A Movement to Mend Digital Inequities — Episode 155 of Building Local Power

Date: 14 Jul 2022 | posted in: Building Local Power | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

What does it really mean when people talk about the digital divide? And what power do communities have that find themselves on the wrong side of that divide? Shayna Englin is our guest on this episode of Building Local Power discussing how she approaches these issues as director of the Digital Equity Initiative at the California Community Foundation. Joining Shayna in this episode is ILSR Community Broadband Outreach Team Lead DeAnne Cuellar. Shayna and DeAnne discuss how the digital divide is not isolated as an issue of broadband access, but tied to housing justice, healthcare access, immigration policies, and education. As the pandemic moved everything online, they explained, the whole country experienced how fundamental internet connectivity is to the entire human experience.

Highlights include:

  • How the California Community Foundation is using a systems change approach to creating digital equity.
  • Giving decision-makers access to accurate information to invest in local communities.
  • The funding sources and policies that are expanding opportunities for municipalities to come up with local solutions.
  • Creating power and policy frameworks to mobilize communities.


“The digital divide is the gap in access to what is a modern utility. Whether it’s access in terms of a subscription or access in terms of devices or access in terms of having apps and utilities, especially from the public sector that are user friendly and meet the needs of the communities they are intended to serve.” – Shayna Englin

“The early numbers that came back from the pandemic was that 80% of people over 60 years old were the people who were dying from COVID. 42% of that population didn’t have access to the internet. So that’s why we talk about the digital divide as a social determinant of health, it’s a life or death issue.” – DeAnne Cuellar


California Community Foundation Digital Equity Initiative: https://www.calfund.org/digital-equity-initiative/

Community Networks (ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative): https://muninetworks.org/

