What is the problem you're trying to solve?
Today, the term ‘last billion’ has surfaced to describe those who lack mobile and Internet connectivity (David, 2015) across the world, a population that tends to be primarily non-western in its demographic. It has been widely documented that despite technical innovations and a shift away from monopolized state-run technology initiatives toward the end of the last century (Musiani, 2015), that Information and Communication Technology (ICT) networks and services have not been effective at reaching the poor, nor have they been successful at supporting the voices and perspectives of such users (ITU 2006; Galperin and Bar, 2007, Wallsten and Clarke, 2002; Sterne 2006). Even private telecommunication and Internet network providers have been unable to or disinterested in reaching these groups. The lack of steady income by rural and poor community users, low population density, lack of reliable information about users, lack of credit assessment mechanisms, and lack of complementary infrastructure have all been seen as roadblocks in providing access (Tremolet 2002). Moreover, the increasingly technologically ‘advanced’ services being provided by private operators (such as 5G mobile service) may not be suitable or easily implemented within such contexts.
Yet when we speak of ‘last billion’ new ICT users, ranging from anywhere between 20-40% of the world’s population (David, 2015), we may not think of how network technologies may be best designed, evaluated, or imagined in ways that support economic, political, social and cultural values and voices that emerge from the ground-up. We may not think of how agency and sovereignty, or claims of value, meaning, and belief, may be most effectively articulated by new user communities in terms of how they may develop, appropriate, or associate themselves with new network technology.
What is your solution?
This proposal asks for the generous support of the Wikimedia Foundation to fund a comparative study of three culturally diverse cases of network sovereignty located across the world. In proposing these cases we wish to explore our hypotheses, as listed below, and uncover key conditions and factors that shape the development and sustainability of community network infrastructures. In so doing, we wish not to place such community network efforts on a pedestal or naively praise them but use them as points of departure to ask a number of critical and comparative questions that in turn help researchers and the larger public uncover important conditions and characteristics by which ICT-facilitated networks can support the visions and aspirations of diverse and traditionally marginalized users.
The public, educational, and intellectual contributions of this project shall help shape understandings of how network technologies can best deliver on associated promises of supporting economic and political equality and opportunity and the diverse ways by which cultures and communities articulate their knowledges, values and voices in relation to new technology. This in turn can contribute to scholarship and public understanding around cultural and community-based values that shape technology design, development, and sustainable appropriation and adoption.
Our management plan, methodology, and timeline will explore two international cases and then tie their analyses to consider domestic Native American communities, through a case based in the United States. The first, located in the Serengeti region of Tanzania, is a study of how rural village communities are attempting to gain Internet access based on their appropriation of tourist industries and the arrival of the new ‘Serengeti broadband’ fiber optic cable. This case is an example of how communities may choose to brand their identities and practices in relation to emerging network infrastructure, and considers what space there is for local agency versus external cooptation in such efforts. Our second case, located across the Oaxaca region of Mexico, features a number of Zapotec and Mixtec indigenous communities working with external NGO partners to develop ‘autonomous’ mobile phone networks. Our third and final case is a partnership with the Salish Kootenai Native American college (SKC) of Montana and will explore how our insights from these two international cases may best inform this community’s engagement with network technology infrastructures. Through this college and community, we intend to consider how the results from our comparative international studies may be best applied to support Native American populations in the United States, typically left most marginalized of any cultural demographic with the nation in terms of their access to and benefit from network technology (Bissell, 2004). This will occur through a course we shall teach with college instructors involving Native American participants from across the nation via SKC’s online education program. At the core of each of these case studies is the deep respect and goal of learning from the diverse ways by which each community is attempting to articulate its sovereignty and agency.
- Travel roundtrip from Los Angeles, CA to Tanzania: 2,500 USD
- Hotel/subsistence for 5 days: 1,500 USD
- Ground Transportation: 350 USD
- Graduate Student Research hire for 4 months for data analysis: 3,490 USD
- Books, Computer supplies, Collaboration meetings: 1,958 USD
- Technology Infrastructure Fee & General Liability Insurance: 140 USD
- Total Budget: 10,000 USD
As a three year effort, we will conduct longitudinal fieldwork in each location that brings together ethnographic, semi-structured interviews and survey methods to evaluate our hypotheses and consider how they may be applied to the Salish Kootenai case and the Native American communities with whom they are in contact through their tribal education program. The PIs have confirmed letters of interest and agreements for collaboration by their community partners. These are (1) the Rhizomatica NGO which collaborates with over 60 indigenous communities across the Oaxaca, Mexico region and (2) the Serengeti Broadband Initiative based in Tanzania and working with dozens of village communities across the geographical area. Srinivasan and Parks will jointly collaborate to work with the Salish Kootenai community via its tribal college in the United States. Building from the style of work and methodology employed by PI's Dr. Srinivasan and Dr. Parks in the past, community members will be engaged during every step of the project, as their continued participation is crucial to the personal interview and ethnographic methods required for the success of this project.
Measures of success
- Numerical increase in number of community participants who have access to and use Wikimedia tools and platforms after the conclusion of this project.
- Increased number of global institutional collaborations for Wikimedia development and use.
- Increased Internet and Wikimedia use agency among community members participating in the project.
- Improved quality of access to Internet and mobile phone use.
- Increased understanding of global developing communities and their design needs among the Wikitech community.
Our proposal represents a collaboration between two PIs who hold extensive experience in studying technology infrastructures in global and cross-cultural contexts. They are (1) Ramesh Srinivasan, an expert in cultural and ethnographic approaches toward the creation and design of information systems, and (2) Lisa Parks, an expert of internet and technology infrastructures.
Dr. Ramesh Srinivasan is an associate professor of information studies and design and media arts at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Lisa Parks is a professor of film and media studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Both professors work on issues of observing and critically analyzing issues of inequality and diversity in technology creation, dissemination, and use, through working directly with a variety of individuals and communities across the globe. Dr. Srinivasan and Dr. Parks have a large number of personal connections with a variety of communities from past projects, which will serve as a strong foundation for this project. Additionally, both professors have extensive histories of previous research success, demonstrated through past funding from the National Science Foundation, the US State Department, Google, and others, as well as a substantial list of publications in top tier journals such as New Media and Society, the Journal of Association of Information Science and Technology, the International Journal of Cultural Studies, and many more. Additionally, their work has been featured in various public media venues including The Huffington Post, Al Jazeera English, and NPR. As principal investigators leading the project, they and their home institutions will serve as integral resources for the successful and timely completion of the project.
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