2023 Charles Benton Broadband & Society Prize

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, September 22, 2023

Digital Beat

2023 Charles Benton Broadband & Society Prize

Remarks as prepared for delivery at TPRC 2023

Adrianne B. Furniss

Thank you, all, for being here to recognize scholarship in digital inclusion and broadband adoption.

I probably do not need to point out to this audience that digital equity—or, digital opportunity, if you prefer—is having a moment.

Our persistent digital divide is a barrier to our economic competitiveness and equitable distribution of essential public services, including health care and education.

But the good news is: the U.S. is making unprecedented investments to ensure that individuals and communities have the capacity to fully participate in our society and economy. This includes access to, and the use of, affordable information and communication technologies, such as wired and wireless broadband, internet-enabled devices, and applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation, and collaboration.

This is a huge undertaking with momentous implications on the future of the Nation.

So, there’s an obvious, critical role for researchers to help guide this investment now and evaluate its effectiveness in the years to come.

This afternoon, I want to recognize the selection committee who labored to find our runners-up and winners and celebrate two contributions to the field.

I want to thank Florida International University’s Silvia Elaluf-Calderwood who was the Chair of the selection committee, and committee participants, David Reed from the University of Colorado, and Hernan Galperin from the University of Southern California. Please stand and join me in a round of applause in appreciation for their hard work.

Let me introduce our runners-up for the Charles Benton Broadband & Society Prize: Amy Stuyvesant and Julia Piscioniere of Michigan’s Merit Network. Using surveys, speed tests, and spatial analysis, Amy and Julia asked how physical location impacts the digital divide. Their work in Michigan Broadband Personas—Assessing Why Households Lack Reliable Service Using Survey Responses, Speed Tests, and Location shows how to refine surveys and data-gathering efforts to better understand the equity component of broadband access.

Amy Stuyvesant is a Senior GIS and Data Analyst at Merit. She has also worked for the City of Detroit and, yes, NASA. Julia Piscioniere is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability with a concentration in Geospatial Data Science. Amy and Julia, if you would please stand so we can congratulate you both, that would be great!

Now it is my honor to announce the winners of the Charles Benton Broadband & Society Prize.

State broadband grants will play a key role in closing the digital divide, tailoring funding requirements to support local broadband providers and promote equitable outcomes. With states receiving a once-in-a-generation investment of federal funds through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment or BEAD Program, what lessons can we learn from earlier state broadband funding approaches?

Natassia Bravo and Mildred Warner, both of Cornell University, examined this question in State Grant Programs for Broadband: Implications for Federal Policy Design.

They explored how state broadband grants were awarded in the period from 2014 to 2020, focusing on areas likely to have lower broadband availability and adoption—often rural, low-density, and high-poverty communities.

Their research provides key insights on the various funding approaches taken by states to close the broadband infrastructure gap before the pandemic and highlights important lessons for how BEAD funds may be structured.

Their analysis also addresses broader implications for digital equity, raising questions about the role of states in expanding coverage and addressing the needs of rural, aging, and minority individuals, three of the eight “covered populations” that NTIA identifies as disproportionately experiencing digital inequity and which are to be the focus of efforts supported through grants and planning processes. They also identify the importance of state policy in supporting communities with limited capacity and supporting market expansion.

Natassia Bravo, a Ph.D. student at Cornell, focuses on the role of local governments in promoting infrastructure delivery, with a particular interest in broadband access. Prior to her doctoral work, she worked on a nationwide research project studying the growth of state preemption of local authority across the fifty states, where she became interested in the rising regulatory role of the city-region.

Mildred Warner is a professor at Cornell and an international expert on restructuring local government services, how to plan for more child and age–friendly cities, and how to promote environmental sustainability at the local level. She works closely with local government, planners, policy analysts, economic developers, and union leaders both in the U.S. and abroad.

Natassia and Mildred, please come to the stage to receive your 2023 Charles Benton Broadband & Society Prize and be recognized by your TPRC peers.

Adrianne B. Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Adrianne B. Furniss.