Information Main Street

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Lon Berquist
University of Texas

Communication policymaking and information infrastructure development has been implemented and researched primarily at the national level.
To successfully address the growing inequities in information technology deployment and use, researchers should focus on local innovation in policy and infrastructure deployment.


Instead of concentrating on the Information Highway, we need to focus on the Information Main Street--the city as an important site of study and evaluation.


As concerns about the digital divide grow, governments have implemented specific initiatives and policies to bridge the divide between the poor and privileged, between inner city and suburban areas, between different urban ethnic groups, and between urban and rural populations. Most governmental and scholarly research examining the digital divide has focused on national-level data and federal policy programs. In addition, there has been growing interest among researchers in exploring the digital divide as an international phenomenon. Increasingly, state government agencies within the United States have begun to research digital divide issues with the goal of developing state-level policies to address the social, educational, cultural and economic issues related to this divide. However, few studies have addressed the role of municipal governments in creating opportunities for access, training, and utilization of communication and information technologies.

This proposed paper examines the initiatives developed by key U.S. cities that have identified the digital divide as a significant policy issue within the jurisdiction of municipal government. The paper explores municipal digital divide policy and initiatives through case studies of Austin, Texas; Seattle, Washington; and Atlanta, Georgia. The research explores how city governments leverage their existing regulatory powers and develop partnerships with traditional organizations such as educational institutions, social service agencies, and economic development offices to offer comprehensive policies promoting digital opportunities within their cities.

Preliminary research has identified four typical steps undertaken by cities concerned with the technological divide affecting their citizens:

1. Evaluation and Assessment of Digital Divide within the Community.
2. Development of Partnerships with Education, Social Service Agencies, and Industry.
3. Leveraging existing Federal and State Grant Programs.
4. Implementation of Initiatives that are Unique and Responsive to Community.

For example, the City of Austin established a Community Technology Initiative and formed a partnership with a broad-based group of schools, non-profit organizations and universities to bridge the local digital divide through a number of projects--including a successful grant proposal to a Texas state agency. In addition, Austin has instituted its own Grant for Technology Opportunities in order to encourage Austin organizations to develop programs of their own that promote training and public access to computers and the Internet.

By exploring the efforts of municipal governments, it is hoped a model may emerge that might benefit other local jurisdictions with their attempts to bridge their own digital divide. At the same time, the paper suggests that the trend towards rapid deregulation of communication industries has created an unstable regulatory environment that exacerbates the inequity of information technology access and use. As deregulation continues and communication industry concentration increases, concerns about the digital divide are likely to grow. Because the current laissez-faire approach to communication policy at the federal level favors the private interests of communication corporations, a void exists for regulatory jurisdictions supporting policy in the public interest. The paper argues this emerging regulatory environment prompts communication policy researchers to reevaluate traditional centralized communication policy common in the U.S., and to focus on the decentralization of the policymaking process and the devolution of information policy in the U.S.


To solve many of the problems associated with inequality of information technology access and use, local level policies and initiatives offer significant examples of success and can help guide policy decisions at the federal and state level.

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