Calling broadband “indispensable infrastructure for the twenty first century … essential to both our economy and our democracy in the digital age,” the Federal Communications Commission, in response to a Congressional mandate, has prepared The National Broadband Plan. Its ambitious agenda features a wide array of goals at the national level, designed to increase broadband access and digital literacy throughout the U.S.
But what, exactly, will be the impact of high-speed broadband and other technological investments at the community level? That is the question raised by Assistant Professor Steven J. Jackson, who has been awarded a two-year grant by the Ford Foundation to study the effect that widespread broadband availability may have on the social, economic and cultural lives in a community.
This project compares broadband development processes and outcomes across three leading domestic broadband initiatives: the federal government’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) and Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP), and the experimental Google Fiber initiative. Working closely with the sponsoring organizations and project grantees, the study will address three central questions:
1) What role do existing community resources and networks play in efforts to mobilize, secure funding for, and deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure?
2) What new or extended forms of social interaction are supported by high-speed broadband access?
3) What forms of local social and technical innovation may be supported or enhanced by broadband development?
In general, the study will focus on BTOP and BIP awardees in Michigan, Illinois, and Ohio. Selected Google Fiber communities will be included in the study as the test site awardees are announced.