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Much more than a little byte: citizens and broadband

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This article compares the historical role of North American grassroots groups in setting up telephone communications at the turn of the 20th century with contemporary campaigns of grassroots activists to establish broadband communications, in one US metropolitan region, the San Francisco Bay. The narrative analyses the local and national policy environment, the corporate commercial context and the activist constituencies. It focuses on mapping the frames used, the direction of their campaigns and the outcomes. Drawing from examples of citizens' activity in assessing community needs, policy-making and political mobilizing, including among historically marginalized communities, the author argues that digital inclusion, and democratic decision-making in broadband, is much more than a narrow technical question of providing access to new information and communication technologies, or of incorporating consumers in market-based development. The study concludes that democratizing the new communications platforms of the broadband Internet will involve the support of citizens' initiatives in building their own communications technologies and content; challenging the incumbent corporate players, and supporting a variety of municipally operated systems.

Keywords: FCC; broadband; citizen involvement; digital inclusion; municipal broadband; policy; wi-fi; wireless

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of San Francisco, USA.

Publication date: 2009-03-01

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  • The International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics is committed to analyzing the politics of communication(s) and cultural processes. It addresses cultural politics in their local, international and global dimensions, recognizing equally the importance of issues defined by their specific cultural geography and those that traverse cultures and nations.
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