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Q&A How to handle technology issues with online school

Inside Telecom Staff

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How to handle technology issues with online school

Across the U.S., the pandemic has forced students to attend virtual school to prevent spread of the coronavirus. But the more we rely on technology, the bigger the consequences when gadgets or internet service let us down.

Technology being technology, all sorts of things can go wrong. Your internet service may be inadequate for all-day videoconferencing or simply overstressed. Hardware and software can be confusing, can break, and sometimes just fails to work. There can be unanticipated consequences from turning on a new video camera in your home for school lessons.

Here are answers to some common questions from parents now forced to manage their kids’ virtual educations.

Q: We don’t have a computer/enough computers/fast enough internet service for online school. What do we do?

A: This affects millions of people, and there are no perfect solutions.

It’s possible to use smartphones as hotspots for computers, but that’s an imperfect solution at best. Not all plans let you run hotspots off your phone, and if you can, you probably face data caps — which makes it impractical for all-day online school.

Some cable companies are offering low-cost service for eligible families, although those programs are typically limited to areas the companies already serve, often provide only minimum broadband speeds and frequently aren’t available to former customers who owe the cable company money.

Schools may provide internet hotspots or free internet at home for families without good service. Get in touch with the district or talk to a teacher about how to get help from your schools. They may also be able to send computers or tablets to kids, although there’s a shortage of education-style computers at the moment.

Q: Our service slows way down when several people do video calls at the same time. Are there simple ways to fix that?

A: Talk to your internet service provider. It may be time to update your modem or router, and some offer Wi-Fi extenders to improve the network. ISPs can also try repositioning your existing equipment to improve the range and strength of Wi-Fi connections.

Other options include “mesh” style Wi-Fi networks that let you position several base stations around a large house, giving you a stronger signal most everywhere. If necessary, it may be time to pay up for higher-speed service.

You can also try talking to teachers and co-workers to reschedule calls to go easier on the network. Turning off your own camera during video calls can help, too. Sometimes teachers can record lessons and send them to kids to watch later if live streaming isn’t possible.

Q: Virtual-school programs and computers can be hard to figure out. Gadgets break. Then what?

A: Some districts have set up tech-support phone lines or live chats to help students and parents. Chicago Public Schools, for example, has phone help available in English and Spanish and a website where you can open a ticket for help. But there may not be much schools can do if there’s an issue with your own computer or the cable company.

Q: My kids are anxious about seeing themselves on camera and get frustrated in constant video meetings. What can I do?

A: Keeping video cameras on is one way teachers try to ensure kids are paying attention and not beaming out to play video games, but not all kids react well. Discuss any anxieties with teachers to work out solutions — for instance, your kid might not need to keep their head in frame at all times. If a child definitely needs to be on screen, practice being on video calls with family members, said David Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. Exposure to the scary situation helps children get used to it.

Another option: Services like Zoom let you remove your own image from your screen while keeping your camera on. Zoom explains how to do that online.

Kids frustrated by having to sit in front of a computer all day and missing their friends may act out, sighing loudly or disobeying the rules, Anderson said. Instead of issuing punishments, try to come up with coping plans — offer breaks and activities they enjoy in return for participating in virtual school. For older children and teens, give them room to do the activities they love independently. “Remind them what they’re working toward and what they can look forward to,” Anderson said. “Build up coping thoughts for kid to get through the rougher part of the day.”

Q: How do I hide the contents of my house from my kids’ teachers and classmates?

A: Many video services let you choose a virtual background — the Rocky Mountains, a field of flowers, the Death Star — that obscures everything but the person on the screen. Sometimes you can also just blur the actual background. Otherwise, situate your kids in a neutral space you all feel comfortable showing to the world — maybe somewhere they’ll sit with their backs to a wall — and have them wear headphones to limit both distracting noises and the possibility that unrelated family conversations might broadcast into the virtual classroom.

NEW YORK (AP) — By TALI ARBEL AP Technology Writer.

