Improving Digital Inclusion and Broadband Infrastructure in Native Communities

IMLS logo

I am incredibly honored and excited to announce that our Community Informatics Lab at Simmons University has received a two-year grant (award #LG-250043-OLS-21) from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) to work with the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums.

Here is the description of the project that is available on the IMLS website:

“Simmons University, together with the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums, will examine how a participatory community informatics approach, guided by Indigenous ways of knowing about technology and an affirmation of tribal sovereignty, can support the digital inclusion and broadband infrastructure needs and aspirations of tribal libraries. The research team will work with tribal libraries to co-design the following: an update to the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries, and Museums’ 2014 report, ‘Digital Inclusion in Native Communities: The Role of Tribal Libraries’; a Digital Inclusion Lab ‘how-to’ guide for Tribal libraries; and a final report with findings from the research. The project also will gather broadband measurement data to inform federal information policies aimed at improving digital inclusion and broadband infrastructure in Tribal libraries.”

Follow updates about the project on our CI Lab website.

Next Century Cities Presentation

Next Century Cities‘ Brittany-Rae Gregory organized an amazing group of scholars to participate in their Academic Pre-Conference event on July 20. I was incredibly honored to be part of this panel, which consisted of the following folks: Mike Conlow (Blue State Digital); Darrah Blackwater (Indigenous Law & Policy Fellow); Brian Whitacre (Oklahoma State University) and Dominique Harrison (Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies).

Here is the link to my presentation on “Digital Equity Ecosystems.” The link to the complete video from the Academic Pre-Conference Session is available on YouTube.

Coalitions and Digital Equity Planning

It was wonderful to be part of this year’s Net Inclusion Webinar Series, which took the place of this year’s Net Inclusion Annual Summit. On April 21st, NDIA hosted the webinar,  “Coalitions and Digital Equity Planning” moderated by amalia deloney of the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation with speakers Curt Williams (Cleveland Foundation), Sharonne Navas, (Equity in Education Coalition), Aaron Schill (Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission) and me.

The webinar will be of interest to those looking to start a digital equity coalition in their community or for those coalitions interested in learning more about what other communities are doing to promote digital equity during the pandemic and beyond.

To learn more about our research mentioned in the webinar, please visit our report titled “Growing Healthy Digital Equity Ecosystems During COVID-19 and Beyond” which was published by the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society in November, 2020.

CBSN Interview on Affordable Internet Access and Biden’s Infrastructure Plan

This evening, I joined CBS News political contributor and BluePrint Strategy founder Antjuan Seawright to talk with CBSN’s Lana Zak about the necessity of affordable internet access and President Biden’s infrastructure plan.

For more on the “Homework Gap,” I would recommend my colleague, John Horrigan’s excellent work in the recent Alliance for Excellent Education report, “Students of Color Caught in the Homework Gap” and the Common Sense Media report, titled “The Homework Gap: Teacher Perspectives on Closing the Digital Divide.”

For more information about the necessity of affordable access to the internet, please see my 2019 article, titled “The Ability to Pay for Broadband” for the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society with my colleagues, Dr. Bianca Reisdorf and Madison Bishop. To learn more about the high cost of internet service in the U.S., check out the excellent “Cost of Connectivity” report from New America.

Finally, to learn more about the Federal Communications Commission’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which will provide subsidized broadband access and internet-enabled devices for qualifying low-income consumers, see this excellent primer from Next Century Cities and additional information and resources from the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

The Necessity of Digital Equity and Care Work

HandsIn our 2017 article, titled “Creating Caring Institutions for Community Informatics,” Dr. Miriam Sweeney (University of Alabama) and I explored the potential affordances of applying a feminist ethics of care approach to public libraries and community technology centers–the places where people go when they are unable to pay for the Internet at home.

In our paper, we argued the following: 

“An ethics of care framework has several possible affordances for infomediary practices in these institutions, including highlighting the gendered power dynamics that define and shape existing practices; distributing care work and making existing care work visible; and envisioning a more holistic and ethical approach to engaging diverse publics.”

We translated Tronto’s (2010) seven warning signs for “bad care” in public institutions into seven positive guidelines for providing “good care” in public libraries, community technology centers, and other community-care spaces. We then contextualized these guidelines for the institutions that people rely on, and increasingly during the pandemic, particularly for those who cannot afford the high cost of broadband.

These seven positive guidelines include the following main points:

  1. All humans need and deserve care
  2. Needs are contextually and culturally defined
  3. Care is a process, not a service or commodity
  4. Expertise is situated and distributed
  5. Caring is a relational process wherein people may assume many, and simultaneous, roles
  6. Caring is a routine part of every aspect of professional practice
  7. Care work is a shared responsibility; the equal distribution of care work is a political act

As the Biden Administration, members of Congress, and the Federal Communication Commission continue to push important legislation and federal programs forward to address the digital divide, I believe there is an urgent need to develop new ways of thinking about digital equity that embrace some of the ideas presented above.

This work urgently joins more recent and growing calls within the fields of social work, public librarianship, and related areas that intersect with these fields that demand we consider the ways in which economic inequality and racial injustice continue to keep digital equity out of reach for millions of Americans. This is because, as we argued in our 2017 paper, “interventions that are narrowly focused on providing individual access to technology are inadequate for addressing the structural forces that continue to shape the allocation of resources along the axes of race, class, and gender,” and other social identities.

In other words, our feminist ethics of care in digital equity work must be intersectional.

Last year, Susan Kennedy and I argued the following in our article for the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society:

“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.”

Federal policymakers will not be able to address the digital divide without addressing its root causes, including economic inequality, racial injustice, and other systemic social issues.

The time is now to bring together care workers with digital equity practitioners, researchers, and policymakers to ensure that federal policies and programs connect to those who need broadband the most.

(Photo above by Brenda López Espinosa available under a Creative Commons license)