A Victory for Digital Justice (Your Tax Dollars at Work)

In 2009, digital justice coalitions in Detroit and Philadelphia seized an opportunity to turn a new federal policy into a lasting transformation of the Internet’s role in their local communities.

NOTE: An edited version of the attached essay will appear in Strategies for Media Reform: International Perspectives, Des Freedman, Jonathan Obar, Robert McChesney, & Cheryl Martens, (Eds.), forthcoming from Fordham University Press. We welcome feedback on this version of the essay.

When Congress created the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) in 2009, the media reform movement marked it as a major, but partial victory. A victory because it marked a dramatic shift in federal policy from a reliance on the private market to a more active role for the government in extending the benefits of the Internet to everyone across the United States. Partial, though, because the hard work of devising and enacting a new approach to the Internet remained.

Allied Media Projects in Detroit and Media Mobilizing Project in Philadelphia responded to this opportunity by building digital justice coalitions. The coalitions brought together groups focused on housing, workers’ rights, youth, education and environmental justice that had not worked on the digital divide in the past. The Open Technology Institute supported these innovative, visionary efforts with technical and policy expertise, a network of researchers and a commitment to enduring partnerships.

As a program, BTOP was fleeting, but it provided an opportunity for an enduring impact on broadband – and technology funding – in the United States. In Philadelphia and Detroit, we were able to use the grant-seeking process as a vehicle for visioning and organizing, and for bringing new voices and audiences into the conversation about our shared digital future. With the grants, the local communities formed relationships, developed skills and built infrastructure (in the form of the computer centers) with which to take on new challenges, whether further transforming the Internet or using the technology to improve their cities in other vital ways. The digital justice coalitions proved a highly effective strategy for advancing a positive vision of the Internet for local communities in response to the conditions created by the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.

Read the complete essay (PDF).

Author:

Joshua Breitbart, a former senior advisor for New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, coordinated a team of researchers, organizers, graphic designers and technologists to learn how people adopt new technologies and participate in discussions of telecommunications policy.