RTM and WashPIRG release broadband white paper in Seattle

On One Web Day (Sept. 22), Reclaim the Media and WashPIRG jointly released the Media and Democracy Coalition's white paper A Public Interest Internet Agenda in Seattle. The document, collaboratively produced through the efforts of more than a dozen regional and national public interest groups across the country, makes recommendations for the National Broadband Strategy which the FCC will be creating over the next few months. Joining us on One Web Day were Seattle's Community Technology Program Manager David Keyes and Mark Okazaki, director of the innovative social service agency Neighborhood House, whose services to immmigrant families and young people include a robust Community Technology Center program.

From the press release:

"The US has fallen behind in universal Internet access, in affordability and in speed, thanks to years of hands-off public policy," said Reclaim the Media executive director Jonathan Lawson. "We need a concerted national effort to get back on track, and policymakers specifically need to hear from the unserved and underserved sectors of our community, not just the telecommunications carriers who have let us fall so far behind. The community-generated recommendations in this report bring balance back to the discussion."

At the launch event, Keyes noted that Seattle is ahead of the curve in offering access and skills training, but indicates that more needs to be done. “The city’s 2009 Information Technology Indicators survey and focus group results confirm that some – and often the most vulnerable or marginalized residents – still struggle with digital inclusion. In an increasingly digital culture, the gap in adoption threatens greater exclusion or marginalization, and sharper disparities in opportunities for education, civic participation, jobs and economic success,” Keyes said.

Lawson's comments:

The values in this report are the values that will result in an information ecosystem that will truly serve the interests of all people.

Here we begin with the solid understanding that broadband Internet communications is a basic, fundamental human right—and we end by underscoring that good public policy in this issue must place special emphasis on identifying and closing the digital divides that persist in rural and urban areas across our country. For example, while the Pew Research Center reports that 63% of U.S. adults have broadband in their homes—the 37% who remain “disconnected” are disproportionately rural, people of color, poor people, migrants and refugees, and speakers of languages other than English. This injustice will not change by magic, nor as a result of "market forces."

Worthy strategies for digital inclusion will not simply numerically expand the number of internet users, but must also address the social, economic and educational issues that keep many people from wielding and applying the power of the Internet.

Questions of inequity in Internet access and computer access become even more important when we consider the extent to which print journalism is migrating to the web. The relationship between the people and the press is a shifting symbiosis, and being able to access and produce media content online will become an increasingly significant element of effective civic engagement.

I also want to say a word about how this report came together. Last December, Reclaim the Media and several other member groups of the Media and Democracy Coalition held local conversations in 9 cities and towns, asking folks from various backgrounds to identify the Internet policies that would best serve their communities. Over several months, we distilled these recommendations into this national strategy document. In Seattle, those initial meetings led to the organizing of the Seattle Digital Justice Coalition, which this summer urged that the city commit to providing municipally-owned fiber broadband access to all residences, businesses and public institutions in the city by 2015.

Okazaki's comments:

My name is Mark Okazaki and I am the Executive Director for Neighborhood House, a non-profit community action agency that has been serving Seattle and King County’s low income communities since 1906. The facility we are in was built by Neighborhood House in 2005 as a part of the redevelopment of what was once a public housing community.

The Seattle Housing Authority, which owns and operates public housing, undertook the total redevelopment of this community with funding from the US. Department of Housing and Urban Development through a program called HOPE VI. The housing authority’s goal was to transform what was once a low income neighborhood into a mixed income community that promotes economic integration.

Neighborhood House has been providing a range of education and social services here since the 1960’s in space that was provided by the housing authority. With the redevelopment of Rainier Vista came the opportunity for my agency to build our facility to continue to provide services to this community. In planning for our building, we knew that computers and Internet access would be a key tool in helping to accomplish our mission of lifting families out of poverty.

We knew that our economy and the jobs now and in the future would depend on computer literacy. School children today, are doing more of their research on line. Many employers, including Neighborhood House, are advertising and taking job applications “on-line.” But like so many other technological innovations, it is often the most disenfranchised in our community who are left out or left behind.

What happens to the job seeker who does not have access to a computer or knows how to find a job online and fill out an “on-line” application? What happens to the student who is given an assignment that requires “on-line” research facilitated by a home PC and high speed Internet?

When we asked ourselves those questions, we said we needed to step up and provide some solutions. So we created this space for this community. This computer lab is the place where job seekers can find and access jobs. This is the place where students can do their research.

For the 400 low income families living in Rainier Vista, this is the place where they can participate in one of our most important civic activities, by keeping themselves informed through what is becoming a ubiquitous form of knowledge and communications: computers and the Internet.

We are pleased to be a part of this press conference to raise awareness about digital inclusion.

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey