund (CETF) a statewide non-profit with offices in Concord and Los Angeles dedicated to closing the digital divide.

McPeak says, with its 91% broadband adoption rate, California has done a remarkable job getting people online with stable access to high-speed internet connections that can improve their quality of life. That number has skyrocketed from 55% in 2008.

However, there are still 6 million Californians, she says, who are not connected or under-connected (those with only smartphone access) to broadband. Most of those people live in low-income households.

Among Californians who are not connected to high-speed internet, 8% — more than half of them – are Black, according to CETF.

“There is still clearly a divide among groups that are most digitally disadvantaged socioeconomically,” McPeak said. “No state has more low-income people than California. Fifteen percent of our population is low income.”

McPeak was speaking during a news briefing organized by Ethnic Media Services last week titled “Trapped by the Digital Divide: Demanding Universal Broadband as a Basic Right.”

McPeak was joined on the online conference by Angela Siefer, executive director of the Cleveland-based National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).

Siefer shared national numbers that reflect that the vast majority of people who are still not connected to the internet live in urban areas, challenging a widely held notion that rural areas remain the regions most unconnected to broadband in the United States.

“Prior to the pandemic, 36 million U.S. households did not have an internet connection in their home,” said Seifer. “Of that number, 26 million are urban and 10 million are rural. I want to confirm the bigger number piece of this is urban.”

In addition to having a high broadband adoption rate, California continues to take a number of steps to make sure there is universal connectivity to broadband.

Last week, Newsom signed Senate Bill (SB) 156 into law. That legislation requires the state to make a multi-billion dollar investment into the construction of a state-owned open access network of internet cable with several offshoot lines that will connect unserved households and businesses mostly in urban and rural areas.

“As we work to build California back stronger than before, the state is committed to addressing the challenges laid bare by the pandemic, including the digital divide holding back too many communities in a state renowned for its pioneering technology and innovation economy,” said Newsom at a rural elementary school in Tulare County.

“This $6 billion investment will make broadband more accessible than ever before, expanding opportunity across the spectrum for students, families and businesses – from enhanced educational supports to job opportunities to health care and other essential services,’ the governor continued.

Also continuing to ensure as many Californians as possible not only have access to broadband but also have reliable equipment to connect to it, California State University announced that it will give all incoming students and transfers at eight of its campuses across the state new iPad air tablets. The package includes accessories, including smart keyboards. The only requirement for the students is to register at a website called CSUSUCCESS (CSU Connectivity Contributing to Equity and Student Success)

“CSUCCESS will assure that students have immediate access to innovative, new mobile tools they need to support their learning, particularly when faced with the lingering effects of the pandemic,” CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro said, announcing the initiative.

McPeak says while there are a number of programs like the federal Emergency Benefit Broadband program that can help Americans connect to high-speed internet more affordably, many people are just not aware of them.

“We have to ask, what are (the ISPs) doing to work with ethnic media and community organizations?” asked McPeak.

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Business

Cal AG Rob Bonta Hits Google with Lawsuit Over “Play Store”

“Google has violated the trust of Android phone customers by limiting consumer choice and raking in outrageous commissions on app developers. Android customers are effectively stuck using the Google Play Store for apps, where they pay a premium,” said Bonta on July 7.

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Phone with Google apps courtesy Pathum Danthanarayana via Unsplash

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the California Department of Justice (DOJ) is joining a multistate lawsuit against Google.

In the claim, California joins 35 other states and the District of Columbia in accusing the Mountain View-based company of violating national and state laws (the federal Sherman Antitrust Act and California’s Cartwright Act) with its Google Play Store’s monopolization of the smartphone app market.

“Google has violated the trust of Android phone customers by limiting consumer choice and raking in outrageous commissions on app developers. Android customers are effectively stuck using the Google Play Store for apps, where they pay a premium,” said Bonta on July 7.

Calling Google’s dominance of the Android-app market “anti-competitive,” Bonta pointed out that customers are impacted the most by Google’s actions.

“A more competitive app marketplace could open innovation, leading to more choice, better payment processing, improved customer service, and enhanced data security,” he added.

