Fall-Winter 2002-2003

From The Children's Partnership: Strategies and Resources for Community Technology Practitioners
by Laurie Lipper and Wendy Lazarus

The Children's Partnership (TCP) is a national child advocacy organization that undertakes research, demonstration programs, and advocacy campaigns to help ensure that low-income and other underserved communities benefit from the "digital revolution." Over the past three years, the Children's Partnership has focused on developing an agenda to further public policies that support community technology and online content that fulfills the needs of low-income communities.

As the community technology field continues to grow, the Children's Partnership is working to spread the word about information, tools, and effective programs that can benefit centers across the country.

In this article, TCP describes research and strategies which have practical applications for community technology providers, such as: (1) New state-by-state fact sheets about youth and technology; (2) Lessons for using cable franchise renegotiations to gain funding and resources for community technology efforts; and (3) Tools for informing elected officials and policymakers about community technology issues.

(1) 50 State Fact Sheets on Youth and Technology Readiness

The Children's Partnership presents new state-by-state data on how each of the 50 states is faring in addressing the technology gap. These data help paint a picture of the benefits technology access offers youth and low-income communities, as well as where gaps remain. Check out statistics for your own state, such as:

  • Are your state's youth prepared for the digital economy?
  • Are your state's schools equipping today's youth?
  • How does your state compare to other states in equipping youth with technology skills?

Share this information with elected officials, civic leaders, the media, and colleagues.

(2) Cable Franchise Renewals Offer Opportunities for Community Technology Programs

As community technology initiatives grapple with shrinking resources due to the slowing economy, it is increasingly challenging to find funding. However, even in these difficult times, a promising source of funding and resources for community technology is city-level cable franchise renewals. Seattle, Cleveland, Atlanta, and a handful of other cities have secured substantial resources for community technology using this strategy. This approach merits a close look because several hundred cities are slated to enter into either a cable franchise renewal or transfer over the next couple of years.

How It Works

The cable franchise is the agreement that establishes the type, quality, and level of service the cable company will provide in the city. In exchange, the cable provider can use the public's right-of-way to lay cable. The cable franchise is determined for a number of years, sometimes as many as 15, and locks in those provisions for that length of time. When the franchise nears expiration, the city and the cable operator enter into negotiations to renew the franchise. Usually, the city conducts a needs assessment and invites the community to comment on the types of services, both current and future, that the community needs. Based upon the input from the community, the city negotiates on behalf of the community with the cable operator to arrive at an agreement.

Suggested Policies

Based on the early experiences of several cities, it is becoming clearer what policies civic leaders and advocates can push for to promote community technology through cable franchise agreements. Suggested policies include:

  • A technology fund to support community technology programs that provide public access to computers and the Internet, training in technology skills for low-income communities, and production of multimedia content;
  • Free, reduced, or volume-discounted rates for cable modems and monthly Internet subscriptions; and
  • City staff assigned to support community technology.
Demonstrated Success

The successes are mounting: Cleveland received $3 million for a technology fund; free cable modem and Internet service for one computer center in each of the 21 city council wards; and a volume discount for Internet service and cable modems for all city facilities, public libraries, computer centers, and primary and secondary schools. Seattle received similar services as Cleveland, but also employs a staff person to assist, coordinate resources for, and strengthen the services and educational quality of community technology programs.

Additional Resources to Gain

In addition to these services, other services that could be requested to support community technology initiatives include:

  • Channel capacity reserved for community-oriented needs: In order to ensure that the community can send and receive data quickly, a certain portion of channel capacity should be reserved specifically for community-related needs. Communities can then take advantage of the ever-more powerful communications delivery systems, i.e., cable companies upgrade from coaxial to optical cable.
  • Connection to Institutional Networks, or I-Nets: These high-speed networks allow schools, libraries, and governmental entities to communicate and share information with one another and the public.
  • Public access support and resources for community technology programs that provide local programming capabilities: These supports allow local community residents to develop programs they know are of interest to their neighborhood.
Community Media and Community Technology: New Partnerships

As more community technology programs begin to offer residents the ability to create multimedia content to share with the community, there is a natural synergy with the work of those who provide public access programming. These "community media" providers have years of experience developing programming that is aired on public cable channels. Moreover, the offerings of community media and community technology are beginning to overlap as, for example, community media hosts computer labs, while community technology programs produce videos. Since both communities have their own user base, combining constituencies could provide added political clout. The larger customer base could also provide cable companies an additional incentive to offer more services.

As you consider these options, more resources about the cable franchise renewal are available online.

(3) Tools for Reaching Out to Elected Officials and Policymakers

Election cycles offer community technology practitioners an important opportunity to reach out to candidates running for office and to the newly elected officials and their staff. Over time, these outreach efforts can help build a cadre of new leaders aware of the benefits of community technology programs and committed to promoting a public policy agenda that supports technology resources for youth and low-income communities.

To help community technology groups get involved, the Children's Partnership (TCP), along with the California Community Technology Policy Group (CCTPG) and PolicyLink, has launched the Youth & Technology Candidate Information Program. The Youth & Technology Candidate Information Program includes an information packet and outreach plan designed to inform candidates and elected officials about community technology issues and to encourage them to adopt an agenda that supports technology access for youth and low-income communities.

The Candidate Information Program includes:

  • Practical Information, including why this issue matters, a summary of voters' views, a statistical picture of technology readiness in California (as a model), policy ideas you can promote to demonstrate leadership, and resources for further help.
  • Candidate Briefings from local leaders and national experts on this issue, which include standardized briefing materials available to everyone.
  • Suggestions about connecting elected officials with visits to Local Community Technology Programs to see how technology access and training work and also to learn about the benefits they offer young people.

These materials are designed to be used in any state and can also be adapted for policymakers at the state, local and federal levels. They can be used for outreach to candidates as they are running for office and as briefing packets for elected officials, their staff and other stakeholders. These materials were used for the 2002 election cycle in California, including the candidate survey on Youth and Technology issues.

As another type of election activity, TCP coordinated an online voter registration and education drive with several community technology programs throughout California as a way to promote community technology and centers' capacity to provide e-government services and engage citizens in the elections. Resources to initiate this type of activity are available online.

For further information on any of these resources and strategies contact frontdoor@childrenspartnership.org, or 310-260-1220.

Laurie Lipper and Wendy Lazarus are Co-Founders and Co-Presidents of the Children's Partnership. Other contributors include: James Lau and Jackie Cruz Wagener.

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