Since 1981, Benton has strived for a stronger, more equitable, and more just America by making sure that everyone in the U.S. can use the latest communications technologies. And we root our work in the shared values of access, equity, and diversity. Over those 40 years, the media have changed, but not our mission.
Now, we all recognize broadband as the essential pathway to deliver opportunities, strengthen communities, and ensure a thriving democracy. Universal broadband is a promise to deliver education, healthcare, economic equality, civic engagement, and more. But the promise is only realized when everyone has access to the network and the skills needed to make use of it.
I am here to recognize significant achievements by early-career scholars who are advancing the fields of digital inclusion and broadband adoption. Today we celebrate two young scholars whose research informs the work to build a better world.
In ICTs Use for Mitigating Social Exclusion in the Lives of Homeless Women, Sarah Nguyen at the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Southern California did ethnographic fieldwork and conducted extensive interviews with homeless women in Los Angeles. She found that these women employed various digital tools such as the internet, mobile phones, and social media in countering social exclusion and mitigating social marginalization at the intersections of homelessness, gender, and class. What Sarah found was that digital tools helped these women to enhance their psychological wellbeing, seek housing and employment opportunities, and healthcare assistance.
Technological resources were harnessed to help these women construct a positive self-image, reframing their stigmatized identities to challenge the status quo and participate in social change efforts. The theoretical and empirical contributions of the study focus particularly on the role of digital technology in facilitating social inclusion and gender empowerment practices.
On the other coast, George Mason University’s Edward Oughton studied broadband deployment in Policy Options for Digital Infrastructure Strategies: A Simulation Model for Broadband Universal Service in Africa. Internet access is essential for economic development, especially as even basic broadband can revolutionize available economic opportunities. Yet, more than one billion people still live without internet access. Governments must make strategic choices to connect these citizens, but currently have few independent, transparent, and scientifically reproducible assessments to rely on.
Oughton’s paper develops open-source software to test broadband universal service strategies. The private and government costs of different infrastructure decisions are quantified in six East and West African countries. The study provides strong evidence that “leapfrogging” straight to 4G in unconnected areas is the least costly option with savings between 13-51% over what it would cost to build out a 3G network. The paper provides evidence to help guide policymakers in choosing investment strategies to achieve broadband universal service in low-income countries.
Please join me in celebrating the work of these Charles Benton Early Career Scholars, Sarah Nguyen and Edward Oughton.
And also, please join me in thanking the TPRC48 Charles Benton Award Committee, chaired by Robin Mansell of the London School of Economics and Political Science. During what has been an extremely challenging time for all, Robin graciously led a team that also included Georgetown’s Mark MacCarthy, Ryerson’s Catherine Middleton, Penn State’s Amit Schejter, University of Pennsylvania’s Christopher Yoo, and Simmons University’s Colin Rhinesmith. Thank you all for your time and careful consideration.
Finally, if you’ve been keeping score at home, you will note that this is our fourth time announcing Charles Benton Early Career Scholar Award winners. In the midst of our 40th-year celebration, when we next meet—hopefully in person at TPRC49 in September 2021—I’ll be highlighting all of the Benton Prize winners to date and where their work has taken them. I look forward to seeing you all then.
And now, let’s hear from the award winners.