Reggie Rucker: Hello, and welcome to Building Local Power, a podcast dedicated to thought provoking conversations about how we can challenge corporate monopolies and expand the power of people to shape their own future. For more than 45 years, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance or ILSR has worked to build thriving, equitable communities where power, wealth, and accountability remain in local hands. My name is Reggie Rucker and I am the new communications director at ILSR and co-host for Building Local Power.
Luke Gannon: And I am Luke Gannon, the other co-host. I am a communications and research associate at ILSR. Today on the podcast I’m welcoming my colleague, DeAnne Cuellar, who works on the outreach team for our community broadband initiative here at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Along with DeAnne, I am eager to invite Shayna Englin, the director of the California community foundation, digital equity initiative. The digital equity initiative is a multi-year project that will activate a digital equity movement in Los Angeles county. With the power and capacity to successfully advocate for fast, reliable, and affordable broadband for all people living in Los Angeles. Welcome DeAnne and Shayna.
DeAnne: Hello. Thanks for having me.
Shayna Englin: Thank you.
Luke Gannon: Of course. So, let’s get started for all of our dedicated listeners and new listeners on Building Local Power. We are going to break these difficult topics down, like broadband. So today we are talking about the digital divide and the intricacies that fall under that umbrella. So Shayna, I’m going to start with you, and ask what is the digital divide?
Shayna Englin: I love that question because we throw that term around a lot. I don’t think we ever do a great job at articulating it. So I’ll say from the perspective of CCF and the work that we are doing, the digital divide is the gap in access to what is a modern utility. So, all and everything that means. So whether it’s access in terms of a subscription or access in terms of devices and the know how needed to get there or access in terms of having apps and utilities and things, especially from the public sector that are user friendly and meet the needs of the communities they are intended to serve.
Luke Gannon: Thank you for that. And on that same question, how does this digital divide play out in LA counties, specifically?
Shayna Englin: Well, it plays out in LA county in basically every way it plays out anywhere else, because LA county is massive. And I have found myself starting with this explanation, because it still kind of blows my mind, but think of LA county as you might a state or even a country. LA county is 10 million people big. We have 88 independent cities within the county. And that’s 65% of the county is unincorporated. We have four plus school districts. We, through two major ports, we have more than 50% of the goods and services that go in and out of this country, the other countries go through LA. So it is massive. So when you ask how it plays out in LA, we have rural areas where it looks like there’s literally no infrastructure whatsoever.
Shayna Englin: We have suburban areas where there are big donut holes in service or areas that have been upgraded. And those that have not, we have quite a bit of obviously urban communities that have been suffering from lack of investment in upgraded infrastructure. And lots of them are still working with DSL or wireless only, or in some cases, nothing. So the digital divide plays out anywhere, you’ve seen it anywhere in the country. It’s playing out somewhere in LA county.
Reggie Rucker: Actually, Shayna, can I ask you when you mention unincorporated areas. So, I’m originally from Modesto, California, and one of the big issues there is, right across the street from one house, one set of neighbors that is incorporated and they have all these utilities and resources literally right across the street. They don’t have any of that because they’re not part of the same city or municipality. Can you talk a little bit about how those unincorporated areas have less access to some of these things. Even, again, even being neighbors to somebody just right across the street who does, and it’s just, it feels like a very odd but clear example of this divide.
Shayna Englin: Sure. So, it’s complicated, as you mentioned. And particularly with the broadband issue, it actually should be quite a bit less complicated than it is. Because we have a statewide video franchising [inaudible 00:04:48]. DeAnne is probably very tired of hearing me say the word DIVCA, but I’m going to a few more times. We have a unlike about half the states in the country, we have a single state franchising authority that essentially gives permission to cable companies to operate within given service areas. And that, theoretically, there is service within the entirety of the service area that company has a franchise for. And that does that crosses because it’s a single state entity, it crosses all of those kind of county and other municipal lines.
Shayna Englin: So that said, it should not be a jurisdictional problem. It is. Because what you don’t have in any of those franchising laws is equal access requirements. You don’t have anti-discrimination or at least enforceable anti-discrimination requirements. So you do still end up with that my house has, DOCSIS 2.1 or the very old cable infrastructure and my across the street neighbors have a much better, more recently upgraded infrastructure that still happens. But it’s less a function of jurisdictional boundaries and more a function of what the monopoly cable companies have decided is in their ROI.
