Category Archives: Policy

Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities

The Social Science Research Council has just released a major report:  Broadband Adoption in Low-Income Communities.  Based on a unique qualitative study of the people traditionally on the margins of the policy-making process (low-income, minority, non-English speaking) it provides a unique view of the barriers to broadband adoption and effective use that remain in the United States.  Some of the core findings:

  • Broadband access is increasingly a requirement of socio-economic inclusion, not an outcome of it—and residents of low-income communities know this.
  • Price is only one factor shaping the fragile equilibrium of home broadband adoption, and price pressures go beyond the obvious challenge of high monthly fees. Hardware costs, hidden fees, billing transparency, quality of service, and availability are major issues for low-income communities.
  • Libraries and other community organizations fill the gap between low home adoption and high community demand, and provide a number of other critical services, such as training and support. These support organizations are under severe pressure to meet community connectivity needs, leading to widespread perceptions of a crisis in the provider community.

A major challenge for public policy makers is understanding how to make decisions about people who are unlike themselves.  In the past, this has meant creating “evidence-based policy” based on polling or survey data.  But now policy-makers are beginning to understand how qualitative research can provide the detail and context they need.  This study shows how this research can contribute to evidence-based policy:  it complements a phone survey commissioned by the FCC.

Internet Governance Forum: Freedom and openness (UPDATED)

In the desert, the mountains hover in the distance.  Sun glances and taxis arrive at the gates of the conference center.  Getting from outside to inside means going through security cordons, police checks, metal detectors.

Inside, discussions balance freedom and openness.  There is no necessary consensus:  freedom and openness can mean different things to different people.  We want to secure human rights on the internet – we want to make the media that happens there as independent as possible.  We have the same conversation as we did before, we talk about technology having values, and attempt to make those values as universal as possible.  It’s not easy, and not everyone agrees.

Internet governance is a process, and unlike the IETF or ICANN, we use the time to disagree, to discuss.  This is a great opportunity to talk about the process that we followed at Oxford bringing together free speech and child protection advocates.  The same process applied, and the results were very positive.

Except sometimes the perspective of multi-stakeholder process is rattled by misunderstanding.  I had dinner the other night with a group of folks from the Open Net Initiative who were troubled by their book promotion poster being tossed to the ground by UN security.  This is another issue of balance:  although the book poster mentioned Chinese firewalls the dialogue at these meetings happens in UN space.  No one is allowed to hang posters, no matter what the subject.

This is a delicate process, and it means crossing the cordon at the gate.  Not always easy.

UPDATE:  I’ve talked to more people at the IGF about the poster incident – since I wasn’t there I can’t comment on exactly what occurred.  A few people who were there noted that the disagreement was NOT about commercial posters but about references to China – even though the existence of China’s Great Firewall is not disputed.  Why such a strong response to a statement of fact?   Especially since one of the features I observed at the Forum was healthy disagreement.  It would be deeply problematic for the internet as a global resource if this tolerance were limited.

Working mothers – healthy or dangerous?

The Institute of Child Health at University College London has released a study that indicates that single children whose mothers work outside the home don’t eat as many fruits and vegetables, watch more TV, and are more likely to be driven to school than to walk.  The media has pounced – stories about the terrible difficulty of being a “working mum,” especially when the consequences are so dire.

It’s interesting to take this study in the context of another ICH study that the BBC reported in 2006 – that the same women who work outside the home are healthier than those who stay at home. What’s happening here?  Are women taking better care of themselves while (shock) letting their children drink fizzy drinks?  Or is something more complicated happening?  The 2006 study suggested that a balanced life of parenthood, work, and partnership is healthy for women.  Maybe a similar balance is healthy for children?  The conclusion of the 2009 study, which the BBC didn’t seem to report in as much detail, was that public child care needs – which is still difficult to find in the UK, and often of poor quality – should be improved, and include better food and exercise opportunities.

Of course, both of these studies are based on what seems to me to be an especially British (and pretty old-fashioned) assumption that mothers are the de facto child carers.  Wake up, UK parents – dads can stay home – and kids taken care of by neighbours, friends, and day care workers can grow up healthy and happy too.

Hacking the City – redux

I was delighted to read that the Personal Democracy Forum’s 2009 Conference (twitter slurp here) includes a Birds of a Feather meetup on the topic of “Hacking the City.”  I first heard community technologists use this phrase in 2005, when Mike wrote a post about how community Wi-Fi is a way of hacking the social space of cities.  What he was referring to was the way that community interventions in provision of communications infrastructure could change how people socialized – since so much of our interactions are mediated by various types of networks.

But “hacking the city” like so many good ideas, has taken on another life.  It’s now used to describe how networked technologies can be harnessed so that citizens can take action in their own cities. There’s, where volunteers in cities around the world build open source tools and advocate for open data , New York City’s The Open Planning Project (who advocate for open source software in government, and run several citizen-participation blogs) and MySociety’s  FixMyStreet, which features maps where my neighours have flagged two instances of fly-tipping and two piles of dog poo within 1 km of my house.

After doing some work this year about other types of digital activism, I’m returning this summer to thinking about the politics of local networks – it’s time, and furthermore it matters!  Can anyone think of other good examples of hacking the city?

UPDATE:  Exciting!  Personal Democracy Forum Europe in Barcelona in November.

High Noon for Net Neutrality – EU style

IPIntegrity reports that the EU’s “trialogues” – debates between the European Parliament, the European Council  and the European Commision are putting the future of the internet at risk: political dealmaking (and the power of the British and the French) risk undermining the current legislation.

Take a look at some of the proposed changes (excerpted from Monica Horten of IPIntegrity):

Framework directive Article 8

Under the European Parliament deal is this   text stays  in

European Parliament Art. 8.4 (fa) applying the principle that end-users

should be able to access and distribute

any lawful content and use any lawful

applications and/or services of their


if it  agrees to  this text:

Council:Art. 8.2 (b) ensuring that there is no distortion

or restriction of competition in the

electronic communications sector, with

particular attention to the provision of

wholesale services,

instead of this text:

(b) ensuring that there is no

distortion or restriction of competition

in the electronic communications sector,

in particular for the delivery of and

access to content and services across all


The alternative is you get this text: ( which removes users right to distribute information – a fundamental right under EU law).

Council Art 8.4 (g) applying the principle that endusers

should be able to access and

distribute information or run

applications and services of their choice.


I just delivered a paper in which I argued that the EU treatment of net neutrality was not *too* bad, Not encouraging news for those interested in a free and open net.