The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies devotes its Technology Policy Program to exploring the impact and potential policy solutions that could improve digital outcomes for Black communities. In Joint Center’s latest publication on expanding rural broadband access in the rural South, Dr. Dominique Harrison documents persistent digital divides in 152 rural counties in the southern region of the U.S. with African American populations of 35 percent or more. 

In the “Black Rural South,” approximately 38 percent of African Americans do not have access to home internet and may lack a computing device to benefit from nearby broadband connections. On July 28, 2021, the Joint Center invited tech policy experts to discuss potential solutions. The speakers included: 

  • Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, U.S. Congressman D-SC 6th District
  • Mignon Clyburn, first Chairwoman & former FCC Commissioner
  • Geoffrey Starks, Commissioner, Federal Communications Commission
  • Francella Ochillo, Executive Director, Next Century Cities
  • Dr. Dominique Harrison, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (Moderator)

Francella emphasized why local officials, particularly in the Black rural south, need access to a wide variety of technology options, funding sources, and partnerships to be able to deploy broadband infrastructure and long-term community outreach strategies. She also highlighted direct connections between poverty and the digital divide. 

Other panelists explained the need for more competition in the broadband marketplace, new interest in soliciting community-level perspectives, and recent federal efforts to expand broadband funding. In closing, Francella reiterated why federal and state broadband policies and funding programs are more effective when local leaders are invited in as thought partners during the ideation phase. 

Read more about Joint Center’s research findings here