Reggie Rucker: That’s so interesting. And then DeAnne, I was going to bring you in, like Shayna talked about how LA is a nation of its own and has all of these types of digital divides. Can you talk a little bit about the work that ILSR has been doing in other parts of the country that sort of reflect some of these maybe same issues?
DeAnne: I think one way to talk about the work that we’re doing at ILSR is at this time, which is a once in a… We say once in a lifetime opportunity for local communities that are working on digital divide is that we’re playing a critical role in making sure that regardless of where you live in an urban or rural community, that if there are resources that you need access to and they’re not available, we’re co-designing and working on access to those resources directly with communities. So we’re playing a role in making sure that how communities can leverage the state and federal funding, that information is making its way to decision makers. And if there isn’t staff available in local communities, then we’re working with people directly in those local communities to make sure that they know how to demystify and explain what the funding means. Because there’s, I think if I’m not mistaken, there’s over 80 programs spread out throughout the federal government that have been earmarked to pose a digital divide.
DeAnne: And that’s a lot for any community, even a really large urban community to keep track of regardless of how big they are. So from LA county all the way over to Baltimore, New York city, ILSR is working directly to make sure that information gets to decision makers.
Reggie Rucker: That’s great.
Luke Gannon: I am going to pivot a little bit to a topic that has been on all of our minds for the last couple years, which is COVID. So COVID has really revealed the harsh inequities that exist in our society and specifically in the context of internet accessibility. So I am curious what sort of disparities were revealed from your vantage point in Los Angeles as a result of everyone having to figure out remote life starting in 2020?
DeAnne: Well, I think what became really clear was that the digital divide is actually not an issue by itself, right? It doesn’t the way that the California community foundation got engaged on this issue was actually through listening to our grantees and thinking through kind of crisis response across our core program areas, which are housing, healthcare, immigration, and civic education. We do quite a bit of work around kind of voter registration and things, integrating new Americans, that kind of thing. And so in doing kind, listening across all of our partners in all of those core areas, and again, thinking about how we could support crisis response. What emerged was very rarely the actual term digital divide.
DeAnne: But we all know about kind of all the challenges with education, but in also talking to the community clinics, our partners there, and we were saying, “What can we help? What can we fund, what do you need in order to meet this moment?” And they’re saying, “Everything is moving online from COVID testing appointments and then COVID vaccine appointments to just like we can’t open our doors. And so we need to be finding people virtually and we’re losing our patients. Literally we can’t find them, or they’re not showing up for appointments because they don’t have connectivity.” Or on the immigration side, immigration attorneys would say, “I have clients who are getting deported because they failed to show on a required hearing.” Well, the hearing was online and they did not have access to broadband signal strong enough in order to join. And so it was those kinds of experiences and really across the board, what we were hearing from partners who were doing that work on the ground, that kind of elevated it as, oh, this is in fact a systemic problem and not kind of a standalone issue.
DeAnne: So when we understood it that way, it really helped us think about what the response might look like and how we might engage and do kind of funding and campaign building and movement building to meet that challenge.
Luke Gannon: Yeah. That’s really interesting. So Shayna, do you feel like the intersectionality of those issues helped broaden a wider awareness for broadband specifically, or I guess build that movement more?
Shayna Englin: It certainly has been instrumental in how we’ve approached seating and supporting this movement. I think it’s notable that with across at least our kind of funded cohort coalition members. So we made our first grants almost exactly a year ago. It was June 15th where our first grants is part of the initiative. We are now at 42. So a year later, and then other coalition members that are not funded that kind of already doing this work or were funded elsewhere to have the capacity to engage it. Of that entire 40 plus member organizations, I think three are specifically digital equity digital divide organizations. We’ve really deliberately built a digital equity movement that ties into the power building, the service delivery, the storytelling, the lived experience, across all of these issues so that it could be a stronger, more durable movement.
Reggie Rucker: And then actually, yeah, let me follow up on that point. You mentioned the granting that you do and then sort of the different ways in which you help the power building, storytelling. How do you, I guess maybe starting with the basic question of like, what types of initiatives programs do you grant? Just what does that granting look like? And then sort of maybe from there, telling us a little bit about how narrative and power building, and just how that looks in your work.
