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Tecnologia

How the $4 Trillion Flood of Covid Relief Is Funding the Future

Infrastructure, conjuring as it does images of potholes and rusted water pipes, often goes overlooked; politicians would rather be associated with cutting ribbons than maintaining systems. Paradoxically, that has meant the great leaps in American infrastructure often come from moments of great lack: the greater the crisis, the larger the possible investment. The Great Depression led to the New Deal, which established the Federal Housing Administration and brought electricity to the rural United States; the Great Recession led to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which directly funded improvements to 2,700 bridges and 42,000 miles of road.

In the 1930s, modernizing the country meant electricity. In the 2020s, it means broadband. “Our economy evolves and changes,” says Todd Schmit, an associate professor of applied economics and management at Cornell University, “and it’s really necessary now to think about broadband in an infrastructure space.” The digital divide is sharp in the United States: Census Bureau data shows that broadband access is concentrated in cities and in the Northeast, Florida and the West Coast. In rural areas and the South, West and Midwest, far fewer Americans have access. In the South, 111 counties have broadband subscription rates at or below 55 percent. The divide is often stark even within a state: In Virginia counties adjacent to Washington and Richmond, 85 percent of households have broadband; counties in the center of the state have less than 65 percent of households with subscriptions. According to research from BroadbandNow, a majority of counties in Alaska have zero access to broadband; in Mississippi and West Virginia, less than 60 percent of households have broadband access. A 2019 Arizona State University study found that nearly one in five tribal reservation residents had no home internet access.

This was all true before the pandemic, but when Americans were suddenly forced to work, learn, socialize and seek medical care online, the disparity in access became glaringly obvious — so obvious that lawmakers had no choice but to address it. The CARES Act opened the tap just a little, appropriating $100 million as grants for broadband in rural areas. In December 2020, the Consolidated Appropriations Act established more than $1.5 billion in broadband grants, including nearly $1 billion for tribes, which face some of the worst internet access in the country. The American Rescue Plan included $20.4 billion exclusively for broadband access, and gave states and localities about $388 billion in flexible funding that can be used for broadband. Across the country, this money is already teeing up projects to address digital disparities: satellite connectivity for remote tribes in Alaska, a grant program in rural Colorado, last-mile broadband deployment programs in Virginia, installing fiber cables in Arizona, improving outdoor connectivity in Georgia.

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, signed into law on Nov. 15, will enable states to build on Covid-related funding. The CARES Act and the A.R.P. kept localities and companies moving forward rather than falling back during the pandemic; the infrastructure bill, which includes $312 billion for transportation, $65 billion for broadband and $108 billion for the electrical grid, takes an additional sizable step in that direction. But neither funding source includes the long-term investment needed for sustained progress.

Take the broadband build out as a key example: Out of the $65 billion allocated to broadband in the recent infrastructure bill, the bulk — $45 billion — is for installing broadband, compared with $17 billion for ongoing access and subsidy grants. “We’re going to give a big shot of investment for infrastructure and capital expenditures to build this system, but then we need to provide some subsidized assistance annually along the way, to keep it in the long-term,” Schmit says. “If you can build it, and then they get things going and everybody gets broadband, and in five years everybody’s bankrupt, then what have we solved?” The billions in federal funding may build access to broadband, but it offers no guarantee to sustain it, which is especially crucial for the rural broadband access that this legislation tries to address. Schmit studies broadband access in areas of upstate New York with fewer than 10 subscribers per mile, where offering service often isn’t cost-effective.

“If we can agree that access to broadband is a public good — for educating our children, for access to health care, for expanding business opportunities — there should be a defensible basis for government assistance in funding the operations of those programs,” he says. “But I think that’s a harder story to tell.”


Charley Locke is a writer, an editor and a story producer who often works on articles for The New York Times for Kids. Christopher Payne is a photographer who specializes in architecture and American industry. He has documented many industrial processes for the magazine, including one of America’s last pencil factories, Martin guitars and The Times’s own printing plant.

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Tecnologia

Twitter Will Take Down Pictures of People Posted Without Their Permission

A sweeping expansion of Twitter’s policy against posting private information was met with backlash shortly after the company announced it on Tuesday, as Twitter users questioned whether the policy would be practical to enforce.

Twitter’s new policy states that photos or videos of private individuals that are posted without their permission will be taken down at their request. Twitter’s rules already prohibit the posting of private information like addresses, phone numbers and medical records.

“When we are notified by individuals depicted, or by an authorized representative, that they did not consent to having their private image or video shared, we will remove it,” Twitter’s new policy states. “This policy is not applicable to media featuring public figures or individuals when media and accompanying tweet text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”

The policy goes further than U.S. law, which allows people to be photographed or filmed in public places. Under Twitter’s policy, people could request that photos of them be taken down even if the images were taken in public.

But Twitter said that its policy is consistent with privacy laws in the European Union and elsewhere and that it had already removed photos of private individuals in those locations, consistent with local laws.

The new policy will extend privacy rights to users in countries that do not have similar laws, a Twitter spokeswoman said. Under Twitter’s policy, a user could have a photo removed if it was used to harass them or if they simply did not like the photo.

