As the end of 2021 approaches, Community Tech NY (CTNY) is reflecting on our growth over the last year and would like to take a moment to highlight some changes. In the last seven months, we’ve undergone core staff changes, including three new additions to our team and a transition in our leadership structure. In April, CTNY announced Monique Tate as Director of Partnerships and Engagement. Monique is the organization’s co-director with Raul Enriquez and Houman Saberi. Former co-director Greta Byrum stepped down to lead The Social Science Research Council’s Just Tech Program as Co-Director. Kathy Fall and Anh Le joined the CTNY team in their roles as Project Manager and Program Associate, respectively.Continue reading “Welcoming a New CTNY”
Fourteen percent of NYS residents can’t log on at home. ILR and Community Tech NY are launching the New York State Digital Equity Portal in partnership with the State Department of Education, the New York State Library and The John R. Oishei Foundation.
The portal is an interactive, online data mapping tool for communities and individuals seeking data to inform broadband adoption and improve digital equity for millions of New York state residents without wired internet access.“Advancing digital equity: ILR School develops tool to help NYS communities” by Mary Catt, Cornell Chronicle: https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2021/12/advancing-digital-equity-ilr-school-develops-tool-help-nys-communities
First-of-its-Kind Portal Offers Interactive Snapshot of Digital Equity Data
Working in partnership with Community Tech NY (CTNY) and Cornell University’s New York State School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR), the New York State Education Department (NYSED), the New York State Library (NYSL) and The John R. Oishei Foundation (JROF) today launched the New York State (NYS) Digital Equity Portal. The NYS Digital Equity Portal is an interactive, online data mapping tool for communities across the state seeking data on New Yorkers’ ability to access the internet to advance digital equity.
“Digital inequity is a complex and multi-faceted problem,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. “The Board of Regents and I understand that closing digital equity gaps will require the coordination, cooperation, and the intentional capacity-building of the many organizations supporting digital inclusion across New York.”
“We are pleased that the State Education Department and the State Library are part of this effort to make digital equity data open and accessible to all New Yorkers,” said State Education Commissioner Dr. Betty A. Rosa. “Our hope is that it will guide the decision-making and planning of coalitions, organizations, and funders.”
“The NYS Digital Equity Portal is a groundbreaking step to advance digital equity by supporting community leaders to understand the scope of the digital divide,” said Houman Saberi, Co-Director at Community Tech NY (CTNY). “CTNY and our partners are excited to partner with digital equity practitioners to use the portal to develop holistic solutions that advance digital justice.”
The development of the portal draws on existing digital equity work, including the NYSED’s “Achieving Digital Equity in New York State: An Outline for Collaborative Change”, and feedback from digital equity advocates across the state to create a resource that is clear, comprehensive, and user-friendly.
Recognizing that access to broadband in and of itself is a limited measure of the digital divide, the NYS Digital Equity Portal allows users to generate interactive snapshots of connectivity, population/demographics, speed and cost of broadband, and other digital equity resources from selected geographies across NYS. Users can analyze the data based on geographies such as congressional districts, zip code, census tract, and New York public library system. The project team plans to develop more data layers through continued research and collaboration with digital equity advocates in New York State.
The NYS Digital Equity Portal reveals barriers to internet access and this data will help communities develop digital equity strategies based on an understanding of digital equity needs, gaps, and priorities.
The NYS Digital Equity Portal is an expansion of the Western New York Digital Divide portal, an online resource created with the support of The John R. Oishei Foundation in late 2020/early 2021. The NYS Digital Equity Portal is supported in part with federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds allocated to the New York State Library by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
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In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month and the 10th Anniversary of the Green Light District, Community Tech NY partners, El Puente, hosted the annual ¡WEPA! festival in Williamsburg on Saturday, September 26th, 2021. Produced by El Puente’s Green Light District initiative, ¡WEPA! connected local Williamsburg residents, visitors, and the larger El Puente network, which spans across North Brooklyn, for a day of live performances, art-making, and community-building.
As part of the organization’s approach to demystifying technology and ownership, CTNY held a table to share with community members how a Portable Network Kit works and how to crimp their own cables. In the future, CTNY and El Puente plan to continue growing their partnership and engaging community members in workshops to mobilize and build solutions that address their digital equity needs.
Digital Stewards from The Point’s The Hunts Point Community Network came out to support CTNY’s efforts and the broader community wifi network in New York City.
