Washington Post

The next president should make infrastructure spending a priority

[Commentary] There is now a consensus that the United States should substantially raise its level of infrastructure investment. Economists and politicians of all persuasions are increasingly concluding that higher infrastructure investment can create quality jobs and provide economic stimulus without posing the risks of easy-money monetary policies in the short run. They are also recognizing that infrastructure investment can expand the economy’s capacity in the medium term and mitigate the enormous maintenance burden we would otherwise pass on to the next generation. The issue now is not whether the United States should invest more in infrastructure but what the policy framework should be. Here are the important questions and my answers.

Some infrastructure priorities, such as replacing coal-fired power plants with renewables, expanding broadband Internet networks and building pipelines, are clearly the responsibility of the private sector. Policy frameworks that streamline regulatory decision-making and reduce uncertainty could help spur investment in these sectors.

[Summers is a professor at and past president of Harvard University. He was treasury secretary from 1999 to 2001 and an economic adviser to President Obama from 2009 through 2010.]

Donald Trump doesn’t have much of an opinion on this new-fangled ‘cyber’ thing

At a military town hall meeting, Donald Trump was asked to expand on his strategy for dealing with the Islamic State militant group. "You have described at times different components of a strategy," the moderator — retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a Trump supporter — asked, according to a transcript from CBS News' Sopan Deb. "Military, cyber, financial and ideological. Can you just expand on those four a little bit?" Trump dove right into the second one, cyber. “Well, that's it. And you know cyber is becoming so big today. It's becoming something that a number of years ago, short number of years ago, wasn't even a word. And now the cyber is so big. And you know you look at what they're doing with the Internet, how they're taking and recruiting people through the Internet. And part of it is the psychology because so many people think they're winning. Any you know, there's a whole big thing. Even today's psychology — where CNN came out with a big poll. Their big poll came out today that Trump is winning. It's good psychology, you know. It's good psychology. I know that for a fact because people they didn't call me yesterday, they're calling me today. So that's the way life works, right?” And that's how we will beat the Islamic State at cyber.

US investigating potential covert Russian plan to disrupt November elections

US intelligence and law enforcement agencies are investigating what they see as a broad covert Russian operation in the United States to sow public distrust in the upcoming presidential election and in US political institutions, apparently. The aim is to understand the scope and intent of the Russian campaign, which incorporates ­cyber-tools to hack systems used in the political process, enhancing Russia’s ability to spread disinformation.

The effort to better understand Russia’s covert influence operations is being coordinated by James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence. Officials also are examining potential disruptions to the election process, and the FBI has alerted state and local officials to potential cyberthreats. The official cautioned that the intelligence community is not saying it has “definitive proof” of such tampering, or any Russian plans to do so. “But even the hint of something impacting the security of our election system would be of significant concern,” one official said. “It’s the key to our democracy, that people have confidence in the election system.”

That SpaceX explosion blew up one of Facebook’s most ambitious projects

SpaceX is reeling after an early-morning explosion took out its rocket on the launchpad at Cape Canaveral. The incident is a major setback for chief executive Elon Musk. But odds are the tragic news is disappointing another U.S. tech billionaire, too. The rocket destroyed Sept 1 was bearing a satellite that Facebook intended to use to beam Internet access to developing nations. When the rocket went up in smoke, so did the cargo inside, according to SpaceX.

In 2015, Facebook's chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, said he was eager to use the AMOS-6 satellite to deliver broadband connectivity to hard-to-reach parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Facebook has some 84 million users in the region. "As I'm here in Africa, I'm deeply disappointed to hear that SpaceX's launch failure destroyed our satellite that would have provided connectivity to so many entrepreneurs and everyone else across the continent," Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post. "Fortunately, we have developed other technologies like Aquila that will connect people as well."

How America’s tech companies could wriggle out of the nation’s consumer protection laws

Companies such as Google and Facebook thrive on your personal data — the bits of information that tell advertisers how old you are, what brands you like and how long you lingered on that must-see cat video. Historically, how these companies use this data has been subject to oversight by the Federal Trade Commission, the government's top privacy watchdog. But a big court defeat for the FTC is putting the agency's power to protect your online privacy in jeopardy, analysts say. The ruling could wind up giving Google and Facebook, not to mention other companies in the Internet ecosystem, the ability to escape all consumer-protection actions from the FTC, and possibly from the rest of government, too, critics claim, unless Congress intervenes.

In the wake of the setback, the FTC is mulling an appeal — which would mean either asking for a rehearing at the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, or escalating to the Supreme Court, according to a person close to the agency. But unless regulators can persuade the courts to overturn Aug 29's decision, the result will be "a fatal blow" to consumer protection, said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

The Internet revolution has not reached all of us

[Commentary] The Internet is celebrating some important milestones. The week of Aug 22 marked both the 40th anniversary of the first mobile connection and the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. Millennials can’t even remember what life was like without it and, even for us baby boomers, the changes to everyday activities have been at once profound and subtle. But the information revolution is far from finished. Indeed, for many living in the developing world, and even for some Americans, the Internet still hasn’t arrived.

