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.

True

Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Keep Reading Show less

The current COVID-19 "strategy" from the White House appears to be to push for theoretical "herd immunity" by letting the virus spread among the young and healthy population while protecting the elderly and immunocompromised until a certain (genuinely unknown) threshold is reached. Despite many infectious disease experts and some of the world's largest medical institutions decrying the idea as "a dangerous fallacy unsupported by scientific evidence," and "practically impossible and highly unethical," the radiologist Trump added to his pandemic team is trying to convince people it's a grand plan.

Aside from the fact that we don't know enough about the natural immunity of this virus and the fact that "herd immunity" is a term used in vaccine science—not as a strategy of purposefully infecting people in order to get through an infectious disease outbreak —the idea of "infect the young, protect the vulnerable" is simply a unworkable strategy.

Look no further than the outbreak among the college student population in Pullman, Washington to see why.


Keep Reading Show less
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash
True

Glenda moved to Houston from Ohio just before the pandemic hit. She didn't know that COVID-19-related delays would make it difficult to get her Texas driver's license and apply for unemployment benefits. She quickly found herself in an impossible situation — stranded in a strange place without money for food, gas, or a job to provide what she needed.

Alone, hungry, and scared, Glenda dialed 2-1-1 for help. The person on the other end of the line directed her to the Houston-based nonprofit Bread of Life, founded by St. John's United Methodist pastors Rudy and Juanita Rasmus.

For nearly 30 years, Bread of Life has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS prevention, eliminating food insecurity, providing permanent housing to formerly homeless individuals and disaster relief.

Glenda sat in her car for 20 minutes outside of the building, trying to muster up the courage to get out and ask for help. She'd never been in this situation before, and she was terrified.

When she finally got out, she encountered Eva Thibaudeau, who happened to be walking down the street at the exact same time. Thibaudeau is the CEO of Temenos CDC, a nonprofit multi-unit housing development also founded by the Rasmuses, with a mission to serve Midtown Houston's homeless population.

Keep Reading Show less

Pete Buttigieg is having a moment. The former mayor of South Bend, Indiana keeps trending on social media for his incredibly eloquent explanations of issues—so much so that L.A. Times columnist Mary McNamara has dubbed him "Slayer Pete," who excels in "the five-minute, remote-feed evisceration." From his old-but-newly-viral explanation of late-term abortion to his calm calling out of Mike Pence's hypocrisy, Buttigieg is making a name for himself as Biden's "secret weapon" and "rhetorical assassin."

And now he's done it again, this time taking on the 'originalist' view of the Constitution.

Constitutional originalists contend that the original meaning of the words the drafters of the Constitution used and their intention at the time they wrote it are what should guide interpretation of the law. On the flip side are people who see the Constitution as a living document, meant to adapt to the times. These are certainly not the only two interpretive options and there is much debate to be had as to the merits of various approaches, but since SCOTUS nominee Amy Coney Barrett is an originalist, that view is currently part of the public discourse.

Buttigieg explained the problem with originalism in a segment on MSNBC, speaking from what McNamara jokingly called his "irritatingly immaculate kitchen." And in his usual fashion, he totally nails it. After explaining that he sees "a pathway to judicial activism cloaked in judicial humility" in Coney Barrett's descriptions of herself, he followed up with:

Keep Reading Show less

Eight months into the pandemic, you'd think people would have the basics figured out. Sure, there was some confusion in the beginning as to whether or not masks were going to help, but that was months ago (which might as well be years in pandemic time). Plenty of studies have shown that face masks are an effective way to limit the spread of the virus and public health officials say universal masking is one of the keys to being able to safely resume some normal activities.

Normal activities include things like getting a coffee at Starbucks, but a viral video of a barista's encounter with an anti-masker shows why the U.S. will likely be living in the worst of both worlds—massive spread and economic woe—for the foreseeable future.

Alex Beckom works at a Starbucks in Santee, California and shared a video taken after a woman pulled down her "Trump 2020" mask to ask the 19-year-old barista a question, pulled it back up when the barista asked her to, then pulled it down again.

Keep Reading Show less