Mar 28, 2020
Ashkhen Kazaryan (@Ashkhen) is the Director of Civil Liberties at TechFreedom. She manages and develops policy projects on free speech, artificial intelligence, surveillance reform and sharing economy. Ashkhen also handles outreach and coalition building for the organization. Ashkhen is an Internet Law and Policy Fellow and an expert at the Federalist Society’s Emerging Technology Working Group, part of the Regulatory Transparency Project. Ashkhen received her Specialist in Law degree summa cum laude from Lomonosov MSU in 2012, Masters of Law Degree from Yale Law School and is completing her PhD in Law at the Law School of Lomonosov Moscow State University (thesis on Legal Regulation of Art Markets). At Yale Law she served as an Articles Editor of the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism, Senior Editor of the Yale Law and Policy Review and Editor of the Yale Journal of Law and Technology while also being Co-Chair of the Public Interest Fellowship. Ashkhen worked as the leading legal analyst at the High Intellectual Property Court, drafting decisions of the Presidium of the Court, creating precedents, including on information intermediaries and use of trademarks. In 2013-2014 she was a Fox Fellow at Yale. She is a proud supporter of New England Patriots and Broadway musical enthusiast.
With millions of Americans now either working remotely or using the internet while they’re unemployed, the nation’s Internet Service Providers – or should I say, their workers—are working overtime to keep the networks going and traffic flowing freely online in order to meet demand. Edge providers like Disney and Netflix have cut bandwidth in Europe after regulators there stepped in and, here in the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission has opened additional spectrum for the carriers. The FCC has also relaxed a rule that prohibited carriers from gifting services to E-Rate subsidy recipients like schools and hospitals.
Of specific concern to policymakers are rural residents without access who are unable to take advantage of remote healthcare options via high speed broadband. But the FCC has, up until now, lacked robust data regarding internet access in rural areas -- President Trump signed the Broadband DATA Act earlier this week, which will address some of the data challenges.
But advocates like Matt Wood at Free Press are also pushing for better pricing regulations, an issue that affects both urban and rural areas, he told Gizmodo, as the average price of internet service in the United States surpasses that of countries like Russia, China, and Syria.
Carriers’ responses to the increased demand brought on by coronavirus and relative high price of broadband have varied. In New York City, for example, Chalkbeat reported that ISPs that serve the area, including Charter and Optimum, have denied access to families with delinquent accounts, even if their children need an internet connection to participate in remote instruction while their schools are closed.
Verizon, on the other hand, is offering free Fios and wireless service so customers who have been ordered to shelter in place can access entertainment and educational programming. Starting April 1, Verizon will also grant new customers access to its premium tier of movie channels, like HBO and Showtime, free for 30 days.
Turning to the gig market … As you probably already know the number of Americans filing new unemployment claims reached an astonishing 3.3 million last week, the highest weekly unemployment rate ever, by a long shot. Previously, the worst weekly unemployment rate happened in 1982, when weekly jobless claims once hit 695,000 — still well under a million.
But gig workers are being hit particularly hard, such as Uber and Lyft drivers faced with decreased demand for car service. And gig workers overall, who receive fewer employment perks and pay than full-timers working from home, have been laid off and, if they are 1099 independent contractors, aren’t able to claim unemployment insurance.
When we look to corporate actors, there are good actors and some not so good. Google, for example, announced that it would extend the contracts of its temporary workforce by 60-days. The company is also investing $800 million in programs to help Small and Mid-sized businesses working to address the COVID-19 epidemic. Uber and Lyft on the other hand, according to the New York Times, have been promoting a California ballot initiative that would undue legislation signed into law there last year which would entitle workers whose work is controlled by their employers, like Uber and Lyft drivers, to qualify as employees, irrespective of whether they are W-2 or 1099 workers. The $2 trillion stimulus bill the president signed into law on Friday extends unemployment benefits to gig workers. However, advocates see this as only a band-aid—once it falls off, then what? Lacking health insurance, once Uber driver reportedly died from COVID-19 after he was exposed to a sick passenger.
Turning to the ISPs, Charter isn’t giving bonus pay to workers who expose themselves to the coronavirus when they enter customers’ homes. What they are giving them though is a $25 restaurant gift card – no soap to wash their hands before they eat, though. That’s in the restaurant bathroom already.
Twitter deleted a post from the Federalist, the right-wing website, for retweeting a post by a fake dermatologist who’d been advocating for mass exposure to the coronavirus. Twitter also temporarily blocked the account.
The FBI warned the public about cybercriminals exploiting the coronavirus epidemic by sending fake emails that appear to be coming from the Centers for Disease Control or other healthcare organizations. So be careful to check and double check not just the From field, but also the meta data to determine exactly who the email is coming from before you open it. If you’ve subscribed to newsletters from healthcare organizations, you can also filter them to a separate folder automatically so that anything appearing to be from them in the regular inbox looks suspicious by default when you’re reviewing your messages.