Blog Posts by Colin Rhinesmith

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Digital Inclusion and Outcomes-Based Evaluation

In recent years, government agencies, private foundations, and community-based organizations have increasingly sought to understand how programs that promote digital inclusion lead to social and economic outcomes for individuals, programs, and communities. This push to measure outcomes has been driven, in part, by a larger trend to ensure that dollars are being used efficiently to improve lives rather than simply to deliver services. A new report, published by Benton Foundation, describes the challenges facing community-based organizations and other key stakeholders in using outcomes-based evaluation to measure the success of their digital inclusion programs and offers recommendations toward addressing these shared barriers. This new research builds off Dr. Colin Rhinesmith’s Digital Inclusion and Meaningful Broadband Adoption Initiatives, released in early 2016.

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Digital Equity Planning in U.S. Cities

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has recently tasked its Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau with the development of a plan to identify and work to address non-price related barriers to digital inclusion.(1) Here, we share strategies that local/regional governments can implement in their digital equity planning process. We are currently investigating the digital equity planning processes in Austin, Portland (OR), and Seattle -- three U.S. cities with their own established stand-alone plans. We have interviewed local government officials and other key stakeholders as well as reviewed city-level policy and planning documents. We have several preliminary findings which we suggest the FCC and cities can pursue in efforts to promote digital equity.

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Digital Literacy and Inclusion: “We Are All In It Together”

All of the organizations I studied for my recent Benton Foundation report recognize that digital literacy, the ability to navigate the Internet, is key to meaningful broadband adoption. But they took different approaches to ensuring their clients have the skills needed to make use of broadband. Computer classes have traditionally been a popular way to provide digital literacy training. More recently, digital inclusion organizations have embraced one-on-one, personalized training approaches for community members in order to be relevant to each person’s everyday life experiences. In addition, several organizations noted that digital literacy is needed and requested by all, regardless of income.

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Poverty and the Cost of Broadband

Much of the research on broadband adoption has focused on understanding the factors that influence whether an individual is likely to pay for high-speed Internet services. These factors have been used to predict rates of broadband adoption. As part of this thinking, the phrase “willingness to pay” has become widely accepted within broadband adoption literature. This phrase focuses on what an individual is willing to pay for high-speed Internet access, while also paying attention to demographic characteristics of the individuals studied. However, my recent research for the Benton Foundation finds that cost continues to be a major barrier to broadband adoption. Successful efforts to bridge the digital divide need to address “ability to pay” rather than “willingness to pay.”

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Understanding Broadband Un-adopters

As the Federal Communications Commission seeks to modernize the Lifeline program to include a broadband subsidy for low-income Americans, new research explains why some people drop home broadband service after trying it and recommends policies to help improve adoption rates in these households.

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The Complexity of ‘Relevance’ as a Barrier to Broadband Adoption

The digital divide is a complex phenomenon that cannot be boiled down to a single issue. More recently, research on broadband adoption has tended to focus on a single barrier-- lack of interest in the Internet or a perception that the digital content delivered over broadband is not relevant to one’s life (often called simply “relevance”). In doing so we have disregarded how the digital divide is much more. Part of the problem is how we have studied the digital divide. Often our approaches have not allowed us to examine multiple factors simultaneously.

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Four Essentials for Digital Inclusion Efforts

Over the last few months, I have been speaking with and visiting digital inclusion organizations across the United States to better understand local efforts to address the digital divide. Digital inclusion is a national priority in the United States. High-speed Internet access is widely recognized as a necessity for full participation in today’s society. Employers, educators, businesses, healthcare providers, and civic institutions expect people to have access to computers and broadband connectivity. However, accessible, reliable, and affordable broadband service continues to be out of reach for millions of Americans, many of whom live in low-income households. This gap in adoption of high-speed Internet and the lack of skills needed to use broadband-enabled tools in meaningful ways continue to be significant problems that policymakers, researchers, and practitioners have all focused their attention on for over a decade.

Author's Bio

Dr. Colin Rhinesmith, Benton Faculty Research Fellow
Dr. Rhinesmith conducts original Benton research as well as advises the foundation on new research opportunities. Rhinesmith is an assistant professor in the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College and a faculty associate with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. His research interests are focused on the social, community, and policy aspects of information and communication technology, particularly in areas related to digital inclusion and broadband adoption. Recent research looks at how community anchor institutions promote digital equity in low-income areas through low-cost broadband, digital literacy training, low-cost devices, and public access computing. Rhinesmith received his Ph.D. from the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he was a Research Scholar with the Center for Digital Inclusion and a U.S. Institute for Museum and Library Services-funded Information in Society Fellow. He received his B.A. and M.A. in Media Studies from Emerson College. Previously, Rhinesmith was a Google Policy Fellow and an Adjunct Research Fellow with the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C.