In its recent newsletter “Building Our Region Back Better,” published on May 9, 2021, the New York Community Trust (NYCT) featured Community Tech NY as one of its latest grantees. The grantmaking foundation announced its focus towards a more vital and equitable New York City by supporting organizations that help close the digital divide. Community Tech NY is the recipient of a $250,000 grant. The organization will apply the funds to working with its partners — three low-income NYC communities of color — “as they promote digital equity and build internet tools and services as long-term, community-centered solutions to the digital divide.”
This article describes the coalition of activists and nonprofits including CTNY who are putting pressure on service providers and creating local broadband solutions.
With the pandemic and remote learning challenges receding, the Digital Equity Coalition is now working with Community Tech NY and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance to determine next steps. Some goals include making The Bronx’s broadband needs known beyond NYC policymakers, and working with similar groups in other urban areas to share knowledge and strength.
Community Tech NY has worked with groups in Detroit, Red Hook and Kingston, N.Y., and with THE POINT CDC in Hunts Point to improvise community-based internet solutions. The inclusion alliance shares information among similar digital equity efforts across the country and advocates for greater support with policymakers.Parker, Harry. “The Bronx is Buffering.” in New Connectors. NYCity News Service. http://thebronxisbuffering.nycitynewsservice.com/connectors/
Community Tech New York, an organization committed to digital justice and to building community power through community-owned internet infrastructure, offers “portable network kits,” “a wireless network in a suitcase that helps people [learn] how to build their own mini-internet – and with it, how the internet works and might be owned and governed more equitably.” The kits serve both as a teaching tool and an “emergency standalone wireless network.” Unlike the humanitarian and development kits, the network kits down-scale an intimidatingly, inaccessibly complex infrastructure to make it intelligible and manipulable for common folks. The Community Tech team specifies that the kits “are not a product”; they’re used for “training community members in network development and deployment, giving them practical hands-on experience that can serve as a springboard for building their own networks.” And building their own networks, as CTNY Director Greta Byrum writes, gives communities an opportunity to choose which values they want to instantiate in the infrastructure that binds them together. All that from a box of cables!Mattern, Shannon. “Unboxing the Toolkit.” Tool-shed. 9 July 2021
The areas that the Equitable Internet Initiative serves are predominantly communities of color, and the digital stewards that EII train and employ come from these communities. “It’s easier to make a community member a technician than a technician a community member,” according to digital steward Shiva Shahmir.Kalischer-Coggins, Aaron. “How Detroit residents are building their own internet.” The Hill: Changing America. 28 May 2021
Equitable Internet Initiative (EII) is a partnership between Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP) and community organizations, including these three anchors: North End Woodward Community Coalition, Grace in Action, and Church of the Messiah, serving the Detroit and Highland Park, Michigan neighborhoods. Together, DCTP and Community Tech New York founded the Community Tech Collective.
The Changing America video above features a Portable Network Kit (PNK) built in October 2019. DCTP contracted CTNY members to design and build this PNK and others for the purpose of training the Detroit Digital Stewards and network managers and to be deployed as needed. Since then, the PNK has been incorporated into the EII resiliency plan, as discussed in the video and respective article.
We also work to increase internet adoption through a digital stewardship program which prepares residents in our neighborhoods [of Detroit and Highland Park] to operate, manage, and own their own internet. All of our 18 employees come from the communities they serve and are trained in community organizing and the technology necessary to maintain a network.Reverend Joan Ross, Operating Director, North End Woodward Community Coalition (She is featured from 9:00 – 17:37 time marks)
For more on Reverend Ross, Detroit’s North End, and the Equitable Internet Initiative, please see the Digital Equity Lab’s report “Growing Digital Equity: The Origins and Promise of Community Internet in Detroit.”
Through the Equitable Internet Initiative (EII), the Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP) supports North End Woodward Community Coalition (NEWCC). CTNY co-director Monique Tate led the North End EII network in Detroit from ~2016-2021.
CTNY and DCTP are in partnership through the Community Technology Collective. Visit the Community Technology Collective site for more on Digital Stewardship.
“It is a transformative moment in digital equity because there’s an awareness and a visibility of this issue that there’s never been before,” said Greta Byrum, Director of Policy at the nonprofit Community Tech NY and co-director of the Digital Equity Laboratory at the New School. “We’re seeing incredible creativity and innovation.” Byrum said that each of the initiatives underway are imperfect but contain seeds of solutions. “Think of it like a garden, you have to weed over here, plant over here, water over here,” she said. “This is a structural problem like climate or racism… It can feel really daunting, like any structural issue, if you want a simple solution. But this is the work of our lifetime. And New Yorkers love a challenge.”Gould, Jessica. “What It Will Take To Bring Strong Internet Service To Every NYC Student.” Gothamist. 13 May 2021.