This is the fourth of four blog posts about the Freedom Rings Partnership in Philadelphia and its KEYSPOT program, funded by the federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).
The Freedom Rings Partnership in Philadelphia (FRP) and its KEYSPOT programs provide a valuable lesson about the importance of social processes and context for stimulating broadband use: by taking an active role in welcoming new users to online worlds, FRP programs are making a difference in participants’ lives. The KEYSPOT approach can serve as an effective model for digital inclusion efforts. It also reflects a nuanced and complex understanding of what broadband adoption and non-adoption mean.
OTI data overwhelmingly points to the role of social support in helping novice users adopt broadband technologies. A common pattern we saw was that participants overcame their fear of technology with the support of a helpful Webguide, increased their interest in digital learning, and developed feelings of satisfaction and comfort in KEYSPOT settings. Participants became part of a deeply social process through gaining familiarity with and using broadband technologies in ways that make sense to them. In other words, if new users have unequal access to dedicated staff for digital literacy programs, then digital inequalities are unlikely to change.
Our research also showed that the Partnership had an equal appreciation of the diverse contexts in which new users enter digital worlds, meaning that it does not value technology use differently in public or private spaces. By defining broadband adoption as more than just home Internet access, the partners signalled that home use is not more important than digital learning at, for example, a KEYSPOT.
Related, our interim evaluation of the KEYSPOT Program found that cost trumps other reasons for not purchasing home Internet service. In fact, contrary to a key federal study on broadband use which states that non-users (of home broadband Internet) reported “lack of need or interest as their primary reason for not having home broadband Internet access,” our research speaks to the primary issue of cost—not just of Internet connectivity but also hardware, and echoes other research focused on cost issues. In addition, the fact that no survey respondent selected “waste of time” as a reason for not getting home broadband also challenges claims that non-users do not see the relevance of technology. High rates of daily use of Internet for KEYSPOT participants regardless of home Internet subscription status also support the assertion that participants find broadband relevant to their lives.
A KEYSPOT Model
In the course of our evaluation, OTI found a pattern in how socially supportive environments helped program participants feel comfortable with the Internet and interested in using it to serve their daily needs. We call this the KEYSPOT Model.
This model echoes what other researchers and evaluators have said about broadband adoption and the importance of social setting, including the unique benefits that community anchor institutions bring to an individual’s encounter with broadband.
The Philadelphia Freedom Rings Partnership is an innovative, large-scale, and ambitious set of programs that address deeply rooted socio-economic problems as well as opportunities related to broadband access and use. Within the short time frame of the BTOP grants, partners developed a massive network of community-based and social service organizations which laid a techno-social infrastructure for bridging the digital divide and harnessing broadband’s positive influence on workforce development, educational attainment, and community engagement.
The attainment of these goals is neither easy nor immediate, and the FRP’s approach to digital inclusion illustrates unique and impactful ways better kickstart broadband’s potential. The practice of embedding broadband adoption efforts within community-based and social service organizations effectively connects target populations to programs. The focus on social support has also influenced participants to positively view and engage with new digital technologies. These factors combine to tell the story of a KEYSPOT Model of Broadband Adoption that shows one path for how individuals historically on the wrong side of the digital divide can increase their broadband use. Connecting digital literacy to other pressing needs of target populations and doing so in a welcoming, supportive way is an effective means to cultivate personal and community engagement with broadband.
Since the Evaluation
A new video from FRP member Media Mobilizing Project presented the important work of the KEYSPOT approach in a visual format, while partners such as People’s Emergency Center have spoken about the model at conferences. Philly KEYSPOT: The Internet. Turn It On. Adoption and Adaptation of Community-based Technology for Social Justice