Next Century Cities Hosts Panel on Connectivity Barriers to Participation in Democracy and Civic Processes

By Ryan Johnston

At Next Century Cities’ recent Bipartisan Tech conference Katherine Trujillo, Deputy Director of Libraries Without Borders, moderated a panel on the impact broadband has on democracy and civic participation. The panel consisted of Commissioner Greg Puckett from Mercer County, West Virginia; Brittany Woods-Orrison, Broadband Specialist of the Native Movement and Alaska Public Interest Research Group; and Samuel Blackwood, Director of Public Policy at Project READY. Each panelist shared what the broadband landscape in their state looks like, and a common thread emerged. Every panelist highlighted that even where broadband infrastructure exists, broadband affordability and device access can hinder civic participation. 

Throughout the conversation, panelists focused on the need for community buy-in for many of the proposed connectivity solutions. This buy-in is necessary regardless of whether these solutions come from the federal, state, or local level. As Sam pointed out, raising awareness and coalition building around these solutions is essential to narrow the discrepancies between those who can afford broadband access and those who cannot. Similarly, Brittany noted that in bringing voices of the unserved into legislator meetings, many were unable to join due to the lack of or instability in their connection. Commissioner Puckett also shared that from a county perspective the broadband victories often take a back seat to the continuing challenges. He explained that ensuring the community knows of the good that is happening can increase support for continuing projects and facilitates trust building between residents and their county policymakers.

This panel made it incredibly clear that community members want to participate in the democratic and civic processes that have moved online. However, many still face significant challenges that prevent them from doing so.

You can watch a recording of the panel here.

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