Broadband Inheriting the Discriminatory Patterns of Previous Infrastructure Systems

The challenges of bridging the digital divide are exacerbated by the racist legacies of previous infrastructure systems, according to a recent presentation to the New York Regional Plan Association.
July 18, 2016, 12pm PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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Emily Thenhaus shares a dispatch from the 2016 Regional Plan Association Assembly—specifically from a session about bridging the gap in digital access in the New York region.

Among the presenters during the session was New York City Counsel to the Mayor Maya Wiley, who highlighted the systematic roots of the digital divide. According to Wiley, the broadband system is being built on top of a deliberately discriminatory phone system. The following is taken directly from Wiley's presentation:

When I was in the U.S. Attorney’s office, when the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was being debated, actually civil rights groups including the NAACP, including La Raza were already working on the fact that the telephone system itself had actually redlined communities of color and that everyone understood the infrastructure was going to follow a lot of that proprietary infrastructure that was telephone lines to go to a more advanced form of technology that was going to get us to broadband.

So literally, without necessarily having racial intent to discriminate, because we are building on top of a discriminatory infrastructure, we are reinforcing over and over again that discrimination that happened decades before.

Thenhaus's article includes a full audio recording of the panel, which included BetaNYC Executive Director Noel Hidalgo, Newark Chief Information Officer Seth Wainer, Counsel to the Mayor or New York City Maya Wiley, and Knight Foundation Director of Community and National Strategy Benjamin de la Peña as moderator.

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Published on Monday, July 18, 2016 in RPA Lab
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