Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Antwuan Wallace, Ph.D. student in policy analysis, New School

Video Clip 22A: Antwuan Wallace (Graduate Student)

Video Clip 22B: Antwuan Wallace (Graduate Student)


Digital Inclusion (DI) is an important and ongoing policy concern for two reasons: (1) understanding and deconstructing structural barriers low-income, ethnic-minority youth accessing (infrastructure) and using (devices) Information Communication Technologies (ICT) and (2) redressing intergovernmental policy fissures in existing and emerging digital divides. Several arguments are considered to bolster this position.

First, the pending reauthorization of the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 has amplified a muted, though ongoing debate between policymakers, analysts, academics and activists about the “digital divide”. US “digital divide” policy now centers on broadband deployment (Litan, 2006; National league of Cities Conference 2006; Crandall and Jackson 2001), especially in poor communities of color (Turner 2005). US public policy choices have reflected assumptions that persistent divides will find remedy through private standard setting that relies on industry self-governance to foster competition in the marketplace driven by technological innovation and consumer choice (Thierer 2000a). As a result, the US federal government’s role in technology-related programmatic approaches and policy solutions for vulnerable segments of the population has spurred the substantive disagreement about the existence of a “digital divide” (Herrmann 2006; Servon 2002; US Department of Commerce 2001).

Second, US cities are firmly establishing themselves as principal parties within the broadband policy sphere. Cities are creating DI through municipal wireless plans that would deliver broadband connectivity to commercial and residential areas. Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath evidence how telecommunication policy is perhaps the new civil rights legislation determing whether working poor communities are to be materially misrepresented or altogether disappeared from policy debates about economic development, electoral politics and civic participation in the digital age. The tenenous realities of race, class, gender, poverty and geographic location frame the US “digital divide” and robustly suggest the need for direct action from policymakers and planners.
DI often includes a mission statement and incentives specifically directed at addressing the varied and multiple constituencies of the “digital divide”. Subsequently, DI may be understood as a municipal response to federal and state governments’ neglect of the “digital divide”.

Third, the theoretical underpinnings of the information society’s “informational mode of development” enable dualism paradigm with spatial flows of capital investment that excludes poor communities and set in motion material consequences for the residentially poor in the United States. Thus, formidable obstacles arise for urban poor residents where the social, cultural and technical emergence of information processes are the core fundamental activity conditioning the effectiveness and productivity. These changes in social and economic realities manifest in the global labor market realignments and international financial flows that affect end-users’ ability to construct an identity and develop social relationships with technology. Wilson’s (1987 and 1996) urban decay analysis maintains that social and economic upheavals continue to greatly affect the emergence of concentration and persistent joblessness in black and Latino communities Simply put, in an informational-driven society the working poor are isolated and separated with less access and the fewest alternatives to meaningful networks.

Finally, compelling research documents unequal ICT access that leaves behind specific constituencies: low-income households, people of color, immigrant populations and youth. Quantitative analysis of the 2003 Current Population Survey (CPS) indicates disparities for poor youth of color. Farlie (2004a) estimates that only slightly more than half of all African-American and Latino children and less than half of all children living in families with incomes less than $30,000 have access to home computer. In comparison, 85 percent of white, non-Latino children and 94 percent of children in families with $60,000 of income have access to home computers. Analysis from the 2001 CPS indicates that only about 1 percent of young people ages 8-25 used the Internet at a community center, compared to 10 percent who use the Internet at libraries and 54 percent who went online at school (Farlie 2004b). Yet, the community center use rate has increased seven-fold since 1998, and African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to access and use ICT in these centers than are their white counterparts. Many working poor communities struggle to locate resources to fund and staff quality programs that provide opportunities with technology to surmount formidable barriers, especially where youth are concerned.

My research preliminarily explores key dimensions of DI planning and implementation. How are current DI policies shaping the ways low-income ethnic-minority youth access and use technology in community centers, do they extend critical networks for these youth and to what extent does DI fill gaps between federal, state and local telecommunications policy?