Last week, El Puente, a community based arts and human rights organization serving the Brooklyn communities of Williamsburg’s Southside and Bushwick, opened the doors to the very first Community Tech Lab in New York City, in partnership with Community Tech NY (CTNY).
El Puente and CTNY celebrated the launch of the Community Tech Lab with a soft opening event for local community members, students, and staff.
Community members of all ages were invited to tour the new space and engage in a variety of tech training and skill building exercises. They were joined by local elected officials and representatives from the offices of Senator Kristen Gonzalez, Councilmember Jen Gutierrez, , and Assemblymember Emily Gallagher. The elected officials were joined by Jodia Vanel, the Federal Program Officer for New York from the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA). Each representative spoke about the roles policymakers and communities have in bridging the digital divide and the importance of amplifying local voices for large scale policy change.
Watch the Univision coverage of the Lab (in Spanish) or read more about the launch here.
In addition to the presentation and activities, information was shared about the Digital Stewards program, which will be launching soon in the Lab. This program will train and build capacity within the community and youth members to design and build their own internet networks, and engage in community organizing around digital justice. Local residents of Williamsburg and Bushwick, Brooklyn who are interested in building their community’s digital future can sign up to be a Digital Steward at the following link:
This last month, CTNY co-designed two DiscoTechs with The POINT CDC in the Bronx and El Puente in Brooklyn. These events allowed us to speak directly with community members about their digital concerns and learn more about how they use technology in daily life.
At El Puente’s ¡WEPA! festival, we set up multiple activity stations to share knowledge on network building, cabling, and internet safety, and spoke to participants about which access issues they find most important.
For more materials on the history of DiscoTechs and how to plan your own, check out the original “How to DiscoTech” zine from the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition.
“DiscoTechs have the potential to provide a positive and hopeful experience for youth and seniors, creating a platform where we can teach and learn with each other in ways that allow us to investigate ourselves and our communities. This creates pathways toward solving problems collectively rather than waiting for others to solve them.”
Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, “How to DiscoTech Zine”
“Where do I see things going from here? I do look at the provision of Internet as a potential opportunity to execute reparations. Yes, I do. Big telecom has the largest profit margins in the country. So why not give back? CEOs say that they are giving to communities in need? Well, give what we need. Give Internet. Just give us the access and we’ll go from there.”
Monique Tate, Co-Director, CTNY
Who’s getting high-speed internet access and why? 99% Invisible spoke to our very own Monique Tate and former Co-director Greta Byrum for the latest episode, “The Future of the Final Mile”, which examines digital redlining and ways we can work to create a more equal internet for all.
In New York City alone, 29% of households do not have access to broadband internet. A long legacy of structural racism in infrastructure plans has left these communities behind in the move online. At Community Tech NY, we believe in empowering neighborhoods to create their own, community-owned internet infrastructure.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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.