Gigabit Citizenship

Tech-Powered Civic Engagement Playbook Launch
Prepared Remarks of Adrianne B. Furniss
September 7, 2017

Fulfilling a promise many thought lost: Using broadband to connect citizens and enlisting them to make communities better places to live.

What does gigabit civic engagement look like? The initial winners of the Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award demonstrate not just what “could be” but what “is”.

Civic engagement is about working to make a positive difference in the life of our communities. It is about developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means improving the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.

Engaged individuals recognize themselves as members of the larger social fabric and, therefore, consider social problems to be at least partly their own. Such individuals are willing to see the community-wide dimensions of issues, to make and justify informed decisions, and to take action for the benefit of the community.

My father spent a lifetime advocating for a holistic approach combining access to fast, fair, and open communications networks and the training to develop 21st century skills. He undoubtedly would have been extremely proud that his name is attached to this award and to the project winners in Louisville, Kentucky; Austin, Texas; and Raleigh, North Carolina.

Charles believed that civic engagement is essential for a vibrant democracy. And, as technology has evolved from analog to digital, Charles felt everyone must make use of the latest communications tools in order to fully participate in society, to realize new opportunities, and to bridge our divides. The Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Awards honor his legacy and celebrate how innovations in high-quality broadband allow citizens to be better informed and more involved in civic life.

The three Awardees each engage a variety of stakeholders – most-importantly, community members who are least often heard from. This outreach brought a breadth of expertise to the table and promoted community buy-in. Community outreach ensured the projects addressed real needs.

The Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Awardees foster citizens’ feelings of empowerment. City leaders, in turn, benefit from listening to community members’ concerns.

Next Century Cities is a perfect partner for these innovative municipalities who are promoting civic participation by leveraging gigabit broadband and digital skills to attract new business and create jobs and connect residents to new opportunities. These Next Century Cities truly demonstrate the power of high-speed, affordable, and accessible broadband.

With that in mind, I’d like to thank Deb Socia for her leadership of Next Century Cities, Katie Watson, who was the main author of the Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Award Playbook: Five Lessons for Tech-Powered Civic Engagement – Todd O’Boyle, who coordinated the Award project, and my fellow judges Susan Crawford, the co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, and Blair Levin, who oversaw the development of the National Broadband Plan and is now a senior fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution.

And special thanks to Paul Waters Tom Glaisyer and the Democracy Fund. Tom, too, helped evaluate the many great proposals the Next Generation Engagement Awards received – and the Democracy Fund’s generous support made all this possible.

Next Century Cities and the Charles Benton Next Generation Engagement Awards fulfill a promise of the Internet many might have thought lost: We can use broadband to connect citizens and enlist them in making their communities thrive and better places to live.

By Adrianne B. Furniss.