The lawsuit, filed in a U.S. District Court in San Francisco, is the second multi-state lawsuit California has joined against the tech giant. Last year, Cal DOJ joined another U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit claiming Google stifles its competition by signing exclusionary agreements with smartphone manufacturers to dominate their operating systems, blocking out its search engine and other app competitors.

“In the absence of Google’s anticompetitive conduct, there would be two main channels for consumers to obtain apps on an open Android operating system: (i) direct downloading and installation of apps or app stores; and (ii) apps or app stores pre-installed on devices by device manufacturers and/or mobile network operators,” reads the 144-page complaint in which phrases with sensitive information have been redacted.

“But Google has closed off its purportedly ‘open’ Android operating system from competition in app distribution,” it continues. “To accomplish this, Google degraded direct distribution channels, and then cut deals to discourage and disincentivize any remaining potential competition.”

Responding to the states’ legal action, Google’s senior director of government affairs and policy Wilson White wrote in a blog post that the suit isn’t about fairness. Instead, in his view, it’s about a “handful” of developers who want access to the benefits of Google’s app store without paying for it.

“The complaint limits its definition of app marketplace to Android devices only. This completely ignores the competition we face from other platforms such as Apple’s incredibly successful app store, which accounts for the majority of mobile app store revenues, according to third party estimates,” White wrote.

White insists Google allows both developers and consumers to have options.

“Device makers and carriers can preload competing app stores alongside Google Play on their devices,” he said. “In fact, most android devices ship with two or more app stores preloaded. And popular Android devices such as the Amazon Fire tablet come preloaded with a competitive app store and no Google Play Store.”

Technically, Bonta says, consumers do have the option to install app stores they choose or to buy apps directly from developers. But he says Google discourages this “type of sideloading through a convoluted process that forces users to click through often-misleading security warnings and multiple permission screens.”

“This burdensome series of red flags leaves consumers with the impression that alternative app stores are inferior at best and high risk at worst. Over 90 % of all Android app distribution in the United States is done through Google’s Play Store,” said the Cal DOJ in a press release.

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Bay Area

BART to Install Free WiFi at All Stations By 2024

BART plans to leverage its existing partnerships with telecommunications companies like Verizon and AT&T to enhance wireless service throughout the system as well as in other local transit agencies like the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

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A BART train arrives at the Pleasant Hill BART station in Walnut Creek, Calif. on Monday, February 1, 2021. (Ray Saint Germain/Bay City News Foundation)

All BART stations are on track to have WiFi networks installed by 2024, officials with the transit agency said on June 24.
Providing wireless internet service in all BART stations and on the agency’s new fleet of trains is part of the agency’s Digital Railway program, which is intended to modernize the BART system by making it easier for riders to make calls, text and use the internet.
BART plans to leverage its existing partnerships with telecommunications companies like Verizon and AT&T to enhance wireless service throughout the system as well as in other local transit agencies like the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.
“We want to keep pace with modern technology and make sure that people can use the devices that they love and enjoy,” said Travis Engstrom, BART’s director of technology, to the BART Board of Directors on Thursday.
The board originally approved the Digital Railway program in January 2020.
One pandemic and 18 months later, Engstrom said on June 24 that the agency plans to launch the first of the Digital Railway’s four parts, which includes installing wireless phone service in Muni’s underground, by the middle of next year.
“This service will make sure that riders that normally, today, have long periods of no connectivity on those trains, they’ll be able to have cellular service in the underground,” he said.
For BART, its first segment of the Digital Railway program includes beginning installation of wireless internet service in late 2022 in the downtown San Francisco BART stations, with the goal of having all stations complete by 2024.
In addition, the agency also plans to install wireless service-boosting poles along its train routes by 2025 that will enable riders to utilize BART’s WiFi network on any route.
BART also plans to install new fiber optic cable within the system by 2023 to boost cellular service and speed even higher.
It will take roughly four weeks per station to install in-station WiFi throughout the system, Engstrom said, adding that the service will be free and will not include internet speed tiers unless the BART board approves them.
“I’d be really careful about having any kind of tiered service,” Janice Li, a BART board director. “I want to make sure that this is a benefit that all of our riders can access as equally as possible.”

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