From the Digital Divide to Digital Inclusion and Beyond: Update on Telecentres and Community Technology Centers (CTCs)
53 Pages Posted: 31 Mar 2013
Date Written: March 28, 2013
The establishment and growth of Community Technology Centers (CTCs) reflects the development in the U.S. of universally recognized key institutions in combating what was originally known as the Digital Divide. Internationally referred to as Telecentres, their explosive growth in the U.S. — from a handful at the beginning of the 1990's to more than 20,000 in the database supported by the Digital Divide Network early in the new millennium — was originally supported by a range of corporate, philanthropic, and governmental programs on multiple levels. Although the special funding for Public Computer Centers or PCCs in the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, or BTOP, federal stimulus program testifies to the recognition of their continuing strategic role in effective broadband dispersal and use, ongoing support has dwindled, CTC/PCC identity and mission have become less focused, and schools and libraries have pretty much taken center stage as the sole key institutions in the fight for digital inclusion. To the degree that conceptual unclarities and confusions and lack of a compelling framework as well as the absence of defining and clarifying examples contribute to policies that overlook their ongoing potential contribution, this presentation provides a contribution to the effort to reintegrate CTCs and build continuing support for PCCs as collaborators and partners with schools and libraries in a common critical digital divide/digital inclusion framework.
Proposed for presentation at the 2013 TPRC 41st Research Conference on Communication, Information and Internet Policy this September via a joint presentation, this draft paper incorporates a framework suggested by David Nemer in his "Literature Review on Digital Inclusion and Digital Divide," one in which the conception of "digital inclusion" came, for many, to replace the limitations and misconceptions in the idea of the “digital divide” and encompass a new "second wave" of research and practice, only in the end to suffer from distortions and inadequacies of its own. This paper looks at five recent contributions to the field that go beyond these limitations and provide examples of critical inclusion, what can be seen as a "third wave" of research and practice involving telecentres and CTCs, one that illustrates the transformative, liberating, radical democratic, community-building dimensions and character of both the institutions and the research itself.
The review begins with a critical summary of the complementary analyses and surveys that combine for a global overview — editor Ricardo Gomez's "Libraries, Telecentres, Cybercafes and Public Access to ICT: International Comparisons" (2012) and Panayiota Tsatsou’s "Digital Divides in Europe — Culture, Politics and the Western-Southern Divide" (2011). Then summary profiles of exemplary case studies involving three CTCs illustrate some of the heroic features of the third wave in stories of democratic education, development, and transformation: the Native American Palas Learning Center in San Diego County in southern California, the Homeless Women’s Technology Education Project at the Troy-Cohoes YWCA in upstate New York, and the CTC at Harrison Plaza Public Housing in North Philadelphia — as found in Christian Sandvig’s “Connection at Ewiiaapaayp Mountain: Indigenous Internet Infrastructure” (2012); Virginia Eubanks’ "Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age" (2011); and Melissa Gilbert and Michele Masucci’s "ICT Geographies: Strategies for Bridging the Digital Divide" (2011). The review takes note of the freely-available accessibility of these works, examines the pedagogical role of its authors as well as the stories and accounts of their community technology projects, and ends with a summary characterization of a critical perspective on digital inclusion "third wave" research and practice involving CTCs and their distinctive contribution to their common work with schools and libraries in the U.S., all along with cybercafés globally.
Keywords: digital divide, digital inclusion, inclusion, Community Technology Centers, CTCs, Public Computer Centers, PCCs, Telecentres, broadband expansion, broadband diffusion, broadband adoption, broadband deployment, digital literacy, universal access
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