This Wikipedia founder's new venture? A cellphone carrier that puts your bill to good use.

Most people probably wouldn't peg their cellphone carrier as being particularly ethical.

Let's start with the fact that their plans and pricing are really confusing ... on purpose.


What is a "convenience fee"? We feel you, bearded Christian Bale.

Not to mention, the horrendous customer service at telecommunication companies is practically legendary. Some of these retailers reportedly don't even treat their own employees well.

So, even though we use our cellphones every day and pay a pretty substantial price for that convenience, it's not always a transaction we feel good about.

Jimmy Wales, founder of Wikipedia, says it doesn't have to be that way.

Jimmy Wales is chairman of The People's Operator, a new(ish) mobile carrier that gives 10% of your bill to a charity of your choosing.

Jimmy Wales is best known for finding a better way to organize the world's knowledge. Now he's finding a better way to provide cell service. Photo by Nadine Rupp/Getty Images.

Here's how it's supposed to work.

You sign up for The People's Operator (TPO) the same way you would any other mobile company, except once you're enrolled (service is month-to-month) you get to pick a charity to receive 10% of your monthly bill.

TPO has been around in the U.K. for a while, and over there, you can pick any legitimate nonprofit organization. Customers in the states will pick from a list of TPO's current charity partners, including WWF, ASPCA, and the Children's Health Fund.

Not a bad deal for a cost you'd have anyway, but TPO does want something in return. They'll give your money to charity instead of buying ads if you agree to tell your friends to switch to their service.

TPO even hosts an ambitious, if a little redundant, social networking platform to rally support around specific causes.

OK, so it looks suspiciously like Facebook, with a sort of newsfeed-looking main page and trending topics on the side. But what it lacks in novelty it makes up for in purpose.

In a letter on TPO's website from Jimmy Wales himself, he asks users to "Pledge to yourself to move a big part of your digital life here. Make it a real living and breathing community force for good."

Here's the main page of TPO's social networking site. Image from TPO.com

The main draw here, then, is the "causes" pages, where you can interact directly with issues you care about and easily donate money.

Image from TPO.com

The most important question remains, though: Is TPO actually viable as a cellphone carrier?

Because what good is donating a portion of your bill if you don't get a working cellphone in return?

This is what cellphoning should look like. GIF from "Saved by the Bell."

The People's Operator uses Sprint's network, so coverage should be as strong as you're used to. (Smaller carriers like TPO, also known as mobile virtual network operators, essentially sell customers access to the big networks, but with their own brand, pricing, customer support, and marketing.)

TPO's prices also compare favorably to competitors like Straight Talk and Page Plus Wireless, though it's nearly impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison across carriers. (Remember the whole thing about these plans being purposefully confusing?)

Still, TPO is so new to the U.S. that it's tough to say for sure if the service is all it's cracked up to be.

Whether TPO will really change the cell service game remains to be seen. But kudos to them for trying to do some good in a yucky industry.

On top of the monthly bill proceeds, The People's Operator has also pledged to give 25% of its profits to charity. Unfortunately, TPO has yet to become profitable.

In a lot of ways, The People's Operator still feels a lot like a wobbly-legged start-up with good intentions. To that end, the venture will only be a success in the U.S. if it can attract a big enough customer base to actually make a difference.

Let's hope The People's Operator stays afloat and finally gives us a cellphone carrier worth rooting for.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

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"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less