Shayna Englin: Sure. So our grant making program and actually everything that we’re doing crosses four core strategies that we identified a little more than a year ago now. That I think still seem like the right ones, although DeAnne has a good vantage point, I’d love to hear her input on this. But our, the four kind of key pieces are one is that narrative. And we need to do some narrative shift, which I’d love to kind of dive into more deeply. Two, is the political and constituency building. So really that power building piece of things, three is policy change, whether that’s proactive or responsive. And then four is really translating all of that into what we call first mover projects. So how can we channel all of that and our resources and aligned resources towards actually getting things built and moved quickly while the moment is ripe.
Shayna Englin: And so all of our grant making, our initial grants were, again, I think ILSR, and NDIA were initial grants. And of course you all are our broadband expert technical assistance for, for us as we do this work. But I think those are the only two that actually had any history in digital equity work. So our initial grants were really looking at what were the organizations that were elevating that this is an issue in part of their work. And that really was largely education organizations and healthcare organizations. And we said, if we could grant, if we could provide some resourcing, what would it look like for you to build capacity in order to be able to incorporate this piece of equity work into your larger programming? And so initially we really were just funding of capacity for folks to learn more about how they might be able to engage, to do listening and surveys of their membership and their clientele, and really kind of establish what that, what those anchor organizations could look like.
Shayna Englin: And then as lessons learned from the first two quarterly rounds of grant making, we identified a really critical opportunity around this power building piece. So, the next set of grants were to build capacity specifically to do that power building piece, whether that was building digital equity work into existing trainings, let say parents and teachers and students. Or if it was adding the digital equity piece to an existing government relations and like public policy component, kind of all of that canvasing… One of our grantees wanted to launch a door to door and canvasing listening program to help people understand why it is that they’re paying too much for crappy internet and still not being able to connect very often. So kind of that range of things. And we really focus quite a bit of grant making there. And then we’ve also done, we did a pilot and I think we’re going to expand pretty significantly some grant making around the, on the narrative piece, which is underwriting nonprofit journalism around it.
Shayna Englin: Because we really see that the on the media side we struggle because there is nobody on the corporate accountability beat anywhere. There’s definitely nobody on the telecom beat. And so what we see in our sort of major media. At least like looking at the LA times, and this is not entirely a knock on the LA times, but if you Google spectrum and the LA times you will see a lot of articles that look like reprinted press releases from them, and that’s a challenge. And so we are the next kind round of grant making that we’re doing is pushing hard to address that piece.
DeAnne: And this is why I like to talk about the work that’s going on in LA county, outside of LA to the rest of the country is because you have a pre COVID list of stakeholders that were working on digital inclusion that people knew about somewhat before the pandemic.
DeAnne: And then you had the pre COVID experience of using the internet. So, pre-COVID the stakeholders that were talked about in mainstream media, mainstream media were libraries, museums, people were that were deploying devices like hotspots and laptops and the stories we’re getting out there. And those are the people that got interviewed when we talked about the digital divide. And the truth is that ecosystem is much larger, which is why the makeup of the stakeholders in the coalition LA county is so important is because the people on the ground doing the work they’re providing solutions to the community don’t necessarily identify themselves as digital inclusion advocates as their number one issue, but they are they’re. They are the people working directly with communities, which is why the ecosystem is much larger than what we think of. When you think about the issue.
DeAnne: And then the person that’s using the internet pre COVID was like, “Pre-COVID. We would go to work and come home. We had a life outside the home and yes, there were some people that were isolated who had to be home, but due to the pandemic, all of a sudden, an entire country became socially isolated. And so for the first time in our lifetime, we got to see what service 24/7 looked like. As people who had to depend on it for remote education, for telemedicine and all of the day to day errands and chores that we had to do to continue life outside the pandemic. So we got to see what it was like when there were drops in service at different times of the day. And we got to see when speeds went up and down, because we were socially isolated.
DeAnne: So now I think due to the pandemic, though, the ecosystem has expanded, super happy about that because it’s such a big issue. Now it’s in the mainstream media, but we have work to do about how it’s talked about and thanks to the fierce advocates in LA county and also in Baltimore and Detroit that we also work with. We’re now finally talking about it as a utility and a lifeline we cannot live without, not a luxury product.
