In 2005, when Lafayette, Louisiana was considering a community broadband network, it created an excellent report discussing how a publicly owned network can work to improve digital inclusion. Six years later, the report remains well worth reading.
Public ownership provides more tools for making sure advances in communications technology benefits everyone.
This Digital Divide committee is motivated by the vision of our community creating a future in which everyone is both able to and motivated to seize the full power of a fiber optic network. Such a network has the potential to transform the lives of citizens in ways similar to the deployment of electricity, radio, and television. In building its own fiber-optic based utility, Lafayette creates the opportunity for further unifying the people of this community and, potentially, to help bridge current divides among her citizens. A publicly owned network can lower barriers to full and equal participation by making a new and powerful communication technology available to every citizen at the lowest practical cost. In our times, the keys to participation and productivity lie in these rapidly developing technologies. We recognize that if Lafayette is to experience healthy growth and benefit fully from such new technologies, all her people will need to become equal partners in our endeavor. Lowering the barriers to such a partnership and engaging in vigorous and innovative educational efforts will help us realize our community’s full potential.
Barriers preventing entry into the world of computers and the World Wide Web include low income, fear or suspicion of technology, a lack of understanding of how useful technology can be, and absence of instruction concerning computers and the Internet. In addition, transportation to places where computers and Internet access are available to the public and knowledge that such places even exist are barriers for some. For others, the use of technology is simply not integrated into their identity and they see few models for its productive use in their communities.
Lafayette citizens most likely to be standing on the other side of the digital divide include people who have low incomes, who are elderly, less educated, or disabled, members of ethnic minorities, and any community members who have been traditionally marginalized or for any reason feel separated from the broader society.
Bridging the digital divide is an excellent opportunity to bridge other divides within our community as well. As we reach out to help community members begin to connect to the world of technology, we can increase participation throughout the community. Through our actions we can demonstrate that we have a commitment to bring all Lafayette’s people into full participation. Our efforts to bridge the digital divide will produce benefits for all citizens, but will be of most help to those who currently participate the least.
To reach those members of our community who do not currently use computers or the Internet and help them understand how these tools can be useful to them and to our entire community, we must establish ongoing resources to provide the education, motivation, and content immediately relevant to residents of Lafayette Parish. Ideally, a secure, dedicated source of funds supplemented by grants would be set aside to help support these functions, ensuring not only greatest community benefit but also high levels of subscriber ship.
Our hope and intent is to build a vibrant, connected community, by strengthening existing community organizations and by encouraging new connections, educational and cultural resources, and economic opportunities for all.