Caroline Stratton, Assistant Professor in the School of Information at the University of Florida, has published a new article looking at the digital equity plans of four major U.S. cities with the aim of seeing how policy makers understand the genesis of digital inequity in their cities and how they frame solutions for addressing it. She does so with the hopes of offering recommendations for other cities that will undertake these types of efforts in the near future. To do so, “Planning to Maintain the Status Quo? A Comparative Study of Digital Equity Plans of Four Large US Cities” looks at recent-ish plans published in Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, Kansas City, Missouri, and San Francisco, California.
The first third of the study includes a lot about meaning-making and the social construction of understandings of digital inequity that readers can skip without missing the bread and butter of the piece (which begins on page 51). After that, Stratton highlights a few important points that will be useful for cities embarking on digital equity work for the first time.
A Broken Marketplace Requires Community Solutions
First, she says, an understanding of digital inequity doesn’t offer much chance for change without being accompanied by a vision for solving it. Second, better city plans had larger and more inclusive coalitions from the outset, and were tapped into a variety of constituencies that represented a broader swath of lived experiences in these cities. Third, successful plans relied on the advice and participation of nonprofits, libraries, and other trusted community anchor institutions.
Importantly, Stratton shows that even though “ISPs’ profit-seeking motive may dictate why particular communities lack Internet service entirely, or service that is high-quality and affordable . . . they are spared scrutiny in plans” in many cases. More than 80 million Americans live in areas with a functional broadband monopoly.
The study also points to the reality that digital equity advocates have been describing for decades - that there are a host of other inequities that perpetuate the digital divide.