Reggie Rucker: We will be right back after a very short break as an organization seeking the end of corporate control and local communities. You’ll understand why our commercial break sounds a little different. There’s no corporation selling you something in an ad. Just me thanking you for listening to our show. And if you’re enjoying this episode, which if you made it this far, I’m assuming you are. I hope you’ll consider heading over to ilsr.org/donate to help support our work, your donations, not only make this show possible, but you’re also helping support our work across all of our programs to build local power and communities across the country. So please we would be so appreciative if you could head over to ilsr.org/donate to contribute today, any amount is sincerely appreciated. And if you’re looking for additional ways to support, please rate or leave a review of the show over at apple podcast or wherever you listen to your podcast. These reviews make a huge difference in helping us reach a wider audience. Okay. That’s our break. Thanks for listening. And now back to the show.
Luke Gannon: Thank you so much, DeAnne. I have a follow up on that. I’m curious specifically related to ILSR how, as an organization, you have seized the moment, in 2020. And sort of either pivoted with research or how did you build local local power after you saw that change, after you saw that shift?
DeAnne: Yeah, I sure. I mean, I do. I think me and Shayna both have, probably have answers about this. So the, I actually rolled off of working on all three lakes of the soul at one time. So in the middle of the pandemic, I was working on connecting older adults, making sure they had computers, making sure they had digital literacy and making sure they had connectivity. And one thing that became apparent to me was that the digital divide is the three legs of the stool, but there’s a huge component about community broadband infrastructure that doesn’t get talked about are expanded on enough. So again, I sound like a broken record. This is where I think LA county comes back in, which is the subject of the show today, is because for the most part, they’re testing out a model that goes beyond the three legs of the stool.
DeAnne: It’s an evolution of the three legs of the stool, which is why I think we have a lot to learn about the best practices that are working out there.
Shayna Englin: Yeah. I mean, I think I would just echo that. And I will say when we first started doing this work, we actually didn’t realize that we were doing something novel in LA county, but I think we’re really lucky. We have leadership at, in particular, the California Community Foundation that has a very systems change lens. If we work on systems change. And certainly we do sort of crisis response and support direct service, et cetera. But the lens is what are we doing about this at a systemic level? And those are the kinds of problems we like to tackle. And those are the kinds of solutions we like to support. And so, when we looked at this, it just became so clear that, and this is not a problem you’re going to hotspot your way out of.
Shayna Englin: This is not a problem you’re going to subsidy your way out of. Even just… even if that was what you wanted to do, it became really clear that giving hotspots to all of these households and even in some cases, small businesses in these communities that were all trying to connect to like a single cell tower that is not connected to upgraded infrastructure.
Shayna Englin: It doesn’t matter. You can have all the hotspots in the universe, there isn’t the infrastructure there to support connectivity via that hotspot. So we just saw that same thing play out again and again, I know you can yay, you get a 50 and then a $30 subsidy for really crappy service. At a certain point, making crappy service more affordable is never going to be the solution. And so from that kind of systems change lens, it just was pretty obvious pretty quickly that the opportunity and the need very much on the, what are, what is the physical, the actual system? We talk about systems change in this issues. In this issue there isn’t, and I’m looking at the system right outside my window of what that looks like. And so that just became a really clear opportunity. And then the timing ended up being really good because we came to that conclusion about three months before the conversation really blew up in terms of broadband infrastructure in recovery.
Shayna Englin: And then also of course, in the infrastructure act. So when we started doing it and focusing in this way, we didn’t realize it was novel and it wasn’t, we weren’t trying to like any holds or do anything different. It was just looking at it almost from a, and I mean, I’m not a newbie. I’ve been working on broadband stuff off and on for 17 years. But from this kind of creating a coalition and a digital equity movement, a local based, a place based movement, we didn’t know any different, we didn’t know any better. That’s just, we started where we saw the opportunity.
Reggie Rucker: Shayna actually wanted to come right back to you. As you’re telling sort of some of this story, there’s a thought that’s coming to me that is just, why is it that elected officials, policy makers, why do you think that the first thing they go to is let’s make this crappy service cheaper? What is it that’s sort of getting in their way of being more creative or, I mean, yeah, just why is that the first thing people turn to? I mean, and you might just be guessing, who knows? But curious if you have any thoughts on that.
Shayna Englin: I have a sadly cynical answer.
Reggie Rucker: We’ll take that.
