Solutions for the digital divide


May 8, 2020

May 8, 2020
The Hustle
TOGETHER WITH
H-Proof

OK, so let us get this straight. When we drive to the nearest public WiFi-equipped Starbucks to sit in our cars and stream Vanderpump Rules, we’re called “cheap” and “a leech on society’s bare thigh”… but when everybody else starts doing it, they’re being “resourceful”? Life can be so unfair.

Digital Divide

Sorry Comcast: School buses are internet providers now

School buses are trundling down the block in some US towns — but please don’t try to hop on board. 

To reach students without stable WiFi at home, school districts in California, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are sending buses equipped with long-distance routers to poor and rural neighborhoods.

One Texas school district keeps its buses in park from 8am to 2pm every weekday. The WiFi connection has a 200-ft reach, and families who lack stable internet access at home pull over in their cars to use it. 

The tech world is humming with WiFi solutions

About 27% of Americans don’t have home broadband access, according to Pew. But now that home internet has become a requirement for many students and white-collar workers, local governments and companies are patching together emergency fixes:

  • Libraries and government offices have adjusted or upgraded their routers to target the outdoors, making parking lots a hub of connectivity.
  • In Baton Rouge, officials are offering drive-in WiFi at recreational centers and public parks.
  • Vermont is turning empty train stations into internet hotspots. 
  • The nonprofit Information Technology Disaster Resource Center is bankrolling WiFi installation projects in rural churches and other key areas.
  • In Peru, Facebook is testing an app that turns websites into low-lift text pages and offering free internet data for people to use it.

But parking lots alone can’t get everyone on Zoom

These are temporary salves, and they don’t roll back the underlying problem: Home broadband is more expensive in rural areas than in cities, yet it tends to perform worse.

Some localities are serving up solutions that will let them stream that Beyoncé/Megan Thee Stallion remix even after the pandemic subsides. Western Colorado, for instance, recently put the finishing touches on a DIY broadband network.

Other advocates are pushing for something even bigger: A modern version of the Rural Electrification Act, this time focused on universal internet connectivity.

The timing seems to fit. The REA was signed in 1936 — soon after, you know, that other great depression.

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Sunday Sneak Peek

Making money isn’t a magic trick — even magicians have to work at it. Daniel Chan would know. He calls himself Silicon Valley’s favorite magician (and there’s some truth to that — he’s performed 5k+ shows for almost every major tech company under the sun). 

Get a taste of his tricks on our new episode of Behind the Hustle. But don’t worry, we don’t give away all his secrets. The full story will magically appear in your inbox on Sunday morning.

Don’t Blink

Wink’s pivot to subscriptions leaves users feeling poked in the eye

Sonos learned this lesson a few months ago: Users don’t like to be surprised about their devices possibly being turned into bricks.

But that’s essentially what the smart home company Wink did this week. On Wednesday, the company said it’s transitioning to a $4.99 monthly subscription — and if you don’t pony up, your connected gizmos are about to become as useful as very expensive paperweights.

Now Wink’s customers are glaring

For one thing, they didn’t get much of a heads-up — they need to sign up by next Wednesday to keep their smart devices running.

They’re busy giving Wink the stink eye: Over on /r/winkhub, there’s a thread for moving off of the platform, another telling people to hang on to Wink Hub 2 because “it may be very hackable,” and a photo of Wink hardware being put (in the user’s words) “where it belongs” — in the toilet.

There’s a kink in the Wink

Wink explained the sudden pivot by saying that “long term costs and recent economic events have caused additional strain” on its business.

But The Verge said this isn’t the first sign of trouble: In 2017, Wink was acquired by Will.i.am’s tech company, i.am+. Last fall, some of Wink’s employees said they hadn’t been paid in 7 weeks.

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Sponsored

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The moral of the story? 

Don’t worry about having one more drink — when all 15 of your coworkers are trying to talk in a Zoom room at once, you’re gonna need it. 

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Fire Emoji

The microbe emoji is more popular than ever, and scientists hate it

Every time you tap that misshapen microbe emoji, a scientist blots out a tear.

Use of the microbe emoji has spiked 1,519% over the last two months, with the medical mask emoji and the sneezing emoji not far behind. 

But the public microscope has not been kind to the poor microbe. As OneZero reports, scientists have dismissed it as the “green splat.” Their fear? The emoji is spawning misunderstanding about the nature of COVID-19. 

The Emoji Subcommittee knows all about your complaints

You can thank the Unicode Consortium, a nonprofit overlord of the emoji keyboard, for every bad, emoji-laden government tweet

Through its subcommittee, the consortium decides which of the ~100 annual emoji proposals deserve the green light. 

These requests are intensely debated. Thanks to public records, we know that, in October 2017, members argued over whether to add more expressions to the beaming poop emoji. 