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Here’s why Ant Group is about to shatter IPO records

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HONG KONG (AP) — Stella Su, who lives and works in Shanghai, has used an ATM only once in the past year. Instead of cash, in recent years she has done almost all her business using the digital wallet Alipay –- shopping in a mall, buying stuff online or transferring money to friends.

“Now when I go out, I don’t even need to carry my wallet, all I need is my phone,” said Su, one of over a billion Alipay users in China and abroad.

Alipay, operated by Ant Group, is the world’s largest and most valuable financial technology (fintech) company and one of two dominant Chinese digital wallets in China, the other being rival Tencent’s WeChat Pay.

Thanks to the huge scale and potential of China’s fintech landscape, Ant Group is poised to raise about $34.5 billion in the world’s largest share offering, beating Saudi Aramco’s previous record of $29.4 billion. Ahead of the IPO, the company will be valued at about $280 billion.

To tap both Chinese and global investors, Ant Group is listing its shares both in Shanghai and Hong Kong. It is due to begin trading in Hong Kong on Nov. 5. The Shanghai debut has yet to be announced.

Even before announcing its IPO plans, Ant Group was the world’s most valuable fintech company, with a valuation of $150 billion after a 2018 fundraising round.

“Ant Group is much more than PayPal which only processes financial payments. It has a lot of businesses in other areas and with other services that would help 1.3 billion people in China,” Jackson Wong, asset management director at Amber Hill Capital Ltd., said in an interview. “We are betting that Ant Group will be able to grow at a very high pace in the future.”

Alipay and WeChat Pay have helped make Chinese society virtually cashless, at least in big cities, with consumers and merchants alike relying on digital payments using their phones.

“Think of Alipay as Visa, MasterCard, Citibank, Fidelity… all rolled up into one,” said Shaun Rein, founder and managing director of China Market Research Group in Shanghai. “On the Alipay platform, you pay for things, you buy insurance, you buy wealth management. Your whole life revolves around Alipay.”

Walk into a supermarket in China and one would be hard-pressed to find a customer digging around for loose change to pay for groceries. Instead, cashiers scan a QR code on a customer’s smartphone to deduct money from their Alipay or WeChat Pay digital wallets. The transaction takes seconds.

In restaurants, groups of friends often split the bill by transferring money to each other using their digital wallets, similar to how the Venmo app is used in the U.S.

“Ant Group is so valuable because Alipay is used on a day to day basis by a billion people on all of their purchases,” said Rein. “The scale of fintech in China dwarfs the regular financial transaction potential in the United States.”

Alipay evolved from e-commerce giant Alibaba, which was founded by Jack Ma in 1999 to help match buyers and sellers in China’s fast growing market. When Alibaba launched consumer e-commerce platform Taobao to rival eBay in China, Alipay was introduced as a payments method to boost users’ trust in the platform. Today, Alipay’s reach extends to almost every aspect of life related to money.

Ma’s foresight has made him the wealthiest person in China, with a fortune estimated at $58.8 billion according to the Hurun Research Institute, which follows the country’s wealthy.

Alipay was created in 2004 to serve as an escrow service between buyers and sellers on Alibaba’s e-commerce consumer platform Taobao. It held funds from buyers to be released to sellers after goods were received. Alipay’s revenue mostly comes from transaction fees charged to merchants. Users can link their bank cards directly to Alipay to top up their wallets, and transfers can also be withdrawn from users’ bank accounts.

Alibaba, which currently owns a third of Ant Group, spun off Alipay in 2011. The company was later rebranded as Ant as the company expanded the range of its financial services.

One of those is Zhima Credit – -a private credit-scoring system that rates the trustworthiness and creditworthiness of its users based on data such as whether users pay their bills on time via Alipay.

Zhima Credit scores can help people take out small loans from Ant Group’s consumer credit services Huabei and Jiebei to finance such things as iPhone purchases or school expenses. Such loans are hugely popular in China, where credit card usage is low and most people have no official credit history and are unable to borrow from banks.