Shayna Englin: Which is one we’re trying to address. But look what we have seen everywhere we turn, is that AT&T and in Southern California, it’s Charter Spectrum, and Comcast, and Cox, and Frontier, and CCTA the California Cable Association and CTIA and USTelecom . They are juggernauts and they literally have a lobbyist either in house or contract, at least one per state legislator. Here in LA county, Charter Spectrum alone has five on staff lobbyists that they employ in the county. And also have really hefty contracts with some of the big heavy hitter lobby firms. So they are just everywhere all the time. I literally got a call yesterday to brief city council staff, LA city council staff, because they have been hounded by the Charter Spectrum lobbyist to take a meeting next week.
Shayna Englin: And they’re like, what questions should we ask? We’ve asked around. And somebody told me to call you and just like, “Can you just write down what questions, and then we’ll circle back with you about how to think about the answers.” So I think that part of it is just that the big telcos have had a monopoly in many more ways than one, including having the ears of decision makers. And I do also think, and I, again, this, I would love to hear from DeAnne about this piece as well, but my perception of it over the last year has grown to be, a lot of the way that we’ve been focused on digital inclusion has been really heavily on two of the three legs of the stool, right? On the devices and on literacy. And that has been really pretty heavily funded from the telco.
Shayna Englin: So it’s not for nothing. And so the kind of community understanding. The activist understanding. The connection to the kind of power and political components of all of this have been largely absent. What we’ve found are, I like to say you win some and you learn a lot. Our first, our wins from this first year have really come from just having communities show up in rooms that they have never been invited to before, or they didn’t know existed. And just, you bring five or six people who are not telco lobbyists to talk about this in ways that they’re prepared to do. And it changes things. And so I think that kind of on the policy and decision maker side, so few of them have any expertise in this issue.
Shayna Englin: So few of them have any direct experience on this issue that when a Charter Spectrum lobbyist comes and says, “Oh, you’re right. This is a really big challenge. And here, we have a plan.” Or Verizon is like, “We can happily sell you all these hotspots, which is absolutely what happened. The legislator’s like, “Yeah, that’s it. That sounds great.” And without any sort of countervailing voice or information, that’s a decision that makes sense.
DeAnne: Yep. And I was going to, on that note, Shayna say that when you talk to decision makers about this issue, they say, “Show me the numbers.” And so there, here are two numbers that you can, that you can use that should grab people’s attention. The early numbers that came back from the pandemic was that 80% of people over 60 years old were the people who were dying from COVID. 42% of that population didn’t have access to the internet. So that’s why we talk about the digital divide as a social determinant of health, it’s a life or death issue.
DeAnne: So that’s important, right? But the second issue is that $8 million a week is spent in DC to lobby for telecommunication company, for telcos. So there’s how going to matrix check there’s something wrong in this system, right? So that’s why the American Association of Public Broadband was funded this year. And it’s going to give a voice to municipalities at the table. But we’ve got to make sure this information is getting to decision makers, because that’s a lot of resources to be investing to fight against local communities that are just trying to create a place where everybody can live with a high quality of life.
Shayna Englin: DeAnne, there’s this example is just like, the thing that has been fascinating is just that really the basic information is almost always all that’s needed. I mean, we have created a bit of a stir here and across the state just pointing out and having the receipts to prove it, that Charter Spectrum charges poor communities, a lot more than they’re charging in like Palisades in Beverly Hills.
Shayna Englin: And just like that very basic it’s a story. It’s something you can immediately understand. And like being able to put that in front of local legislators say, “Well, here’s what someone moving into Palisades gets. And here’s what someone moving into the communities that you represent get.” And there’s a lot that underlies that, but this is the outcome has been wildly effective. And not that complicated. And again, to me, just kind of evidence that it’s just, we haven’t, we’ve been trying to tackle, block and tackle in so many places that we haven’t been able to kind of be in the rooms that we should be on this. And as we are, it makes a really significant difference really quickly.
Reggie Rucker: Yeah. It’s something I would just really love about that. You can hear the numbers about the five lobbyists for every sort of legislator or something like that. That can be intimidating and it could be kind of, oh, like, “Why should we even bother? They have all the resources, they have all the money.” But for you to pivot and be able to say alls we need is just to make sure that people have the information and if you show up your voice has influence too. And so I think, yeah, that’s just something that’s incredibly powerful. And so I’m glad you shared that. I’ve been hearing a lot recently about this idea of the only way to build power is to start exercising power. And it’s just the practice of exercising that power and it be becomes this muscle that then you can wield it just like these high paid, expensive lobbyists can. So, so glad you’re you’re doing this work, we’re doing this work, so that’s awesome.
Shayna Englin: Amen. I love it.
Luke Gannon: Gosh, on the other side, though, that is an insane number. $8 million I can’t get over that.
Shayna Englin: That’s just in DC.
Reggie Rucker: Yeah.