Over the past 25 years, the Internet has steadily absorbed every network and every technology imaginable — or, more to the point, unimaginable. Once-separate radio, TV, voice and data all travel over the same systems, a virtual Postal Service now delivering a sextillion bytes a year. For the remaining digital holdouts, however, availability and cost are no longer the main obstacles. While the rest of us find ourselves unable to look away from our screens even for a few minutes, the unconnected — primarily older, rural, or less educated — consistently tell researchers that their principal reason not to go online is that there’s nothing there for them. Given the Web’s growing importance for education, health care and jobs, non-adopters are wrong about relevance. So the focus now needs to be on persuading them to join us. And join us they must. The Internet’s gravity is such that the more users who join the network, the faster each added connection increases its value, exhibiting what economists call network effects. That means the communities absent from the Internet’s global village are as valuable to us as we are to them, if not more.

[Larry Downes is a project director at the Georgetown Center for Business and Public Policy]

Twitter just became even more like a cable company

If Twitter's biggest challenge is attracting new users to its service and showing investors it's capable of competing with the likes of Facebook, the company's latest move seems to take direct aim at fixing that problem. Twitter is beginning to offer individual users and entities the chance to make money off the videos they post, according to reports. And the terms look pretty favorable to content creators, who will get to take home 70 percent of the ad dollars from their videos. That's somewhat more money than what YouTube or Facebook offer.

In rolling out the change, Twitter moves another step closer to a business model that has defined another industry for about three decades. As anyone who has a cable subscription knows, it isn't Time Warner Cable or Cox that actually make the programming you find in your lineup. Instead, companies like ESPN and HBO produce shows that they then market to distributors. What the folks at Twitter (and to a similar extent, Facebook and YouTube) have done is to graft this model onto the new Internet economy.

How this social network for neighborhoods is trying to fix its racism problem

What do you do when your social network ends up revealing racism in users' back yards? That's the problem Nextdoor, a site that connects people who live in the same area, is trying to tackle. Think of Nextdoor as Facebook, but for your neighborhood: People sign up with their address and then share local news, reunite lost puppies with their owners and report potential safety or crime issues.

But Nextdoor has faced criticism for posts from some of the site's more than 10 million registered users that have veered into racial profiling -- especially concerning crime and safety alerts. In some cases, neighbors would flag "suspicious behavior" by noting the race of someone doing something like walking a dog or knocking on doors. Community groups like Neighbors for Racial Justice in Oakland (CA) are fighting back by raising awareness about the issue and rallying local leaders.

Most Americans streamed the Olympics from PCs, not mobile devices. Here’s why.

With the 2016 Summer Olympics now a memory, it's time to look back at how Americans took in all that sports coverage. How we watched the Rio games can tell us a lot about the current state of media and technology and give us insights on trends in mobile device adoption and cord-cutting. Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, accounted for almost 20 percent of the Aug 10 Olympics stream. An additional 17 percent went to set-top boxes, such as Apple TV and Amazon Fire TV. Of these, Roku boxes were the overwhelming favorite among Olympics viewers, eating up a 10 percent share. In the end, however, PCs took the prize, accounting for more than 60 percent of that night's consumption.

IPhones, Android devices and iPads account for almost one-third of general Internet consumption, a large discrepancy from the Olympic numbers. Analysts say this discrepancy highlights the particular way in which Americans could access their Olympics coverage online. To watch the Internet live stream, viewers needed to log in through their cable subscription. The downside to this meant being chained to a cable provider, but the upside was that once you authenticated you could watch from any device — mobile or otherwise. Add to that the dismal reviews of NBC's mobile streaming app and you have a powerful incentive to watch from a laptop. Although much of our media consumption is increasingly shifting toward mobile devices, live-stream events such as the Olympics may be one area where PCs could remain dominant for some time.

Trump’s top aide said he wasn’t doing personal insults. And then he proved her very wrong.

A campaign shake-up and strong, largely disciplined speeches recently led to the usual debate over whether Donald Trump was finally changing his ways and adjusting to the demands of the general election. His new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway, who has been getting some credit for the New Trump, even appeared on the Sunday shows and assured viewers that Trump wasn't into name-calling. "He doesn't hurl personal insults,” said Conway, who had said before joining Trump's campaign that she was uncomfortable with such name-calling and questions about people's mental capacity.

In that case, Aug 21 and 22 must have been particularly uncomfortable. Trump, as he often does, reacted to what he was seeing on cable news with a mix of personal insults and rumor-mongering. First, he called MSNBC's Donny Deutsch "little," "a failure" and "irrelevant." Then he turned to Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski.