“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.
Across the country, advocates for locally-owned broadband — a loosely affiliated network of fiber providers, digital equity nonprofits, labor unions, churches, educators and municipalities — are girding for battle. Enabling municipalities and local communities to build their own networks, they argue, removes the profit incentives that cable giants have, driving down costs and leading to reinvestment in the community. The Biden plan, they say, is an opportunity unlike any they’ve seen before to put that idea into practice nationwide. “This is a moment where we just have to get more active than we’ve ever been,” said Greta Byrum, director of nonprofit Community Tech NY.Lapowsky, Issy. “In Biden’s broadband plan, cable is in for the fight of its life.” protocol. 11 May 2021.
The proceeding generated a record-breaking number of comments — more than 22 million. The attorney general’s report found that nearly 18 million of those were fake comments, and the broadband industry group, called Broadband for America, spent $4.2 million generating more than 8.5 million of the fake FCC comments. Half a million fake letters were also sent to Congress.Arbel, Tali, “Broadband industry behind millions of fake comments to FCC pushing net neutrality repeal”, New York attorney general says, Associated Press, 6 May, 2021
Take Hunts Point in the South Bronx, where a local community development corporation called THE POINT recruited young people to build their own free wireless Wi-Fi network to connect learners and residents. Hunts Point Free WiFi is managed by people who live here and supported by local businesses. To a community built on a vulnerable peninsula hit hard by COVID-19, connectivity is more than just hooking up to the internet. It’s about building self-reliance, generating wealth and sustaining a platform to build a community-driven vision of the future.Byrum, Greta. “To build lasting digital equity, look to communities,” The Hill. 29 March 2021.
Ownership models for ISPs serving poor or rural areas vary from utility cooperatives to municipal and tribal government-supported networks to community networks run by and for residents. Maybe part of imagining a different distribution of the means of computation requires a flipping of the script. Rather than assuming that the internet starts as massive nodes of platform data centers and internet exchanges, perhaps the last mile is actually the first step in working toward a different vision of who should own and govern the means of computation.Burrington, Ingrid. “The Infrastructural Power Beneath the Internet as We Know It,” The Reboot. 22 April 2021. https://thereboot.com/the-infrastructural-power-beneath-the-internet-as-we-know-it/