Shayna Englin: It’s just in DC. It’s crazy. Yeah. It’s a… I mean, and it’s also just such an interesting indication of how lucrative, so whenever these companies start talking about, “Oh, well these regulations will put you out of business, blah, blah, blah.” It will not. You’re fine.
Luke Gannon: Yeah. I cross my fingers every day that money won’t win in the end. So we’ll see. I’m going to pivot a little bit here and go back to you, Shayna. I’m wondering how broadband state legislation is affecting LA county.
Shayna Englin: Oh, so in California, we’re lucky in that we start with a legislative context that’s actually pretty good for municipal broadband. We’re not one of the 18 states that bans it outright. So we start in a pretty good place. And so where we are is that last year there was a whole suite of funding and policy that went with it that expanded the eligibilities and the opportunities for localities to come up with local, public and driven solutions. There was also created a technical assistance program, which is, it’s really just money to reimburse planning, but that is limited and specifically targeted to local agencies. So, cities, counties, education agencies, co-ops and utility, public utilities, those kinds of things. And so that set that kind of combination of money and then policy and focus around it that really prioritize public and publicly driven uses of that money has made a huge difference in LA county.
Shayna Englin: And then of course the way that it works in California and as in most states is so the governor in the legislature allocates money, there’s called a budget trailer bill that puts the broad parameters around. Here’s what this is for. And then it goes to the California public utilities commission for all the details. That’s where kind the fights on the details have been really interesting. And that, we’ve also been winning again in part to, by turning out voices that don’t usually turn out at those kinds of rulemaking proceedings, we’ve won there too. And that has been even more kind of prioritization and preference for public projects. And that is making significant difference in LA county.
Reggie Rucker: So DeAnne, when we were talking before the show, so we were having a little bit of a conversation about how, when people hear how lucky California is, and again, as a native California, I love it. But when people talk about how lucky California is, there’s this idea that, oh, like they’re special, they do things a different way. There’s no way we could do that in our state. But you had a different lens at looking at that. Share a little bit about why, even though California is different, it’s not as different as people think. And this stuff is possible everywhere.
DeAnne: Well, I think the first thing that comes to mind for me is that we still have a lot of work to do about stereotypes of what our communities look like. Right. I come from Texas, there’s a lot of stereotypes that come from Texas. I know one of y’all just thought about somebody in cowboy hat or a horse. Yeah okay.
Reggie Rucker: This is true. This is true.
Shayna Englin: The other day I heard somebody said something about California outside and you’re like, well, there’s just deserts out there. Right? And I was like, “Okay, no. Right.” But the reason why California is a great testing ground or innovation lab, or a great place to ideate, closing digital divide is because the geography of California, there’s an example of each geography out there, urban, rural in between markets, small, big, low density, high density. And so it really is… Maybe that’s why technology, Silicon valley is out there. I don’t know it’s another subject, but in it’s the say, Texas, my lid reality with policy makers in state legislature and local communities might not look like California’s, but the geographies and the challenges of what people are trying to do on the ground is really similar. So we can take the best practices and the wind from a location like the state of California, and we can adapt it to our liberality and see if we can co-design those solutions with decision makers on the make or two on the ground.
Shayna Englin: Sorry. I also think that there’s the… I think the like, “Oh, well, there’s this special case, and that’s the, again, nowhere else can do that. I’m always a little bit perplexed by that because the ways, many of the ways that California, like, like I started with California is lucky we’re not one of 18 states that has a law against municipal broadband. That those, those 18 states where there is a law against it, like that’s not an immutable fact of feature. And in fact, last year there were five of those, five states had legislation moving to remove those barriers. Two of them it passed in. And that was with like kind of, if I have to say, weak campaigns to make that happen. So just imagine if in five more of those 18 states, we organized around a power analysis that was focused on local control and getting the state out of local communities.
Shayna Englin: And I mean, I think there’s a lot that you could do across a whole range of politics to make lots of other places, quote unquote, lucky, in the way that California is on that particular front. It’s a matter of a policy analysis, a power analysis, and then mobilizing together around something that maybe doesn’t look immediately sexy, or maybe doesn’t have sort of an immediate ramifications, but that opens the door to a whole lot down the road.
Luke Gannon: If you could pass on one piece of advice to digital inclusion advocates in other local communities, what would it be?
Shayna Englin: I don’t know if I can narrow to one, can I do two? They’re related, so one is really expand how you’re thinking about what a digital equity advocate is to as, as DeAnne I think said it well, really broadened the ecosystem to people who maybe don’t think of themselves as digital equity advocates, but are education equity or housing equity or climate justice, really expand how you think about it. And then the second is within that context, ensure that you have a power analysis that you can work against. Because this, it really is. This really is a question in the end of politics and power and who’s getting it and who’s wielding it. And so if you’re building a digital inclusion coalition, without that analysis, it would be hard to move the ball forward.
Reggie Rucker: And DeAnne did you want to take a stab at that one too?
DeAnne: Yeah. I think the number one piece of advice that I would give to people working on this issue is that words matter. And so regardless of where you live, the one thing that I hear that comes up very often on digital divide community is that’s illegal and you cannot do it. And I think words matter because it might not be illegal everywhere you are, depending on what you’re trying to accomplish. It could just be politically challenging. It could be a policy doesn’t exist. It could be a policy needs to be reformed. It needs to be updated, but communities get shut down, especially disenfranchised vulnerable needs get shut down. So often they hear the word that’s illegal and that scares communities away from being involved. So really support those communities that are challenging these norms and be like, “Is it illegal or is it politically challenging or is it difficult? And like, how do, how do we work through that?
Reggie Rucker: Yeah. I mean to Shayna’s point earlier, like it’s not immutable like it’s illegal now technically, but you put different words on paper and like it’s not illegal anymore. So very simple. And I guess, yeah, we can go to our final question. We like to ask this one. It’s just, yeah, it kind of gives us an interesting window into sort of like what makes you tick and then also allows us to give a little shout out to the local bookstores around the country. So what is a book that you’ve read that has been the most influential to you in the work that you’re doing?
Shayna Englin: I’m going to age myself terribly, but I read Saul Alinsky’s Roles for Radicals, at least annually. And I have probably five or six copies because every time I move, I lose it or I’ve given it away or whatever. So plug for the last bookstore in downtown LA, they always have a few copies available.
Reggie Rucker: Yeah. DeAnne.
DeAnne: Yeah. I love that book for so many reasons. The book that’s really get me through for the last couple years, since it came out is The Purpose of Power by Alicia Garza who was one of the co-founders of black lives matters. And I love her approach to expanding the ecosystem, bringing people in.
Reggie Rucker: Awesome. Well, yeah, this was a terrific conversation. Thank you both for taking a little time out and telling us about digital equity, what it is, what it isn’t. The digital divide, what it is, what it isn’t and yeah. Just how everybody needs access to these resources to this resource. And so to understand how to live in their power and to claim that power and claim their right to broadband, this was yeah. An excellent conversation to encourage people towards that route. So thanks so much.
Luke Gannon: Yeah. Thank you both so much. And just to offer people to go to the California Community Foundation website, to learn more about the digital equity initiative. I don’t know if Shayna, if you have other places to point people towards?
Shayna Englin: No, that’s a great place. We have a landing page with the link to a bunch of resources, including some that we developed in close partnership with ILSR and and our, have been an integral part of our work. So that’s a great place to go.
Luke Gannon: Amazing. And then you can also visit ilsr.org to find more about DeAnne and the broadband’s work. Yeah. Thank you both so much. We greatly appreciate your time and dear amazing insights.
DeAnne: Thank you. Fun conversation.
Reggie Rucker: Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the Building Local Power podcast from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, you can find links to everything discussed today by going to ilsr.org and clicking on the show page for this episode, that is ilsr.org.
Luke Gannon: While you are there, you can sign up for one of our many newsletters and connect with us on social media. We hope you will also take the opportunity to help us out with a gift that produces this very podcast and supports the research and resources that we make available for free on our website. Finally, we ask that you let us know how we are doing with a rating or a review on Apple podcasts or wherever you find your podcasts. This show is produced by my amazing colleague, Reggie Rucker and me Luke Gannon. This podcast is edited by Drew Birschbach. Our theme music is Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL. And that’s it, I hope you’ll join us again for our next episode of Building Local Power.



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Audio Credit: Funk Interlude by Dysfunction_AL Ft: Fourstones – Scomber (Bonus Track). Copyright 2016 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license.

Photo Credit: iStock 

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Follow Luke Gannon:
Luke Gannon

Luke Gannon is the Research and Communications Associate for the Independent Business team.

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Reggie Rucker

As Communications Director at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, Reggie develops communications strategies and leads campaigns to build public support for ILSR local power initiatives. Contact Reggie with media inquiries.

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