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June 16, 2019
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We are leaving older adults out of the digital world

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May is national Older Americans Month, and this year’s theme is Connect, Create, Contribute. One area in particular threatens to prevent older adults from making those connections: the digital divide.

Nationally, one-third of adults ages 65 and older say they’ve never used the internet, and half don’t have internet access at home. Of those who do use the internet, nearly half say they need someone else’s help to set up or use a new digital device. Even in San Francisco – the home of technology giants like Twitter, Facebook, and Google – 40% of older adults do not have basic digital literacy skills, and of those, more than half do not use the internet at all.

Mastering digital technology has become a key component of what it means to fully participate in society. If we do not provide technology access and training to older adults, we shut them out from society, worsening an already worrisome trend of isolation and loneliness among the elderly.

As a researcher working directly with isolated older adults to provide low-cost internet, tablets, and digital training through the Tech Allies program, led by the non-profit Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly, I regularly hear this sentiment from seniors.

I visit Tech Allies participants – whose ages range from 62 to 98 – both before and after their eight weeks of one-on-one technology training. We talk about their experiences with and perspectives on technology today. In reflecting on why he and other older adults would want to learn to use the internet, one elder told me, “We feel like we’re standing outside a building that we have no access to.”

Another woman shared that because she doesn’t have internet access or know how to use technology, she feels, “I’m just not part of this world anymore. In certain facets of society, I just can’t join…. Some [things] just are not possible if you are not in the flow of the internet.”

In contrast to concerns about technology use increasing isolation among younger populations, the communication and connection possible online can be especially valuable for older adults who are homebound, live far away from family, or have lost the loved ones they relied on for social support in their younger years. Elders can use online tools to connect with friends and family via messaging platforms, video chat, and social media even if they can no longer physically visit them.

Older adults can find online support groups for people who share their medical conditions. And they can engage with the outside world through news, blogs, streaming platforms, and email, even if they are no longer able to move about as easily as they once could. As one elder told me, “I can’t really move that easily without a caretaker and I only have her a few hours a day so [the tablet] … has been a great companion for me and it gets me connected with other people.”

Image courtesy of Getty Images

For older adults in particular, the risks associated with social isolation are profound. Loneliness among older adults has been associated with depressioncardiovascular disease,functional decline, and death. Technology can serve as an important tool to help reduce these risks, but only if we provide older adults with the skills they need to access our digital world.

But we can close this gap. Our research shows that Tech Allies measurably improves older adults’ use of technology and confidence in key digital skills. Programs like this, which embed technology training in existing community-based organizations, should be expanded, with increased funding prioritized at local, state, and federal levels and with greater involvement of technology companies and investors. If we spent even a fraction of the $8 billion invested in digital health companies alone last year on tailoring these tools for older adults, we could drastically expand usability, training, and access to broadband and devices.

Support from technology companies could take many forms. Beyond expanding device donation programs, technology companies should design devices specifically for older adults (when your hand is shaky, swiping can be tough…) and should have tech support call lines tailored to older adults less familiar with the internet (cache and cookies and clouds, oh my!).

Furthermore, broadband providers like Comcast and AT&T should streamline the enrollment process for their affordable internet programs and expand eligibility. Partnerships between service providers and community-based organizations focused on older adults will be key in ensuring that these efforts actually meet the needs of older adults.

To be sure, many older adults also express a lack of interest in technology. For some, this reflects a true lack of desire to use digital tools. But for others it reflects an underlying fear of technology and lack of skills. Appropriate training can help to quell those fears and generate interest. In particular, great care must be paid to online safety training. Older adults are more likely to fall victim to online scams, putting their personal information at risk, but with tailored digital literacy training, they can learn to navigate the internet safely and securely.

The importance of digital inclusion is not going to disappear with the generational changes of the coming decades. Technology is continuously evolving, and with each new digital innovation come challenges for even younger adults to adapt.

With greater investment in providing accessible devices, broadband, and digital training, technology has the potential to become a powerful tool for reducing loneliness among older adults, empowering them to connect, create, and contribute online. As one elder put it, “It’s time to catch up, you know, and join the world.”

Great teams, UBI, data retention policies, and Amazon HQ2

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3 key secrets to building extraordinary teams

David Cancel, the CEO and founder of Drift, wrote a deep dive on how to think about finding and recruiting the kinds of people who build incredible startups. Among the factors he looks at:

Scrappiness (Importance: 35%)

The four most telling words a new hire can say: “I’ll figure it out.” If you find someone who says that (and can follow through on it), you know you’ve found someone with drive — someone who will plunge headfirst into any challenge and help move the company forward. But to clarify, the type of drive I look for in new hires is different from traditional ambition. Because traditionally ambitious people, while hard workers, tend to obsess over their own personal rise up the corporate ladder. They always have an eye on that next title change, from manager to director, director to VP, or VP to C-suite, and that influences how they perform. That’s why a decade ago, while running my previous company Performable, I added a new requirement to our job descriptions: “Scrappiness.” Today, it’s one of our leadership principles at Drift.

Scrappy people don’t rely on titles or defined sets of responsibilities. Instead, they do whatever it takes to get the job done, even when no one is looking, and even if the tasks they’re performing could be considered “beneath their title.”

Takeaways from F8 and Facebook’s next phase

We had a greatly informative conference call with our very own Josh Constine and Frederic Lardinois, who were checking in from Facebook’s F8 conference in San Jose this week. In case you weren’t able to join us, the transcript and audio have been posted for Extra Crunch members:

With Kata Containers and Zuul, OpenStack graduates its first infrastructure projects

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Over the course of the last year and a half, the OpenStack Foundation made the switch from purely focusing on the core OpenStack project to opening itself up to other infrastructure-related projects as well. The first two of these projects, Kata Containers and the Zuul project gating system, have now exited their pilot phase and have become the first top-level Open Infrastructure Projects at the OpenStack Foundation.

The Foundation made the announcement at its first Open Infrastructure Summit (previously known as the OpenStack Summit) in Denver today after the organization’s board voted to graduate them ahead of this week’s conference. “It’s an awesome milestone for the projects themselves,” OpenStack Foundation executive direction Jonathan Bryce told me. “It’s a validation of the fact that in the last 18 months, they have created sustainable and productive communities.”

It’s also a milestone for the OpenStack Foundation itself, though, which is still in the process of reinventing itself in many ways. It can now point at two successful projects that are under its stewardship, which will surely help it as it goes out an tries to attract others who are looking to bring their open-source projects under the aegis of a foundation.

In addition to graduating these first two projects, Airship — a collection of open-source tools for provisioning private clouds that is currently a pilot project — hit version 1.0 today. “Airship originated within AT&T,” Bryce said. “They built it from their need to bring a bunch of open-source tools together to deliver on their use case. And that’s why, from the beginning, it’s been really well aligned with what we would love to see more of in the open source world and why we’ve been super excited to be able to support their efforts there.”

With Airship, developers use YAML documents to describe what the final environment should like like and the result of that is a production-ready Kubernetes cluster that was deployed by OpenStack’s Helm tool – though without any other dependencies on OpenStack.

AT&T’s assistant vice president, Network Cloud Software Engineering, Ryan van
Wyk, told me that a lot of enterprises want to use certain open-source components, but that the interplay between them is often difficult and that while it’s relatively easy to manage the lifecycle of a single tool, it’s hard to do so when you bring in multiple open-source tools, all with their own lifecycles. “What we found over the last five years working in this space is that you can go and get all the different open-source solutions that you need,” he said. “But then the operator has to invest a lot of engineering time and build extensions and wrappers and perhaps some orchestration to manage the lifecycle of the various pieces of software required to deliver the infrastructure.”

It’s worth noting that nothing about Airship is specific to the telco world, though it’s no secret that OpenStack is quite popular in the telco world and unsurprisingly, the Foundation is using this week’s event to highlight the OpenStack project’s role in the upcoming 5G rollouts of various carriers.

In addition, the event will also showcase OpenStack’s bare metal capabilities, an area the project has also focused on in recent releases. Indeed, the Foundation today announced that its bare metal tools now manage over a million cores of compute. To codify these efforts, the Foundation also today launched the OpenStack Ironic Bare Metal program, which brings together some of the project’s biggest users like Verizon Media (home of TechCrunch, though we don’t run on the Verizon cloud), 99Cloud, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, Mirantis, OVH, Red Hat, SUSE, Vexxhost and ZTE.

Disney shares are up after the big reveal of its streaming service

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Investors seem to think that Disney is on the right track with its plans for the new streaming service, Disney+.

On the heels of yesterday’s announcement of the streaming service’s November 12 launch date and slate of programming, Disney’s stock price is currently up 9% to $127.23 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Ending months of speculation about what would and wouldn’t be included in a streaming package from the mouse house, yesterday’s “investor day”, satisfied public market investors that Disney’s run at the current king of streaming video, Netflix, would be credible.

Netflix shares were down slightly in morning trading, around 3.5% — or roughly $13 — to $354.50.

For stock market watchers, the big question was going to be pricing and on that front, Disney’s service didn’t disappoint. Although the streaming offering from Disney’s entertainment juggernaut was more about moving cash out of one pocket instead of another for most American consumers, as Matthew Ball, a media analyst and the former head of strategy at Amazon Studios, pointed out on Twitter.

American households already spend around $2.8 billion per year renting and buying Disney video — averaging around $24 per year for every household or 40 million annual subscriptions, Ball wrote.

