The Progressive Ensign

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Category: Corporate Power (Page 2 of 4)

High Tech Behemoths Run State and Local Politics

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: youtube.com

Recently the high technology power houses like Google, Facebook, Uber and Amazon have appeared in the news related to national issues privacy, Russia hacking, driver contractors and conservative viewpoint censorship.  There is an even more troubling trend; major high tech corporations are controlling key decisions, policies and direction of development for many major American cities and states. Amazon is throwing its weight around the U.S. in search of a 2nd corporate headquarters.

Source: LA Times – 1/19/18

Amazon has already received millions of dollars in tax subsidies and compensation  for locating warehouses in some regions. The Governor of Maryland has offered a $5 billion package of transportation and tax breaks to the company to locate in Maryland, while Newark and New Jersey have offered a $7 billion package of subsidies.  Amazon has been adept at Seattle politics as well, when the city unanimously passed a $275 per employee tax on businesses to pay for homeless shelters and affordable housing. Amazon along with local businesses pushed back and the measure was repealed.

Apple purchased a site previously owned by Hewlett – Packard for its Apple Park spaceship headquarters.  The Cupertino city council was delighted with the plan to put 14,000 employees on the site, doubling the number of workers at the large parcel.  After the headquarters building was built the local council realized that the traffic congestion around the site and the city was going to be a major problem. The city then proposed a per employee tax to gain revenue of $10 million versus the present tax structure based on square footage would have netted only $800, 000. The proposed funding would have been allocated to buses, road widening, express lanes and other traffic flow enhancements. Apple and other businesses protested so the proposal was tabled until the 2020 election.

Uber has gone into cities all over the country from its base in San Francisco without authorization, creating major competition to local taxi companies.  Cab companies in most cities purchase a medallion from the city at great expense, some in the hundreds of thousands of dollars to license them to provide ride services in the city.  Uber has run into opposition in some major cities like New York, where the number of cars is capped.

Google has quietly purchased hundreds of acres of land in downtown San Jose, until newspaper stories began to spot light the land purchases.  The high tech behemoth plans on deploying up to 20,000 employees around the city hub and train station.  Planning for a huge employee center near public transportation makes sense, but local businesses and housing near purchased lots are under pressure to sell to make room for the corporate plan.  Local housing groups are concerned about the availability of affordable housing and small business.

Next steps

Our concern is that major corporations, their planning departments and executives have so much power that local elected leaders have little clout to push back on building or development that may not be in the interest of the local community.  As local government struggles to gain revenues lost to an Internet based economy, and stiff opposition from local citizens to raising taxes causes local city government power to decline.

Local leaders will need to rethink their base of power in the city, seeking alliances with local businesses while building a base of economic support for city services.  Cities and states often interested in luring businesses to their local regions spending hundreds of millions of dollars in the process maybe missing the point of their charter.  Building necessary infrastructure, affordable housing, fast transportation systems, healthcare for those not covered and safe streets are their mandate from local citizens. It is a challenging time for local and state governments, yet they need to take up the mantle and assert the policies and programs they were elected to implement.  Plus, corporations need to take responsibility for their actions and how they affect building the common good of the community.

Hospitals Cut Non-Compete Deals With Insurers

Image: wbur.org

Hospitals are the number one cost in health care nationwide at $1 trillion per year.  Healthcare is close to 20 % of the U.S. annual GDP.  Physician and clinical services are second followed by prescription drugs.

Sources: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, The Wall Street Journal – 9/19/18

Hospitals are at the center of the most intense and high care treatments for surgeries, interventions, procedures and emergency care.  Most must take Medicare payments if they are to have a wide enough patient population to support their business. Yet, Medicare reimbursements often don’t cover the actual costs of treatment.  Hospitals look to employer – insurer plans and cash customers to make up the difference.

The Wall Street Journal investigated a number of hospital – insurer contracts and found in some cases the hospitals and insurers were cutting contracts which included non-compete clauses.  Thus, if a hospital had a dominant position in a patient market, it would require that the insurer not insure patients of their competitor.  Clearly, a restraint of trade, causing employer plans to pick up the balance, and in some cases where doctors were affiliated with hospitals employees were having to pick up the extra cost. Employers have seen premiums from insurers going up to handle the extra cost of these sweetheart deals.

These close partnership deals between hospitals and insurers create higher costs where services are much cheaper outside of the hospital in a doctor’s office.