Ant Group’s money market fund, called Yu’e Bao -– one of the world’s largest –- lets people put idle cash in their Alipay wallets to work and reap returns on investments as small as 100 yuan ($15).

“In the past, wealth management products offered by banks had many requirements, maybe a minimum of 50,000 yuan (about $7,500),” said Chen Zhoumin, who works in a bank in Zhengzhou, a city in central China’s Henan province. “But Alipay has made it very convenient to invest money, because it made wealth management accessible and convenient.”

To compete with Yu’e Bao, banks have begun providing more flexible investment products with lower capital requirements, said Chen, who often invests idle cash in Yu’e Bao since it’s easy to do.

“Digital wallets like Alipay and WeChat have revolutionized payments in China,” he said. “Now, there’s also less worry that we might get counterfeit notes, or that our wallets may get stolen or robbed since everything is done digitally now.”

By ZEN SOO AP Technology Writer

AP journalist Alice Fung in Hong Kong and researcher Chen Si in Shanghai contributed to this report.

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3 social media CEOs face grilling by GOP senators on bias

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The CEOs of Twitter, Facebook and Google are facing a grilling by Republican senators making unfounded allegations that the tech giants show anti-conservative bias.

The Senate Commerce Committee has summoned Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Google’s Sundar Pichai to testify for a hearing Wednesday. The executives agreed to appear remotely after being threatened with subpoenas.

With the presidential election looming, Republicans led by President Donald Trump have thrown a barrage of grievances at Big Tech’s social media platforms, which they accuse without evidence of deliberately suppressing conservative, religious and anti-abortion views.

The chorus of protest rose this month after Facebook and Twitter acted to limit dissemination of an unverified political story from the conservative-leaning New York Post about Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, an unprecedented action against a major media outlet. The story, which was not confirmed by other publications, cited unverified emails from Biden’s son Hunter that were reportedly disclosed by Trump allies.

Beyond questioning the CEOs, senators are expected to examine proposals to revise long-held legal protections for online speech, an immunity that critics in both parties say enables the companies to abdicate their responsibility to impartially moderate content.

The Justice Department has asked Congress to strip some of the bedrock protections that have generally shielded the tech companies from legal responsibility for what people post on their platforms. Trump signed an executive order challenging the protections from lawsuits under the 1996 telecommunications law.

“For too long, social media platforms have hidden behind Section 230 protections to censor content that deviates from their beliefs,” Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the Commerce Committee chairman, said recently.

In their opening statements prepared for the hearing, Dorsey, Zuckerberg and Pichai addressed the proposals for changes to so-called Section 230, a provision of a 1996 law that has served as the foundation for unfettered speech on the internet. Zuckerberg said Congress “should update the law to make sure it’s working as intended.”

“We don’t think tech companies should be making so many decisions about these important issues alone,” he said, approving an active role for government regulators.

Dorsey and Pichai, however, urged caution in making any changes. “Undermining Section 230 will result in far more removal of online speech and impose severe limitations on our collective ability to address harmful content and protect people online,” Dorsey said.

Pichai urged lawmakers “to be very thoughtful about any changes to Section 230 and to be very aware of the consequences those changes might have on businesses and consumers.”

Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd told congressional leaders in a letter Tuesday that recent events have made the changes more urgent. He cited the action by Twitter and Facebook regarding the New York Post story, calling the companies’ limitations “quite concerning.”

The head of the Federal Communications Commission, an independent agency, recently announced plans to reexamine the legal protections, potentially putting meat on the bones of Trump’s order by opening the way to new rules. The move by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, marked an about-face from the agency’s previous position.

Social media giants are also under heavy scrutiny for their efforts to police misinformation about the election. Twitter and Facebook have slapped a misinformation label on content from the president, who has around 80 million followers. Trump has raised the baseless prospect of mass fraud in the vote-by-mail process.

Starting Tuesday, Facebook was not accepting any new political advertising. Previously booked political ads will be able to run until the polls close next Tuesday, when all political advertising will temporarily be banned. Google, which owns YouTube, also is halting political ads after the polls close. Twitter banned all political ads last year.