One detractor claimed that additional facial expressions “open the floodgates for an open-ended set of PILE OF POO emoji with emotions, such as CRYING PILE OF POO, PILE OF POO WITH LOOK OF TRIUMPH.” 

Please don’t take public health cues from emojis 

When two organizations — the International Council for Science and the American Geophysical Union — brought the microbe emoji before the committee in 2017, members delivered that same energy.

They couldn’t agree on how to create a scientifically accurate virus emoji. So they split the difference. 

Emoji aesthetics vary depending on your device, and while Apple users might see a microbe with structural similarities to a virus, Android and Twitter users get an emoji much closer to a bacteria cell. 

That’s the central problem. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, not a bacterium — so when people use the microbe to represent COVID-19, health experts worry they’re misleading the public.

But in Unicode’s defense: Anyone who has ever deployed the eggplant emoji knows the art of emojis-as-biological-approximation.

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The Hustle Says

What can an ER doc teach us about business? Right now, a lot. Listen to this ep of Masters of Scale with Dr. Bon Ku to learn the practice and mindset required to perform under extraordinary pressure.

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*This is a sponsored post.

Petal Problems

Mother’s Day is Black Friday for flower shops. The pandemic nipped the biz in the bud.

PSA: Call your mother on Sunday. 

Go on, set yourself a reminder. We’ll wait.

There. Better.

Now, for the forgetful types who are cursing themselves and frantically Googling “socially distant flower delivery,” don’t despair. The coronavirus pandemic trampled the stem industry’s garden, but the bouquet’s not totally wilted.

The petals came off overnight

When governments across the world started locking down their countries, the $8.5B flower trade dried up fast. 

As Bloomberg reported, much of the industry is planted in the Netherlands, where a conglomerate called Royal FloraHolland auctions off flowers to be shipped around the world (one of its facilities is larger than 75 soccer fields).

Spring is supposed to bring booming blooms, but Royal FloraHolland estimated that the pandemic could cause $2B+ in lost business. 

In April, one of its sales managers told The New York Times that about 400m flowers had been destroyed over the last month — including 140m stems of tulips, the Netherlands’ most famous flower.

The crash put flower shops in a vice vase

Mother’s Day is the flower industry’s equivalent of Black Friday: The Los Angeles Times says some shops rely on the leadup to the holiday for half of their annual earnings. It kicks off a typically busy (but now fallow) spring and summer wedding season.

Thankfully, this year’s Mother’s Day card isn’t just blank:

  • LA’s flower shops got the green light to reopen just in time, so if you live there, you’re in luck.
  • If you don’t, you might try D2C: The CEO of a flower startup called Farmgirl Flowers saw business blossom after she posted an emotional 26-minute YouTube video about navigating the thorns of the government’s small-business relief program.

Lowe’s is sending $1m worth of flowers to long-term and senior-living facilities, for socially isolated moms who can’t be with their families.

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Snippets

📉 Another retail domino falls: Neiman Marcus filed for bankruptcy protection.

🇨🇦 Alphabet is pulling out of its plans for a smart-city project in Toronto.

🔑 Zoom bought Keybase to help beef up its security. The negotiations took place over Zoom, natch.

🐘The jobless crisis has officially crossed species boundaries: 100+ Thai elephants, out of work because tourists aren’t around, are trudging back to their natural habitats.

🥨 When you return to your office, the snack supply won’t look the same.

💨 Meet the Zoomies: What’s with all the startups that sound like Zoom? (The only thing better than the headline on this story is the URL.)

Want snippets like these in your browser? Download our Chrome extension here.

The community college dropout who said no to $412M

At age 22, Sophia Amoruso bootstrapped Nasty Gal into a massive retail business. The brand would eventually do $100M annually — and even refused a $412M takeover offer. 

Then, it all collapsed.

In one of our most candid podcasts to date, Sophia reveals the highs and lows of her journey as a female entrepreneur — from a failed business, to her own Netflix series, and becoming a symbol of female entrepreneurship.

Sam and Shaan talk with Sophia about:

  • How she got her book to stay on the NY Times’ Bestseller list for 20 weeks — and snagged a Netflix deal to accompany it,
  • Why she’ll never start another business again, 
  • Which startups she’s investing in.

Listen here: Apple / Spotify / Google 🎧

Listen here →
Shower Thoughts

Consider this your weekly reminder to take a shower. And while you’re at it… wash those sweatpants, hombre. 

1. If a sloth were to clap, it will always sound sarcastic.

2. 98% of songs containing the word “baby” are not referring to actual babies.

3. Scooby Doo taught kids there’s no such thing as ghosts, but it isn’t any more comforting to think that shadow chilling in your bedroom corner at night may just be a deranged theme park janitor in a monster costume.

4. The spot where the vacuum is stored is probably the least vacuumed spot in the house.

5. Your nails are a window to the flesh in your finger.

via Reddit
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