Sources: Health Care Cost Institute, The Wall Street Journal – 9/19/18

Instead of hospitals steering patients to their doctors for many services, they provide the services on an outpatient basis at a much more expensive price. Insurers pick up the outpatient cost and then charge employers and patients higher premiums than necessary.

Next Steps:

 We have supported the Affordable Health Care Act provisions requiring insurers to insure all patients with existing conditions, and other patient oriented options.  However, this law is only the first step in reforming the healthcare industry, rigorous enforcement of anti-trust laws needs to take place to eliminate practices like these non-compete agreements.  We call for transparency in pricing of all drugs, and the relationship between drug manufacturers and pharmacies. We recommended in earlier posts that all Americans should have access to good quality health care, beginning with a healthcare account at birth. Then, as the patient takes a job, employer plans can be used, but always between jobs or disability the patient is covered.  Medicare should be the first line of insurance for all from birth with employer plans supplementing the main plan.  Medicare should have complete negotiating rights with drug manufacturers to get the best price for all patients.  All health care for profit companies should be barred from buying back stock and wasting money on executives which is better spent reducing prices and increasing the quality of care.

Tariff Price Increases Hit Consumers

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: powertime.co.za

The tariffs applied last year sheltered the U.S. appliance industry for washers and dryers. What happened is a case study for what is likely to happen in other sheltered industries.  Retailers rushed shipments of appliances prior to the tariffs going into effect. Prices were slashed sales went up, bringing demand forward in April. By July of this year sales are down almost 3%. While appliance sales falling can be partly explained by the slowdown in housing sales, this trend does not explain the price increases buyers in the market did experience.  Samsung and LG competing with U.S. manufacturers, GE and Whirlpool, increased prices from 4 – 8 % on their models due to the tariffs. U.S. manufacturers raised their prices as well, so consumers ended up paying more anyway. If anything, prices should have been going down with fewer buyers in the market, instead there was a distorted market.

Sources: Department of Commerce, The Wall Street Journal – 9/18/19

The South Korean manufacturers have already made permanent moves to end the price challenge with Samsung producing appliances in a plant near Newbury County, South Carolina beginning this past January.  LG is following suit, by opening a plant near Clarksville, Tennessee this fall.

So, what has happened is consumers will pay more for appliances, and jobs will come to the U.S. which the tariffs may have intended.  Consumers are paying the price of the switch and it is not clear if the consumer will be better off.

Next Steps:

With the U.S. manufacturers depending on tariff shelter protection, they may not be as competitive as they could be with their competition coming on shore to take them on from a U.S. staging point.  Certainly, with plants in the U.S. there is a level playing field for all the appliance companies.  Consumers are likely to pay to find out which manufacturer is best and will be around 5 years from now.

We don’t like to see the federal government picking winners and losers in the marketplace. Capitalism, entrepreneurship and innovation should take over providing the best products at the lowest price for consumers.  We prefer to see the government ensuring there is a level playing field and true competition.  Time will tell us if the tariff move was an good one for consumers and the economy.

End Offshore Corporate Tax Havens

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: marylandpirg.org

In 2016, multinational U.S. corporations booked over 50 % of their foreign profits in overseas tax havens.  Whether the profits are made in Casablanca or Singapore corporations are using lax US tax laws and accommodative offshore tax haven laws to book profits where they can’t be taxed at fair share rates.  Note that pre-tax profits viewed as a percentage of wages paid ranged from 200 % in Singapore to 800 % in Ireland!

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 9/12/18

Combine this tax information with the soaring use of stock buybacks by moving dollars from these offshore accounts to juice the price of their stock and we see corporate executives doing a great job of increasing their stock based compensation.

Sources: Compustat, Bloomberg Finance LP, Deutsche Bank, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 9/12/18

The US stock market has dramatically diverged from overseas markets where China markets are down in bearish territory at 20 % for the year and emerging markets down close to 18 %. Yet, the  S & P 500 Index of U.S. stocks is up 7.4 % for the year.  With all the uncertainty in emerging country currencies, trade wars, lack of wages, falling home and care sales, the U.S. stock markets keep rising being propped up by stock buybacks. Nearly $1 trillion of buy backs have been announced for the year. Buy back dollars are not going toward raising employee wages which are 312 times lower than CEO wages.

Sources: The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 9/12/18

Little wonder workers are not getting a fair wage in many industries with corporate executives stashing money overseas where it is out of reach of U.S. tax laws.  Plus, executives are compensated for increasing profits, not increasing wages that would cut into profits.

Next Steps:

Corporations received a windfall from the Tax Bill last year which did not change taxation of U.S. corporate profits overseas, but instead gave corporations a huge one-time tax break on repatriated funds from the listed rate of 35 % to 15.5 % for cash related assets and 8% for illiquid assets.  Many corporations did bring funds back to U.S. this year, yet 70 % of the funds were used for dividends and stock buybacks. Only a small percentage of repatriated funds went to raising worker’s wages which is what CEOs promised they would do when lobbying for the Tax Bill.

It is time for corporate leaders to understand they need to start paying their fair share of U.S. taxes for entities overseas, and they need to pay a share of the cost of our armed forces overseas.  They benefit directly from having safe countries, government protection through embassies and staff and safe passage of cargo worldwide.  Plus, the U.S. government working in partnership with corporations provides businesses opportunities that firms from other countries with less presence don’t enjoy.  U.S. corporations need to pay up, and recognize profits in their respective countries where they do business with a share going to the U.S. government for the offshore benefits they receive.

Labor is Our Most Productive Asset

 

Image: progressivebumperstickers.com

“Nothing will work unless you do” – Maya Angelou

On Labor Day it is a good time to reflect on our labor force – the people who make our economy go. What has become of labor in America? Does labor hold equal power with capital? No.

Wall Street, the citadel of capital,  wields supreme power focused on profit throughout our economy and control of our government. Corporations pander to financial leaders with ever higher profits manipulated by stock buybacks juicing the value of share prices. Management ensures investors are pleased with financial results using loose financial gimmicks and laying on record debt. While workers have seen their wages stagnate for 30 years since the 1980s.

Executives are handsomely compensated at 300% of the average worker’s wage. Why? They think they ‘are’ the company. At a $400 million biotech firm, this author listened to a VP extoll the value of management over workers, “we have all the power; we decide wages, allocation of resources, when and how work is done, and we can fire them anytime”.  Yet, workers make the company go.  Nothing works until the employees make it work. Managers don’t do the work, they manage the work that is getting done.

Managers are doing what they are compensated to do – increase profits and reduce costs. In Western accounting labor is viewed as an expense while money and machines are viewed as assets. Wait, aren’t employees assets? CEOs are always telling employees at ‘all hands’ meetings they are the companies’ most important asset. Do they treat employees that way?  What about when things get tough; instead of selling equipment, moving out of buildings or reducing executive benefits they lay off employees who can least afford it. Executives need to start treating employees like they are an asset.

Maybe we need to start recognizing labor as an asset from an accounting perspective. When we label capital an asset and labor a cost we are fundamentally placing a higher value on money and a lower value on people. That framework us wrong – if anything it should be the other way around. Because people create value in corporations not money. Money does not come up with the latest innovation or new process or service – people do. We need to require corporations to report on how they are building employees as assets and worker contribution to increasing company value.  The next step is for Wall Street to recognize social responsibility in their investments as Blackrock, CEO Larry Fink, has in a letter to CEOs of companies in their portfolio that he will be looking beyond profit, for implementation of policies by management in sustainability and worker advancement.

Unfortunately labor power is at an all-time low when in a great ‘boom’ economy now the 80 % in income have experienced declining wages since the Great Recession. On Labor Day we need to dig deep and renew our commitment to recognizing labor must share equally in all corporate prosperity.

Our Internet Purchases Are Private, Let’s Keep It That Way

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab. Click on the Index Topic Name at the beginning of each post to see more posts on that topic on PC or Laptop.)

Image: scienceprogress.org

A year ago, Mastercard sold consumer store transaction data to Google, who sells the store transaction information and correlates it to searches for the same product or service to advertisers.  Advertisers can see patterns in consumer behavior from the ads that are run and whether a prospective buyer went to the store to buy the item or online (online tracking databases). This strategy by Google is focused on Amazon’s business, and their recent moves into in store retail to dominate emerging sectors.

Google is dominant in digital advertising:

Sources: eMarker, Recode – 2018

In digital advertising Google has 2 times the share of its next largest competitor – Facebook.  In mobile advertising, Google has a 1.5 times greater share of the advertising business. In short, Google is the digital advertising player for most advertisers to work with, and Google is interested in maintaining that dominant position versus possible competitors like Amazon. Amazon now has 50 % of the eCommerce business in the U.S. The eCommerce behemoth is in a position to both track consumer behavior and offer point of decision purchase capabilities.

