The New America Foundation’s Open Technology Initiative (OTI) convened a panel of researchers this week to present new findings about the troubling persistance of the digital divide in Philadelphia, and to discuss ways to address this problem. This research suggest that half of households in Philadelphia may not have broadband access — one of the 10 lowest subscription rates among cities nationwide.
The group met March 27 at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Many projects looked at the effects of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) funded Freedom Rings Partnership (FRP) in Philadelphia, which has established almost 80 Keyspot public computer centers as well as sustainable broadband adoption training programs — yet while the FRP's services have increased use of broadband and digital literacy in the community, home adoption remains a challenge.
Overcoming barriers to accessing quality baseline data, these groundbreaking researchers suggested methods other cities can use to demonstrate and visualize challenges in increasing Internet access and adoption, as well as showing what kind of data are still needed to help citizens participate in our increasingly digital society.
Research projects included:
• Larry Eichel from the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative spoke about how the Free Library of Philadelphia — like urban libraries across America — is struggling to keep up despite budget cuts and increased demand for services, especially free Internet access.
• Jacob Fenton of the Investigative Reporting Workshop presented a set of FCC data and interactive maps, released last week, which demonstrate that adoption rates are much lower in Philadelphia than had been previously understood.
• OTI's Greta Byrum — along with Tamara Manik-Perlman from the Philadelphia-based firm Azavea — presented a mapping analysis of the accessibility of Keyspot public computer centers in Philadelphia.
• Technically Philly co-founder Brian James Kirk presented an interactive online platform which can be used to find Internet access points across Philadelphia, along with a platform people can use to find them from their mobile phones.
• Temple University researcher Charles Kaylor showed usage patterns for the city's Public Computer Centers and presented possible explanations for why some centers are used more intensively by residents — for example, because the groups that manage them have community ties and offer support to its users.
Other topics discussed included: whether resources should go toward increasing home broadband adoption or toward public Internet facilities; what keeps people from getting online; and the need for better data on who is adopting Internet and why.
To interview our experts on any of these topics, please contact Clara Hogan and (202) 596-3368 or Hogan@newamerica.net.
About the Open Technology Initiative:
The Open Technology Initiative formulates policy and regulatory reforms to support open architectures and open source innovations and facilitates the development and implementation of open technologies and communications networks.