Twitter plans to make exceptions for newsworthy images and videos, and the company will take into consideration whether the image was publicly available, was being used by traditional news outlets or was “relevant to the community.”

“We will always try to assess the context in which the content is shared, and, in such cases, we may allow the images or videos to remain on the service,” the policy said.

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Tecnologia

The head of Meta’s cryptocurrency efforts is leaving the company.

David Marcus, the leader of cryptocurrency efforts at Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, said on Tuesday that he plans to leave his post at the end of the year.

Mr. Marcus, 48, a longtime Silicon Valley executive in payments and digital finance, worked on many projects during his seven years at the social media company. Most recently, he spearheaded Meta’s push into a global digital currency that could be used by Facebook and WhatsApp users to transmit payments across borders. The project, initially called Libra, was later rebranded Diem after facing pushback from regulators.

“I remain as passionate as ever about the need for change in our payments and financial systems,” Mr. Marcus said in a series of tweets. “My entrepreneurial DNA has been nudging me for too many mornings in a row to continue ignoring it.”

Mr. Marcus founded Zong, a mobile payments start-up that was acquired by the digital finance giant PayPal. After rising quickly at PayPal, he was recruited to Facebook to lead its Messenger app, growing it to reach hundreds of millions of users.

While at Facebook, Mr. Marcus was heavily involved in the rise of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, acting as an adviser to companies like Coinbase.

He parlayed that knowledge into Libra, which was a pet project of Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive. Libra was an attempt to democratize finance so that people could use Facebook’s apps — including Messenger and WhatsApp — to send cryptocurrency to one another across the world, which they could eventually exchange for local currencies.

The project stalled when a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers questioned the company’s efforts and how much power the social network had over global social media. Mr. Marcus testified about the efforts to Congress in 2019, though it did little to assuage concerns.

The Libra cryptocurrency was eventually rebranded Diem, while the company’s efforts at a crypto wallet were called Novi. The mishmash of names often has been confusing, even for company insiders.

Mr. Marcus did not specify his future plans. Spokespeople for Meta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Tecnologia

Jack Dorsey’s Twitter Departure Hints at Big Tech’s Restlessness

“I don’t think there’s anything more important in my lifetime to work on, and I don’t think there’s anything more enabling for people around the world,” he told the audience at a Bitcoin conference in Miami in June.

Mr. Dorsey, whose oracular beard and quirky wellness routines have made him something of a cult figure in Silicon Valley, has become a crypto influencer in recent months. Bitcoin fans cheered his resignation on Monday, assuming he’d be spending his newfound free time championing their cause. (A more likely scenario is that he’ll continue to push crypto projects at Square, where he’s already started building a decentralized finance business.)

Mr. Dorsey didn’t respond to a request for comment, so I can’t be totally sure what’s behind his exit, but it’s easy to see why he would be getting restless at Twitter after more than 15 years of involvement. He cut his teeth during the internet boom of the late 2000s and early 2010s, when being a co-founder of a hot social media app was a pretty great gig. You got invited to fancy conferences, investors showered you with money and the media heralded you as a disruptive innovator. If you were lucky, you even got invited to the White House to hang out with President Barack Obama. Social media was changing the world — Kony 2012! The Arab Spring! — and as long as your usage numbers kept moving in the right direction, life was good.

Today, running a giant social media company is — by the looks of it — pretty miserable. Sure, you’re rich and famous, but you spend your days managing a bloated bureaucracy and getting blamed for the downfall of society. Instead of disrupting and innovating, you sit in boring meetings and fly to Washington so politicians can yell at you. The cool kids no longer want to work for you — they’re busy flipping NFTs and building DeFi apps in web3 — and regulators are breathing down your neck.

In many ways, today’s crypto scene has inherited the loose, freewheeling spirit of the early social media companies. Crypto start-ups are raising tons of money, attracting huge amounts of hype and setting off on utopian-sounding missions of changing the world. The crypto universe is full of weird geniuses with unusual pedigrees and big appetites for risk, and web3 — a vision for a decentralized internet built around blockchains — contains lots of the kinds of complex technical problems that engineers love to solve. Those factors, plus the enormous sums of money flowing into crypto, have made it a tempting landing spot for burned-out tech employees looking to get back in touch with their youthful optimism — and maybe for C.E.O.s, too.

“Silicon Valley tech is the old guard, distributed crypto is the frontier,” Naval Ravikant, another crypto booster and an early Twitter investor, tweeted this month.

Square, which builds mobile payment systems, has always been the most natural outlet for Mr. Dorsey’s crypto dreams. But he has tried to incorporate some of Bitcoin’s principles into Twitter. The company added Bitcoin tipping and started a decentralization project called Bluesky last year, with the goal of creating an open protocol that would allow outside developers to build Twitter-like social networks with different rules and features from the main Twitter app. (Mr. Agrawal, who is taking over for Mr. Dorsey at Twitter, has been closely involved with these initiatives, meaning they probably won’t disappear when Mr. Dorsey does.)

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