So, what does this mean for us as users and our privacy?  Google is no longer a company just setting up a partnering relationship with Mastercard, they are controlling the retail market and manipulating data to put us under constant surveillance. We did not give our permission to Google to constantly put us under surveillance.  It is dangerous to our private lives to have a big corporation or partners knowing everything we are doing and buying.  What happens if hackers break into these databases and begin to use the data to find us or siphon off our purchases or find out our transaction information or credit card data?

Next Steps:

First principle is that we own our data, and we own the patterns of our searches that is our propriety information because it is our behavior and is not owned by the company. When users search on Google, they are looking for an idea, a product or a service or a person – not to be spied on.  Recently, Google was still keeping user location even when the user turned off  location services.  A couple of years ago Google tracked words in user email messages and sold the information to advertisers, so if a user mentioned their child’s bike, all the sudden bike ads were showing up in the side bar – they finally ended this practice after a lot of complaints it was just too spooky.

Second, Google and Internet companies can’t build trust with users if they are constantly telling us one thing and doing something else to their benefit and not ours. The U.S. should look at implementation of a policy like the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) plan which could be widened to include schemes like the Google – Mastercard deal. The GDPR provides users with control over their personal data and how or if it may be transmitted outside of the country. The GDPR policy particularly focuses on personally identifiable information and how this information is to be handled in a confidential manner, not disclosed to third parties and the information made anonymous to outsiders.  In a provision we particularly like the information processor (ie Google) must enable users to be able to erase their information on the system.

We need to take a stand as a user community that user rights come first. User’s own their data not the processors.  Users should have control over any processing of that data and who has access to their personal data. Otherwise, we are opening our citizens to corporate spying for any reason, and targeting of the linked Mastercard – Google profile data to hackers.

Workers Facing High Prices, Stagnant Wages Are Taking On Debt

 

Image: guardiandebtrelief.com

Worker pay continues to stagnant. Yet, companies are raising prices.  The price increases are due to tariff based supplier cost increases and government tax credits juicing the economy.  The Federal Reserve survey for July in the Philadelphia area showed that manufacturers plan on raising prices by 3 % versus 2 % last year.

Source: HIS Markit, Bloomberg – 8/28/18

How did companies get this pricing power?  Corporations have received a $1 trillion tax cut,  reduced regulations by the Trump administration, less oversight by the EPA, and less scrutiny on mergers.  Companies are at the zenith of their power allowing them to raise prices, keep wages low – below inflation, while increasing profits and executive compensation.

Source Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg – 8/24/18

Worker economic power continues to wane, as real wages actually turned negative this past month. Worker share of income as a percentage of non-farm business income is at a 70-year low even in a strong economy.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 8/27/18

How are consumers handling the budget shortfall?  By borrowing, the debt as a percentage of income of the bottom 80 %  is 4 times the debt of the top 20 %.

Most of this debt is in the form of credit card, auto loans and home equity lines of credit.  Home owners have done a better job keeping their first mortgages in line with incomes this year versus the housing bubble of 2008.

Next Steps:

Caught between high prices and flat real wages, consumers are filling the budget gap by piling on debt. Companies are getting even richer from both sides of making a profit – increasing income by raising prices and reduced costs by keeping worker wages low.

Why is this vise tightening on worker budgets?  Corporations are accumulating power every day at an ever increasing rate; buying other companies, issuing stock backs to hype stock price, increasing lobbying budgets to get the federal government to make rules that tip their way, consolidating supply channels, distributing manufacturing world-wide and automating every job they can conceive be done by a robot.  Prices are rising due to tariffs in many industries, the wide spread use of tariffs on some consumer goods, contagion of one product category to another (tit for tat) and shrinking channels of distribution reducing price competition.

Meantime, workers continue to lose power at even faster rate than corporations gain power.  Wages have been stagnant for 20 years for the bottom 80 % in income.  We have outlined in previous posts why wages have actually declined – rise of corporate power, fewer unions, automation, mergers in the same industry reduce the overall number of jobs, increased availability of candidates over the Internet, outsourcing, and the gig economy.  Workers are getting some relief in the gig economy with lawsuits to recognize Uber drivers as employees, but it is a tough long slog through the courts.  Overall, most court decisions are favoring companies in reducing union power, allowing companies to give millions to campaigns unchecked (Citizens United case) and overtime pay.

Eventually prices will rise too high for declining incomes causing consumer spending to fall. Consumer spending has been falling this year, with the most recent decline announced today, as a revised downward revision to 3.8 % in 2nd quarter.

