Sharon Strover (UT Austin) just published an excellent article over at The Conversation on the broadband challenges facing rural Americans. In the article, she mentions some of what we’ve learned through our research funded through a grant from the US Institute of Museum and Library Services to understand how rural libraries address the challenges of internet connectivity through wifi hotspot lending programs.
Here’s an excerpt:
In our work, we have found a lot of people on tight budgets figuring out how to use local Wi-Fi connections to download content onto their phones, so they use (and pay for) less mobile data. Public libraries, which generally have fast and free Wi-Fi, are popular options in rural areas. Many rural librarians have told us about people in their parking lots after hours simply using the library Wi-Fi. Those connections aren’t always the fastest, but are a testament to the efforts of public libraries over many years to provide their communities’ residents with computer and internet services.
Read the full article here.
The City of Boston just announced their new Digital Equity Fund. This initiative will be overseen by the Mayor’s Department of Innovation & Technology. I am honored to be joining the advisory board along with the following people: Alessandra Brown, Director, Roxbury Innovation Center; Turahn Dorsey, Chief of Education, City of Boston: Trinh Nguyen, Director of Workforce Development, City of Boston; and Sasha Costanza-Chock, Associate Professor of Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Here is a snippet from today’s press release:
“Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced the creation of a $35,000 Digital Equity Fund, which will support the City’s goal of ensuring all residents have equal access to digital services. The Digital Equity Fund will provide support to community-based organizations that help Boston residents fully connect and participate in today’s media and information landscape. ‘A more connected Boston is a more equitable City, a more innovative City and a more prosperous City,’ said Mayor Walsh. ‘This grant program will allow more residents to connect digitally, and will encourage residents to grow their digital skills while increasing access to information.’
The Digital Equity Fund will explore ways to build individual and community capacity to:
- Use the Internet, digital skills, and digital tools to pursue professional, educational, and civic endeavors;
- Engage with the Internet safely and securely;
- Develop needs-responsive, community driven digital skills building opportunities;
- Increase broadband adoption among the roughly 1 in 5 Bostonians who do not subscribe to this service in the home.
In 2017, Boston will award one grant of $35,000 or up to two grants up to $17,500 each to nonprofit organizations that promote digital equity. By providing seed funding, the City hopes to identify promising strategies that can attract outside funding and further create a City where everyone has the tools and skills they need to succeed in the 21st century.”
Read the full press release here.
My colleagues and I have a new article that was published this past week in D-Lib Magazine. The article, which is co-authored with Sharon Strover (University of Texas at Austin), Brian Whitacre (Oklahoma State University), and Alexis Schrubbe (University of Texas at Austin) presents early findings from our Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) research grant, titled “At the Edges of the National Digital Platform” (grant #RE-31-16-0014-16) which examines wireless hotspot lending programs in rural libraries in Kansas and Maine.
Here’s the abstract:
Libraries straddle the information needs of the 21st century. The wifi, computers and now mobile hotspots that some libraries provide their patrons are gateways to a broad, important, and sometimes essential information resources. The research summarized here examines how rural libraries negotiate telecommunications environments, and how mobile hotspots might extend libraries’ digital significance in marginalized and often resource-poor regions. The Internet has grown tremendously in terms of its centrality to information and entertainment resources of all sorts, but the ability to access the Internet in rural areas typically lags that experienced in urban areas. Not only are networks less available in rural areas, they also often are of lower quality and somewhat more expensive; even mobile phone-based data plans — assuming there are acceptable signals available — may be economically out of reach for people in these areas. With older, lower income and less digitally skilled populations typically living in rural areas, the role of the library and its freely available resources may be especially useful. This research examines libraries’ experiences with providing free, mobile hotspot-based access to the Internet in rural areas of Maine and Kansas.
Read the full article here.
I’m excited to announce the release of a new report co-authored with Angela Siefer, Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, and published by the Benton Foundation, which highlights and seeks to address the core outcomes-based evaluation needs of the digital inclusion field. Here is an excerpt from today’s report release available at Benton.org:
In recent years, government agencies, private foundations, and community-based organizations have increasingly sought to understand how programs that promote digital inclusion lead to social and economic outcomes for individuals, programs, and communities. This push to measure outcomes has been driven, in part, by a larger trend to ensure that dollars are being used efficiently to improve lives rather than simply to deliver services. A new report, published by Benton Foundation, describes the challenges facing community-based organizations and other key stakeholders in using outcomes-based evaluation to measure the success of their digital inclusion programs and offers recommendations toward addressing these shared barriers.
