If You Build It – Will They Come? Understanding the Information Needs of Users of BTOP Funded Broadband Internet Public Computer Centers
29 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2012 Last revised: 19 Feb 2013
Date Written: March 31, 2012
This study on the users of three public computer centers (PCCs) operating in a city in the Midwest region of the US attempts to further understand the localized value of broadband Internet access for members of low-income communities. These PCCs primarily serve low-income members of the African American community and offer free access to laptop computers, broadband Internet, and computer skills training. The study analyzes usage access data collected by the PCCs in which actual usage patterns of users in real time is presented, on site visits to the computer centers and observation of the activities taking place in them, and interviews conducted with users of the PCCs as well as with the staff operating them and the planners of the project. The interview protocol is based on the concept of “information use environments.” Interviews focused on how PCC users resolve their information needs taking into account the impacts of access and the ability to effectively use information technology. Findings revealed diverse needs of users; a disparity between reported use and actual use; intended and unintended consequences, as well as externalities, all of which need to be taken into account when designing future policy; the attractiveness of the PCCs as a place providing free access; the factors that may contribute to determining the “haves,” “have-nots” and “have-less,” among the inner city poor, and a general sense that the PCCs, while utilized according to users’ individual needs, are a vital component of an access policy.
Keywords: BTOP, Digital Divide, Information needs, Public Computer Centers
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