While the market may be setting up the new entertainment landscape as a Netflix versus Disney battle there are important differences between the two and both are likely to thrive in the new era of streaming entertainment.

The companies that are most likely to be challenged by the streaming offerings from Netflix and Disney are AT&T’s Warner Media and CBS/Viacom .

Within Warner Media, layoffs and restructuring in the wake of the company’s acquisition by AT&T, along with the end of the network’s mega-hit “Game of Thrones”, could have serious consequences on its ability to compete as the company rolls out its own (partially ad-supported) streaming service.

Meanwhile, CBS and Viacom are still reeling from the scandal that brought down chief executive Les Moonves — although Viacom’s acquisition of PlutoTV gives the company some breathing room with a free streaming video and on demand option.

As paid services proliferate, the walls around intellectual property will only grow higher. Entertainment companies are all going to vie for more exclusive offerings and that means artists and creators will win as these companies pay more for quality entertainment that they can make exclusively to lock in subscribers. It’ll be a delicate dance between monetizing intellectual property on other platforms and keeping things behind a gate to bring in customers.

Especially as deep-pocketed companies like Apple and Amazon have their own designs on streaming entertainment.

Right now, investors and consumers seem to think that a Disney+ subscription is definitely worth the price of admission. How many other tickets consumers are willing to pay for is another question.

Venture investors and startup execs say they don’t need Elizabeth Warren to defend them from big tech

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Responding to Elizabeth Warren’s call to regulate and break up some of the nation’s largest technology companies, the venture capitalists that invest in technology companies are advising the presidential hopeful to move slowly and not break anything.

Warren’s plan called for regulators to be appointed to oversee the unwinding of several acquisitions that were critical to the development of the core technology that make Alphabet’s Google and the social media giant Facebook so profitable… and Zappos.

Warren also wanted regulation in place that would block companies making over $25 billion that operate as social media or search platforms or marketplaces from owning companies that also sell services on those marketplaces.

As a whole, venture capitalists viewing the policy were underwhelmed.

“As they say on Broadway, ‘you gotta have a gimmick’ and this is clearly Warren’s,” says Ben Narasin, an investor at one of the nation’s largest investment firms,” New Enterprise Associates, which has $18 billion in assets under management and has invested in consumer companies like Jet, an online and mobile retailer that competed with Amazon and was sold to Walmart for $3.3 billion.

“Decades ago, at the peak of Japanese growth as a technology competitor on the global stage, the U.S. government sought to break up IBM . This is not a new model, and it makes no sense,” says Narasin. “We slow down our country, our economy and our ability to innovate when the government becomes excessively aggressive in efforts to break up technology companies, because they see them through a prior-decades lens, when they are operating in a future decade reality. This too shall pass.”

Balaji Sirinivasan, the chief technology officer of Coinbase, took to Twitter to offer his thoughts on the Warren plan. “If big companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon are prevented from acquiring startups, that actually reduces competition,” Sirinivasan writes.

“There are two separate issues here that are being conflated. One issue is do we need regulation on the full platform companies. And the answer is absolutely,” says Venky Ganesan, the managing director of Menlo Ventures. “These platforms have a huge impact on society at large and they have huge influence.”

But while the platforms need to be regulated, Ganesan says, Senator Warren’s approach is an exercise in overreach.

“That plan is like taking a bazooka to a knife fight. It’s overwhelming and it’s not commensurate with the issues,” Ganesan says. “I don’t think at the end of the day venture capital is worrying about competition from these big platform companies. [And] as the proposal is composed it would create more obstacles rather than less.”

Using Warren’s own example of the antitrust cases that were brought against companies like AT&T and Microsoft is a good model for how to proceed, Ganesan says. “We want to have the technocrats at the FTC figure out the right way to bring balance.”

Kara Nortman, a partner with the Los Angeles-based firm Upfront Ventures, is also concerned about the potential unforeseen consequences of Warren’s proposals.

“The specifics of the policy as presented strike me as having potentially negative consequences for innovation. These companies are funding massive innovation initiatives in our country. They’re creating jobs and taking risks in areas of technology development where we could potentially fall behind other countries and wind up reducing our quality of life,” Nortman says. “We’re not seeing that innovation or initiative come from the government — or that support for encouraging immigration and by extension embracing the talented foreign entrepreneurs that could develop new technologies and businesses.”

Nortman sees the Warren announcement as an attempt to start a dialog between government regulators and big technology companies.

“My hope is that this is the beginning of a dialogue that is constructive,” Nortman says. “And since Elizabeth Warren is a thoughtful policymaker, this is likely the first salvo toward an engagement with the technology community to work collaboratively on issues that we all want to see solved and that some of us are dedicating our career in venture to help solving.”

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