Biden Administration Should Focus on The Ability to Pay for Broadband

A new article this week from Law360, titled “Biden FCC Shifts Broadband Focus From Geography To Price” describes the shift from the Trump administration’s focus on deploying broadband infrastructure in rural areas to the Biden administration’s policy focus on helping those who are unable to afford the cost of broadband.

Based on my own research and those of my colleagues, this is a much welcome and needed shift in policy priorities to ensure that those most impacted by the digital divide, particularly during the pandemic, can gain access to high-speed broadband at affordable costs.

The Ability to Pay for Broadband

In 2019, my colleagues and I published an article in the journal Communication Research and Practice, titled “The Ability to Pay for Broadband.” Based on our studies in communities across the country, we found that “although those with a limited monthly budget have an acute understanding of the value of home broadband, the costs associated with home broadband service make it difficult for them to afford.” We went on to argue that “ability to pay provides a framework for understanding the local, cultural drivers and barriers to broadband adoption in low-income communities.”

A summary of the article including our study’s main findings and implications of the research for digital inclusion policy and practice can be found on the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s website.

Connecting Digital Equity and Racial Justice

As we talk about the barriers to broadband adoption, it’s also critically important to recognize that digital equity is a racial justice issue. As we argued in our recent blog post for Benton announcing our 2020 report, titled “Growing Healthy Digital Equity Ecosystems During COVID-19 and Beyond” we also recommend that the Biden Administration connect their focus on broadband and the economy to their racial justice agenda. As we wrote,

“To inform this work, the next administration should develop a digital equity and racial justice task force that brings together social workers, public librarians, community organizers, and other community-care practitioners to develop strategies and tools to promote digital and racial equity in communities most impacted by the pandemic.”

In the post, we elaborate on the following four recommendations to help inform this policy agenda:

  • Make broadband affordable for low-income communities of color.
  • Support second chances for economic success through digital literacy programs.
  • Ensure care workers receive training and support to help promote digital and racial equity
  • Make federal funding opportunities available for digital inclusion organizations.

We look forward to seeing how the Biden Administration will move forward to tackle these important and complex issues.

New JoCI Issue (Vol 16) Published

Journal of Community Informatics Vol 16

It’s wonderful to be able to finally announce the new issue of the Journal of Community Informatics! The journal is also now hosted at the University of Waterloo Library and sponsored by the Simmons University School of Library and Information Science (iSchool).

There are many, many people to thank for this new issue and the Journal’s re-launch, particularly during such an incredibly difficult year. Many of whom I have included in my Editorial. I would particularly like to thank David Nemer, Tom Denison, Eduardo Villanueva-Mansilla, as well as Jordan Hale and Graham Faulkner at the University of Waterloo Library.

I am also grateful, of course, to the authors of this new issue for their patience during this transition to our new home at UW Library. I also want to thank our wonderful Editorial Board and other reviewers who contributed their time and expertise to help make this issue so strong.

The Journal is also accepting new Submissions from researchers and practitioners in the field of community informatics. To learn more, visit our new Journal website.

Broadband Measurement System for Public Libraries Launched

Murakami Viz
(Image above from Murakami-Viz in use at the Pryor Public Library in Oklahoma)

After two and a half years, I am incredibly excited to announce that we have successfully launched our broadband measurement system with and for public libraries across the U.S.!

Thanks to a grant (award #LG-71-18-0110-18) from the U.S. Institute for Museum and Library Services, and in partnership with Measurement Lab (M-Lab) and Internet2, our Measuring Library Broadband Networks (MLBN) research initiative has launched our open source broadband measurement system that public libraries can use to measure the speeds and quality of service of their broadband internet connections.

Here is a snippet from our new blog post, written by Chris Ritzo (M-Lab) announcing our broadband measurement system:

As we close out the calendar year, we’re focused on that future where we can measure and understand broadband access and quality using a variety of measurement tools. We’ve invited our participating libraries to review their test data in Murakami-Viz, and look forward to their feedback on it and our program in general in the coming year. M-Lab is continuing to develop Murakami as a tool that enables structured data collection using our platform, as well as using other measurement initiatives and tests.

We believe this announcement is timely given this week’s press release from the U.S. Senate announcing provisions for broadband in the Bipartisan COVID-19 Emergency Relief Act of 2020 with emergency assistance for community anchor institutions and connectivity.

For public libraries interested in gathering real-time and longitudinal data on the speeds and quality of service of their broadband internet connections, please visit our project website to learn more about how communities can participate in this open source broadband measurement initiative.

On behalf of our MLBN team, I want to thank our partners, including the many public libraries from across the country that offered their time and insights to help inform the development and implementation of our project.

Stay tuned for more project updates and our final evaluation on our MLBN project website.

New Report on Digital Equity Ecosystems

Benton reportI am excited to announce that our Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University has authored a new report, titled “Growing Healthy Digital Ecosystems During COVID-19 and Beyond,” which was published last week by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

In the report, my co-author, Susan Kennedy and I present findings from a survey of individuals representing a diverse group of organizations across the United States that have self-identified as being part of either a formal, informal, or emerging digital inclusion coalition. The purpose of their study was to better understand the role these coalitions have played in supporting what they are calling “digital equity ecosystems” in their communities during the challenges of the pandemic.

In our Digital Beat blog post announcing the report, Susan and I argued that based on our report, “we believe there are several federal policy recommendations that we can make moving forward. On their transition-team website, President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris have made it a priority to promote universal broadband. In order to achieve this goal, we argue that the new administration must connect its economic recovery agenda to its work to promote racial equity.”

We conclude the post by sharing the following four steps that the new administration should take to make their economic recovery and racial equity priorities a reality:

  1. Make broadband affordable for low-income communities of color.
  2. Support second chances for economic success through digital literacy programs.
  3. Ensure care workers receive training and support to help promote digital and racial equity.
  4. Make federal funding opportunities available for digital inclusion organizations.

Read the full descriptions of each recommendations in our full blog post on the Benton Institute for Internet & Society’s website.

Digital Equity Ecosystems

Digital Equity EcosystemsRecently, in our Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University we have started a new research project to investigate what we are calling Digital Equity Ecosystems. This project builds on the excellent work of researchers and practitioners in the Digital Equity Lab at The New School, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Detroit Community Technology Project, and others. We define digital equity ecosystems as the following:

Digital Equity Ecosystems are interactions between individuals, populations, communities, and their larger sociotechnical environments that all play a role in shaping the digital inclusion work in local communities to promote more equitable access to technology and social and racial justice.

Our research in this area seeks to understand the impact of COVID-19 on individuals and families without household internet access and how digital inclusion coalitions across the nation have responded in turn. The goal of the study is to provide data and evidence to help local, state, and federal policymakers in the U.S. develop more effective digital equity strategies nationwide.

Findings from the study will also be useful for key stakeholders working to promote economic and racial justice in communities struggling with poverty during COVID-19 and after the pandemic ends. This is because, as we know from scholars such as Seeta Peña Gangadharan, Chris Gilliard, Virginia Eubanks, and many others who have noted that, the digital divide is rooted in systemic injustices and structural inequalities in our society. Therefore, we are keenly focused on the social, rather than the technological, solutions to digital inequality. We believe that a social ecological approach using participatory methods rooted in community knowledge and expertise is the pathway forward in this approach.

The publication of the first phase of our research to be published in 2020 is supported by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.