Bridging the Digital Divide: Lessons from the East Palo Alto Community Network
Partnership for Internet Equity and Community Engagement (PIECE) Report; 2nd Conference on Online Deliberation (OD 2005/DIAC 2005), May 2005
92 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2013 Last revised: 26 Apr 2013
Date Written: May 19, 2005
This paper reports the efforts of the East Palo Alto Community Network (“Community Network” for short) and the success of its two programs over the past three years. The first program, Technology Access Points (TAPs), conveniently locates centers in East Palo Alto where residents may access computers, the Internet, fax machines, and copiers. The second program, EPA.net, is an online resource center for the East Palo Alto Community that allows residents to post news articles and event information relevant to the city that often cannot be found anywhere else. The site also contains numerous other online resources for residents. Plugged In outlined four outcomes at the outset of this project to track the success of the Community Network Project:
1) Increased Participation of Community Residents in Online Information and Idea Exchange, Leading to Increased Sense of Commitment to the Community. 2) Increased Technology Skills and Use of Technology by Staff of Community Based Organizations, Leading to Increased Efficiency and Effectiveness. 3) Increased Access to Relevant Information for Community Residents, Leading to Increased Ease in Utilizing Community Services. 4) Increased Technology Skills for Community Residents, Leading to Greater Educational and Employment Opportunities.
In general, all four outcome goals have been met. Quantitative and qualitative data suggests that both Community Network programs have led to an increase in the number of residents who participate in online information exchange and a subsequent increase in these residents’ sense of connection to the greater East Palo Alto community. Similar data also indicate that there has been an increase in technological skills and thus educational and employment opportunities for residents. Meanwhile, qualitative evidence indicates that the second and third outcome goals, increased technology skills for staff of community based organizations and increased efficiency and effectiveness in such organizations, as well as increased access to relevant information for residents, were also met through the TAPs and EPA.net programs.
Our analysis has led us to make five recommendations for improvements in the Community Network project: more aggressive advertisement of EPA.net, stronger outreach to other CBO’s, promoting unused aspects of EPA.net, designating specified places and times for adults in TAPs, and design improvements to the layout of EPA.net. This paper is an adaptation of a report that was written for the Technology Opportunitiees Program (TOP) of the U.S. Department of Commerce, evaluating the Community Network’s use of TOP funding. The plan is to evolve the paper in an academic direction, and we would appreciate comments on relevant other projects to use for comparison. As a preliminary step in this direction, we have included a list of references at the end of the main body of this paper.
Keywords: community networks, digital divide, community technology, civic engagement
JEL Classification: H54
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation