New Benton Research Groups To Tackle Critical Broadband Questions

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Digital Beat

New Benton Research Groups To Tackle Critical Broadband Questions

Dr Revati Prasad
     Dr. Prasad

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society announced two new fellowship cohorts for our Marjorie & Charles Benton Opportunity Fund.  The Equitable Broadband in Urban America Research Group and the Policies, Plans, and Promises Research Group bring together researchers to work independently, but collaboratively on pressing broadband issues. 

We are excited about a research group model. We want to support not just the work these fellows will do but also help create a space where these talented researchers can share approaches and insights, building a community of practice.

The Equitable Broadband in Urban America Research Group is a multi-city,  multi-methods project that will offer actionable insights into how broadband in urban America can be improved and how state and federal policymakers, local governments, and digital equity champions can continue to build digital equity in these communities. Research teams in Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Antonio, and Seattle will delve into the specific dynamics and challenges of reaching universal broadband and digital equity in their cities. Collectively, their work will speak to the impact of redlining and lack of affordable service, and highlight the efforts of community organizations and coalitions in addressing urban broadband challenges. The researchers are also applying a range of approaches – historical, spatial, and qualitative analyses – to this work which will produce academic articles, toolkits, podcasts, and zines. 

  • In Chicago, Kyla Williams Tate, Director of Digital Equity in the Cook County Office of the President, will study the relationship between trust, digital discrimination, and digital adoption among the descendants of the Great Migration.
  • In New York, Monique Tate, Co-Director of Community Tech NY (CTNY), will focus on the Community Tech Labs as an organizing space to build digital equity. 
  • In Philadelphia, Dr. Pawel Popiel and Dr. David Elliot Berman, Postdoctoral Fellows at the University of Pennsylvania, will examine the implementation and impact of private subsidized broadband programs, focusing on the work of Digital Navigators.
  • In San Antonio, Christina Quintanilla-Muñoz, PhD Candidate in Applied Demography at the University of Texas at San Antonio, will chronicle the city’s history of digital redlining and the digital inclusion efforts by public-private partnerships, coalitions of non-profit and community-based organizations, and a regional digital equity network. 
  • In Seattle, Esther Jang, PhD Candidate in Computer Science at the University of Washington, and a lead instructor with the Tribal Broadband Bootcamps, will investigate and document the Seattle Community Network (SCN) as a “teaching and learning network” and a sustainable model for community internet access. 

The $42.5 billion investment into broadband infrastructure under the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program is expected to be largely directed to rural communities where infrastructure needs are more starkly apparent. We hope the work of these researchers will ensure that urban broadband needs are better understood and addressed. 

With funding made available through BEAD and the Digital Equity Act, the federal government has charged states with leading the work of crafting plans to make those investments a reality. The Policies, Plans, and Promises Research Group will conduct comparative policy analyses to understand how states are approaching specific issues critical to ensuring equitable broadband. 

Emily Rubin—PhD Candidate at the University of Texas at Austin and recently a Research Fellow at the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition—will examine how states plan to incorporate community anchor institutions (CAIs) like schools and libraries,  in their connectivity and digital equity plans. Specifically, Rubin will delve into how different states are using flexible definitions of “anchor institutions”  as a deliberate strategy for equitable broadband.

Sharayah Lane, Senior Advisor for Indigenous Community Connectivity at the Internet Society, will examine how states are working with tribal nations in their BEAD and DEA processes. She will examine how states are considering needs in Indian Country and how they are establishing partnerships and managing outreach and coordination with tribal governments and other tribal entities.

Fellows will conduct a textual analysis of BEAD and DE plans, as well as interviews with state broadband leaders and relevant stakeholders. The Policies, Plans and Promises Research Group will also produce other research and analyses on state planning efforts looking at a range of issues, including approaches to affordability, digital safety, sustainability, and others.

Executive Director Adrianne Furniss explained the goals of the fellowship. “ The scale of public investment to reach universal connectivity and digital opportunity naturally highlights gaps in knowledge and capacity. We plan to use the Opportunity Fund to nimbly support emerging research leaders and their work to help ensure we can meet this broadband moment.”

You can follow the work of these fellowships on our website. The annual call for the next round of the Marjorie and Charles Benton Opportunity Fund fellowship will open in July 2024. 

Dr. Revati Prasad is the Vice President of Programs at 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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