Democrats have focused their criticism of social media mainly on hate speech, misinformation and other content that can incite violence or keep people from voting. They have criticized Big Tech CEOs for failing to police content, homing in on the platforms’ role in hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism in the U.S.

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have scrambled to stem the tide of material that incites violence and spreads lies and baseless conspiracy theories.

The companies reject accusations of bias but have wrestled with how strongly they should intervene. They have often gone out of their way not to appear biased against conservative views — a posture that some say effectively tilts them toward those viewpoints. The effort has been especially strained for Facebook, which was caught off-guard in 2016, when it was used as a conduit by Russian agents to spread misinformation benefiting Trump’s presidential campaign.

The unwelcome attention to the three companies piles onto the anxieties in the tech industry, which also faces scrutiny from the Justice Department, federal regulators, Congress and state attorneys general around the country.

Last week, the Justice Department sued Google for abusing its dominance in online search and advertising — the government’s most significant attempt to protect competition since its groundbreaking case against Microsoft more than 20 years ago.

With antitrust in the spotlight, Facebook, Apple and Amazon also are under investigation at the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission.


By MARCY GORDON AP Business Writer – WASHINGTON (AP)

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Chinese FinTech could shatter records with $35B share offer

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The world’s largest fintech company, China’s Ant Group, will try to raise nearly $35 billion in a massive public offering of stock that would shatter records.

Alibaba-affiliated Ant Group, which operates a suite of financial products including the widely-used Alipay digital wallet in China and one of the world’s largest money market funds, will hold dual listings in Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Its Shanghai stock was priced at 68.8 yuan ($10.26) each, while its Hong Kong stock is priced at 80 Hong Kong dollars apiece ($10.32), according to filings on Monday.

The company will raise about $34.5 billion from the share offering, which is expected to surpass oil company Saudi Aramco’s $29 billion share sale last year, making Ant Group’s offering the biggest in the world.

Ant Group will list on the Hong Kong stock exchange on Nov. 5, according to an exchange filing. A trading date for Shanghai has not been fixed.

The company has its origins in Alipay, which was initially created to serve as an escrow service between buyers and sellers on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform. Alipay would hold the money paid by the buyer until the transaction was complete, before releasing the funds to the sellers in order to boost trust on the platform among consumers.

In 2011, Alipay was spun off from Alibaba into a separate company. It was later renamed Ant Financial, before its recent name change to Ant Group.

Over the years, Ant has introduced more financial services, and now operates Alipay as a digital wallet which allows users in China to transfer money to others and pay for purchases both online and offline. Its money market fund Yu’e Bao is also among the world’s largest.

In recent years, Ant Group has also partnered with digital wallets around the world and expanded its services to merchants to allow Chinese tourists to pay via Alipay abroad. The company has over a billion users globally.

Ahead of the IPO, Ant Group would be valued at about $280 billion. If the company exercises its greenshoe option, which would allow it to sell more shares than initially planned, it could raise another $5.17 billion, taking its valuation to about $320 billion.

The company plans to issue up to 1.67 billion shares in both Hong Kong and Shanghai, taking the total number of shares issued to about 3.4 billion.

Alibaba, which currently owns a third of Ant Group, will subscribe to 730 million shares and will hold a stake of about 32% after the IPO.

The pricing announcements for Ant Group’s dual IPOs also came days after Alibaba founder Jack Ma called the company’s offering a “miracle”, as it was the first time that such a big listing was priced outside of New York.

“We didn’t dare think about it five years, or even three years ago,” Ma said at a financial conference in Shanghai on Saturday.

Ma also criticized banks in China, saying that they were operated like “pawn shops” since they typically require one to have sufficient collateral before making loans.

He advocated for financial reform, saying that China’s relatively young financial system should be driven by technologies such as big data, cloud computing and blockchain, instead of following traditional methods of banking that involves large amounts of red-tape.

HONG KONG (AP) — By ZEN SOO undefined.

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