Sources: BEA, Factset – 6/1/18

Remember, corporate executives are compensated handsomely for what?  Making more profit by increasing income and reducing costs.  Workers, after all the PR from executives are viewed as a cost when managers get into salary and compensation review meetings. Workers are being squeezed between low wages and increasing prices nationally to feed the ever increasing profit making systems of corporations. Until, we as a society start to see that workers need to be an equal partner in corporate management, sharing in profits and benefits things will not change.  Without workers receiving a fair share of the economic pie, the common good will suffer and will lead to civil unrest and a contracting economy when consumer spending evaporates. The economic reality is that the U.S. economy is not working for the bottom 80 % and until it does we are faced with major disruptions in our economic life.

The Internet Connects Us All in Common

 

Image:  Your Little Planet

We all enjoy the connectivity the Internet provides us today with instant messaging, email, hyperlinking, websites and news.  It was built by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contracting with universities and research centers to build a powerful internetworking protocol and network for the Department of Defense beginning in 1969.  The network evolved with more research centers and government organizations using the system for communication and joint projects.  By the mid 1990s the Internet was opened to the public primarily for email, though soon websites and messaging systems were established.  Commercial common carriers were offered government contracts to provide more communication network support and services.  In 1993 the Internet provided 1 % of all two way communications, by 2000 51 % of all communications were over the Internet, then growth exploded to 97 % of all telecommunications information in 2007.

Built by taxpayer money by DARPA  for military communications,  next universities and research centers, then open to the public and commercial enterprises. So, why do companies like AT & T, Verizon, and Comcast think they should control how Internet is offered to our people?  We paid for it, as it evolved the Internet was envisioned as a wonderful new way to engage citizens in the political process and to level the playing field for new companies.

We certainly, have seen how innovation with a plethora of new services has emerged in the last 20 years, yet now a few giants run the content side: Google, Facebook, Netflix, Disney and the network side run by AT &T, Verizon, and Comcast.  As the content companies merge with networking companies we have huge companies deciding how to make more money from a network entity that is actually a public trust built by taxpayer money.

One way we see inequality growing is access to the Internet for many in poor, or rural  regions of the country is limited in speed and services.  Without Internet speedy Internet access or innovative services for universities, hospitals, and companies in these regions it is difficult for the working class to gain the skills to get a better job, or companies to compete with their high speed competitors.  Investment is declining in some regions of the Midwest and South due to poor Internet infrastructure which means fewer jobs for people living in the area.

The Internet is really a Common Good. It is a utility, not a platform for companies to make profits and not take responsibility for equity in access, speed and content which was the original purpose in designing the Internet as a peer to peer protocol rather than hierarchical.

The present GOP administration installed a company lobbyist as chair of the FCC who immediately decided that the network neutrality doctrine of the Obama administration should be overturned, giving control to for profit entities to charge whatever they wanted for speedy access or content. It is as if we turned the interstate system of freeways over to GM, so GM could give special lanes to GM cars and the others would have to go in slower lanes.

No, we don’t see the Common Good being protected by a for profit doctrine, it just can’t do the job.  Recently, when firefighters in the California Mendocino fire went over their mobile data plan limit, Verizon throttled their data transmission to 1/200 of the speed.  After the outrage over such predatory practices Verizon relented and will now offer all western state first responders standard data plans without throttling.  Why should they even be able to throttle?  If a user needs more data then just charge more over a certain limit – but throttling their network speed is coercive.

Network neutrality for all content, all websites, all messaging is the just doctrine for a Common Good like the Internet built with public funds. The fact that corporations think they should be able to do whatever they want shows once again that The Elite has control and power over the public interest.  Their position needs to shift to supporting the public interest as priority one, not profits. We need to have the common carriers see they have a public trust, and social responsibility in operating a public Internet utility.

Disney, Walmart Begin Offering Education Aid

(Editor Note: Insight Bytes focus on key economic issues and solutions for all of us, on Thursdays we spotlight in more depth Solutions to issues we have identified. Fridays we focus on how to build the Common Good. Please right click on images to see them larger in a separate tab.)

Source: payactiv.com

Disney announced this week that for 80,000 hourly workers in the U.S. to take online courses beginning this fall.  The media and entertainment giant will invest $50 million to kick off the ‘Disney Aspire’ education program with $25 million each year afterward.  Disney will provide up front funding for degree programs, high school diploma or learn a new skill.  The jump start funding enables  workers with little savings to begin taking courses right away. The program will begin with online courses only though classroom course programs may be added later.

Last May, Walmart introduced a tuition assistance program for 1.4 million hourly part-time, full-time and salaried workers to take courses online in business or supply-chain management. Employees will pay just $1 a day to participate in the assistance program. The retail colossus is looking to increase retention rates, and draw more new workers.  Drew Holler, VP of Innovation at Walmart U.S. was excited, “We know we’re going to see an influx of applications.”

Other major corporations are feeling the pressure to be competitive in benefits for hourly or retail workers. Starbucks offers a full tuition degree program for baristas at Arizona State University.  Chipotle Mexican Grill offers $5,250 in tuition assistance for degree programs.

However, for many hourly workers they have a difficult time committing to education programs due to erratic work schedules.  Our Walmart, an employee advocacy group, completed a survey of worker needs finding that 70 % of workers wanted more time scheduled to work full time, and more predictable timing.  Hourly workers are busy balancing work time with family commitments, like child care, doctor appointments and caregiving.

We have commented in our posts about the necessary investment corporations and government needs to make in education.  Hourly workers in particular have a difficult time getting more education due to random work schedules, little savings and limited study time.  Many of these programs begin to address the issue of upfront funding now they need to enable workers to actually go to school while working by offering predictable work schedules and flex time to handle family commitments.  We are pleased to see Disney, Walmart and other companies  respond to the need for workers to get a better education by investing in their employees’ future and to see the move as good business.

Verizon Shows Its More Interested In Revenue Than Firefighters

 

Image: theverge.com

During the Mendocino fire in California last month, firefighters using the Verizon service went over their data plan limit.  So, instead of helping to alleviate the problem, Verizon made it worse by throttling down their data rate to 1/200th until they switched to a new higher cost plan.  Plus, they made the firefighters do the work to switch plans – doesn’t Verizon get the fact that the firefighters are a little busy saving lives and property?

Santa Clara County Fire Chief, Anthony Bowden explained, “Verizon representatives confirmed the throttling, but rather than restoring us to an essential data transfer speed, they indicated that County Fire would have to switch to a new data plan at more than twice the cost, and they would only remove throttling after we contacted the department that handles billing and switched to the new data plan,”   Bowden wrote up the incident to support a law suit filed by 22 state attorney generals to stop the net-neutrality policy from being implemented by the FCC for the major carriers.  Bowden noted that Verizon had throttled firefighter data rates in the past when fighting fires.  A company spokesman said the throttling was a ‘customer service mistake’, and they would try to respond without throttling in future firefighting crisis situations.

Version is a huge wireless company with over 30 % of the wireless market:

Source: Statista – 2018

By size alone they command significant market power over users.  With this market power comes community and public interest responsibility. When Verizon, Comcast, AT&T and others lobbied for a waiver of net neutrality provisions they said they could be trusted to protect the needs of the public and small internet users.  Clearly, Verizon can’t be trusted to be a part of the community and put the Common Good over profits.

Next Steps: 

First, Verizon needs to make restitution to the Santa Clara County firefighters and any other group involved in fighting the fire, by giving a credit for any increased costs and to make sure there is a hot line in place to an executive who can cut through all the bureaucracy and do the right thing.  Verizon has demonstrated they are using people, even at the cost of lives and property to make a profit.  Last year, the communications giant announced a $5.4 billion stock buyback program until 2020 to goose their stock price resulting in soaring executive compensation and shareholder returns.  They could use some of this stock buyback money and help out all first responders!

Second, net neutrality provisions need to be restored so that common service providers are required by law to treat all users fairly no matter their size and not use predatory tactics like throttling to force users into upgrading plans. Verizon and and other common carries did not build the Internet, taxpayers did with DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) funds in the 1970s.  DARPA built a breakthrough set of communication and HTML linking technologies with a number of universities to establish the Internet channel backbone in the United States. The government built it, it is a public service and we should not be turning control over to private companies that are not serving the public interest.

It is about time huge corporations started solving the major problems we face in protecting the security of people and build the Common Good rather than being a major obstacle when the community is facing a crisis.

Update: August 24, 2018 – Verizon announced that it would not throttle first responders to wildfires on the West Coast including Hawaii.  The backlash was so strong from the Mendocino fire the firm had to respond. Too bad management did not take the opportunity to be proactive about supporting the Common Good.  We appreciate the late data rate support move by the company.

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