New Article in Media, Culture & Society

Media, Culture & SocietySharon Strover, Brian Whitacre, Alexis Schrubbe and I have a new journal article in Media, Culture & Society. The article, titled “The Digital Inclusion Role of Rural Libraries: Social Inequities Through Space and Place” features findings from our two-year research grant (award #RE-31-16-0014-16), funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services to examine how rural libraries address the challenges of Internet connectivity with hotspot lending programs.

Here’s a link to the abstract, which is also included below:

“A great deal of scholarship on broadband deployment and federal policies has positioned rural America through a deficit framework: rural parts of the country have older populations (and therefore not tech savvy), are poor (and therefore justifiably ignored by the market), too remote (therefore outside of legitimate profit-making enterprise), and losing population (and therefore significance). This research examines rural Internet connectivity through the lens of local libraries lending hotspots for Internet connectivity. Qualitative data gathered in 24 rural communities in Kansas and Maine undercut simplistic notions regarding how communication systems operate in environments ignored by normative market operations. Financial precarity and pressures from social and economic institutions compel rurally based individuals and families to assemble piecemeal Internet presence and connectivity. The public library plays a crucial role in providing Internet resources and stands out in the rural environment as a site that straddles public trust and local.”

Broadband Workarounds

In our new article, titled “The Ability of Pay for Broadband” in the journal Communication Research and Practice, my co-authors Dr. Bianca Reisdorf, Madison Bishop, and I introduce a term that we are calling broadband workarounds based on the findings from our research. The concept builds on research by the late Les Gasser who I had the privilege of working with during my doctoral program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Here is an excerpt from our article, which is freely available online for the next four weeks:

“Despite significant barriers to broadband access, there is evidence that low-income individuals and families, as well as the community-based organisations who serve them, will go to great lengths to access broadband. These factors indicate that individuals and families in low-income areas understand the value of broadband but simply cannot afford it – a sentiment that was reflected in interviews, focus groups, and the survey. Participants described what we are calling broadband workarounds, which are broadband-related activities such as splitting the cost of broadband with neighbours, using a friend’s home internet connection, and relying on public computing sites such as libraries and other community technology centres. Similar to Gasser’s notion of ‘work-arounds’ (1986) as ‘adhoc strategies to solve immediate and pressing problems’ (p. 216), we use the term broadband workarounds to describe the everyday strategies that participants described to address the cost-related barriers to broadband. Local digital inclusion organisations, including public libraries, work to alleviate the need for broadband workarounds by creating and connecting people to low-cost broadband options. A focus on these local community assets as a starting point for broadband policy can sharpen awareness of the innovative solutions that already exist in low-income areas.”

UPDATE (6/19/19): After sharing this blog post via Twitter today, John Horrigan responded in this tweet by noting that he had called “online access at the library part of a ‘workaround ecosystem'” for work he did a few years ago with Monica Anderson at the Pew Research Center, which can be found online here.

New Article in Communication Research and Practice

Media, Culture & SocietyI am excited to announce that my new paper, titled “The Ability to Pay for Broadband,” which was co-authored with Bianca Reisdorf (UNC Charlotte) and Simmons SLIS alum Madison Bishop (Plymouth Public Library) was just published in a special issue on “Digital inequalities and inclusion” guest edited by Justine Humphry (The University of Sydney) in Communication Research and Practice.

Today, the Benton Foundation published our blog post, which provides a brief summary of our published article and its findings. Here’s a snippet from the Benton Foundation’s website:

“According to recent National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) survey data, roughly 28 million households in the United States still do not use the Internet at home (Goldberg, 2019). In its survey, the NTIA also asked why households did not use the Internet at home, with 58 percent citing a lack of interest as their main reason for being offline and every fifth household (21%) stating that it is too expensive. Out of those who cited cost as their main reason for not having home access, half had annual household incomes lower than $25,000 (Goldberg, 2019). But an aspect that is often missing from Internet use survey data is the complexity of potential reasons why households might think they have no need or no interest in home Internet access and how this is often closely intertwined with their ability to afford a home Internet connection.

In our recent paper, published in a special issue of Communications Research and Practice, we present findings from two separate studies on digital inclusion in the United States that sought to gain a deeper understanding of the ability of low-income individuals to spend their money on wired broadband internet connections at home. We believe the findings from the studies can be useful to policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders interested in developing effective digital inclusion and broadband adoption policies.”

Our article is available open access for a limited time via the journal’s website at Taylor & Francis Online.

Co-Editing Special Issue on “Digital Inclusion Across the Globe”

I am excited and honored to announce that I will be co-editing a special issue in an upcoming issue of the peer-reviewed open access journal Social inclusion with my colleague, Dr. Bianca Reisdorf (UNC Charlotte). The title of the special issue is “Digital Inclusion Across the Globe: What Is Being Done to Tackle Digital Inequities?

Here is a snippet from our call for papers:

“In this thematic issue, we invite papers from across the globe that examine digital inclusion—the process of trying to address digital inequities, inequalities, and divides. What initiatives have been or are being applied in different countries, regions, cities, or communities to foster digital inclusion and with what effect? The scope of this call is purposely broad to include all types of communities. For example, submissions might discuss digital inclusion efforts with vulnerable populations, such as prisoners and those formerly incarcerated, disenfranchised youth, refugee or immigrant populations, and other marginalized groups and communities. We invite papers from across the globe and especially welcome papers addressing digital inclusion in the Global South and BRIC countries. We also invite papers using any methodology (qualitative, quantitative, mixed methods, and so forth) to examine digital inclusion across various contexts and communities.”

Charles Benton Early Career Scholar Award at TPRC

TPRC (the Research Conference on Communications, Information and Internet Policy) and the Benton Foundation announce the third year of the Charles Benton Early Career Scholar Award recognizing scholarship in the area of digital inclusion and broadband adoption. 

Early Career scholars (those currently enrolled in a degree program or no more than five years from receipt of most recent degree) are invited to submit per the guidelines below. The winner of this special honor will be presented with a $1,500 cash prize at lunch during the TPRC47 conference and the TPRC Conference fee will be waived. The winner will be required to contribute a blog article based on the winning submission for publication on the Benton Foundation website.

Applicants are invited to submit any/all of the following for consideration: (1) an original empirically-based research paper pertaining to the area of digital inclusion and/or broadband adoption, (2) a policy proposal for digital inclusion and broadband adoption with a discussion of the justification, and/or (3) an essay on a topic dealing with digital inclusion and/or broadband adoption. Submissions must be less than 25 double-spaced, typewritten pages, inclusive of notes and bibliography and will not have been formally published in a peer review outlet prior to TPRC47.

Submissions must be received by May 31. The recipient will be chosen by a TPRC Board Committee. The winner will be informed by July 15 and the winner will be required to attend the conference and agree to work with Benton Foundation’s Executive Editor, Kevin Taglang, to produce the blog article for benton.orgby December 31, 2019. For questions concerning this Award, please contact Prof. Robin Mansell at r.e.mansell@lse.ac.uk

Submissions should be made through the TPRC Website at (www.tprcweb.com).