Summer 2003

Community Technology Policy Strategies
by John Zoltner

John Zoltner and Jane Oates
John Zoltner with Jane Oates, Senior Educational Advisor to Senator Ted Kennedy

In the last few years, CTCNet and many of our partner organizations have recognized that providing knowledge, support, and technical assistance to community technology centers (CTCs) is not enough to achieve our objective of a digitally-empowered society—without sustained governmental support, our objective will be difficult to reach. That support does not necessarily have to come in the form of new dollars—there are many ways federal, state, and local governments can support community technology without digging into their pockets—but our movement needs government cooperation. Through all of our policy activities, CTCNet reinforces the following beliefs:

  • The Digital Divide has not been solved—in fact serious inequities of access and the ability to use technology and the Internet within the US population still exist. In order to ensure an educated and informed society in the 21st Century, it is important to provide a network of public access and training points from a variety of sources, including CTCs, schools, libraries, non-profit organizations, government offices, and private and public homes.
  • The United States cannot achieve equitable access among all Americans and adequate literacy for the 21st Century if all levels of government are not focused on these goals. We advocate for local, state, and federal governments to provide leadership in the effort to connect those populations who have not yet achieved access to technology and the competency to use it.
  • Because CTCs represent an extraordinary array of diverse communities, they serve as laboratories for developing innovative technologies, culturally appropriate content, original ways of applying technologies, and effective training strategies that benefit all segments of society, especially those that traditionally have not had access to computers, the Internet, or the skills to use them.
  • Providing community access to technology is not just an option for schools, libraries, and non-profit organizations. It is a crucial element of fulfilling their goal to inform, educate, and serve the public in an equitable way. CTCs serve as a valuable partner to ensure that these organizations gain the capacity to provide access to technology that benefits the community.
  • Because they often have the deepest reach and greatest effect in underserved communities, small faith- and community-based organizations are strong partners in the effort to eliminate the Digital Divide. As technology becomes increasingly important to their operations, however, they are caught in an organizational Digital Divide. We must ensure they have sufficient access to technology and the capacity to use it effectively, so they can maximize their impact in their communities.
  • "E-Government" strategies should make government information and services available to the public through the Internet and other technologies. Not doing so lowers the quality of service, but doing so risks excluding residents without access to these technologies or the skills to use them confidently. Use of technology in government services must promote equal access to government and equal participation for all members of the public. The introduction of or changes in the use of technology by government must not reduce access or participation by the community and, whenever possible, should advance community access and participation.
  • Because they provide the training and access necessary for residents to use government services online, CTCs are vital avenues to civic participation in e-Government services. E-Government projects should actively include CTCs in their planning efforts and take advantage of the reach of CTCs into the community to ensure that e-Government programs increase democratic participation in the government rather than limit it to those with access who are already skilled in the use of technology.

Specific advocacy actions that CTCNet has participated in this past year include the following:

  • CTCNet was a founding partner of the Digital Empowerment Campaign, which brought together technology advocacy and civil rights organizations to advocate for sustained federal funding of the Technology Opportunities Program (TOP) and the U.S. Department of Education's CTC initiative. It was this fight—which WE WON—that first activated CTCNet and our membership around policy issues.
  • CTCNet is working with Rep. Nydia Velázquez's(D-NY) and Rep. John Larson's (D-CT) offices to provide background information for and help circulate a sign on letter asking Congress to raise TOP and CTC funding to their FY 2001 levels: $45 million and $65 million respectively.
  • Through reports and other publications written by CTCNet or our partners and members, such as From Policy to Action: Profiles of Washington Area Programs Making Progress on the Digital Divide a report prepared for the Washington, DC Metropolitan Council of Governments, we continue to educate the public, government, and private sector about the extent and character of the Digital Divide in the United States and the community technology programs designed to eliminate it.
  • Partner organizations, CTCNet chapters, and regional consortia of CTCs are coming together to educate legislators and directly advocate for support and funding for community technology centers. These efforts have been led by the efforts of the California Community Technology Policy Group, an outgrowth of the Computers In Our Future Initiative, which held its second annual community technology policy advocacy day in Sacramento on April 25th. "Sacramento Day" brought 140 CTC advocates to the state capital to meet with close to 100 legislative offices. CTCNet-Chicago hosted a similar event on May 14th. CTCNet affiliates in New York recently contacted CTCNet to organize a similar event. Though these efforts have been led by state and regional organizers, CTCNet hopes to take these local models and help to spread them to other areas by collecting and sharing information on events and education materials.
  • CTCNet is organizing a similar national event in Washington, DC on June 26, 2003—the Pre-Conference activity day. During the event we will educate attendees from CTCs on why they should be involved in advocacy, train them on how to be effective advocates, and visit Capitol Hill and federal offices in order to make scheduled visits with legislators, regulators, and their staffs.

  • John Zoltner is leading the "Regional Organizing & Collaboration" session at the 2003 CTCNet Conference with Erroll Reese, President of the CTCNet Board of Directors, and Bill Callahan of Cleveland Digital Vision. He is the Director of Policy and Programs at CTCNet's Washington, DC office.

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