Download the full report here.
On January 11, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission’s Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau released a new report titled “Strategies and Recommendations for Promoting Digital Inclusion.” As the introduction explains,
With this plan, several of the following goals laid out in the 2016 Lifeline Modernization Order are or can be realized. First, this plan marks another step in the Commission’s efforts to better understand non-price barriers to digital inclusion and to facilitate existing and forthcoming efforts addressing them…Second, this plan explores how the Bureau can engage consumer groups, community groups, philanthropic organizations, local governments, and corporations to increase broadband adoption and digital literacy among those who remain offline…Finally, we suggest policy innovations that make the broadband marketplace more transparent and affordable for low-income households and more amendable to promoting digital inclusion in addition to broadband access and adoption.
I am honored to have played a small role in helping to inform the FCC’s final report and recommendations with many thanks to the Benton Foundation, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, as well as the many community-based organizations, individuals, and families across the country who I had the privilege to visit with during my research in 2015.
Martin Wolske (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and I have a new paper in The Journal of Community Informatics. The paper is called “Critical Questions for Community Informatics in Practice from an Ethical Perspective.”
Here’s a brief description from the paper:
Collaboratively developed through three years of conference workshops, this set of guiding critical questions seeks to further promote ethical practice in CI…These guiding critical questions affirm the need to state social justice principles more explicitly in community informatics. Unequal power relations will always be a factor and CI practice can benefit from guidelines to ensure these relationships are more equitable.
Many people from around the world contributed to the development of this framework over three years of Community Informatics Research Network conferences in Prato, Italy. I believe the framework is quite relevant and applicable beyond the scope of this topic. It was a real honor to work with Martin Wolske and many other colleagues on this project. I hope it will be useful and also elaborated upon.
It’s a bit late for this announcement, but I thought I’d share that I will be speaking on a panel tonight at Harvard with several absolutely incredible people. I am honored to participate in this book talk event and look forward to joining this important discussion. If you are in the Boston area this evening, please consider attending. Thank you.
Here’s the blurb from the Harvard Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society’s website:
What does civic engagement look like in a digital age? What does it mean to participate in civic life when the lines between online and offline, political and social, organization and network are increasingly blurred? We define civic media as the “technologies, designs, and practices that produce and reproduce the sense of being in the world with others toward common good.” We offer this intentionally broad definition to accommodate what we see as a growing range of civic practices. And we hope that the term is generative, not restrictive – that it sparks the imagination about what it might include. But this isn’t simply a casual investigation. There is urgency in defining the term, as there is danger of these emerging practices of civic engagement simply getting lumped into larger media trends, or on the flip side, getting written off as anomalies narrowly defined. The term civic media suggests an “acting with” as a means of achieving a common good. It is inclusive of the range of intentional actions that people take with and through technologies, designs, or practices (aka media). Throughout the book, civic media is exemplified not through products or outcomes, but through the processes and potential of using the tools available to strive for the common good.
Join the editors and contributors of the new book Civic Media: Technology, Design, Practice (MIT Press 2016) for a discussion on the role of civic media in the changing face of democracy around the world.
Brandon Brooks (Queens University of Charlotte), Angela Siefer (National Digital Inclusion Alliance), and I have a new blog post up on the Benton Foundation’s Digital Beat Blog. In the post, titled “Digital Equity Planning in U.S. Cities,” we share preliminary findings from our study of digital equity plans in Austin, Portland (OR), and Seattle. Here’s an excerpt from the post:
Based on our preliminary examination of the digital equity plans created by the cities of Austin, Portland, and Seattle, and through our own interviews with local policymakers, we offer these recommendations to federal policymakers, local governments, and other key stakeholders interested in creating effective digital equity plans:
- Local governments should employ a central planning and coordination office with legitimate authority to facilitate digital equity planning.
- Local planners should ensure that traditionally-excluded groups are included in digital equity planning.
- Local decision-makers should use research from a variety of sources to inform digital equity planning.
We offer these preliminary findings and recommendations as key insights to assist local, state, and federal policymakers in creating effective digital equity plans.
Read the full post here.