Academic Pre-Conference Presenters and Moderator

On July 20th and 21st, 2021, Next Century Cities held its first-ever virtual conference. The two-day event kicked off with an academic pre-conference in which presenters shared current research, covering a wide range of topics that impact the broadband lnadscape. 

Through his research, Mike Conlow of Blue State Digital suggested using data from the Census American Community Survey for broadband adoption analysis. He argues that Census American Community Survey data is currently the most accurate indicator of adoption and connectivity in communities across the United States. Conlow reviewed why the current data sets used to determine access and adoption paint an inaccurate picture of the state of connectivity nationwide. 

Darrah Blackwater, an Indigenous Law and Policy Fellow at the University of Arizona, shared her research on the digital divide in Indigenous communities and the importance of spectrum sovereignty for Native Nations. She concluded her presentation with specific recommendations for fostering broadband allyship with Native communities. 

Dr. Colin Rhinesmith of Simmons University continued the conversation by explaining his research on Digital Equity Ecosystems. His presentation reviewed fall 2020 research conducted with Susan Kennedy on formal and informal digital inclusion projects in municipalities nationwide. The research suggests that community-level studies are most beneficial for identifying ways to ensure high levels of access and adoption in underserved communities. 

The discussion shifted to the impact that COVID-19 had on broadband access and adoption in rural communities when Oklahoma State University’s Dr. Brian Whitacre shared his recent research on why COVID-19 pandemic brought new urgency to developing rural broadband solutions. Whitacre shared reasons why broadband is critical for a thriving rural environment, including teleworking, migration, and agriculture with a special focus on the Homework Gap and telehealth. 

Dr. Dominique Harrison, Director of Technology Policy at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, presented on the recently-released issue brief, summarizing the challenges and solutions in expanding broadband in the Black Rural South. She concluded her presentation with specific policy recommendations for expanding broadband access in communities that continue to miss out on digital opportunities. 

There was unanimous consensus among all five presenters that the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of high-Speed broadband needs to be updated. 

The entire academic pre-conference can be viewed here. The online conversation was chronicled through the #NCCCon21 and #BroadbandIsPower hashtags.